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How We Designed Our Dream Bathroom

This is it, folks. This singular project has always been the make or break for our little house on the hill: the primary bathroom. Way back in January, this project showed up on our 2021 list of home resolutions- but it was only a maybe, and a hard maybe at that. Not because it wasn't important, but because of what you're already thinking: budget. We just weren't quite sure that the preliminary estimates we'd gotten from various contractors and kitchen/bath specialists were worth it. Did we really want to spend that much money on this house? We spent a handful more of the colder months pondering this question, and oft wishing we were soaking in a tub and waiting for Spring to warm the world up again- we quickly came to the conclusion that yes, it's worth it. Beyond purely aesthetics, and beyond the mental imagery of a warm bath on a frigid December eve, with wine in one hand and a book in the other- a more functional bathroom would extend our timeframe in this house by at least a decade. In the end, that's the question we really had to ask ourselves: are we in this house for the long run? As it turns out, we are.

On our Instagram stories a few weeks ago, I walked through our current "primary" bath and why it was so dysfunctional. I'll show some photos below, but if you didn't see the walkthrough and enjoy cringe content, I highly suggest watching. But in summary, the third floor space that we've fashioned into our primary bedroom was originally just a wide-open, loft/attic-like space. When contractors flipped our home, they added a parallel closet and full bath. In theory, this sounds all well and good- an extra bathroom is definitely appreciated, and it's the largest "bedroom" in the house, and it gave the contractors another bonus selling feature. However, it's trickier than that. Because of the pitched roof, the ceiling slopes greatly towards the front and back of the house. The location of the closet and bathroom is at the back of the house, so the ceiling height in those spaces is... not ideal. Hugh and I both have to sit to look in the mirror and to use the, uh, toilet. We consistently bang our heads and knock things off precariously-placed shelves almost daily, and we've had enough of it at this point.

(Current primary bath on the third floor. Note: sloped ceilings, and toilet smack dab against the shower glass for some reason???)

Looking at the aerial view below, you can get a better sense of the current layout and footprint.

Now, imagine: removing the wall between the closet and bathroom to combine them into one large (well, larger) dream bathroom. This would allow us to move the vanity to a location that would allow us to stand up at full height without fear of knocking our skulls through the roof. We'd also remove the swinging door for a "barn"/sliding door. This way, a door swinging into the bathroom doesn't take up what little room we're trying to create in this already tight space. In addition to that, it gives us enough room for a double vanity, a slightly larger shower, AND most importantly of all... a claw foot tub!! The only drawback of this plan, and really this bathroom in general, is that the toilet location is pretty set. We're moving it over slightly so it isn't right up against the glass of the shower, but we'll still have to sit to use the toilet- this is a compromise that we're fine with, and one we're sure many of our female readers would also be okay with.

(In this view, you can see the new placement of the vanity- this previously would've been where the door to the closet is located, and allows for a lot more height.)

Now, beyond functionality, the next order of business to tackle (and one perhaps more important to those following along on a visual platform like Instagram) is the aesthetic, the style, the ever-elusive vibe, if you will. For us, we've always taken a classic, Victorian-meets-Colonial approach: i.e. a fireplace/hearth in the living room, exposing our kitchen ceiling beams for a rustic feel, and collecting gallery wall art from many a bygone era. We wanted something timeless- it didn't necessarily have to fall in line with one specific time period, especially since many colonial residences lacked a bathroom and plumbing altogether, but we are aiming for a look that will forever remain in style for those that inhabit this house after us- or maybe they'll hate it and put carpet in the bathroom like heathens, who knows. For us, more importantly, timelessness was key. Below are some of the images that inspired us.

Credit in order: (@brownstoneboys, @end_of_the_row, @ca_pietra, and @thishouse5000)

Some thoughts here: obviously lighter, brighter tile colors come to mind- with smaller windows that are almost floor level on the third story of our house, we wanted to keep the space as light and bright and airy as we could. White subway tile might now be a "been there done that" sorta aesthetic, which I could almost agree with in many cases, but for us it made the most sense. I spent some time trying to convince Hugh on a deep/forest green wall tile, but knowing that everyone and their mother is painting things green right now, he wasn't too keen on that idea. In the end, we settled on bringing in color and depth in a few other ways: an accent wall behind the tub (which will be green, hehe), and we've painted our claw foot tub black like the image above. We're hoping this will break up the mix of whites that are present, but overall still exude a classic, stylish feel. And now without further adieu, here are some of our renderings.

There are a few things to note on the above. First, as previously mentioned, the clawfoot tub has been painted a satin black (apart from the lip which will remain white), and we are going to try and move the tub filler to the foot of the tub instead of against the wall. Secondly, you might ask, "Why isn't the tub centered between the two windows?" That's a great question! Originally, that was our plan. But then we thought about the dead space behind the tub it would create that would essentially be unusable due to the ceiling height, in addition to hoping we'll be able to get a window view when seated in the tub, and we pushed it back a little. We're hoping that providing more space at the foot of the tub, toward the shower and toilet, will be more functional for us. The shower glass is not rendered in, but it will be the square black pane-style as pictured in the inspiration photos from Instagram above (and linked below with some of our other materials. And lastly, we've changed out or initial idea for the sliding door. We were at first going to simply purchase one off of Wayfair, but thought it would better suit us to salvage an old door and repurpose it- it also saves a little bit of money, but more on that shortly. If you're further intrigued, below are some of the specific materials we've picked out:

(As shown in order: shower, vanity, claw foot tub, shower faucet/head, pendant lights)

All in all, our focus is on classic materials: mosaic and subway tile, a wood vanity, brass hardware, etc. and creating a "flow" between the appearance of our kitchen and our future bathroom. Not too "matchy-matchy", but definitely related- not twins, but like cousins or something. Aside from ordered materials, I've mentioned a few other mini-projects we're taking on ourselves. We're probably all acutely and painfully aware of how expensive any home-related materials have gotten in the Covid-era, and we're not quite sure when they'll ever dip back down to sane levels, if at all. Maybe everything is overinflated forever now, who knows? Not us. That's one of the reasons we bit the bullet after months of back and forth. Will prices ever go back down? Will we even be alive tomorrow to enjoy this bathroom? Will we still have plumbing if society collapses? We weren't, and still aren't, keen on finding out. So, bathroom reno, here we come! Jokes (?) aside, there are a few ways we saved money on this project. Now, these tidbits didn't slash the materials and labor costs down by half or anything like that, but it's something. While money still matters in this world we live in, it's nice to have some back in our pocket.

  1. We're salvaging a door instead of buying a pre-fab one off of Wayfair. The door we were going to purchase was around $600- we found a unique, old door from Philadelphia Salvage for half of that. Along with a gorgeous set of antique hardware and some florentine glass, she'll be restored to glory. It might not be a huge cost saver in the end, but again, it's something- and it's better than a door anybody could order off of Wayfair and will be unique to us!

  2. We chose an acrylic tub instead of a cast iron tab. This was for both financial and practical reasons. We went with the above, high end acrylic tub because (of course) it is cheaper, AND we knew we were going to have to hoist everything through the second floor window. Yep, those trinity stairs will get ya every time. Tying a 400 pound tub with some rope and pulling it through a window didn't sound like a great (or safe) time.

  3. And again on the tub subject, we chose the white tub instead of opting for a more expensive black version- we've simply painted it ourselves! Like the inspiration pic in the first gallery, we aimed for a satin-black finish on the tub. We've found a few tutorials on this, and it was pretty self explanatory with some extra guidance from a very nice employee at Sherwin Williams.

  4. We're building our own bathroom shelves. If you look at the renderings, you'll see the shelves on the wall adjacent to the vanity. Instead of buying overpriced, prefabricated shelves from the design firm, we're going to make our own (again) that match the ones in our kitchen! Once more, a callback to other elements in our house- and an easy project we're already familiar with.

  5. This last point might not be an option for everyone, but if it is, it's something to think about. We're utilizing a 5% cash discount from our contractors for this project. Given that everything already has a "covid premium" and all of these companies have schedules booked out for a year or more, they're allowed to charge more ~just because~. One way to get around this is to offer cash. Again, we're fully aware it's not always feasible for everyone, but many contractors would gladly accept going this route.

(From left to right: the door we are refinishing, the hardware we picked out, an example of florentine glass, and our freshly painted tub).

Aaaaand that's it, folks! We're elated that this renovation begins soon (this month!). It's our first large home project that we haven't taken on ourselves, apart from the smaller ticket items outlined in the numbers above, so it will be refreshing (and perhaps frightening) to relinquish control to someone else. With that said, we're very happy with our design choices and are impatiently awaiting the first moment we can dip our toes into a warm bath. As always, thanks for following along. We hope this blog was worthwhile, a tad bit enlightening, or even just mildly entertaining. I'm sure we will be posting plenty on our stories and feed in the weeks to come, so stay tuned, and cheers to a functional bathroom!

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