Alright, color lovers. This one’s for you. Buckle up, because today, we’re going WAY back in time – all the way to the 1920s – and together, we’ll trace the trajectory of the colored plumbing trend over the past hundred years. You know – how it started, why it fell out of favor, and how it’s making its way back into our homes today (but like, relatively quickly and at a high level, seeing as this is supposed to be a “fun blog” and not “Caitlin’s unsolicited Thursday morning dissertation on the history of colored plumbing.”) But wait – WHY THE HECK ARE WE TALKING ABOUT THIS? Let me set the scene for you…
It’s February 2023. The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (or KBIS, more colloquially) has just kicked off in Las Vegas. And for the first time in recent memory, it’s COLORFUL. Instead of stark-white porcelain and stainless steel, KBIS is littered with a vibrant selection of jewel-toned ovens, cheery concrete sinks, bold faucets and fixtures, and then..this Kohler display. To a rational person, this may just look like a rainbow array of toilets. (Mainly because it is, in fact, just a rainbow array of toilets.)
But y’all, this booth honoring six of Kohler’s historic colored plumbing finishes flooded my brain with so much serotonin that it made me question my neural pathways. (Like, toilets? Seriously? Why can’t I get a boost from things like “going outside” or “chatting with a friend?” Why am I destined to love things like “plumbing fixtures?” Is anyone else in this boat with me?) ANYWAY – we’ve seen a resurgence in the popularity of colored appliances in the kitchen (remember Sara’s blue oven?), but there haven’t been a ton of new, mass-market options for the bathroom…until now. AGAIN, FINALLY. I haven’t been this excited about a trend in a long time – doubly so because of the historical roots.
From The (Very) Beginning
ZAP. It’s the 1920s and – as luck would have it – we’ve reached the “learning” part of this post. (You know how you have to sneak vegetables into your kids’ meals to make sure they’re getting all their nutrients? That’s me, shoving a little bit of history into every one of my dispatches here. IT’LL STILL BE GOOD, I PROMISE. Just try it! You’ll like it!)
In the early part of the 1900s, white plumbing fixtures dominated the bath market. (Sound familiar?) Here’s where Kohler ties back in: after over 50 years in the business (they were founded in 1873 – who knew?!), they wanted to elevate their plumbing fixtures from “functional necessity” to “key design element.” Their solution? Introduce a full bath suite in soft pastel shades, which allowed customers to design and customize their whole bathroom for the first time ever. (To be fair, colored fixtures did exist previously, but they had to be purchased separately and the color-match between pieces wasn’t great. Modern comparison: if you’ve ever bought wallpaper or a bridesmaid dress online, you might be familiar with the variance that can occur between dye lots – Kohler had to figure out how to standardize the process to guarantee a uniform color every time, which was an enormous achievement!)
As time went on, Kohler introduced some of the (in?)famous colors that we now associate with the 1960s and 1970s, like the iconic avocado shade from 1967. (Also introduced: the “bold look of Kohler” tagline, which is still used today. Who would have guessed that it was originally referring to day-glo neon toilets? A bold look, indeed!) This is an awesome timeline of fixture colors through the ages, if you’re also a big ol’ dork who likes thinking about which color tub they would have purchased in the 1930s. (I’m a Cerulean Blue girl, I think.)
Colored fixtures continued to dominate the plumbing market throughout the 80s – more than 50% of Kohler’s output was nonwhite product! – but over the last 40 years, the siren song of the stark white toilet lured homeowners and renovators back into the safe, sterile embrace of an all-neutral bath. It had a lot to do with economics – colored fixtures didn’t feel like a safe choice for those who may need to sell their home in a recession (again – sound familiar?), and the rainbow hued baths slowly began to feel more and more dated. Until…
A Trend Emerges
…the mid-2010s, when the punchy, graphic, vivid bathroom fixture started making a triumphant return. (In a small way, of course.) While color in the bathroom never totally went out of style (highly recommend checking out @vintagebathroomlove on IG for all your historic bath inspo!), we finally started seeing color being offered in new modern, streamlined silhouettes.
These bright faucets, knobs, and shower heads were a low-stakes way to bring color into the bath, and their mainstream introduction seemed to whet the appetite for bigger, bolder statement pieces of plumbing.
A Bigger, More Vintage-Inspired Footprint
We began to see more and more of our favorite designers sourcing entire vintage bath fixtures for their projects. This wasn’t just a knob or a faucet – this was the whole freakin’ shebang. Alternatively, those with deeper pockets were able to order vintage-inspired pieces – and for them, I am grateful, for they have paved the way to a mass market reintroduction of colored fixtures. Case in point:
The Next Wave
Andddddd we’re back to 2023. To celebrate their 150th birthday (!!!), Kohler has resurrected a few of their historic colors – that’s Spring Green (from 1927) on the top left, followed by Pink Champagne (1973), and Lavender (also 1927!). On the bottom, we have Peachblow (1934), Avocado (1967), and Sunrise (1953).
The best part? You can now purchase seven different plumbing fixtures – ranging from kitchen sinks to toilets – in Spring Green and Peachblow. (You can see everything here, if you’re interested – the utility sink in Spring Green is my absolute favorite. I think I prefer the vintage-inspired shapes, but how exciting to see some modern silhouettes in there! Word on the street is that there’s more to come with these heritage colors, too.)
Here’s a powder bath designed by Em’s former boss (!), Jonathan Adler. IT AIN’T YOUR GRANDMA’S BATH, THAT’S FOR SURE. It’s a really high-impact, manageable choice that totally transforms the look and feel of the room, don’t you think? A few cans of paint and some different art would take this space in a totally different direction – these colored fixtures are a design-forward, versatile way to bring a lot of interest into a space without spending a small fortune on permanent tile or a new vanity.
Same goes for this sweet and modern space designed by Justina Blakeney, a dear friend of EHD! I love the contrast of the graphic, modern floor tile with the antique-inspired sinks and tubs. The deco tile motif on the walls really bridges the gap to bring both styles together! Honestly, white sinks and tubs would have been just as beautiful in this space…but there’s something special about the Peachblow that says “I live here.” We spend so much time personalizing our living rooms and bedrooms – it’s so exciting that we’ll have an affordable, high-quality way to personalize our practical spaces now, too.
Make It Work: Stick to A Color Palette
SO. You’ve seen the inspo and you’re considering a switch to colored fixtures in your next remodel. Let’s just review a a few pro tips that’ll keep the space feeling like a time capsule (unless that’s what you’re going for, in which case I admire your commitment to preservation and I’d love to see pictures when you’re finished!).
First up: pick a color palette…and stick to it. Your plumbing is going to draw a lot of attention, so make sure to tie it in with the space via tile, wallpaper, paint, or decor (even your towels and shower curtains will make a difference here!). A restrained palette will make your space feel pulled together and intentional (even if said palette has a lot of color in it, like the bath on the left). More than anything, be sure to pick something you love – it’s about time we start designing our homes for us and not just for resale, you know?
Mix In Some Modern
LOVE THESE. Both baths feel vintage AND fresh, right? On the left, modern art and shelving balance out a classic cast iron tub. (That toothpaste-y mint and red is a really on-trend choice, too. Did you also see the geometric shapes on the tile towards the bottom right? It’s the little things!) On the right, plywood walls, modern pulls, and dynamic lighting placement take this mauve toilet from “ancient relic” to “I paid a designer big bucks to plan this bathroom for me.” Remember to mix eras and styles here – we’re not recreating a bathroom from the past with these fixtures; instead, we’re curating our favorite things in a bathroom fit for the future. 🙂
For Longevity, Pick a Muted Color
An alien has clearly possessed my body, because I can’t believe I’m about to say this: when it comes to choosing a color for your plumbing fixtures, keep it desaturated. Pastels are great, and so are the muted tones above. The tub on the right is one of my favorite examples – it’s deep crimson that’s rich, matte, and a little muted. (Far preferable to a glossy, fire-engine red tub, no?)
When in doubt, consider the earthier version of your favorite color – a sage over a lime; a Peachblow over a hot pink; a Spring Green over an aquamarine. These shades will be WAY easier to decorate around long-term, which is key for a big fixture!
Fake The Look
Love the look of a colored bath fixture, but not interested in a full-blown bath remodel? Consider cladding the exterior of your existing tub (and for extra points, paint your vanity to match). Be sure to choose water-resistant or waterproof materials here – there are tons of great DIY instructions and transformations on Youtube.
Where Can I Get Colored Plumbing Fixtures?
WOAH. That’s a lot of information to digest, huh? But the tides are changing, and I’m so excited to welcome in the next era of cheerful, personalized bathrooms that feel like the folks who designed them. If you’re excited about hopping on the colorful plumbing train, here are a few vetted suppliers that I love (no matter your style, budget, or continent there’s a resource for you here!):
And now, I gotta ask: what say you? Could you ever see yourself going for a green bath suite, or are neutrals more your thing? Are you worried about resale, or would you embrace these colored fixtures with open arms? Do you think we’re headed into a new 60-year cycle of nonwhite baths? LET’S TALK ABOUT IT. (Seriously, please, none of my friends care about which color toilet was released in 1927 – I need to be amongst people who ~get it~.) See you down there… xx
Opening Image Credits: via Kohler