As regular readers of this column know, I design baths and kitchens for a living. By now, although it’s hard to come up with an exact figure, the number of baths and kitchens I’ve worked on is well into the triple digits. Over the years, the state of California has tightened up requirements on what is deemed acceptable for residential construction, particularly in the areas of water and electricity usage. This directly impacts the fixtures that can be used in remodeling. In this column, I’d like to offer you some rules to follow when planning your own bath remodel. (A similar column for kitchen guidelines will come at a later date.)
First, understand that most bath remodels do require city building permits. The only time you might not need a permit is if you’re replacing your toilet or sink (as long as you’re not changing the location of those items.)
Each city is a little different, but all cities must abide by state building codes. According to the Fremont Building Department, “A permit is required for bathroom remodels that include the replacement of the tub/shower enclosure, relocation of plumbing fixtures or cabinets, or if additional plumbing fixtures will be installed. A permit is not required for replacement of plumbing fixtures (sink or toilet) in the same location. Plans shall be required if walls are removed, added, altered, and/or if any fixtures are removed, added or relocated.”
When selecting plumbing fixtures, keep these rules in mind. In your shower, the shower head must have a water flow of less than two gallons per minute (gpm). You are allowed to have two shower heads (such as a main shower head and a separate hand-held shower) but if you want to be able to have them both on at the same time, the total water flow rate for both shower heads cannot exceed this same two gpm requirement. Since it is difficult to find showerheads with a flow rate of less than 1 gpm, in reality, what this means is that the plumbing needs to be designed so you can use your main shower head OR your hand shower, but not both at the same time.
Speaking of showers, the minimum size for your shower pan is 30” x 30” inside the curb. Many baths are very tiny, but the shower pan must meet this size requirement to meet code.
Sink faucets must have a flow rate of 1.5 gpm or less, and toilets must have a gallons-per-flush rate of 1.28 or less. The minimum space required around a toilet is 30”. Starting at the center of the toilet, there must be 15” on each side of it, and 24” of clear space in front of it. More is better, but this is the minimum requirement.
All lighting fixtures must be considered “high efficacy” lighting, which translates to LED or fluorescent. Unfortunately, using screw-in LED light bulbs in a regular incandescent fixture will not pass code, but you can use a vacancy sensor switch in this case. This is a special light switch that you turn on manually, but that turns itself off if you forget to, 30 minutes after you leave the bathroom.
There are other code requirements to know about, but these are the ones I get asked about most commonly. The full set of building codes is available at the city planning department and online, which will help you plan for a successful project.
Recently, my husband and I traveled to Florida to visit our son. We splurged on a nice hotel, with a room overlooking the beautiful Atlantic ocean. The view was indeed beautiful, but the bathroom, however, while attractive to look at, was very poorly designed. I design bathrooms for a living, and have certainly learned a few things along the way about the battle between form and function. In my opinion, this bath was a glaring example of what happens when form wins out over function. The result was a bathroom that was very impractical, awkward, and uncomfortable to use.
If you’re embarking on a bath remodel this year, here are some things to consider so you don’t make the same mistakes as the designer of this hotel bathroom.
THE TUB/SHOWER PROBLEM:
Our hotel bathroom featured a huge soaking tub that was also the shower. At first glance, it looked very inviting. But as I tried to use it, there were some issues. Soaking tubs are very deep— about 20” in height on average, and some are even taller. This makes getting in and out of them difficult for some people (especially for someone like me, who is only 5 feet tall.) For many people, lifting a leg this high off the ground to get in and out is tough. This tub had a ledge to sit on, but it was very wide (about 9”), and tall, and there were nothing to hold on to, like a grab bar, for example, to help lift myself over and into the tub. I am able-bodied and physically fit, but for anyone with any physical limitations at all (like my height), this would be a very difficult situation. My husband’s assessment: “If you are comfortable stepping over a saw-horse and into a deep hole, then this kind of tub is for you.”
If you’re considering a deep soaking tub, please be aware of this height issue, and think about how you will be getting in and out of it. At the very least, install a grab bar nearby— everyone will benefit from that at some point. Ideally, a soaking tub separate from the shower is the best scenario, but many bathrooms are not large enough to accommodate both. In many bathrooms I work on, people are forgoing the tub altogether, preferring a large walk-in shower instead.
Another design element that made this bathroom awkward (even for a married couple like us) was that the wall separating the tub and vanity area from the bedroom area was made entirely of clear glass. There was no privacy at all. Anyone in the shower was on full display on the bedroom side. This might not bother some people, but I’m guessing that most folks prefer a bit of privacy.
While this wall of glass was indeed attractive-looking, a simple solution would be to install a window covering on the bedroom side, which could be lowered when privacy is desired.
THE SINK PROBLEM:
The designer of that bath thought a tall vessel sink would look nice, and I agree that it did. However, the vessel sink was installed on a standard height vanity cabinet, so the sink was much too high off the ground. The edge of the sink was literally up to my chest, which made for a very awkward experience brushing my teeth.
To accommodate a vessel sink, the cabinet must be made shorter to make up for the height of the sink. If your vessel sink is four inches tall, for example, the vanity should be no more than 32” in height. Unless you are very tall, aim for a finished height of no more than 36” for the sink and the cabinet. If you are short like me, a finished height of 34” might be more comfortable.
There were other issues also, such as no towel bars at all near the shower or the sink, terrible lighting, and glossy, slippery tiles on the floor. But on the upside, this bathroom provided the topic for this month’s column!
This bath project was a pleasure to design— it’s a spectacular blend of form and function, delivered with a punch of vibrant color, and an interesting mix of textures. I work with and appreciate all design styles, but my favorite style is modern. I love the clean lines and simple, minimalistic aesthetic. Modern design allows the freedom to combine colors and materials like these— hand-maid glossy ceramic tiles in vibrant teal, wood-look porcelain in warm brown, and stark white quartz.
Before the remodel, this master bath was very tiny, as so many baths in Fremont seem to be! We borrowed a couple of feet from the master bedroom and expanded into the hallway linen closet to create this new larger space. Besides its new size, here’s a list of what really makes this bath unique and special:
The wall-to-wall vanity provides ample storage for both spouses— each has his and her own set of wide drawers, with a common space in the center below the sink. This couple decided on a large trough sink instead of two individual sinks; this gave them more counter space. The wall-mounted faucet keeps the countertop clear. We installed lighting below the floating vanity, used for accent, but also as a night light. The custom-made cabinet is made of cherry wood, with the grain running horizontally. To break up all the angles, I purposely chose a large round mirror.
The client chose the gorgeous hand-made ceramic tile from Heath Ceramics. I opted to run the subway tile vertically rather than horizontally to break up all the horizontal lines, and also to draw the eye up to the skylight in the ceiling. The entire bathroom floor and shower wall are tiled in wood-look porcelain, giving the illusion of more space. The brown of the wood plank tile also balances the brown color on the other side of the bathroom.
I really love the high contrast of the teal with the brown.
The large ceiling-mounted rain shower head, along with the hand-held shower head are pure luxury. And please note that we intentionally placed the valve on the right side wall, which is the entry point of the shower— that way, the clients only need to reach in to turn on the water instead of walk all the way into the shower. The two recessed niches provide storage, but also looks like modern art to me, with the juxtaposition of opposing colors, lines and shapes. The clear glass shower walls allow all the colors to be viewed with no obstructions.
The color scheme
Three colors— warm brown, vibrant teal, and crisp white are combined throughout. I was aiming for planes of color, again with a nod to modern art. I selected a matching teal paint color to use on the wall behind the toilet to continue the color from the tile, but all the other walls and ceiling are bright white like the countertop.
The result is a roomy, colorful, modern, stunning bath for two. I only wish it was my own bathroom!
Every year, there are countless articles about what’s in and what’s out in interior design. Professional forecasters and trend-spotters steer us into selecting things that they deem are “on trend” for any number of reasons. Please don’t get me wrong— there is such a thing as outdated decor (I’m thinking back to my own first condo in the late 1980s with the blue geese artwork!) But, while I read all of those articles in order to stay current within my industry, I very much take my cues from my clients, not the forecasters, when it comes to designing their interiors.
Most clients don’t care if rose gold is in or out this year; they only know whether or not they like it. If they don’t like the color blue, then it doesn’t matter that all shades of blue are extremely popular right now. If they don’t like it, then I don’t use it for their design. My point is this: Don’t overthink things and don’t drive yourself crazy. Please design your interiors to fit your own personal taste and lifestyle.
In 2018, in the world of kitchen design, for example, we are now being told that stainless steel appliances are “out” and black stainless is “in.” Does that mean you should not get stainless appliances for your kitchen? Not necessarily! Will stainless appliances ever really be “out?” In my opinion, no they won’t. I pick the finish based on all the other colors and finishes in the room. Sometimes it’s best to use black, sometimes white, sometimes paneled, sometimes stainless.
And in bath design, we are told that free-standing tubs are all the rage. Should you get one? Maybe, but maybe not! Do you love them? Do you have space for one? Are you a bath person? If not, then forgo the tub and stick with a wonderful walk-in shower instead.
Is there such a thing as “timeless” design? I’m sorry to say that honestly don’t think so. Everything goes in and out of fashion, but not all of it, and not all at the same time, fortunately. But here are some examples of trends that I think (and hope) will stand the test of time:
- Mixing materials and finishes: I love this trend and I truly hope it is here to stay. Not all wood has to match, and not all finishes have to be the same. For example, even if all of your door hardware is brushed nickel, it’s fine to throw in a little gold somewhere— perhaps a gold light fixture, or a gold and glass table. Take liberties by mixing rustic and modern, matte and polished, angular and curved.
- Unique and artistic light fixtures: Use light fixtures as if they were pieces of jewelry. Look for unique shapes, colors and materials and choose one or two special places in your house to showcase them. Over your dining room table, for example, or even in a powder room for a special touch.
- Global influence: In the world of food, I love “fusion” cuisine, where flavors from different cultures come together to create unique and delicious dishes. I also love this idea for interior design. Blending colors, fabrics and styles from different cultures leads to rich, welcoming and interesting rooms.
It’s hard to believe we have said goodbye to 2017 already! Why does it seem like it went by in the blink of an eye? With this first column of the new year, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite design projects from 2017, and what I like most about them. They all came out beautifully, capturing the needs and wants of the clients, and each space has its own unique personality. Perhaps they will inspire you for your own projects in 2018.
Brown and White Kitchen
Why I love it:
- The color scheme is neutral, yet has a lot of punch because go the high-contrast chocolate and white color scheme.
- The countertops have some sparkle in them, which is set off beautifully under the LED lights.
- The cabinet hardware is very cool, with a great mix of stainless steel and oil rubbed bronze. Perfect for this kitchen.
Blue and White Kitchen
This kitchen was a big challenge, with the different ceiling heights and step-down family room.
Why I love it:
- Great use of space: we created a large pantry at the awkward, narrow area up the steps, and also expanded into the family room, creating extra storage and serving space for entertaining.
- I’m definitely a “blue person” so I love the color scheme. The cabinets look so crisp and clean against the soft blue walls.
- The backsplash is gorgeous— a mixture of blue and white marble tile, in a herringbone pattern. Kudos to the really talented tile installer we used on this project!
Open Concept Kitchen and Living Room
Why I love it:
- Opening up the wall separating the two rooms made all the difference in the world. The original kitchen was cut off entirely from the living space— now it’s a great space for the whole family to hang out together.
- I love the touches of yellow to brighten up the gray and white color scheme.
- I love the backsplash tile— it’s a really interesting combination of stones, colors, and textures.
Elegant Powder Room
Why I love it:
- I love the custom bow-front cabinet— it was designed especially for that tiny space, adding some much-needed storage, with lovely curves and elegant lines.
- I love the touches of “bling”— note the crystal light fixture, cut glass cabinet knobs, and the slight shimmer present in the wallpaper.
Compact, Contemporary Bathroom
This bath was part of a larger remodel project, where I was tasked with reconfiguring an existing laundry room and powder room to include a full bath and expanded laundry/mudroom.
Why I love it:
- Lots of functionality in a small space, including a walk-in shower.
- Despite its size, the monochromatic color scheme, frameless glass enclosure, and plenty of new lighting makes this bath feels light and airy, and larger than it is.
- The accent tile in the shower is a really striking mixture of glass and marble tiles.
Brushing your teeth, shaving, styling your hair— those mundane tasks are a necessary part of our daily lives. But what if you could start and end your day in a calm and tranquil space? How might a soothing ambiance alter your mood and set you up to tackle the workday or prepare for a restful night’s sleep?
These homeowners were seeking just such an environment. They desired a space that would exude a Zen-like feeling in their home, and provide an oasis in which to refresh and rejuvenate. Here is how you can incorporate a similar vibe in your own home.
- Use calm colors. You’ll notice my use of harmonious colors, rather than bold contrasting colors. Neutral earth tones are always a great choice for restful spaces. Keep colors “quiet.” Please notice that I don’t necessarily mean light colors. It’s fine to use darker colors also— notice the dark granite, dark wood cabinet, and dark finish on the fixtures. Contrast adds interest, but the overall look should not be jarring.
- Incorporate natural materials (or at least great imitations!) Notice the use of stone, glass and wood in these baths. You might think that natural materials are more difficult to care for, and sometimes that is indeed true. For example, marble is quite porous and requires regular sealing to reduce the possibility of staining. I don’t usually recommend marble in the bath, except on a backsplash or as an accent in the shower. Fortunately, nowadays there are are easy-to-maintain porcelain tiles that look amazingly similar to real wood and stone, which allow you to get the look you want without the high maintenance. I use these materials in many of my bath projects. Likewise with countertops. Quartz counters are man-made, but are an excellent choice for baths. They are non-porous, anti-microbial, and never need to be sealed. And they are available in many patterns that strongly resemble marble and granite.
- Minimize the clutter. I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again. Too much clutter does not make for a calm and tranquil space. Do your best to go through all those beauty products and keep only the ones you actually use. Make sure each item has a “place to live,” be it a medicine cabinet, drawer, or wall cabinet. Having an uncluttered space will definitely help maintain that Zen feeling.
- Consider incorporating clean, angular, contemporary lines in your design. You undoubtedly noticed that two of the baths in the photos feature Asian-inspired design elements. This type of decor is certainly not mandatory to create a tranquil oasis, but the reason it does work is because of the simple, clean lines and minimal ornamentation.
- Put your lighting on dimmers. I often include lighting in the shower and over the tub, and when I do, I always specify dimmer switches. Even your vanity lights should be on dimmers. Imagine a luxurious shower or bath with relaxing low lighting. And if you wake up in the middle of the night, you’ll appreciate not having to turn on those bright lights.
By incorporating some of these ideas, you too can create a wonderful, tranquil bath.
Excited about the upcoming arrival of baby number two and a lengthy visit from the grandparents, these clients challenged me to reconfigure their existing laundry and powder rooms into an improved space which would include a larger washer and dryer, plus a full bath with a shower. They also desired a little more space for jackets, shoes and all of the items needed when leaving and entering the house through the garage. By removing one wall and adding another, and borrowing a few feet from the adjacent hallway, I was able to fulfill their requests with a lighter, brighter, more modern laundry room, bathroom and “mudroom.”
(Scroll down for “after” pictures)
The new bath could have been featured in my previous article about tiny baths—it is quite small, but it does provide the basics in a very attractive way. The all-glass shower features two shelves for toiletries and beautiful glass tile accents. I used the same large tiles on the walls and the bathroom floor to visually enlarge the room. The matching 2 x 2 mosaics were used on the shower pan, which we made flush with the floor to gain as many inches as possible inside the shower.
The medicine cabinet provides some additional storage, and by using a pedestal sink rather than a vanity cabinet, I kept the room from looking too crowded.
There is plenty of light, with an LED recessed can light in the shower and the vanity light above the sink. We also updated the lighting in the laundry area with LED recessed cans.
The creamy off-white wall color was chosen to blend with the tiles, and again, to keep the room looking light and bright.
I used the same tile flooring and wall color in the adjacent mudroom and laundry area for continuity. They had purchased a few hand-made ceramic tiles on a trip to Europe, and we were able to incorporate them into the floor, adding a personal touch.
The new laundry area features a large stackable washer and dryer. Custom cabinets were designed to fit alongside it, providing plenty of storage for supplies, and a small countertop to hold the laundry basket. (At the time the photos were taken, the cabinet had not been completed yet, which is why it does not appear.)
In the mudroom space, we placed a bench seat with open cubbies below for shoes, a shelf with cubbies above it, and several hooks on the wall for jackets and bags,
It’s amazing what can fit into a relatively small area, with a bit of creativity, and a few compromises. The finished space is just what the clients wanted, and the best part is that we finished in time for the new baby’s arrival!
Let’s face it: some bathrooms are just plain tiny! You know what I mean— bathrooms where the door barely clears the front of the toilet; or where you have to contort yourself to get past the toilet and get into the shower.
I’ve designed dozens of bathrooms over the years, learning quite a few things along the way about how to make the most of a very tiny space. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How can I make this small bath look and feel bigger?” Please allow me to share some tips with you on how you can create a beautiful space in a tiny footprint.
NOTE: Despite the camera tricks (gotta love the wide-angle lens!), the baths shown in these photos are very small, meeting the minimum requirements for California building codes.
- Create the illusion of space. A wall-mounted vanity can expand the floor space, and large mirrors can give your bathroom an airier, lighter feeling.
- Add lighting. Most baths, even small ones, can benefit from multiple sources of light. For example, add a recessed can light in the shower, or above the toilet, in addition to the vanity lighting.
- Use lighter colors. Keeping wall tiles and paint colors on the lighter side will help to visually expand the space. Also, using the same tiles on both the floor and the shower walls can make a difference. Minimizing contrast helps keep rooms looking more spacious. Of course, you may opt to add some contrasting colors and materials purely for aesthetic reasons. This is always OK to do!
- Consider custom cabinetry. Custom cabinets can be expensive, but they allow you to make the most of every inch of space. In one bath, we made a custom cabinet to use the entire wall-to-wall space above the toilet. There are no ready-made cabinets that can do that.
- Move the plumbing. This can also add to your overall remodeling cost, but it can make a huge difference in functionality. In all of the baths shown, we moved the shower plumbing to the wall opposite of where it was originally. Wedging yourself around the toilet to turn on the water is not comfortable at all; think about moving the plumbing to the opposite wall, so you have ample space to get in and out of the shower. In one bath shown, the original shower had been squeezed into a very tiny alcove. To create a much larger and more comfortable shower, we moved the toilet into that alcove and moved the shower into the space where the toilet was. That allowed us to use the full length of the bathroom for the new shower. We even added a bench seat in the shower.
- Add efficient storage. Tiny baths can still offer adequate storage, but I would also advise you to minimize the toiletries you need to store in the bath. Lots of clutter instantly makes a bathroom look and feel smaller. Consider recessed niches in the shower (your contractor can make them in almost any size), extra tall or wide medicine cabinets, and cabinets above the toilet.
The beautiful bathrooms in these photos are a perfect illustration of the old saying: Good things come in small packages.[Not a valid template]