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Q & A–What Options Do I Have With My Outdated Bathroom Tile?

I have a feeling today’s question will resonate with many owners of previously-owned homes, or even with many homeowners who have been in their home for a couple of decades or more.

Mary from Tennessee writes: 

My husband and I just bought this house and are in the process of renovating it. The one room that has me stumped is the master bath because of the LARGE amount of surface this outdated tile covers.

I will do the obvious things such as update the vanity, light fixtures, paint trim, etc. but I can not figure out how to make the bathroom updated without ripping out ALL of the tile. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

If you have some suggestions for Mary that don’t require her to tear out all of this tile, please share!  It makes me exhausted just thinking about the major task of ripping out all of the tile, which would probably lead to tons of required drywall repair.  Can we help her out?

Psst…Do you have an interior decorating dilemma? Click here to submit your question!



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  1. Oh my, that is a lot of tile and you’ve identified the quick fixes. The pics are are bit hard to interpret but it looks like color is the key here. First, the grout lines stand out (a lot) so if you can find a grout paint that matches the tile and paint them out, they might recede making the expanse of tile less overwhelming. Install a wide real wood cut-to-fit 2″ blind in a color that matches the ivory tile to update the window. Then, in painting all the trim, if choose a complementary dark color to for trim and vanity, to further detract from the tile. make sure the undertones of the trim work with th existing tile rather than fight it and carry it though to the mirror frame as well. Introduce a third color in the towels, shower curtain, rug and artwork that tie into the rest of your home.

  2. Your bath looks long and relatively narrow. I’d go dark dramatic, with a faux-gold or silver-leaf ceiling for added drama or possibly a painted “starry night” type of ceiling with dark blue and indigo. A word of caution before ripping out anything — what’s behind that light fixture and mirror? If there’s tile, when you remove existing mirror and light fixture there will be holes/fasteners to deal with. Ditto the vanity. If it was tiled around instead of being placed AFTER the entire wall was tiled, then you’re limited to selecting a vanity that is the exact same size as the existing vanity. That being said, if you have the budget for it, I’d replace the vanity with a dual sink model in a really dark wood or a dark grey or even black painted finish — or if you go with a “starry night” ceiling, an indigo or bluish-black distressed finish. The mirror would be replaced with framed dual mirrors over the sinks; I’d do an updated light fixture across the top of the dual mirrors (depending on what the “hole” situation is once the old light fixture is removed) and if you can afford it, wall sconces, one on the outer side of each mirror and one in the middle between the 2 mirrors but middle one wouldn’t be necessary; you could stick some wall art there to good effect. If you can’t replace the vanity, you might have it resurfaced – or replace the door and drawer surfaces to a flush “moderne” look and paint it; have the first sink replumed, a second sink plumbed in and a new counter top and fixtures added with dual mirrors. I would lay sheet vinyl in a dramatic dark and light marble look over the existing flooring — don’t glue it down except around the edges. If you are handy or know someone who is and with the proper tools, I’d add real painted wood or a wood-look product as a baseboard glued at intervals to the existing tile, and finish it off with appropriate quarter-rounds at the floor line and on top of the baseboard. A diamond (harlequin) patterned full-length curtain at the window pulled pack to reveal an opaque Austrian panel beneath (adds poof and soft curves to the linear lines of the tile), and a matching patterned shower curtain; rugs that match your dark color (taupe, grey, indigo or black). Match your towels to the dark color(s) used, but add trim that matches the tile color — and add some sparkle — gold or silver tassles, stick up some removable gold or silver appliques on that tile. Add some flameless (battery operated) candles and tea lights in clear glass and/or plexiglass holders scattered about the room — you don’t have to worry about fire with battery operated candles and many versions run on pre-set timers – six hours off, 10 hours on, for instance. Voila! A transformed bath and no tile removed. It would cost two arms and two legs to have that bath gutted and start over, so until your budget can bear it (or never), make do with what you’ve got and just design around it 🙂

  3. If your house was built in the 60’s before they had cement board under the tile you sure don’t want to try to take it out unless you are willing to take it back to the studs. My house was built in 66 and when I tried to take some of the tile down it was set in cement with wire mesh. I was lucky that I had chosen white tile when we built the house and it didn’t go up to the ceiling, so I was able to add some tile that matched the new floor as an accent above that A tile man told me I could put new tile on the floor over the old and that has worked out very well. The old tile was 4X4 and I used 18X18 over it. It has been there for 3 years now and no problems.

  4. I agree with the first comment. Experiment with different colors of grout paint. Maybe blend with the tile maybe go bright white. I did bright white (it was so easy) and it completely changed the look of my tile giving it a retro look rather than dated.