The New Bathroom, Part 2

By on 29 October, 2012 in Historic Midtown, Kate and Stephen, Real Estate with 4 Comments

You know the deal: Living in Midtown Montgomery often means living in homes that are historic. As such, we traffic in tales of domestic bliss, often involving home upkeep and repair. About six weeks ago we posted saying that we’d reveal our new bathroom the following week. We didn’t, strictly speaking, need a new bathroom — what we had was old termite and water damage underneath our hallway floor, meaning door frames would shift and sag more than usual, making (depending on season and rainfall) the doors into semi-movable walls. And since the frames were shifting on a soft floor, that meant subfloor repair was required — as well as a removal of the bathroom floor to get to the beams in question.

“Might as well remodel while we’re at it,” we thought. Demolition started the day after Labor Day, but only finished this past Wednesday. Readers, we’re infinitely sorry for leaving you hanging. As with many things, the project took a little longer than we anticipated. The toilet arrived but was cracked in half; the shower door glass had to be sent to Birmingham to be tempered. Then we had to deal with some family issues, extending the whole project by another three weeks.Before

But it’s finally done, and maybe was even worth the pain and inconvenience. The old bathroom was chocolate brown, with hexagonal tile on the floor and larger square tiles on the walls. These wall tiles resembled vaguely, but didn’t really match the slightly off-white tiles in the shower. An in-ground tub stretched between the behind-door linen cabinet and the back wall, while a horrible beige plastic counter topped a vanity with a tiny sink along the back wall. To the right was a toilet and the shower, complete with frosted glass and aluminum frame door.

We started looking into fixtures for the bathroom about three weeks before the demolition would happen. We wanted to make sure everything would fit, would arrive on time and match up with any plumbing revisions that ended up being necessary.

First on our wish list was a clawfoot tub. We’ve always wanted one – they exude a classic luxury and are amazing for relaxation. Since the bathroom isn’t very big (though re-tiling the walls gained us an extra inch and a half on every wall), it was a challenge to think of where to sit one. We knew we wanted to move the toilet out of the way – who wants a toilet to be the first thing you see when you look into a bathroom? If we tucked it behind the cabinet, we’d be free to put a big tub along the back wall. But not too big; otherwise, where would the sink go?

Fortunately, we’d recently helped a relative look through houses in Midtown, so we knew what do to (and what not to do) in the new bathroom. We wanted to make the most of the space while keeping to period-appropriate fixtures, colors and textures. We selected the timeless black and white tile for the floor and a simple white subway tile around all the walls. This would give a nice, stark canvas to work with. At the last minute, we decided to add a black border around the base of the wall tile to draw the eye down and accentuate the height of the ceilings.

Looking for a clawfoot tub turned out to be a very complex thing. Not only do they come in many different sizes, they also come in several shapes: the slipper (where one side is higher than the other), the double slipper (where both sides are higher than the middle) and a rolltop (level across the top, rolled rim). They can be cast iron, acrylic or copper. Then there’re the colors. You then have to decide if you’re going to have the faucet on the side or on the middle. What kind of drain will you have? How will the water get up and down from the floor? Thank goodness for the educational resources and great customer service over at Vintage Tub. We chose the flat tub with rim-drilled holes for the faucet. It arrived within 10 days and the delivery of our 900+ lb item was surprisingly painless. It sat in our living room for a while while work continued.

Awaiting placement

We’d had a good experience with Kohler products for our other bathroom adventure, so we ended up going back to that brand for this one. Turns out they make a roughly period set called the “Memoirs” collection for bathrooms in our era (1930s), so we went with the pedestal sink and the toilet here. Though nobody really wants to think of their toilet as their “Memoirs,” do they? Nonetheless, the set looks good, with beveled rectangle details that offset the oval of the tub so the whole thing’s not too matchy-matchy.

Tub and toilet

The pedestal sink was a little controversial among people we consulted, given the lack of storage it represented, but we decided to go with it anyway because a) it’s period; b) it makes the room look bigger; and c) we actually recaptured a whole cabinet and drawer in the remodel by filling in some space (an unused air return) and by extending the floor-to-ceiling built-in behind the door back down to the floor. Plus, check out how much room there is on the side of that sink. You could put a whole six pack of beer there.

The sink

Finally, there was the shower door. Our awesome contractors at Apinwall and Associates suggested that we use Keeble’s Glass Designs, and we are so happy we did. Tim Keeble made us a beautiful frameless door that makes the shower seem about ten times as nice. Now all we need is a better shower head.

Sink and shower door

If you work on a project this long, any number of tiny details can drive you slowly mad. Consider the humble towel rack. Overlooked, and yet important for hanging towels. Do you want your towels tossed into a wet heap in the corner? No, you do not. You do not live in a frat house. But do you want a high-standing rack, capable of holding bath towels? Will you be content hanging those on hooks on the back of the door instead? Will you need two racks? One that stands on the floor, or ones that are mounted to the wall? What will actually fit in your space without overlapping the electrical outlet or looking foolishly oversized? We ended up getting a few options to try out in the space and see what worked. Yes, when you reach a certain age, you find yourself test driving towel racks. Finally we settled on this nifty number from the depths of the Internet – it’s got two swivel arms and maximizes the utility of a corner space that would be otherwise cut off by the tub.

The towel rack

One lesson we learned is that even in a small space, you can be called on to make an extraordinary number of choices – from faucets to toilet paper holders to drains and light fixtures. Where will you put the soap dish in the shower? Will it have one or two inset shelves? In which corners? What do you do when the two medicine cabinets you ordered don’t work? How can you find the perfect oval mirror this week?

Finished!

This picture isn’t perfect, but you get the idea. The photo makes it seem like the sink isn’t white, but it’s actually the same color as the bathtub. Hopefully, you can see that the room looks about twice and large and much more inviting. Plus, our foundation is now perfectly secure and all of our doors open and close!

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jeff Sisneros says:

    We have a house built in 1930 as well. We are in need of a batthroom remodel and this has given us some great ideas to add to ones we already have. Thanks for a great article!!

  2. Carole king says:

    We have an assortment of bathroom sinks, including pedestals, at REscued Relics, as well as tubs. Footed tubs are rare but we have them from time to time. Check us out at 423 Madison Ave in Old Alabama Town Tuesday-Thursday, 10-12.

  3. Penny Weaver says:

    Thanks for sharing your remodeling story. Over the years, John Aspinwall has done a number of improvements (and repairs) on our 1930 house. Highly recommend him.

  4. Shay says:

    LOVE! It looks fantastic, guys. Nothing would make a worthy trade of your headache and expense, but I hope the finished product comes close to flushing away the memory.

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