My Bathroom Renovation: The Experts Weigh In

An Apartment Therapy post about our bathroom last year garnered 85 comments, which together amounted to a resounding chorus of "Ewwww!" Why? Because our bathroom has wall-to-wall carpet. Yes, you read that right. Carpet. In the bathroom. I know it is time for a new floor but I am finding the world of bathroom tiles downright overwhelming.
So I decided to turn to the guru of all things bathroom, Barbara Sallick, co-founder of Waterworks. To my delight Sallick agreed to speak with me. As did an area tile expert, Davida Rodriguez of Davida's Kitchen & Tiles. Both reviewed photos of the much-maligned bathroom and shared their wisdom.

Imagine Your Ideal Bathroom
Initially, I was thinking I would simply focus on the floor for now and tackle the rest of the bathroom bit by bit over the next few years. Sallick balked at this approach: "Renovating in this kind of piecemeal fashion is penny-wise pound-foolish," she warned. "It never looks like it came from same thought process." Instead I should imagine the space stripped down to the studs and build up from there. After measuring the space and laying it out on graph paper one should "imagine the ideal reincarnation of your bathroom--your fantasy bathroom," regardless of budget. She said I should conceptualize every detail, including towel colors.

I can already see the value of such an exercise. I had been agonizing over how to retile my floor to fit in with the rest of the bathroom, including the less-than-ideal vanity and the 80s style gold-trimmed shower. Moreover, I was building my ideal bathroom around the room's beloved William Morris wallpaper, which I think gives the room a unique and personal flair. But was I limiting myself to a handful of flooring options by trying to match the tile with the wallpaper? What if it gets damaged and cannot be replaced? How wedded am I to this wallpaper?

Gather Inspiration and Expert Advice
Sallick suggested I create an inspiration file, a gallery of bathrooms (or parts of bathrooms) that I love. Again, she advised not limiting myself financially at this stage. The idea here is to try to narrow down what features and styles appeal to me. Rodriguez added that before I go shopping I should have a contractor assess the space to see if there are any constraints I should be aware of when choosing tile or replacing fixtures.

It's All About Layering
According to Sallick, it helps to think of a bathroom renovation as "a process of layering," with each layer building on the last. I should start with the floor, then work upward through the walls and backsplash to the countertops and cabinets, and so on.

GETTING DOWN TO SPECIFICS
So, what did these experts think I should actually do to improve my bathroom? What should I change and why?

Stone or Mosaic Tile for the Floors
Both Rodriguez and Sallick agreed that the carpet has to go. No question there. But what kind of flooring should I install? Sallick suggested stone tiles, with heated coils underneath, if I can afford it. Instead of the more ubiquitous 12x12 tiles, Sallick recommended other shapes and sizes, such as 9x18 or 18x18 tiles or even a 3-inch hex scheme. She suggested tiles in whites and grays rather than browns or beiges. As for the slip factor, Sallick said my concern is common but overblown. "You really don’t have to worry about slipping. Tiles are just not that slippery! And you will probably put a rug or large mat down anyway! Rodriguez suggested 3x6 mosaic tiles, perhaps in a diamond pattern that suits the Victorian style of my home. She stressed that the general contractor should gut the entire floor down to the studs to ensure there is no mold or mildew issues to contend with.

Backsplash and Wall Tiles to Unify the Room
Sallick suggested installing tile that reaches far up behind the vanity and then continues around the room--almost like a wainscoting--to tie the whole room together. She was perplexed by the sink's dark grey countertop and backsplash. "I just don't understand 4-inch backsplashes. They make no sense practically or aesthetically," she explained. She pointed out the "awkward juncture" where the backsplash edges toward the window. Instead, she suggested I choose a more substantial tiled backsplash that matches the tiles in the shower to create continuity in the room. I told her that I tend to gravitate toward white tiles and walls and wondered if that instinct was uninspired. Her response was reassuring: "White will never look dated. The nice thing is white is a chameleon color. It can be casual or formal or anything you want. And there are so many subtle shades of white to chose from." She added that "if the bones of the bathroom are right then you can think outside of the box and do something funky and bold with paint and wallpaper."

Ditch the Vanity/Countertop
Sallick said that while my vanity is "perfectly livable" she would ditch it. "I look at the vanity and want it out right away. It has the wrong overhang." She said the cabinets are not high quality and there are many good, affordable options out there that would look much better. If it were her bathroom, Sallick would install two separate sinks with a nice piece of furniture between them. But since I like the built-in cabinets of the wall-to-wall vanity, I could probably get away with leaving the box and sides and simply changing the doors and countertop.

Adding a Personal Touch.
For Sallick, the key to a beautiful bathroom is good bones, but what makes a bathroom personal and unique is the detail. "In my historic home," she explained, "I put my own twist on the classic Waterworks bathroom. I have a 1928 sink and a $235 vintage cabinet with black glass. With me, it's all about vintage finds. And I always have some ferns or flowers in a vase to bring warmth to the room." So even the most classic white bathroom will become personal if I select accessories, furniture, lighting and linens that capture my personality. Moreover, these touches can be easily and cheaply mixed up whenever the mood strikes.

So, where does all of this leave me and my renovation project? I am knee deep in the inspiration-gathering phase. My current thinking is: stone tile or mosaic tiled floors, white tiled backsplash, existing wallpaper (with the option to replace), new vanity doors and sink basins and a new shower door and frame. I am hoping to save money by keeping the layout and plumbing intact.

Stay tuned for the next stages in this renovation!

What would you do in my shoes?

Images: Catrin Morris

Read Davida Rodriguez's blog and Barbara Sallick's blog.

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