Baby Blue Tubs and Lemony Loos. Are Coloured Bathroom Fixtures Chic Again?
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Baby Blue Tubs and Lemony Loos. Are Coloured Bathroom Fixtures Chic Again?

The divisive trend has design pros in a lather. Here, they argue both sides.

Thu, Mar 16, 2023 8:00amGrey Clock 4 min

COLOURED TUBS and sinks are getting another shot. Design experts are revisiting the look, which originated in the 1920s. American waterworks brand Kohler recently revived two heritage colors they originally released in the ’20s and ’30s, and British manufacturers such as the Water Monopoly and the Bold Bathroom Company have found fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some designers, however, wincingly recall the avocado-hued tubs and sinks of the 1970s and hold that coloured fixtures are a trend that will date very quickly. For these naysayers, only white bath fixtures will do. Here, they debate the issue.

Yes, coloured fixtures give a bathroom a much-needed shot of style.

Many design pros applauded the news that come summer, Kohler’s bathroom fixtures—including toilets—will be available in two shades from its archive: Spring Green, an icy teal, and Peachblow, a mauvy pink. Fans of the chromatically diverse Rockwell collection from the Water Monopoly, meanwhile, appreciate the fixtures’ vaguely vintage eccentricity.

London interior designer Lizzie Green nestled a Powder blue Rockwell tub, one with a puffy upper rim and spheres for feet, against a wall of variegated green-blue tiles (above). “The playful design creates a center piece in a large bathroom,” she said. (In a similarly bold move, Ms. Green installed a blue art deco pedestal sink from British manufacturer the Bold Bathroom Company in a shower room clad in rose-pink tile.)

Elizabeth Metcalfe, of EM Design in Toronto, made a chalky green Rockwell tub the hero of a primary bath and a foil to some serious luxury. It sits amid walls of Breccia marble—a creamy stone veined in deep purple—and windows hung with pink cashmere drapery. The tub gives an otherwise conservative, grown-up room a “uniquely stylish” edge, she said.

The designers we surveyed agree that the trend’s biggest fans are older millennials who grew up in what Lauren Lothrop Caron terms the “beige 2000s.” The founder of Seattle’s Studio Laloc—a senior millennial herself—urges her contemporaries to be bold. For her own bathroom remodel, she’s eyeing Kohler’s Peachblow fixtures.

Noncommittal types might do best to choose one small colored fixture, says Jake Rodehuth-Harrison, founder of Los Angeles design firm Hubbahubba. Mr. Rodehuth-Harrison loves the “heavy dose of nostalgia” the pieces provide at a time when “the design world and algorithms are always looking forward and saying new, newer, newest.” He popped lilac ball feet onto another Water Monopoly Rockwell tub, this one white, in a Napa Valley, Calif., project. The result perches, most surprisingly, on muted green flooring he chose. If that’s too bold, “we can neutralize these fixtures by surrounding them with tiles in the same color,” he noted.

Another trick: Tiffany Duggan of London’s Studio Duggan suggests working with vintage fixtures that were born white. The designer recently updated an original iron tub with a wash of Farrow & Ball’s Red Earth. “If you change your mind, you can just paint over it.”

No, colored basins and bathtubs are too fatally trendy and impractical besides.

Doubters say hued baths will be a blip on the trend continuum. Unless you’re trying to preserve the aesthetic of a historic home, warned Liana Hawes Young, creative director of Wimberly Interiors in New York City, “colored fixtures will feel dated quickly, if not immediately.” And unlike trendily tinted shower curtains or wall paint that can be changed with little expense, this craze requires a spendy swap out, argued naysayers. Said Kristina Phillips, an interior designer in Ridgewood, N.J., “Clients looking for more long-term, classic design, along with keeping eventual resale in mind, might hesitate.”

Traditionalists say that if you really must, relegate such vivid choices to powder rooms and kids’ baths, spaces you don’t linger in. And well-intentioned salvage-scourers should be wary of mixing eras, said other concerned parties. “Vintage plumbing fixtures can date a space due to their scale,” explained Hattie Collins, founder of Hattie Sparks Interiors, in New Orleans. “Most times, coloured tubs and toilets are much smaller than present-day fixtures.” A safer bet, she suggests, is to focus on rescuing original floor and surround tile.

Powder blue is one thing, many say, but bright or hot-hued renditions of this trend read garish. “Neons and oranges could be a thorn in the room,” said Los Angeles designer Gilda Hariri. Even Ms. Metcalfe, who otherwise champions the trend, warned, “Avoid vibrant, aggressive tones, such as reds and oranges, that evoke a strong emotional response.”

Designers who actually can see a place for coloured fixtures couldn’t help but trivialise the trend as “retro” and “eclectic.” The rest of the room has to quietly suggest luxury, they suggest, to balance kookiness with class. Ms. Collins thinks wallpaper that has layered, expressive colours—the sort often offered by House of Hackney, Gracie or Cole and Son—could help coloured fixtures read higher end, as would lighting of reeded glass and high-quality metal finishes. “Lovely but expensive,” she added. Is the cost of a cheerful toilet really worth it?

The power of association doesn’t work well in the trend’s favor, either. A black bathroom, for instance, installed for a sense of refined moodiness, might evoke one from a 1980s basement nightclub, giving words like sterility and sanitary a new appeal. Austere white bathrooms, a holdover from the “hospital white’” tiled bathrooms of the early 1920s, are far more practical. Dark colours reveal water marks and chalky toothpaste smears. To Kristine Renee, co-founder of Sacramento, Calif., interiors firm Design Alchemy, “Nothing ever seems as clean as white.”

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.


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What We Fight About When We Fight About Money

New research tackles the source of financial conflict and what we can do about it

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When couples argue over money, the real source of the conflict usually isn’t on their bank statement.

Financial disagreements tend to be stand-ins for deeper issues in our relationships, researchers and couples counsellors said, since the way we use money is a reflection of our values, character and beliefs. Persistent fights over spending and saving often doom romantic partnerships: Even if you fix the money problem, the underlying issues remain.

To understand what the fights are really about, new research from social scientists at Carleton University in Ottawa began with a unique data set: more than 1,000 posts culled from a relationship forum on the social-media platform Reddit. Money was a major thread in the posts, which largely broke down into complaints about one-sided decision-making, uneven contributions, a lack of shared values and perceived unfairness or irresponsibility.

By analysing and categorising the candid messages, then interviewing hundreds of couples, the researchers said they have isolated some of the recurring patterns behind financial conflicts.

The research found that when partners disagree about mundane expenses, such as grocery bills and shop receipts, they tend to have better relationships. Fights about fair contributions to household finances and perceived financial irresponsibility are particularly detrimental, however.

While there is no cure-all to resolve the disputes, the antidote in many cases is to talk about money more, not less, said Johanna Peetz, a professor of psychology at Carleton who co-authored the study.

“You should discuss finances more in relationships, because then small things won’t escalate into bigger problems,” she said.

A partner might insist on taking a vacation the other can’t afford. Another married couple might want to separate their previously combined finances. Couples might also realize they no longer share values they originally brought to the relationship.

Recognise patterns

Differentiating between your own viewpoint on the money fight from that of your partner is no easy feat, said Thomas Faupl, a marriage and family psychotherapist in San Francisco. Where one person sees an easily solvable problem—overspending on groceries—the other might see an irrevocable rift in the relationship.

Faupl, who specialises in helping couples work through financial difficulties, said many partners succeed in finding common ground that can keep them connected amid heated discussions. Identifying recurring themes in the most frequent conflicts also helps.

“There is something very visceral about money, and for a lot of people, it has to do with security and power,” he said. “There’s permutations on the theme, and that could be around responsibility, it could be around control, it could be around power, it could be around fairness.”

Barbara Krenzer and John Stone first began their relationship more than three decades ago. Early on in their conversations, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based couple opened up about what they both felt to be most important in life: spending quality time with family and investing in lifelong memories.

“We didn’t buy into the big lifestyle,” Krenzer said. “Time is so important and we both valued that.”

For Krenzer and Stone, committing to that shared value meant making sacrifices. Krenzer, a physician, reduced her work hours while raising their three children. Stone trained as an attorney, but once Krenzer went back to full-time work, he looked for a job that let him spend the mornings with the children.

“Compromise: That’s a word they don’t say enough with marriage,” Krenzer said. “You have to get beyond the love and say, ‘Do I want to compromise for them and find that middle ground?’”

Money talks

Talking about numbers behind a behaviour can help bring a couple out of a fight and back to earth, Faupl said. One partner might rue the other’s tightfistedness, but a discussion of the numbers reveals the supposed tightwad is diligently saving money for the couple’s shared future.

“I get under the hood with people so we can get black-and-white numbers on the table,” he said. “Are these conversations accurate, or are they somehow emotionally based?”

Couples might follow tenets of good financial management and build wealth together, but conflict is bound to arise if one partner feels the other isn’t honouring that shared commitment, Faupl said.

“If your partner helps with your savings goals, then that feels instrumental to your own goals, and that is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” he said.

A sense of mission

When it comes to sticking out the hard times, “sharing values is important, even more so than sharing personality traits,” Peetz said. In her own research, Peetz found that romantic partners who disagreed about shared values could one day split up as a result.

“That is the crux of the conflict often: They each have a different definition,” she said of themes such as fairness and responsibility.

And sometimes, it is worth it to really dig into the potentially difficult conversations around big money decisions. When things are working well, coming together to achieve these common goals—such as saving for your own retirement or preparing for your children’s financial future—will create intimacy, not money strife.

“That is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” she said.


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