This story is part of the release of Image 11, “The Renovation,” where we explore the structure of everyday life – and what it would look like to tear everything apart. Read the whole topic here.
The original pigeon is a rare species. An essential place for things that go unmentioned – in many ways, their purpose is clear and unchanged. However, the bathroom is the second most renovated room in the house after the kitchen, so it’s always surprising – and exciting – to find an untouched historic bathroom.
My sister’s bathroom is a relic of mid-century ceramic tiles, the kind still found throughout Los Angeles, hidden within stucco apartments and modest bungalows, in Spanish-style villas and Hollywood Regency mansions. This was the first thing I saw that I did not know existed; After a childhood in a home in the Valley District (818 forever!), a place with this kind of history and character was out of another world. With its pale yellow tiles and glossy black trim, and old mirrored medicine cabinet with a razor-disposal slot in the back, it seems to be Faridaespecially and somewhat well suited to my fierce but cold Scorpio sister.
The second time I saw such a bathroom was in what would become my apartment – this time peach tiles with a gray border. The bathroom had the same thin horizontal tile detail that seemed totally unnecessary but very intentional, the same built-in wall heater with exposed electric coils that looked like a safety hazard but worked like magic. Built-in heaters of this type were first introduced by Thermador in the 1920s. Mine was part of the “Skyscraper” series in the 1930s, a design moment when even wall fireplaces had Art Deco aspirations.
The special features of these historic Los Angeles baths are evident in the features – what has been preserved. Bathrooms often come in colors you don’t see anymore—a quirky splash of pink or mint—with contrasting borders and sometimes a few hand-painted pieces in the mix. There is usually only a tiled work surface and a bathtub area. But in some bathrooms, tiles spread from surface to surface, covering the walls and floor, allowing the bathroom itself to extend, and separate showerheads separated from the bathtub, each with their own arched niches. Other fixtures, those necessary accessories – soap dish, cup holder, towel holder, toilet paper holder – are glazed with tiles as well. It is an immersive experience. When you stand in one of these bathrooms, you will realize that you are looking GesamtkunstwerkTotal artwork.
Even if a pink bathroom isn’t to your taste, it’s easy to appreciate something that has integrity, timeliness, and commitment to good wear. Antique-tiled bathrooms come with another antique luxury: tidy mortar that lasts forever, a sink stopper that actually stops water and the Holy Grail itself, high water pressure.
In a world where the past exists on an ever-waning scale as buildings are being constructed and torn down, mid-century Los Angeles bathrooms feel tied to a certain proportion.
In the Victorian era, bathrooms were all about sewers, where white subway tiles are predominant, and dirt was better seen and wiped off. The 1920s brought pastel colours, which became saturated and ornate in the 1930s, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. The wars brought things back white, this time in an endless 4×4 square grid, while also bringing industrialization, standardization, and the beginning of cheaper—and less permanent—building methods.
In the 1950s, postwar optimism brought color back in forever, with pink and peach being the most popular color for a bathroom (hat tip to Mamie Eisenhower’s pink bathroom), but this time it wasn’t just the tiles, but the sinks and toilets were pink. also. Well – or mint, or light blue, or sunflower yellow.
The ’60s and ’70s kept the color and threw in everything else: patterning, wallpaper, faux wood panels, and rugs! Then came the heavy stone of a faux Italian villa and the expensive but totally boring seamless white countertops, but also Craftsman chic with tactile materials and great colors – the roar tiles are back!
You can see some of the great history through the old tiled Instagram accounts; These modern archives act like the architectural equivalent of looking at someone’s medicine cabinet. Check out vintagetilepreservation for behind-the-scenes stories and if you have old tiles to save.
For this project, I wanted to honor an old LA tiled bathroom with my own work. This piece, “Flowers Sparkling in the Bathroom” (2022), covers all aspects of my artwork: flowers, architecture, gardens, and installations that delve into our surroundings, both natural and constructed. The work is laid out in the courtyard of a Spanish-style house from 1931. This bathroom has original dramatic purple and black ceramic tiles with an Art Deco design and everything on top, arched niches for the tub and shower, and all tile accessories. It’s utilitarian yet elegant, narrow yet totally luxurious. Designed and built for you to live in, with the residents’ daily habits already imagined and provided, it is a haven that anticipates your desires.
I wanted to respond to the decadent, weird, golden age of Hollywood glamour from all of it. I’ve used traditional flowers in unconventional shapes – red garden roses in a storybook, dark trumpet-shaped calla lilies with white edges like stucco stripes, and bright orange poppies again calling “The Wizard of Oz” (also from the 1930s, remembered as one of the mainstream films). first in colour), delicious lily of the valley but with black snake grass, nasturtiums and leaves like miniature lily pads swimming in a milk bath, an evocative glimpse of bathing houseplants, like poaching the body illegally while naked. I wanted to capture the drama and contrasts, but I also wanted to feel like someone had just stepped out of the picture, someone lived here.
They say nothing lasts in Los Angeles. This is the land of eternal youth and renewal. But consider this piece a love letter to the past, to show how, at times, an old old idol can find a new lovable audience because all we want is to feel joy, and move on to another time.
Crystal Chang is a writer and designer of flowers, landscapes, installations, and public arts in Los Angeles.