Bathroom 1960s styleKeeping up with the latest trends in home decor and remodeling is a bit like painting the Golden Gate Bridge: by the time you’re done, you need to do it all over again. Styles change, tastes change. How often do you really want to remodel and update your hardware, light fixtures, floor coverings – to say nothing of kitchens and bathrooms? If these items are functional and you like them, there’s no reason to change. Then again, if you’re going to sell your home and want to maximize the return, it might be worth it to do some updating.

The average American kitchen is remodeled about every 17 years – that’s long enough to jump from one trend to the next, one set of materials or colors to the next. If you wait long enough, certain themes actually come “full circle,” not unlike clothes!

To make a point: in the mid 70s, brushed brass was in, and many if not most homes built then in the San Jose, Silicon Valley area were made with brushed brass doorknobs, hinges, drawer pulls, doorbells, you name it. That trend moved to gold, brushed stainless steel and now – full circle – back to brass! Ditto that with colors. “Earth tones” were all the rage in the 70s (olive green, deep brown, tan) and as things moved through the cycles (with a whole lot of white in between), the earth tones have come back again.

Some colors make more infrequent appearances, such as lemon yellow, lime green, bubble gum pink, baby blue….

Let’s just take a look at bathrooms and kitchens for this discussion about colors, materials and being in style.

Spanish style home tile bathroom from 1920s in Japantown area of San Jose, CAIf you’ve got a beautifully preserved 1920’s style bathroom with lovely tile, it’s practically an antique. (Apparently antiques are 100+ years old at a minimum.) A few years ago I sold a Spanish style home in the Japantown area of San Jose with a drop dead gorgeous, original tile bathroom – you can see the photos and info online via the link. This isn’t just old, it’s special!

Wood and tile were the best of the first half or so of the 1900s. Early 1900s kitchens included wooden counters that boasted ridges and grading down toward the sink – a greatly practical idea to get the water or anything wet out of the way. Some bathrooms with lesser quality had wall hung sinks rather than sinks with vanities, and they had a monochromatic tile scheme (just one color) with no fancy trim tiles. The image of the bathroom sink and vanity, above, was very typically found in Santa Clara County homes in the 60s (or earlier) – very frequently there was a 2 or 3 color scheme and the trim tiles might have indents or ridges. In the photo above, most tiles are green but there are pink accent tiles on both the counter top and floor, the sink is pink but the corner tiles are all black (similar to the older Spanish style bathroom I linked to above).

In the 70s earth tones reigned. Bathrooms and kitchens might have larger white tiles or tan tiles with black or dark brown grout. Stall showers might be gold, tan, light brown – all with dark brown grout. (Kitchen appliances were “harvest gold”, “avocado green” etc.)

In the 80s things began to lighten up. The harvest colors receded and the golds and greens became a thing of the past. Sinks, toilets, and appliances largely went to light colors (mostly white) or to a stark black. Counter tops were more likely to be white tile with white grout or a light colored, swirly plastic or cultured marble surface.

By the 90s, tile was no longer the preferred material: slab granite, granite tile and Corian or other solid-surface materials were the best. Slowly, white was getting some accent colors again but the “light and bright” tone remained the mainstay. Black appliances were in (and they were blacker than ever).

A decade later, at the turn of the century, it was maple cabinets, slab granite (or other natural stone, or even concrete) and black appliances were giving way to brushed stainless. Bathrooms enjoyed more recessed lighting, and where fluorescent lights were required, they were showing up in strange places, such as under the cabinet (by your feet) – to keep the incandescent lights above. Some Italian style, metal cabinets and counters also became increasingly popular too. Light colored bamboo wood flooring (soft wood, not a hard wood), were highly prized.

Today, engineered stone counter tops, which are easier to maintain and come in a wide variety of colors, are perhaps the most popular choice for bathroom and kitchen counters. Dark cherry cabinets and dark, Brazilian wood floors are popular.

All of this to say: whatever you do today, expect it to be outdated tomorrow (within 10 years). Unless you are doing improvements to sell, I suggest making changes that you will like. After all, first and foremost, your house or condo or townhouse is your home. It’s not a showpiece, a gallery, a piece of jewelry. The popular ideas will change over the next 10 years. You can also choose colors and materials which are traditional and have enduring value with a wide appeal. If these are within the realm of what you personally like, it may be the best bet of all.

 For more reading:

Home sellers: beware over improving your property when preparing to sell

Selling Your Silicon Valley Home: Staging & Color

Want to Sell Your Home? Make it Easy for Buyers to See It!