Retro Bathroom in Progress

Our home in Montreal was built in 1910. Between then and now, various things have been renovated. Badly, for the most part. The kitchen is functional but ugly – the colour palette is pre-cancerous lung. The front entrance was sliced and diced to make way for a steep dangerous staircase (more on that another time) and the basement has been partially finished but left with a truly odd lighting arrangement. But the bathroom had been left pretty much alone. An updated window and a GFI outlet were the only signs of tinkering.

10-2254 Old Orchard

At first.

9-2254 Old Orchard

From the moment we toured the place, I knew the clawfoot tub had to go. It’s pretty, no doubt, but too big for this tiny 5 x 8 bathroom, and such a pain to bathe a baby in. And once we moved in and start using it, there was the matter of the giant hole in the floor underneath it, and that it was being held up with old slabs of wood.

So we hired the best rated guys in the area, who specialize in old places and renovating bathrooms. I’m glad we did because there were plenty of ‘surprises’, like molding wood, disintegrating pipes and old messy wiring.

But a full demo meant I had to pick all new everything, and I found myself at a loss for a design, which is really out of character for me. I just tried to choose nice, safe things that didn’t cost too much.

But, as the costs went up (those surprises do add to the bill) I started to have trouble sleeping at night. Were we really going to spend X dollars for a boring, safe, black and white bathroom? Faced with purchase decisions I would constantly try to pick the cheapest thing – and then feel resentful. We were spending X dollars and still we’d end up with the cheapest stuff!

I blame Pinterest.

Follow Stephanie’s board B&W Bathroom on Pinterest.

While it was great for putting together a portable, digital lookbook I could easily share with the contractors, I started to turn to Pinterest every time I was faced with a design decision. And if I couldn’t find an example of my idea already pinned, I started to wonder if it was maybe a bad idea. If no one else was doing it, maybe that was for a reason?

About 2 weeks in to the renos, with seriously deadlines of decisions on lighting and accessories due on Monday, I finally had a breakthrough. I put down my laptop and looked at the things I already own that I love. I decided the chandelier I’d bought at auction for our dining room would go in the bathroom. Along with my grandmother’s gilt mirror that was doing nothing for us over the living room couch.  From there, other things fell into place, like painting the lower half of the room the same charcoal grey as the grout, and painting the radiator gold instead of white.


The tiles were chosen before anything else, and with an eye to keeping the room looking appropriate to the house. I want to claim this was some great virtue but honestly it was more just trying to set up some kind of parameters. Is there anything more terrifying than a blank slate? At least if I was trying to keep it retro chic I had somewhere to start. I got an enthusiastic response to that plan from both my partner and the contractors, so away we went.


The toilet and tub switched places, putting the pipes into an interior wall and moving the toilet away from the door (where perhaps, one could be overheard).


It’s a bit of a tight fit, but we got the smallest toilet we could and this is good motivation to stay slim. We are still waiting on the arrival of a piece of black granite to cap the pony wall and tempered glass to extend the wall and mount the shower curtain rod.

We both love the bathroom, and it feels just right – in keeping with period of the house, but also fresh. It has a sense of luxury and a sense of humour. And while it definitely owes a few details to the pictures I pinned, I don’t think I’ve seen anything exactly like it on Pinterest. Until now of course, because I just added these pictures 🙂