Sunday, June 12, 2011

Remodeling a bathroom – Answers to the questions I get asked.


When I started posting this blog I never expected anyone to read it but my family, now lots more people are reading it then I thought. I am always caught off-guard by the questions people ask me that reveal they are reading my blog, and I didn’t know it.
Since I have been fighting my personal battle with Nick’s bathroom tile floor, several people have stopped to ask me questions about bathroom remodeling and how to do it. Most of the uncertainty people have about the project is not if they should do it, but what to do and how much to spend on it. I have talked to a couple people in different situations and here is what I have come up with. 

It is much harder if you are married.

Not surprising it seems that men and women don’t want the same things in a bathroom. My advice is to go towards a masculine neutral scheme with some special touches such as glass tile that are lighter and prettier in color to appeal to women.  Why do I say masculine neutral?  Because that is the color scheme that appeals broadly to both sexes without offending either.
Where to start? One person told me that his wife and he couldn’t agree on a paint color, but they hadn’t even started the remodel yet. Don’t worry about the paint color.. it is the most transient thing in the room.  Start with the permanent fixtures like the shower, tile and furnishings. When all those are in, you can decide on the paint color.

Review the layout and functionality of the bathroom to see where improvements can be made. I have a master bath with an angled wall that stopped one half of the sink vanity drawers from opening, so they were nailed shut. What a waste! When I designed my vanity, I made that side with open shelves, allowing me to slide stuff in and doubling my storage. Also, since I am freakishly tall, I had the vanity made a bit taller than normal without appearing odd. (see below)


For the master bath, if you have the room, create a separate tub and shower which seems to be the gold standard in bathrooms these days. If you don’t I would suggest making a large walk-in shower and forget the tub over shower combo. (This assumes that you will have at least one other bathroom with a tub in the house.) Most adults don’t take baths regularly anymore, and really the shower experience is changing to be one of luxury in the few minutes we use it. If you go this route, find some way to make some small splurges like a really nice shower head or combo shower head. My favorite thing I did was to put a “solartube” with a fan over the shower that lets in diffused light, and works to remove the steam.  Also, since I wanted to make the room feel larger I used a fixed clear glass shower wall. Think creatively so that you can make the shower special but within your budget.



For the toilet, keep it white. There is nothing that dates a bathroom more than a toilet that is other than white… if you have gone to an open house with a bathroom from the seventies and have seen the mustard gold toilet, you know what I mean.
Tile – I believe that tile is absolutely the best material for the bathroom. You can use a sealed ceramic or porcelain or splurge on slate or other natural stone.  Since my master bath was on the small side, I used the same tile on the floor as in the shower. Once again this was a neutral creamy tan color that will never go out of style. But since I had a chosen a green granite top for the vanity as the “star” of the bathroom, I put some glass tile in the shower as an accent to break up the field of tan.  


The effect of continuing the floor tile to the shower also made the room feel larger.This is a sealed porcelain tile with a bit of texture to make it safer. It will wear forever and when I sell the house will not make anyone think, oh I have to rip out the tile. The paint color I chose is called raspberry ice, so it is actually has a faint pinkish hue. It works really well with main tile color and the green granite and has the added benefit of making your skin tone look nice. (Stay away from yellow or green hues on the walls if you can… makes your skin look sickly. Especially when using CFL bulbs in the light fixtures, this is not a good look!)

If I had to outline the steps to follow in remodeling a bathroom it would be these:
Function – how does the bathroom work now for you? Is there something that is great? Or do you have something annoying like my nailed shut vanity drawers? How do you want it to work? What about storage, does it have enough or do you need to create more? Live with the room for at least 3 months but better to be 6 months before deciding on what to do. (Assuming the bath is functional as it is and is just ugly.)

Fixed elements – bath or shower, toilet and vanity.  Can you keep any of them, like the toilet? How do you use them? Remove a cramped shower over tub for a large walk-in shower? Or maybe you have room to put in a reasonably sized Jacuzzi tub? 

Materials – Are you planning on staying in the home for a long time? Then choose the highest grade materials that you can afford. They will last longer and make you happy. If you are thinking you are going to move in a year or two, use mid-grade materials that show you care about the house but don’t break the bank. (Lino on the floor is totally acceptable for instance instead of tile or something pricier) If you are planning on moving soon,  I would suggest one stand- out item to draw attention. A fancy shower head and sink fixtures. A small bit of accent tile or granite… something folks would remember.

Budget – Bath remodels can get you back about 65-70% return when you sell. You need to stay in budget especially if you are planning to sell anytime within the next few years. That being said, kitchens and bathrooms sell houses… they really do. People remember things like hardwood floors in the house, but if it really comes down to making a choice between your house and someone elses, the kitchen and baths will tip the scale. 

Do you love it? My bathroom here in Moraga makes me happy, even 4 years later.  On weekends when I get to take a shower when the sun is up, standing under that "solatube" just brings on the endorphins. I am not joking! What is the point of remodeling if you don’t love it? You are spending a lot of money and time if you do any of it yourself, you should love it.

There you are, some simple steps to a complicated process… don’t rush the remodel unless your floor is collapsing on you. Take your time, research your options, make sure you appeal to both genders and that the end result is something you will enjoy. For all those married couples who can't agree on anything, remember this is just a bathroom and it is not worth getting upset over.Chances are that you have at least 2 bathrooms in your house so if you really can't agree, you can each remodel one bathroom the way you like and just call it a day. (Hey! I never said I gave good marriage advice!)