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Oklahoma City couple answer call to save the pink bathrooms

Mike and Lindsey Deatsch waffled at first, but finally decided their midcentury home deserved to have its vintage bathrooms resto
BY RICHARD MIZE Modified: July 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm •  Published: July 20, 2013

Not pink. Green, blue, gray, black-and-white, whatever, but not pink.

And certainly not two — not two pink tiled bathrooms. No thanks.

Mike and Lindsey Deatsch bought their 1949 house in Oklahoma City in 2010 with an eye toward remodeling, and those gaudy reminders of all things Pepto-Bismol were not what they envisioned when they started looking for midcentury design. A kind of “pink shock” set in, though, so they worked on the rest of the house while going back and forth on what to do.

Along the way, they started learning about historic bathroom design, particularly pink tile bathrooms, and stumbled across something of a movement online, at  Save the Pink Bathrooms and a companion site, Retro Renovation.

Historic hue

They learned that bathroom pink debuted in the late 1940s and peaked in the '50s, and that the vintage design, obscured and altered over six decades, really would hold its own in a 1949 home also otherwise kept mostly true to its original look — and they fell in ... love. Sort of.

“I would say it's a love-hate relationship,” said Mike Deatsch, co-owner of Deatschwerks LLC, a maker of fuel injectors and fuel pumps for high-performance cars at 1745 W Sheridan Ave.

“Pink would not be my first choice if I had an all-original '30s, '40s or '50s bathroom. A black-and-white, or there are some cool green colors, or there are some blues. But what we ended up with was two pink bathrooms. So it's a little bit of love-hate. ... It's what we had to work with,” he said.

But then, he said, “As I got into the project, and got into the history of them, and found other examples of how they'd been redone — then it became a little bit of a passion.”

Pink popularity

Pam Kueber, who started Save the Pink Bathrooms after renovating her own midcentury home in Lenox, Mass., estimates that 5 million of the 20 million-plus homes built between 1946 and 1966 had pink bathrooms. In a section called “10 facts about pink bathrooms,” she explains that pink boomed when it hit the White House.

“First lady Mamie Eisenhower was pivotal in popularizing the color, which is often referred to at ‘Mamie Pink' or ‘First Lady Pink.' Her husband, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent her pink flowers every morning,” Kueber wrote. “She redecorated the private quarters in the White House in pink — so much so that reporters called it the ‘Pink Palace.' And, the bathroom in her Gettysburg (Pa.) retirement home was pink down to the cotton balls.”

Kueber tracked the pink arc in popularity.

“Postwar exuberance: The popularity of pink, along with classic '50s colors like turquoise, chartreuse and candy apple red, reflects the exuberance of the postwar era. … Industry men say pink is tops: In 1958 Electrical Merchandising magazine summed up the demand for pink appliances, ‘If forced to pick one color as leading this year, most industry men say pink is tops,' ” she wrote.

Then, she continued, “Pink bathrooms faded from popularity beginning in the late '50s and early '60s due to changes in design taste and as exuberance faded in the face of the cold war and other sobering national events.”

Midcentury rises

Nowadays, “interest in midcentury design is resurgent, and for many buyers a pristine pink bathroom is a valuable selling point,” she wrote. “Several trends are driving this back-to-the-future trend, including a new generation of young buyers who love retro style, nostalgic older buyers, and more recently renewed interest in the ‘original' suburbs closer to the city, which are holding their value better in the wake of record gas prices.”

Interest in midcentury home design — and the approach the Deatsches took to remodeling their pink bathrooms — landed Mike Deatsch on the program recently at Our Sense of Place: Oklahoma's 25th Annual Statewide Preservation Conference in Perry.

“Sitting — in the bathroom — I saw a little piece of wallpaper peeling off ... and I just could not resist reaching up and peeling it off, and I was off to the races with no real plan on what to do,” he said. “I thought there must be a way to work with all this pink. The tile seemed to be in good shape and I just could not bring myself to tear out one of the only original features left in the house.”

Guest bath

He did the guest bath first. Removing laminate flooring to get to the vintage pink tile was a chore; he used a heat gun and putty knife to pull it up inch by inch, then scraped off the thick glue and scrubbed the tile; it took more than 50 hours. A built-in dressing table had been treated to look like old, crackled wood; he spent more hours scraping, filling, sanding and painting it.

Next came work on the walls. Then he removed the sink with cabinet and replaced with a wall-mounted, two-legged sink that was close to the original — he could tell by the mounting holes he found in the wall and the two footprints uncovered on the floor. New chrome legs for the sink led naturally to new matching chrome finishes on the towel bar, recessed toilet paper holder, outlet covers and elsewhere.

After the guest bath makeover, Mike said he wasn't sure he wanted to tackle the master bath. At first, he planned to gut it.

Master bath

“But as I recovered from the countless hours of scraping the guest bathroom floor, a plan started to form in my head of how I could do our master bath in a special retro-modern twist — an example of how to meld new and original vintage together in a way that almost anyone could love,” he wrote for “Pink tile was saved again!”

Reclaiming the pink master came in three projects: Resurrecting the tile floor and tub-and-shower surround — another 60 hours of hard labor — replacing the vanity and reconfiguring the built-in linen closet.

The new vanity was the most challenging; Deatsch designed it but brought in Joe Dodrill of L&D Construction to build it — the only work he hired out in either renovation.

Correct color

He said it took almost a year to complete both projects — and the savings he enjoyed by doing almost all the work himself, resulting in renovations that paid homage to the original 1949 baths but updating them for 2013 functionality, left him in the ... pink.

“There are different schools of thought, or different preferences, when it comes to restoring or rehabbing vintage properties,” he said. “One mindset is return it to completely original, down to every last square inch of the bathroom. Our mindset is more keep a lot of the original features that give it its character, but mix in some modern things that are a little easier to work with on a daily basis, such as the newer sinks or newer drawers, but with as much original as possible to keep the correct feel.”

Retro Renovations Save the Pink Bathrooms


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