Before and After: A Designer Modernizes Her Bathroom Without Stripping Away Its Original Charm

published Nov 20, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Shower area before; old tiles with gorgeous stained glass windows

Designer Libby Rawes of Sharp + Grey Interiors longed to make a change in her dated bathroom that felt a little bit like, well, a home center special from 1998. “The pink beige travertine style tile was everywhere and paired with ornate details on the vanity and oil rubbed bronze plumbing,” says Rawes. It wasn’t just the aesthetics that bothered her, though. “There was a lot of wasted space, which made the bath completely not functional,” she says, citing things like the bulky, visually heavy vanity and the oddly-placed shelves and towel bars.

When the One Room Challenge rolled around last year, Rawes used the program as an impetus to finally create the bathroom she had always wanted that would modernize and properly utilize the bones of the space, all while showcasing the striking stained glass window. “The main goal was to use the space better — create more storage and use the footprint better to allow for some breathing room,” says Rawes. “The second goal was to create a timeless, bright space that let the original details like the stained glass window shine.”

The construction process took about six weeks. “Prior to that, we had to order the custom vanity a little over four months before,” says Rawes. “We had learned of a closed-up closet between the bathroom and another bedroom and hoped that we could rearrange the bathtub space to widen the bathroom. Unfortunately, there’s a chimney [nearby in the wall] that was a bit too big to use any additional space.” For that reason, Rawes had to keep the footprint the same and instead sought to make strategic decisions that would make the bathroom appear bigger while packing in additional storage where she could. Aesthetically, she’d bring in finishes that would bring texture and soul into the space without visually overwhelming it or straying too far from the 1920s era of the home.

After demoing the old fixtures and finishes (save for the that show-stopping stained glass window), Rawes worked with Pennsylvania-based Village Handcrafted to create the aforementioned custom vanity that would better utilize the sink wall and provide tons of storage. She had it painted Farrow and Ball’s Light Gray to establish an airy neutral color scheme, which she doubled down on with tongue and grove paneling on the walls coated in Benjamin Moore’s Simply White (OC-117). The vertical paneling helps to underscore the home’s lofty nine-foot ceilings, again making this smaller bath feel just a little grander. The countertop is a thin quartz, which strikes a just-right balance between fresh and old-fashioned, while the unlacquered Watermark brass plumbing fixtures will only get better — and more patinated — with time. She finished off the vanity area with a Ballard Designs mirror and a hand towel from McGee & Co.

Most of the painting and electrical was handled by Rawes and her husband, an electrician by trade, but when it came to the tile and trim work, she partnered with Iron Space Designs, another local company. She invested in marble herringbone floor tile from Riad to establish that same old worlds meets modern look and saved on the shower tile by choosing an Alexander James glossy, creamy ceramic style that has the tonal look of zellige tile but costs roughly what many home center styles do per square foot. “It still has a handmade characteristic but is very budget-friendly,” says Rawes. Laying the tiles vertically in a stack bond configuration again helps to emphasize the soaring ceiling line. The shower curtain, sourced from Superior Custom Linens on Etsy, features fast-drying washable linen fabric.

Niches in both the shower and on the half wall next to the vanity near the doorway add thoughtful spots to store toiletries and other bathroom essentials without stealing floorspace. Marble shelving in the shower niche ties into the floor tile. For a little bit of functional luxury, Rawes went with radiant heating below her tiles, too, and added a vintage rug for a pop of color and softness underfoot.

Now the bathroom functions better and looks a little more period appropriate for the home, too. “My biggest piece of advice is to work with your architecture,” says Rawes of this project and really all renovations. “Find materials that are classic and invest in them. For instance, in this project, we invested in marble tile and unlacquered brass plumbing fixtures, which are very classic and pretty and never go out of style and fit beautifully with the 1920’s home.”

Ultimately though, the light and storage in the space — plus that stunning original window that’s now a true focal point in the room — make this bath really shine. “The bathroom is filled with texture and bright white, but it feels warm and nuanced with the taupe vanity and flax colored shower curtain,” says Rawes. “With some of these thoughtful upgrades, like the six drawer vanity, we were able to quadruple the storage.” Who could ask for anything more?