The Main Floor Bathroom Renovation: Layout

Those of you who have been long-time followers are probably aware that this is the second time we’re refreshing our main floor bathroom. Let me take you through the journey of this bathroom.

When we moved in, this bathroom was a buttery yellow and white scheme with black and white tile.

One of our very first projects in this house three years ago was giving this bathroom a cosmetic makeover. We gave the beadboard, walls, vanity and radiator a fresh coat of paint. We replaced the medicine cabinet, sconce, faucet (a Craigslist score!) overhead light fixture and vanity hardware. And we brought in some new accessories, shower rod and shower curtain to pull it all together. To say that this bathroom made the rounds on the internet would be an understatement, and we were so happy with how it turned out.

Every time we had guests over, they commented on this space. The black walls and ceiling made a big impression and honestly we loved how this bathroom turned out, especially on a limited budget. Our plan long-term had been that if we got to the very end of our extremely long project list that we would consider replacing the shallow tub and would retile the walls and floors, and would maybe swap the vanity for something higher in quality. But we never thought we’d really get there and it wasn’t a priority.

Fast forward to our kitchen renovation this past year. While demoing our original kitchen, one of the carpenters called us in a panic. (To be fair, if you’ve ever done a major renovation, there’s at least a week in which the space is taken down to the studs and every day you seem to get a panicked call about terrifying things hidden in your walls / floors / ceiling.) We met him at the house that night with our contractor and they explained to us that at some point when our house was renovated in the 80s, they had cut the subfloor back under the wall with the vanity on it, and it had made that wall very unsupported. They told us that in order to fix the structural integrity of the wall, we needed to remove the wall, rip up the tile and run new subfloor underneath. Of course we agreed, and this bathroom immediately became a construction site.

So, we have since lived without a functioning bathroom on our main floor for eight months and counting. This has really been exacerbated by the few months we’ve been quarantined at home, in which Cory and I have been working from home and have gotten quite the workout by trekking up the stairs to use the upstairs bathrooms, ha!

Here’s what we were living with since last August.

So, a few weeks ago we set off to finish demoing the bathroom. The construction crew had removed the toilet, vanity, radiator and half the walls. Oh, and the door, door jam, lighting, and casing. We removed everything else and are now working with a totally empty room that’s down to the studs.

The first thing we needed to determine was what to do about the shower. In the 3+ years we have lived in this house, we have used the shower exactly zero times. The only things it was used for was wet umbrellas and occasionally a drying rack for clothes. And as people who are obsessed with maximizing every square inch of our house, this felt like a huge waste.

For years, my dream had been to remove the tub, continue the beadboard around the walls and add a freestanding clawfoot tub. All inspired by this image. It was literally on my initial design board for this house that I made before we even had an accepted offer.

From Domino

But, here’s the thing. While I know a clawfoot tub would aesthetically be a knockout in here, the practicality just isn’t there. Would we ever use it for more than watering plants and drying umbrellas? If this was on the second floor, I wouldn’t hesitate, but being on the first floor, it seems like a missed opportunity to add more function to our lives.

So, I took to Instagram and asked you guys. You presented me with three different ideas that all had positives and negatives: stick with my original idea for the clawfoot tub and just accept that it would rarely be used, replace it with a freestanding shower (the reasons will follow), or ditch it entirely and replace with a big storage unit. We quickly determined that dropping the shower in general wasn’t the best choice for us: we have added a lot of storage in general to this house, and to be honest, we were concerned about the resale impact of going from three full bathrooms to two and half. But the reasons for how we could use the shower were really compelling: when we have overflow guests (this actually happens regularly when we have our families staying with us and we get creative with where everyone is sleeping), for ourselves to use when we’re working in the garden or returning from the beach and don’t want to trek dirt through the entire house (very common for us, as you have likely guessed), and for future homeowners with dogs.

So, where we have actually landed is in dividing the space the tub previously took up into a standing shower and a tall, narrow (but deep!) built in cabinet. I imagine we can use this cabinet as a linen closet, but also for extra toilet paper, and maybe even outdoor stuff that we’ve never had a good place to store. We’re really, really excited about this plan.

I have learned from all our past projects that really, really thinking through all the finish details is the difference between a nice and a fantastic project. It’s worth the time upfront. I have always loved the idea of keeping beadboard in this bathroom, even if we would be updating the proportions and execution. So, using that as the guiding light, I spent a lot of time thinking through the millwork and the transitions, and in seeing this photo, I had the brainwave to create a cased shower opening to allow for seamless millwork transitions.

Chamber & Chambers on Remodelista

We’re also considering doing a curbless shower, but are trying to figure out if it’s possible (it’s much more challenging with existing construction because you need the right depth below the floor for an effective slope for drainage).

Looking back at my inspiration photos, I spotted one from one of my fave designers, Amie Corley, that contained a doorway that led to the shower and absolutely loved the idea.

So, I updated our floorplans, but then started to realize there were some issues with this direction…

In order to case the shower opening, we had to add some drywall that turned the corner on both sides of the shower. But, if you note the window above, the casing for both the shower and the window would be literally on top of each other, which is not a good look. And, in order to case the shower opening we would also be adding a header across the front of the shower, which would limit the amount of light entering the shower. So, at this point I start researching sun tunnels to get natural light into the shower, but it seemed like we were solving for the wrong problem. Not to mention that the shower is already the minimum width (30″) so anything that makes that feel smaller is far from ideal, by adding the drywall in the corners, we’re really on the edge here.

Tried as we might, we couldn’t get this idea to really work for the space. I attempted to make it work with full height beadboard, and by channeling my friend Lauren Caron’s scullery for a hidden beadboard door for the tall cabinet, but at the end of the day, I just wasn’t loving that the beadboard would have nothing to terminate into around the opening to the shower.

So then, I threw out a design amendment: what if we nix the beadboard entirely?

Well, in talking through that one, we realized it opened up a lot more options for us. We could eliminate the need for the opening around the shower and just keep it totally open in width and in height. In seeing this example, again from Amie Corley, it started to come together. Though, I think we’re opting to not drop the ceiling in the shower and have the bullnose tile go straight to the ceiling, though that might pose some issues for crown moulding, so tbd on that front.

We talked through not tiling the lower portion of the walls, but ran into some transition issues with the baseboard and the curb, in the event that we can’t do curbless. My issue with tiling the lower half of the bathroom is that I don’t want this bathroom to feel like a shower room. It’s still effectively our powder room and I want to make an impact on guests. This is a place we can have some fun, and I worried that the tile on the lower half of the wall would make it feel less so.

But then I dug through my inspiration photos for the bathroom and saw so many well-executed bathrooms with the lower half of the walls tiled with wallpaper above.

By doing a bold coloured tile with a moody wallpaper it really feels like an extraordinary bathroom and more powder room-like, and not a shower room. So, we have a direction and updated floorplans that we feel really good about. The room is still going to be compact, but also really functional. And while the space likely won’t be as glam as the examples above, my wheels are already spinning on how we can make this little bathroom a true jewel box moment.

For reference, we discussed changing the door to a pocket door to improve the flow of the space and access to the cabinet, but we have some pipes that will be remaining on the wall to the right of the doorway, so unfortunately it’s a no-go (and we would lose a simple place for towel hooks). The door opens into the room towards the right, where the cabinet will be.

Cory has framing out the new wall for the shower and added an exhaust vent (which never existed in the room). Next up, I’m sourcing wallpaper and tile samples, and trying to nail down the fixtures, so stay tuned!

5 thoughts on “The Main Floor Bathroom Renovation: Layout

  1. Can you flip the shower/linen closet so that when the door opens, you see less of the shower? We had a shower in our hall bath that most guests didn’t notice was there bc the door blocked the view. Might be a nicer view from the john too

    1. Hi! We considered it, but had a similar setup before with the enclosed bench on that side and felt like we weren’t getting enough of the natural light into the shower, which is why we pulled the shower closer to the window. But you make an excellent point on hiding the shower behind the door!

  2. Erin — I love the way you describe your options and what you’re thinking as you go along. I can’t wait to see the finished product. Am sure I’ll love it the way I love the rest of your house!

  3. I always love these informative posts with the workings of how you got to the final plan. It’s fascinating and gives me so much insight to thoughtfully planning my own spaces. I cannot wait to see where this space ends up—it’s going to be fabulous

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