Design inspiration can come from many sources, including a 100-year-old tile floor. When Landis Architects Builders in Washington, D.C., began this bathroom renovation project, it was clear to Doug Pettit, project designer, that the mosaic floor in the 35-sq.-ft. bathroom must remain intact, and the owners agreed. Furthermore, the strip of rust-colored tiles that zigs and zags its way around the mosaic pattern served as inspiration for a 45-sq.-ft. section of the shower wall, which was the most costly element of the project.
The remodeled bathroom is within a two-bedroom unit in The Cairo, an apartment building opened in the 1890s. The tile floor pattern is repeated throughout the building, Pettit notes. “That floor is the kind of thing you don’t get any more in terms of craftsmanship. Not that my guys aren’t talented enough to duplicate it, but we felt it was important to pay homage to the existing building and specifically this tile work,” Pettit says.
Once the decision was made to preserve the tile floor, it was time to tackle the layout of this tiny bathroom. Because it’s such a small space, Pettit and the Landis team took an ergonomic approach to design. On one hand the inability to relocate existing plumbing handcuffed designers, on the other hand it created parameters to work around.
“At this point design was about trying to tailor the room to the clients’ hopes and dreams for that space,” Pettit remembers. “It was about giving them a sizable and more luxurious shower, and determining where they would get in and out of the shower. The owners also had to decide where they would have to compromise. These owners were more concerned with aesthetics than how things worked. They were involved much more in the detailing and finishing.”
Modern and spacious
Project goals were to expand the bathroom space, give it a modern aesthetic and keep the space easy to clean. In addition, the clients wanted to get as close as possible to the sink and mirror, thus the floating vanity that provides space for feet and toes. The vanity also provides storage space, which the existing bathroom and entire apartment lacked.
To expand the bathroom, the owners sacrificed a small closet in their master bedroom. To compensate for the loss of the closet, an entire wall of custom cabinets was installed in the master bedroom. Sound control products were added to the bathroom to minimize the possibility of hearing neighbors brush their teeth, which was a daily occurrence.
The importance of storage space – or any space – in a tiny apartment unit like this is not lost on the owners or Pettit, who used his city living experience in a tiny condo unit to build trust and empathy with the owners. “I think one of the most important things I do, that I enjoy, is building relationships with clients,” Pettit says. “My goal is to get to a point where they can trust me, and being able to ask the right questions at the right time. I need the dynamic of asking what they think the pros and cons are of doing this or that, how will design decisions we make affect their lifestyle? Can they live without a particular space?”
Landis Architects Builders owner and president Chris Landis, AIA, recalls the difficulty of satisfying the seemingly opposing desires for a contemporary bathroom based on such an old floor. “On the surface the two concepts worked against each other, but we found a way to make it work,” he says. Working in such an old building also presented its challenges, such as hauling material up the tight switchback stairways and narrow hallways. Larger items, Landis says, were hoisted in through windows rather than up stairs.
Construction lasted roughly six weeks, without many unforeseen construction obstacles except a little rewiring and minor plumbing work. Functionality of the bathroom did not exist during work hours, but – being the only bathroom in the apartment – was restored at the end of the day when the owner returned home. One of the owners was traveling abroad during construction while the other used workplace shower facilities during construction, which were fortunate conveniences for all involved, Landis notes. “[The owner] never went overnight without water to the apartment.”