Recently I completed one of my favorite client bathrooms to date. My client was a busy, single, female, high-tech sales executive who lived in a cozy, stylish, penthouse condo in the Marina district in San Francisco. When she first moved in a few years ago, she did a quick and dirty bathroom remodel just to make the space livable, but didn’t have the time nor budget then to make it how she really wanted it. Fast forward to this past Fall, my client decided that she had lived with her inefficient, lifeless bathroom for long enough and gave me a call. When I arrived, the bathroom was certainly not sufficient for my client who is typically replete in Marc Jacobs, Chloe and Rag & Bone, and drives to her clients in a big Mercedes. No, she deserved something better – she deserved the luxurious, spa-like, hotel-inspired bathroom that she always dreamed of, so we made it happen.
The project bathroom was small – only about 5′ x 8′. What it did have going for it were 9 foot ceilings and a large skylight which offered great natural light during the day. Functionally, the client really had only one real request: more storage. Her pedestal sink and tiny medicine cabinet had forced her to permanently use the sides of the vanity and top of the toilet for storage – something unbearable for a woman who maintains a spare and immaculate place. Her challenge to me was to find a place for her to put away her curling iron every morning – challenge accepted.
Inspired by the Marina and my client’s feminine, sophisticated style, when it came to design, I decided to anchor her bathroom with a gorgeous tile that was chic, feminine, and sophisticated all at the same time. We found a chocolate-colored, Italian porcelain tile that featured a graphic, over-sized damask pattern and silvery finishing glaze. Against only the primary wall in the bathroom, the tile provided instant drama with it’s chameleon-like ability to change colors depending on the light and viewing angle. The zero-radius corners allowed us to use minimal grout and join the tiles together seamlessly, which always tricks visitors to think that the wall is lined with wallpaper – it’s that cool.
With that wall playing the lead role, we wanted to diffuse the other walls so as to not be distracting and competing; nevertheless, we couldn’t use something too boring so I settled on a distinctive but simple Italian porcelain tile that came in exaggerated thin strips. The matte white finish and tight corners made it the perfect complement. In order to highlight the extra ceiling height, we laid the strips vertically in an offset pattern, which provided that extra bit of emphasis and drama.
Bridging the two walls, we chose a Calcutta marble tile, which is primarily white color with streaks of brown, gray and gold. Besides being a favorite material of my client, it melded together my two tile wall colors and provided a nice, classical counterpoint to the modernity of the space. We cut the large 18″ square tiles in half and laid them in an offset pattern perpendicular to the tub. One nice modernist detail was the lack of baseboards along the floor where the tiles met.
For the fixtures, I did something that I had never done before on a client bathroom project – I reused the toilet the and aforementioned, problematic sink. Why? First, my client wanted to save money where she could so that she could splurge elsewhere. So while the toilet and sink where old, they were still in great condition (my client’s meticulousness paid off here) and they actually fit the design concept – which was a modernist, feminine twist on classic design. So the traditional, stately style of both pieces – with their cornices and bevels – actually worked as that contrasting element. Second, despite its lack of storage, the pedestal sink was a good call in the small bathroom as the tiny footprint contributed to showing more of the flooring and making the bathroom look and feel larger. Third, what better way to be eco-friendly than to reuse.
For the tub, we switched out her generic, cast-iron, apron model and replaced it with a German-made, drop-in model. The primary benefit of this change was the ability to tile up the front of the tub, giving the bathroom a much more luxurious, custom and integrated look, versus the usual swath of tub that greets you when you walk in. Completing the look here was a frameless, extra-tall shower panel that again had the taut, square corners. The fixtures here, like in the rest of the bathroom, were clean-lined, chrome, German hardware that offered good performance at a good value.
To tackle the functionality problem, we had to leverage the walls once we decided to keep the pedestal sink. The biggest single change was finding an over-sized, well-designed medicine cabinet. Extra-tall and featuring built-in electrical outlets, this medicine cabinet swallowed everything my client had, including that pesky curling iron, which could stay plugged in and be put away every morning. This unit was a splurge item – but well worth it for the functionality and build-quality (it is fully mirrored and finished in aluminum even on the inside).
Not done yet, I had a built-in storage niche created in the wall adjacent to the sink when the contractor opened it up to re-wire the electrical systems. To finish the niche, we painted the interior white to contrast the taupe walls and ordered custom glass shelves and chrome shelf supports. The area is now both supplemental storage for things like perfumes and towels, as well as a decorative niche for candles and curiosities. While we were on that wall, we changed out the traditional, decorative door trim for a clean, straight-edged version, and then even changed out the door hinges and handle for modern, chrome examples. It’s the details that count.
Last but not least, we substantially upgraded my client’s lighting – no small accomplishment when you consider her daily makeup and beauty regime. We immediately replaced her two poorly-positioned, incandescent recessed lights with two well-placed, low-voltage recessed lights. These lights provide warm, powerful light from above. In addition, we found a gorgeous , new-but-vintage-inspired, Murano glass sconce that we positioned above the toilet at face-level. Probably the second most prominent design element in the bathroom, this sconce also provided the very necessary diffuse light at face-level for her to tackle her beauty regime. My client now claims she has no idea how she applied makeup before under her old bathroom conditions. Of course, we would have been remiss not to install another recessed light above the shower, which didn’t exist before, while I could. Dimmers on everything allow my client to control exactly how much drama she wants to impart on her bathroom at anytime – a lot for parties, none in the morning.
Lastly, can I mention one more thing I am proud of in this bathroom? It was LITERALLY designed AND purchased in ONE WEEK. Yup, you heard that right, one week. When needed, I can design quick, especially when my vision becomes clear right away. A lot of credit also goes to my client who was extremely helpful, flexible and decisive. I brought my vendor resources and she brought the contractor who was a family friend. We also got very lucky that we chose things that were in-stock or distributed nearby – which was a criteria given the time frame. Typically, I do not work this fast so why the rush you ask? So my client could get her bathroom remodel started AND completed while she was away on a three-week European vacation – and she was leaving in exactly one week from the day she called me. She knows how to live right? Clearly, her old bathroom did not do her lifestyle justice lol.
Overall, I loved the modern, feminine, unique look of this project and how it came together, aesthetically and logistically. My client’s stories of bathroom bliss – spending much more time in her bathroom, going to her bathroom unnecessarily, enjoying her whole house more – confirms to me that this was a success; we had designed the modern bathroom for the modern woman.
– Tile: Ann Sacks, Porcelanosa, Walker Zanger
– SInk/Toilet: Kohler
– Tub: Duravit
– Medicine Cabinet: Robern
– Fixtures: Hansgrohe
– Door Handle: Emtek
– Sconce: Eurofase