This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.
Few things irk a professional designer like living with a drab, dysfunctional interior. For Cillesa Ullman, one sore spot in her 1960s post-and-beam home in Oakland, CA, was the tiny, no-frills guest-room bath on the lower level. “I could not wait to tear it out, so I literally did most of the demo myself,” she says. Her plan: Enlarge the space by relocating a laundry room and bedroom closet, and move the doorway so the bath could serve the entire floor, which was renovated to create another bedroom. To add a feeling of luxury to the new bath, Cillesa incorporated heated floors, a spa tub, and sleek new fixtures and cabinetry. She landed on her color inspiration when she came across a penny tile glazed in varying shades of aqua, “like a mermaid’s tail,” she recalls thinking. Using it to cover the tub skirt and line the shower floor, and echoing it on the double vanity, brought the space to life. “It’s both elegant and whimsical,” she says, “and with cool gray walls, it feels calming, too.”
“Try orienting rectangular wall tiles vertically to emphasize the height of a space and give it a visual lift. It’s a twist on tradition that creates a refreshing, modern aesthetic.” —Cillesa Ullman, owner, Cillesa Interior Design & Space Planning
Relocating a laundry room and a bedroom closet allowed for an 80-square-foot bath with two sinks, a bathtub, and a shower.
- Annexed the laundry and closed up its door to the bedroom to create a hallway entrance.
- Installed a 72-inch-wide double vanity, adding a partition wall at the end to create an alcove for the toilet.
- Put in an apron-front tub that spans the exterior wall beneath a new 42-by-32-inch awning-style window.
- Mounted a 30-inch towel bar on either side of the shower.
- Built a 36-by-39-inch shower with a bench seat and a toiletry niche where part of a bedroom closet had stood.
Get the Look
Take the plunge into watery blue hues and streamlined design elements like those on these pages.
1. Refreshing blue paint / BENJAMIN MOORE
For a poolside vibe in a hard-wearing, cabinet-friendly finish, try the Advance line of water-based alkyd paint in Santa Clara.
About $60 per gallon; Benjamin Moore
2. Cylindrical sconce / WAC LIGHTING
Clean lines and a soft glow distinguish this dimmable LED wall light with a brushed-nickel finish and an acrylic shade.
Turbo sconce, $70; Lightology
3. Sleek single-hole faucet / HANSGROHE
Smooth operation, temperature-sensitive control, and water-saving smarts meet understated style.
Cosmopolitan faucet in chrome, $225; GROHE
4. Porcelain penny tiles / ELITE TILE
Durable penny rounds glazed in varying soft-blue hues look both classic and modern. Their small size makes them a slip-resistant choice for wet-area floors.
$9.49 per square foot; Wayfair