From the August/September 2014 Issue:

New Attitude

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge | Photographer: Louis De Luca/ |

A renovated master bathroom amps up the function as well as the style

Article Photo
enlarge | Knotty alder cabinetry with a pecan stain sets off the bold Maori granite. The makeup mirror, which has a dedicated outlet, sits atop the kneehole vanity. Swapping sliding mirrored closet doors for a swinging door added storage potential along the new fixed wall in the closet.
Exclusive web-only article
When a couple bought their house in May 2012, they realized their 11-by-11-foot master bathroom had only one electric outlet. But they didn’t know the 8-by-4-foot mirror glued to the wall (and the studs inside that wall) would prevent the simple fix of adding an outlet. They also weren’t aware the drawers in the sink vanities would constantly bind and be impossible to repair.

Fast-forward a year: After rotating her hair dryer, electric toothbrush, makeup mirror and cellphone charger in and out of the outlet dozens of times (her spouse charged his electric toothbrush, tablet computer and phone in their bedroom), the wife was on a mission to remodel most of the circa-1985 room. The giant mirror had to go, and its removal would tear up the wall; in addition, the mirror rested on the backsplash, which would probably be defaced by removing the mirror.

When the husband protested, “Do you have any idea how much this will cost?” the wife offered her guesstimate: $13,000, plus the out-of-pocket purchase of most materials — that total left the shower and water closet untouched. She hoped to tack on a powder room facelift also (story below). He acquiesced, and she asked two contractors to submit estimates for:

• Furniture-like cabinetry, with drawers in tall sink vanities, and wood-framed medicine cabinets. The wife wanted a transitional look that would harmonize with the traditional architecture and eclectic decorating style elsewhere in the home. “The [chosen] contractor told me, ‘I don’t know what transitional means,’ and my husband says, ‘Me neither,’ ” the wife recalls, laughing. “I explained transitional through photos and emphasized that I didn’t want any carving or cathedral-style doors.” Although she had found a great off-the-rack medicine cabinet and had budgeted for stock cabinetry, both prospective contractors suggested custom carpentry and promised competitive pricing.
• Replacing all cultured marble with granite. “The previous owner had recoated the master bathroom marble shortly before she sold us the house, and it was already scratched,” the wife says. In deference to her husband’s cost-consciousness, she planned to use the least expensive grade of granite.
• Swapping the sliding mirrored closet doors for a swinging door, which would — win-win! — add storage potential along the new fixed wall in the closet.
• Substituting a smaller (to conserve water) porcelain-on-cast-iron bathtub for durability and easy cleaning.
• Changing oiled-bronze fittings to chrome, with single-lever sink faucets to reduce maintenance. “Hard-water deposits were very noticeable on the oiled bronze,” the wife says, “and two taps and four handles meant lots of tedious cleaning.”
• Installing at least two additional electric outlets.

Article Photo
enlarge | The wife unwinds in the soaking tub at the end of each day. The medicine cabinets above the sinks have adjustable shelves and boost storage without requiring the empty-next homeowners to bend.
Choosing a Contractor
Both contractor estimates were about $15,000, including the powder room. The wife hired her favorite, scheduling a mid-July 2013 start date, and immediately ordered the tub, sinks, faucets and lighting that she and her husband already had chosen. “I narrowed the dozens of options down to three to five that I liked, and then my husband winnow to one or two. I ordered after comparison-shopping in brick-and-mortar stores and online. If brick-and-mortar stores were competitive, we went with them because exchanges or returns would be easier,” says the wife, whose managerial duties at a multimedia company include budgeting. “It surprised me that the hardest things to find were transitional drawer pulls and light fixtures in chrome. Most were too modern.”

Ever-thrifty, the husband, an IT professional and handy do-it-yourselfer, volunteered to do demolition and installation of floor tile under the cabinets and where the track for the sliding closet doors would be removed (the previous homeowner supplied source information to match the tile). He quickly knocked out his to-do list.

Then it was the contractor’s turn. First came the cabinetmaker’s drawer mock-up. It was all wrong—raised panels with applied molding rather than recessed. But he nailed it, so to speak, on the second try.

Once the couple got the green light to select granite, the husband surprisingly pushed for Maori (Level 2), a $10-per-square-foot upcharge. It was the wife’s favorite, too, but she had planned to stick with a thinner, deep-gray Level 1 until he spoke up. The limestone-look floor tiles heavily influenced their decision. “We wanted something that would not compete with the flooring — either a solid color as a complement or a dominating pattern,” she says. “We obviously went with Option 2.”

Next: stain and paint. For the stain, the wife hoped to match splashes of a “milk chocolate” color in the granite. Using alder scraps from the cabinetmaker, she tested Cabot’s pecan stain and hit a home run: That was that. Paint was tougher. “My first impulse was to go with a cinnamon, apricot or pale gray, but we really wanted something a little more striking,” she says. “I got the idea to set a granite sample on our new sheets, sort of a blue-green-gray. They looked good together, so I tried paint chips until I found a match.”

This remodel — like most — had its challenges. The medicine cabinet doors didn’t quite clear the VERY tall sink faucets, so the contractor reframed inside the drywall to raise the cabinets. The couple insisted some areas of cabinetry be refinished because of rough spots. “The knots were difficult to get smooth,” the wife explains. “The cabinetmaker encouraged us to use knotty alder because of its rich character. If I did it over again, I might go with maple or birch to avoid the aggravation.” The medicine cabinets’ mirrors arrived unbeveled, so they were redone.

And perhaps most annoying — because the couple felt there was an attempt to deceive — they discovered the granite installers had put a 1-inch-wide patch in a 2-foot run of backsplash near the tub. “We asked that a single piece be used in its place or that we receive a discount,” the wife says. “The installers preferred to replace the section and broke an adjacent granite windowsill in the process — then broke the replacement sill — so that delayed the work for several days. Our project ended up running 5½ weeks instead of the expected three, although the room was fully usable after about four weeks.”

In the final assessment, “we’re enjoying the improved function and appearance,” the wife says. “And as our project was being completed, we decided to get rid of the brassy-gold trim on the shower after all. Our first estimate had been $2,800 to change it out, but then our cabinetmaker says, ‘I know a guy,’ and for less than $1,000, we redid separately, after everything else was done.”

Mary Vinnedge, Design NJ’s social media editor, is a veteran remodeler and do-it-yourselfer. Contact her on Design NJ’s Facebook page or through her websites, or

Article Photo
enlarge | The powder-room upgrade included Red Dragon granite.
From Tired to Terrific

The powder room’s cultured-marble countertop and sink had lost their sheen; intractable stains made them look dirty all the time. “We thought a granite countertop would overhaul the whole room,” the wife says. “We hated the mirror too. It dwarfed the vanity and was glued crooked on the wall. We were pinching pennies, though, so we planned to keep it and the faucet set, and I planned to use a Level 1 granite.”

That was Plan A.

“My husband fell in love with Red Dragon granite, a Level 3 that cost $20 per square foot more. In our tiny room,” she says,” the difference was only about $160, so we upgraded, and I chose a small dark-gray sink that went with the granite.”

Then during demolition, the faucet and mirror were damaged. “I was thinking, ‘Yay!’ the second I discovered the mirror was chipped,” the wife says. Under Plan B, the couple scuttled the old mirror and recycled an oiled-bronze faucet set from the master bathroom.

The granite fabricators forced another change in plans. “The installers arrived with a white sink attached to our countertop. For some reason, they used a sink they had on hand,” the wife says. “Our Thunder Grey Kohler sink, sitting in a box in our den, was too small for the hole that was already cut. Even worse, the granite supplier didn’t think enough Red Dragon was available for a do-over. The plumbing company came to the rescue, quickly finding a larger Kohler sink in our gray.”

Next the wall was patched, textured and painted, and the room was ready for decorating. “We found an inexpensive closeout mirror with a frame that suits the oiled-bronze faucet and dark granite,” the wife says. “We think the room looks refreshed and luxurious but didn’t spend all that much.”


Master Bathroom: Kohler Soissons bathtub in biscuit, Top Knobs’ “Grace” drawer pulls, Delta Dryden chrome faucets and towel holders, and Decolav sinks in biscuit, all through Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery; paint, Sherwin-Williams’ “Magnetic Gray”; Nuvo light fixtures (Soho model),; brushed aluminum naval chair, Design Within Reach; Conair make-up mirror,; closet door and Marazzi’s Montagna Lugano floor tile, Home Depot; soap-dispenser covers, Bath & Body Works; lever-style closet door handle, Schlage; blinds, Hunter Douglas; cast-iron window ornament, Powder room: Kohler Caxton sink in Thunder Grey, Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery; faucet set, Moen.

Bath & Body Works/800-756-5005/
Design Within Reach/800-944-2233/
Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery/800-638-8875/
Home Depot/800-466-3337/
Hunter Douglas/800-789-0331 or 845-664-7000/ and 866-438-4766/
Kohler Co./800-456-4537 or 920-457-4441/
Top Knobs/800-499-9095/

Download the complete resource guide with contact information (pdf)