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Part 6: The bumpy road to our dream bathroom

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“After more time spent on faucet websites than I thought humanly possible, I realized the solution was obvious”

Devon Banks

Maybe you think a bathroom is simple. I admit I did. Toilet, sink, and shower, or if you have room for a bathtub in New York, shower-bath combo.

But bathrooms are not simple.

First, there’s the plumbing complexity in a tiny, hardworking space. Then there’s the eye-popping budget range for fixtures. Your toilet can be $100 or $12,000. Like that charming exposed-pipe, Victorian showerhead and tub filler? That’ll be 10 grand, installed. To this day, I can’t explain to you why bathroom vanities—just cabinets! with holes in them!—are so goddamn expensive.

The labor is by default pricey, but there are indeed ways to save on your bathroom renovation: Get the basic Ikea vanity, get your faucet and shower head in the standard chrome, get white subway tile for your walls and white hex tile for your floors. Limit the areas you tile. Get your mirror at a garage sale or a salvage place, where they are usually plentiful. It’ll be lovely.

Some of these suggestions were implicit in the spreadsheet Otto sent us with links to recommended bathroom components. But my head had already been turned by an internet’s worth of Carrara marble and brass fixtures—which just so happen to be period-appropriate for our house. For the vanity, I wanted a more traditional profile than what Godmorgon could offer, and Shaker cabinets that were consistent with what we planned to do in the kitchen. I wanted storage, and I wanted counter space.

The bathroom before, with blue everywhere.

Many of these demands were only possible because Otto had enlarged the footprint of the bathroom by eliminating a useless entrance hallway. It would now be accessed from the living room, in the center of the house. He suggested a pocket door, which our contracting company, CNS, fabricated, to avoid cutting off the pathway through the living room to the dining room and kitchen. (Pocket doors, like anything custom, are expensive, and so is their hardware. We went with the cheapest pull, an $132 one, because we were not so far gone that $300 for a doorknob seemed worth it.)

To cut costs, Otto suggested we tile only around the shower, and paint the rest of the bathroom with waterproof Benjamin Moore paint. He found a budget source for Carrara marble, Builder Depot, which has excellent customer service reps who patiently helped us parse the difference between Carrara Bianco and Venato, polished and honed. At $8 a square foot for 79 square feet, it was only a few hundred dollars more expensive than plain white tile. Worth it. When CNS did the shower wall tiling, we actually gasped at the beauty and the movement of the veining, alternately glittering and smoky.

The bathroom in progress.
The hexagon-shaped floor tile installed.

We wanted to nod to traditional floor tile, and we were both drawn to more matte textures—almost like outdoor pavers—that offered a tough edge to balance out the preciousness of marble. Hexagonal slate itself was hard to find, but a dusky, soft basalt tile, found online at DEKO Tile, was just the tone we wanted, and not too expensive. The mix of dark and light grays and whites would provide continuity with the rest of the house.

Shipping costs did start to add up—they were as much as a third of what the tile itself cost. (Some of the larger pieces, like the marble, came on shipping pallets left curbside. Fun times with unloading in my clumsy zeal to check out the tiles.) By the time we were ordering tile for the half-bath in the basement, we had wised up to the fact that a lot of tile brands are available on Amazon. So are fixtures. I know Jeff Bezos doesn’t need more dollars, but Prime is your friend, especially if what you want isn’t in stock in the city, you don’t have a car, and/or you’re crunched for time. I even downloaded the Big Brother-like Amazon Chrome app that tracks your searches and tells you if what you’re looking for is also stocked on Amazon. (Hi, Jeff!)

The owners considered several versions of natural stone hexagon tile before deciding on 2” basalt from Deko Tile.
Devon Banks

The idea of having brass fixtures was to conjure old-world warmth with a dash of midcentury, rather than Trumpian, glitz. Finding the right balance was tricky, especially on a budget. Anything outside the default (generally, brushed nickel or chrome, as Otto suggested) will cost you, and maybe also add time by not being in stock. Online retailers are also full of convincing-looking knockoffs, usually made in China and accompanied with angry user reviews.

After more time spent on faucet websites than I ever thought humanly possible, time spent worrying over which finishes were too yellow—and my partner’s patience fast waning—I realized the solution was obvious. Delta* Faucet has a “champagne bronze” finish that looks like aged brass, and the product line comes in a range of strikingly affordable designs.

My partner rejected the more ornate Victorian options, so we settled on the streamlined Trinsic line. Helpfully, Delta makes matching Trinsic towel hooks, bar, and toilet paper dispenser, but to avoid brass overkill, we picked their matte black finish for those. Umbra’s matte black accessories, ordered through Amazon, were also a great deal.

Architect Otto Ruano designed a niche in the shower/bath. The walls are tiled with Carrara Venato 4x12” subway tile ordered from Builder Depot. The soap dispenser is from CB2.
Devon Banks

The vanity remained a problem. A nice, non-Ikea vanity can easily go for four grand. We thought salvage could be the answer, but it wasn’t so simple. The offerings in New York City are rather picked over, and you have to hope a given spot has exactly what you’re looking for at the exact right moment—and at the right dimensions. When it came to vanities, salvage wasn’t even that cheap. I’d seen people do kitchen cabinets in the bathroom, which would be cheap if we did butcher block, but Otto flat-out refused, saying the moisture would destroy the counters.

Finally, we decided to take a chance with a Simpli Home vanity—also ordered on Amazon, for $827—that fit our basic specs, including Shaker cabinets and a durable quartz countertop. We could change out the chrome knobs. Sure, we had no idea what Simpli Home was, and it’s not so easy to return an 170-pound box, but, details.

Rendering for the bathroom
LEAD Studio/Otto Ruano

The cabinet knobs thickened the plot: When CNS removed the chrome handles from the door so we could swap for vintage knobs, there were two pre-drilled holes, one of which would remain visible. Midcentury-style matte black knobs with backplates, while bigger than I would have liked, covered up the holes.

Shopping online for a vanity turned out to be a safe enough bet, except that “soft white” was not actually white, and with the already-painted white wall, it looked... off. Painting the vanity, it emerged, would cost more than repainting the walls. So, using the collection of fan decks Benjamin Moore had been so kind as to send along, my partner matched the vanity front to a pink-ish Vintage Taupe. And that’s how we got a light millennial-pink bathroom.

And of course, all this bathroom minutiae was but a warm-up to what would be the main event: the kitchen.

*This project is sponsored in part by Delta, who provided bathroom fixtures and accessories.

Next week, on Renovation Diary:

Our homeowner comes closer to making the open kitchen of her dreams a reality—but not without making some compromises along the way.