Rhonda Cadogan loves the one-bedroom condo she bought in a 1950s Silver Spring, Md., building. But she hates the bathroom: Bright green tiles with a black tile trim surround the tub and line the walls.
"It's like Baskin-Robbins mint-chocolate-chip ice cream," Cadogan says. "It's just awful."
Ceramic tiles in green, yellow, salmon and black, or softer shades of blue and pink (or a combination of the two) can be found in many homes built in the mid-20th century.
"The tiles that everyone has and wants to get rid of," says interior designer Nancye Lewis-Overstreet.
Bold tile-color schemes can be traced to the art deco palettes of the 1930s and '40s, says author and HGTV host Joan Kohn, who notes, "The style was initially very dramatic and glamorous." Pastel colors - powder blue and soft pink - reflect the fashion and optimism of America in the postwar '50s, she says.
History is no comfort if you have mauve-tiled walls and want them gone. Remodeling a bathroom is costly.
Still, if you're looking to freshen your old-fashioned bathroom, there are options. Repainting or refinishing the tiles is one, or covering them with acrylic liners. Other people keep the original colors and make the best of them - sometimes stunningly so.
Designers agree that if remodeling your bathroom is not in the cards, the best way to handle dated tiles is to work with them, not against them.
Lewis-Overstreet suggests that before anything else, you should have the grout cleaned or replaced. "If the grout has gotten dirty, it will make the tiles look old, and that much more outdated."
The right shower curtain can make almost any tile color look good, says designer Walter Gagliano, so widen your choices by looking beyond ready-made offerings. A bedsheet or fabric by the yard can be tailored into a curtain and hung with a clear or white liner behind it. If you affix the rod to the ceiling and let the curtain hang to the floor, you can conceal odd-colored or damaged tile around the tub.
Gagliano also suggests painting the ceiling the same color as the walls, to avoid too many breaks in color. "Even if you don't like [the tile], you have to make it look like you do," he says. "If you fight it, it will win."
With black and white tile, keep the walls white and use white towels, says Gagliano, or use black and white as a base for any color you want. "It's a neutral with a little bit of oomph."
Paint the walls red, soft celery green, or pale smoky blue, says Lewis-Overstreet. Play up the black with black fixtures on a white sink.
Hang black-and-white-striped wallpaper for a dramatic look, suggests designer Claire Schwab; she says Waverly makes one. Add white towels with a black monogram or towels in any shade of green.
For green and black tile, use black and white accents, Gagliano says, or paint the walls mint green and use white towels and a shower curtain with black bands.
If the toilet is green, swap it for a white one, says Lewis-Overstreet. Paint walls white and use a green that closely matches the tile to paint stripes (1/2-inch thick, 4 1/2 inches apart).
For black tile combined with any color, use a creamy hue on the wall and add some mirrored surfaces, black towels and rugs, and silver or chrome accessories, says Kohn. Frame vintage magazine covers for the walls.
With pink tile, patterns that have white, red and pink would work, Gagliano says. Use them on the shower curtain or wallpaper. But "don't try and match the pink." You never will.
Use tones of warm gray instead, Lewis-Overstreet says, and brushed-nickel fixtures.
To liven up dull blue tile, use yellows, chartreuses or limes on towels, Gagliano says.
Or try creamy whites and chocolate browns to balance the blue, then add a punch of tangerine, Lewis-Overstreet says.