Giving the Kids a Bath
Ingenuity—not expansion—opened up possibilities for a small-scale children's bathroom.
With two small children and another on the way, Bob and Marla Fox knew big changes lay in store for the year 2000, especially for the kids' upstairs bath. Small, outdated, and short on storage, the room needed a major overhaul in order to comfortably accommodate daily hygiene for three. Unfortunately, adding space was not an option. The 6-by-9-foot room sat neatly boxed in by an exterior wall, a hallway with a closet the Foxes were determined to keep, the master bath, and the attic under the lower roof of their 1950s Plainview, New York, split-level. "We wanted desperately to make it bigger," says Marla, "but the room was basically landlocked."
Enter local contractor Frank Cerone. Having worked with the Foxes on
previous remodeling projects, Cerone came with a comfort factor, along with an ingenuity that would serve him well in carrying out Marla's
primary directives: Make the bathroom more efficient; optimize available space; find room for new storage; and ease in a tub/shower combination, a lavatory, and a vanity with double sinks. "I wanted it to be kid-friendly," notes Marla. "But I also wanted top-quality materials to create a classic look that would grow with the children. When they get older, all I'll have to do is change the paint."
Cerone's familiarity with the house proved to be an asset. He immediately thought of two areas of dead space he could utilize for
built-ins. One was a chase that carried HVAC ducts to the second floor," a cavity Cerone had encountered when remodeling the Foxes' kitchen a year earlier. The chase had been framed out by the original builder to serve as an end wall for the bathtub, leaving a hollow 14 inches wide, 4 feet deep, and 6 feet high next to the door. The bathroom could also extend a few inches into the attic space behind the toilet â?" a result of the difference in height of the roofs in the split-level configuration of the house.
The first order of business was a complete, to-the-studs gutting of the
interior. A tear-out specialist crew removed the old vanity, sink, tub,
and toilet, then stripped off old drywall, wood paneling, and wall
tiles. They pried up dated ceramic floor tiles and the mud base down to
the 1x6 subflooring. As they worked, the crew threw debris into plastic
garbage bins and carried it out of the house by hand to a waiting truck.
Because the plan called for new fixtures in the same positions as the
previous ones, the water supply tubes, plumbing drains, and toilet
flange remained in place. Cerone took advantage of the open walls to
upgrade the electrical circuit by replacing older two-wire-plus-ground cable with modern three-wire cable. Improvements included ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles, required by code when the outlet is located within three feet of a water source, and an exhaust fan in the ceiling.
A notion to gain volume by vaulting the ceiling was dismissed. "The
ceiling height was only 7 1/2 feet," notes Cerone, "so we considered
raising it to the roof rafters. But the part of the roof we were under was hipped, so opening the old ceiling there would have resulted in an odd shape. In the end, we decided to leave it alone." An existing window on the exterior wall also remained in place.
With framing exposed, Cerone went to work. New R-13 fiberglass wall
insulation and R-19 ceiling insulation replaced older, compacted baths.To preserve floor space and to allow clear access to the set of shelves that were to fit into the hollow chase wall, he removed the 24-inch hinged door and reframed a common wall between the bathroom and the hallway linen closet to accommodate a pocket door. "The pocket door was one of those simple ideas that made a big difference," says Fox. "Now we don't have to bother with a door swing."
To prepare the built-ins, Cerone had cabinetmaker Craig Kenda construct
two boxes from paint-grade birch plywood. In the newly opened area over the toilet, Cerone reframed the wall to accommodate a 12-inch-deep unit 30 inches wide by 36 inches high, with three fixed shelves, which he covered on the back and sides with 1-inch rigid foam insulation to prevent heat loss. The back of the insulated box projects into the empty attic space. Another cabinet, 12 by 48 by 12 inches deep, with three fixed shelves and four drawers, fit into the chase by the tub.
The Foxes' former bath had borne the brunt of years of use. In the streamlined new bath, Cerone built in two niches, a tier of drawers, and an invisible medicine cabinet, which opens by a touch latch.
Fitting Everything InThe outside edges of both built-ins were not trimmed out. Instead, Kenda beveled them 3 degrees and installed the boxes so that the front edges aligned with the drywall. The drywall contractor bedded tape and joint compound over the slight depression created by the bevel, smoothing and feathering out the joint by riding a drywall knife on top of the bevel point. The result was a perfectly smooth, flush wall surface right up to the inside edges of the boxes.
Fitting everything required of a bath in such a compact space was a challenge complicated by the fact that the room is oddly shaped; 7 feet
wide along the exterior wall, it tapers to 5 feet at the doorway wall opposite. To camouflage the difference, Cerone experimented with designs for the vanity that would run along the tapering wall. First, though, he sketched in outlines on the subfloor to indicate the location for the tub and toilet and a partition wall between the two. The outlines revealed how large a space he had to work with. Using 1/4-inch plywood underlayment cutouts, he showed the Foxes several possible vanity configurations before settling on a modified boomerang design, one half narrowing to 21 inches and the other tapering to a svelte 16 inches.
Solid surfacing proved to be the ideal countertop material because it
could be fabricated to conform to the idiosyncratic shape while providing double sinks and a rounded, kid-friendly-radius edge. In keeping with Marla's wish not to have too many projecting surfaces, Cerone hung a flat mirror over the vanity and recessed the medicine cabinet in the side wall, covering its inset, touch-latch door with plywood painted to match the surrounding wall.
Because their kids are young, Bob and Marla expect to be bath-givers
for many years. In the future they intend to enclose the tub-and-shower combo with sliding glass doors, which are being stored in the basement for the time being.
Marla's design scheme called for a mix of watery and neutral colors and
for classic materials with timeless appeal, but she did make an exception; sparking blue 1-inch-square glass mosaic tiles for the tub surround (see "High Glass," below). "I'd seen it in a magazine and I kept coming back to it," she says. "I loved the way glass tiles change color depending on the light and the way you look at them."
Cerone installed 8-inch-square beige tumbled-marble tiles on the floor, covering the wooden subfloor with tar paper and bedding the tiles in a cement-and-wire base. For the vanity base, Marla chose maple with a washed finish. To spread just a bit of sparkle around, Marla had Cerone
cut a few of the glass tiles into the tumbled-marble floor tiles. "We
love it all, and the kids adore it, too," she says of the $17,000 remodel. "They can't wait to take a bath, and then we can get them to bed that much quicker!"
Glass tiles are gaining acceptance as a substitute for ceramic tiles,
especially for interior use. They are installed using traditional tile-setting techniques, although they do not feature lugs, and they require plastic spacers to keep grout lines uniform. Tiles made of glass may have sharp edges and require careful handling. They are also expensive. At a minimum of $40 per square foot for the tiles alone, they approach the premium range, a price the Foxes were willing to pay because of the relatively small area â?" about 60 square feet â?" being covered. The main appeal of glass tiles is their unusual look. They are available in different opacities, but semitranslucent varieties are popular for their soft, dreamlike quality. Because the glass transmits light, grout color can alter the look of the installed tiles. Most anufacturers recommend white grout, but Marla selected a greenish/blue sand grout that complemented the watery look of the tile field.
Work proceeded without a hitch. Once the room was gutted to the studs and plumbing and electrical hook-ups had been adjusted, the crew began to carry in the new fixtures, including the tub.