Most designers agree that if remodeling your bathroom is not in the cards, the best way to handle outdated tiles is to work with them, not against them.
Nancye Lewis-Overstreet of Rabbit Runn Designs in Alexandria, Va., 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 "If the grout has gotten dirty, it will make the tiles look old and that much more outdated."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 Washington designer Walter Gagliano, so widen your choices by looking beyond ready-made curtains in bath shops and scouting linen departments and fabric stores. A bedsheet or fabric by the yard can be tailored into a curtain and hung with a clear or white liner behind it. And 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."
Some designer suggestions to complement common tile color combos:
BLACK & WHITE
• 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. (Her current favorites: Benjamin Moore's Currant Red, for the red; Sherwin-Williams's Rain, for the blue.) Play up the black, she says. Use black fixtures on a white sink.
• Hang black-and-white-striped wallpaper for a dramatic look, suggests Alexandria, Va.-based designer Claire Schwab. (She says Waverly makes one; www.waverly.com.) Add white towels with a black monogram or towels in any shade of green. For a less dramatic look, paint the walls Shell White from Duron.
• For any color combination that includes black, use a creamy color on the wall and add some mirrored surfaces, black towels and rugs, and silver or chrome accessories, says author and HGTV host Joan Kohn. Frame vintage magazine covers or posters from the '30s, '40s or '50s, and add a vase with pink flowers. More light and reflective materials such as wall sconces, mirrored surfaces or reflective containers can brighten the space. "It can feel very glamorous instead of outdated."
GREEN & BLACK
• Use black and white accessories, Gagliano says. Or paint the walls mint green and use white towels and a shower curtain with black bands.
• If the toilet is green, too, consider swapping it for a white one for a fresher look, says Lewis-Overstreet. Paint the walls white, and use a green that closely matches the tile to paint stripes (1Ú2-inch thick and 41Ú2 inches apart). Don't play up the black.
• Paint the walls in repeating stripes using shades lighter than the tile, Kohn says. Do three stripes, each tint lighter than the next. For a child's bathroom, accent with a favorite children's theme.
• Patterns that have white, red and pink would work, Gagliano says. Use them on the shower curtain or wallpaper. He suggests Pottery Barn Kids for a good assortment of patterns. Most important, he says, "Don't try and match the pink." It will be almost impossible and it will look like you tried to match and missed.
• Use tones of warm gray: a medium shade and charcoal, Lewis-Overstreet says. No light grays and nothing cool. Use brushed-nickel fixtures.
• Paint with Benjamin Moore's Atrium White, which has a pink cast, Schwab says. Benjamin Moore's Navajo White, which is more tan, also would work well. Add white towels with a taupe monogram.
• Liven up dull blue with yellows, chartreuses or limes on towels, or add a patterned wallpaper with all three colors, Gagliano says.
• Use creamy whites and chocolate browns to balance the blue, then add a small punch of color with tangerine on a small accessory or a couple of towels, Lewis-Overstreet says. Replace hardware and fixtures with brushed nickel and a blue toilet with a white one.
• Paint the walls one shade lighter than the tile, Schwab says. Add white towels and a muted orange or melon-colored accessory.
Rip Out and Replace
This is the most expensive option. Total expense, which typically runs into the thousands, depends on variables such as replacement materials used, bathroom size and how the existing tiles were installed.
In older homes, wall tile may be "mud set" (set into a thick mortar base) rather than "thin set" (placed on a board covered in a coating of adhesive). Removing mud-set tile is an expensive, messy ordeal. In some cases, the old tile can be left in place and new tile, bead board or drywall installed over it. How to tell what you have: Look at a spot where the tile meets the wall. Mud-set tiles will protrude about an inch. Thin-set tiles will stick out only about a quarter-inch.
Reglazing or resurfacing can cover old, cracked ceramic and porcelain surfaces - tiles as well as tubs and sinks - with a fresh acrylic coating. The tile and grout will be the same color and texture. The new surface typically lasts 10 to 15 years, says Mary Ann O'Hara, franchise owner of Miracle Method Surface Restoration in Kensington, Md. The process usually takes one to three days, depending on the size of the room, and prices range from $485 for a tub to $1,800 for a tub with a tile surround and wall tile. It can be done in any solid color, but white is the most popular.
Acrylic liners can be installed directly over an existing tub and wall surfaces and glued into place. Liners are custom-fitted, so prices vary. Tub liners can run from $1,200 to $1,800; lining the surrounding tile wall could run about the same, says Jim Snyder, vice president of a Bath Fitter franchise in Owings Mills, Md. He says liners can last between 30 and 40 years. Colors are usually shades of white.
Epoxy paints, which adhere better than latex or oil-based paints, can be used to update the color of old tile. But constant exposure to moisture probably will cause the paint to blister, peel and chip, which makes this solution better suited for powder rooms.