A Case for Restoration


about 1/4 way through the process, before the new sink and floor were laid down.

Why does no one make the case for restoration? Why do I feel like the only person in the world who think it’s worth spending a little extra time to keep some things around, versus gutting and starting over? After meeting with two contractors this weekend and having our family over and all of them saying the same thing, I’m starting to feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

When we first talked about redoing our bathroom, I was all for installing new tile and a new shower in replace of the tub. But, as I lived in the bathroom a little while, the pale yellow 4×4 squares and built in porcelain soap and toothbrush holders really grew on me. They reminded me of my childhood bathroom. Granted, the bathroom I grew up in was a lot fancier than this one. It had a thin trim tile with blue tulips with green leaves that went around the room near the top and a yellow and white mosaic floor. It was classically 1920’s (The house was built in 1919), and I lived in that bathroom from age 3-18. So naturally, I have a real obsession for all old houses and old fixtures, things with “character” and “charm.” But still, I was ready to part with the yellow tile in our new house, especially considering how cheap … wait for it... how cheap subway tile is!


If you’re doing a bathroom reno, you’ve no doubt heard and read this phrase countless times. At first, I was all on board with subway tile. It’s in all the cutest bathrooms in Brooklyn. Hell, my favorite neighborhood coffee shop has the entire store decked out in the little rectangles and it looks bomb. There is absolutely nothing wrong with subway tile. But as I perused Pinterest, I began to feel dizzy. Dizzy from the never ending nearly identical images of bathroom and kitchen reno’s featuring the offset little rectangles. So I began to enter phrases like this into Google: “Are subway tiles classic?” “Subway tile trendy” “First subway tile” “Will subway tiles go out of style?” I asked around, I researched. I love subway tiles… but so does everyone else, it seems.

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I’ll save you the trouble; I found no definitive answers. And I hope for everyones sake everywhere that subway tiles stay in fashion for the next 200 years or until we’re all living on another planet with “smart” tiles that change themselves every season, whichever comes first. But for me, all this research killed subway tiles for me. I can’t stop thinking that subway tiles are to the 2010’s as yellow 4×4’s are to the 1950’s. So why rip out the old and replace with something that will eventually need to be ripped out and continue the cycle? Why are we so afraid with sticking to the materials the house gave us?

Further, I don’t want my bathroom to look like it’s ripped directly out of a catalog. I think this is the part the parents and the contractors don’t get. The contractors are used to their clients wanting the newest thing. But WHY do we want the newer things? Because we see them on HGTV or in commercials or lust after them on Pinterest? I like new shiny things as much as the next person, but WHY is the industry’s immediate impulse to gut reno perfectly good bathrooms?

The contractors can tell me that it’s easier to rip everything out and start from scratch. I get it. Then the pipes will be in the right places, the walls won’t have nail holes in them and the tub won’t need to be refinished (How many times this weekend did I hear, “A new tub will only run you about $250!” … as I calmly insisted on refinishing). Did I enjoy all 16+ hours of stripping paint off of each and every tile, using a razor to scrape some still unidentified grey tacky material off the tub and bloodying my knuckles in the meantime? Truthfully, no. The first few were cool but after that I could have done without. And I get that a contractor is going to have an aversion to doing those things. But really, why? If it’s what the client wants, why not charge them your hourly labor fee and get to scraping! Or why aren’t their companies that specialize in this kind of work (there aren’t)? Why does everyone hate 1950’s tile!?

I'd be lying if I said it was easy

I’d be lying if I said it was easy

I do actually have some old tile on our kitchen backsplash that I hate and we’re getting rid of. Inconsistent, I know. But it’s so country-kitsch that I can’t stand it. But for some reason, its the one thing in the house that the contractors think is fine! Whut. Not all tile is created equal and some tile should go out the door. But isn’t that a choice to be made by the homeowner? Why is the gut reno pushed onto us?

I can imagine if we had gutted the bathroom versus restoring it. We would have a huge dump trailer parked on our lawn that would be filled with tons of previously perfectly good materials that would then go sit in a land fill somewhere and never decompose. We’d buy all new subway tile, only to re-do the space in 5 years because the next new trend had taken over and our bathroom would look dated. This way of decorating our homes is so short sighted to me and obviously terrible for the environment (though perhaps good for the economy). When I was visiting the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the prettiest rooms were the older ones with the floor to ceiling tile work that that didn’t have the newer fashion European styles incorporated in.

You can see the a mixture of styles here: modern, European motifs in the cream wall and classic Ottoman style in the blue tiling.

You can see the mixture of styles here: modern, European motifs in the cream wall and classic Ottoman style in the blue tiling.


Traditional Ottoman styles in the Topkapi Palace. YES, I am basing my renovation ideology on a 15th century PALACE because why not?! I am at least queen of my house ;0

Maybe it’s because people only plan to live in their homes a few years before selling. But making cheap and trendy choices will affect a resale value. I get that if you’re buying everything from Ikea and its disposable, then sure, update and discard at will.  I by no means have deep pockets for our renovations, so I don’t think it’s a money thing either. tbh, I’m not sure what it is.

It hasn’t been easy to stick to my guns about this damn yellow tile. I have actually had to check myself to make sure I’m not crazy. I know I have decent style and taste. I have a vision and I’m not letting go. We’re still in the middle of completing that vision, so here’s hoping all goes to plan.

I have a feeling that in 35 years this yellow 4×4 tile is going to be all the rage again.

My inspo: cheery, modern and classic. Borrowed from Young House Love

My inspo: cheery, modern and classic. Borrowed from Young House Love

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