Adding antique bathroom faucets to your home can be a great way to incorporate vintage style and charm into your space. With the wide variety of antique and vintage-inspired bathroom faucets available, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your bathroom’s design aesthetic. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about antique bathroom faucets, from styles and finishes to installation and maintenance.
A Brief History of Antique Bathroom Faucets
Before the late 19th century, indoor plumbing was not common in most homes. Early bathroom faucets were separate hot and cold water taps mounted on free-standing basins. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the single-handle faucet was invented, allowing users to control both hot and cold water with one lever.
As bathrooms moved indoors, faucet companies like Kohler, American Standard, and Price Pfister began producing decorative bathroom faucets in styles like Victorian, Art Deco, and Craftsman to match bathrooms of the era. Widespread adoption of in-home bathrooms in the 1920s and 30s created a market for unique, stylized faucets.
Mid-century design of the 40s and 50s saw a shift towards streamlined, minimalist faucets. But a revival of interest in antiquing in the 1960s and 70s brought ornate, vintage-style faucets back into popularity. Today, antique and vintage-inspired bathroom faucets are a great way to add character and old-world charm to any bathroom remodel or décor.
Popular Styles of Antique Bathroom Faucets
Antique bathroom faucets encompass a wide array of styles that evoke bathrooms from past eras. Here are some of the most popular vintage styles to consider:
- Decorative design with floral motifs, curved shapes, and embellished details
- Popular finishing includes polished brass, bronze, nickel
- Often have ceramic handles or cross-style handles
- Work well with clawfoot tubs or cottage-style décor
Art Deco Faucets
- Streamlined and geometric with straight lines and angles
- Made from materials like chrome, glass, and enamel
- Often have hot/cold indicator markings on the handle
- Complement bold, graphic, 1920s-30s inspired bathrooms
- Inspired by the American Arts & Crafts movement
- Simple, straight lines and rectangular shapes
- Usually made of brushed nickel or bronze
- Feature exposed pipes or industrial details
- Match Craftsman, Farmhouse, or Rustic décor
- Sleek, space-age curves and angles
- Made of chrome, steel, or enamel
- Monobloc style with single spout and handle
- Pop of color like turquoise, pink, or yellow
- Great for 1950s modern or retro bathrooms
- Replicas of exact antique faucet models
- Can be custom made to match existing antique
- Offer authentic look of original antique fixtures
- Available for many eras like Victorian, Colonial, Art Deco
Antique Faucet Finishes
The finish of a faucet largely determines its style, durability, and maintenance needs. Here are some of the most common finishes seen on antique bathroom faucets:
- Polished Brass – Very warm, golden tone. Shows wear over time. Needs occasional polishing.
- Brushed Nickel – Silvery color with soft matte texture. Durable low-maintenance finish.
- Bronze – Dark brownish color like aged copper. Living finish develops patina over time.
- Chrome – Shiny silver tone. Modern look. Prone to water spots/smudges without frequent cleaning.
- Black – Matte black finish. Very on-trend for modern bathrooms. Has an industrial vibe.
- Gold – Real gold plating offers very luxurious appearance. Expensive option.
- Crystal – Mirrored glass handles. Glamorous but high maintenance.
Consider the overall look you want along with practical maintenance concerns when choosing antique faucet finishes. Oil-rubbed bronze offers vintage styling with fewer upkeep needs compared to a polished brass or crystal handle finish, for example.
Buying Antique Style Bathroom Faucets
If you’re looking to buy an antique bathroom faucet, here are some tips to find quality vintage-inspired fixtures:
- Visit architectural salvage yards – You may uncover actual antique faucets here. Be prepared to refurbish.
- Shop specialty retailers – Stores focused on vintage bathroom décor will have best selection.
- Search major retailers and online stores – Big box and bath décor e-tailers now carry vintage-look faucets.
- Work with manufacturers directly – Many companies can custom make antique replica faucets.
- Look for solid brass construction – Heft and detailing signals higher quality for new fixtures.
- Examine finishes closely – Should have an even, consistent patina without spots or scratches.
- Look for smooth handle operation – Old cranks or catches could indicate wear/needed repair.
- Consider your whole bathroom aesthetic – Make sure the style complements your overall décor vision.
Take your time shopping around to get the perfect antique bathroom faucet for your needs. Keep your budget, bathroom layout, and style preferences in mind as you search.
Installing an Antique Bathroom Faucet
While installing any new bathroom faucet requires some plumbing know-how, retrofitting an antique or vintage style faucet often demands extra skill. Here are some installation tips:
- Carefully remove existing faucet – Turn off water supply lines and extract old faucet without damaging sink or wall.
- Examine water supply lines – Replace corroded galvanized pipes with new flexible supply lines if needed.
- Check for standard faucet holes – Drill new holes if antique faucet requires non-standard opening configuration.
- Have extension pipes ready – Antique faucets may require specially sized hot/cold extension pipes to reach water supply.
- Use plumbers putty or gaskets – Seal any gaps between new faucet and sink/wall openings.
- Connect supply lines – Attach hot and cold water feeds to proper faucet openings.
- Install any special features – Connect sprayer hoses, drain assemblies, or other accessories.
- Turn water back on slowly – Check for leaks and make any needed adjustments.
Unless you’re very handy, it’s often worth hiring a pro for an antique faucet installation. The intricacies of adapting old fixtures to modern plumbing can be tricky. Get help ensuring your retro faucet is safely and properly installed.
Caring for Vintage Bathroom Faucets
Like any bathroom fixture, antique faucets require regular maintenance to stay in good working order and keep their vintage styling. Here are some care tips:
- Clean regularly – Gently wipe down faucet with mild soap and water to prevent mineral buildup. Use soft cloth only.
- Polish gently – Use very fine polishing paste/cloths specially made for delicate finishes if faucet is looking dull.
- Seal with wax – Protect polished metal finishes by applying a thin coat of wax after polishing.
- Prevent scratches and chips – Handle faucet gently when cleaning. Don’t let it knock against sink.
- Check for drips – Address leaks right away to avoid excess wear and mineral deposits.
- Tighten handles if loose – Use screwdriver to tighten handle screws underneath faucet if needed.
- Inspect supply lines – Replace any corroded or worn rubber supply hoses.
- Consider professional maintenance – Some very old/delicate faucets may need specialized care.
Take a gentle, careful approach when cleaning and handling vintage bathroom faucets. Enlist a professional if you have any concerns about safely maintaining antique fixtures.
Troubleshooting Common Antique Faucet Problems
Due to their age and delicate craftsmanship, antique bathroom faucets are prone to certain issues you wouldn’t see in newer fixtures. Some common problems and fixes include:
Low water flow – Clean aerator, check supply lines for blockage, or have plumber inspect.
Dripping water – Replace worn washers/gaskets or have seat valves professionally repaired.
Loose handles – Tighten handle set screws or replace damaged spindle assembly.
No hot water – Make sure hot supply line is open, connected properly and water heater works.
Leaking under sink – Check for cracked solder joints and have a plumber resolder. Old solder can fail over time.
Difficult handle turning – Lubricate handle mechanisms. If no improvement, internal parts likely need replacing.
Finish wearing/dulling – Gently polish tarnished areas. Re-coat worn finishes with clear enamel (professional job).
Be very gentle when attempting any DIY troubleshooting on antique fixtures. Call in an experienced plumber if problems persist after basic fixes.
Giving an Antique Faucet a Modern Update
While keeping the vintage style intact is important, some functional updates can make an antique faucet feel fresh and practical:
- Add lever handles – Easier for arthritis sufferers to grasp vs smaller knobs.
- Install a hand sprayer – Convenient for rinsing sink or cleaning faucet itself.
- Incorporate temperature controls – Maintain safety and comfort with anti-scalding valves.
- Use energy-saving aerators – Preserve flow volume while cutting waste.
- Update drain assembly – New pop-up drains are less prone to clogging.
- Consider hybrid pairing – Combine vintage spout with new working parts hidden under sink.
Even with modern enhancements added, a well-chosen antique faucet can retain its old-fashioned appeal and charm. Upgrade smartly to get the best of both worlds.
FAQs About Antique Bathroom Faucets
What eras are most antique bathroom faucets from?
Most available antique bathroom faucets date back to the mid to late 1800s into the early 1900s. Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco styles from this era are most prevalent. It’s rare to find 18th century Colonial or early American antique bathroom fixtures.
Are reproduction antique faucets good quality?
It depends on the manufacturer. High end plumbing companies making vintage reproductions often use solid brass construction and quality finishes. Cheaper reproductions tend to be lighter weight and less durable. Examine materials and detailing closely.
Can I put an antique faucet on a modern vessel sink?
It’s not impossible, but it usually requires modifications. Vessel sinks don’t have standard faucet holes. The rim may need drilling to accommodate an antique wall-mount faucet. Hire a skilled plumber for custom vessel sink installation.
What are the best materials for antique bathroom faucets?
Solid brass provides optimal longevity and allows for delicate detailing in antique faucets. Cast iron is also durable but very heavy. Some high end antique faucets incorporate crystal, enamel, or sterling silver details which require gentle care.
Where can I find replacement parts for antique bathroom faucets?
Major plumbing manufacturers like Kohler and American Standard support replacement parts for their vintage faucets. Otherwise, check antique plumbing supply retailers. Be sure to have your faucet make and model information ready for proper part sourcing.
With their ornate detailing and decorous vintage styling, antique bathroom faucets can infuse old-world glamour into any bath decor. From elegant Victorian brass to shiny Art Deco chrome, the array of historical designs to choose from is wide and versatile enough to suit most design aesthetics. With proper selection, care, and maintenance, an antique or vintage-reproduction faucet can provide both beautiful form and daily function for years to come. Just take special care during cleaning and repairs to keep vintage fixtures looking their best. With the right antique faucet find, you can enjoy both the charms of yesteryear and the convenience of modern indoor plumbing.