Tile

Project Spotlight: Small But Unboring Bathrooms

While we've previously covered a small bathroom makeover on this blog, today's post expands on it by digging into ways to inject personality into private spaces that are best known for function over form.

Earlier this year, I worked with my clients in Rockville to help them add new life to two of the bathrooms in their lovely home. While it would be easy to go with a standard 3x6 subway tile surround and standard pre-fab vanity, these homeowners were open to ideas and finishes that would add style to these smaller spaces. (You can see one of the before and afters below.)

While each homeowner and space is unique, I want to challenge you (whether you are working with a designer/decorator or not) to take these tips to heart before you start your own bathroom project:

1. Find At Least One Feature/Finish to Splurge On: As with any room, you want to have a focal point or feature that draws the eye initially and that is complemented by the rest of the design. In small bathrooms, one easy way to do this is through floor and accent tile. In both of these bathrooms, we chose conversation-worthy tiles — a black and white cement tile for the hall bathroom (LiLi's Marrakesh 1 from Architectural Ceramics in Chevy Chase) and a blue-toned marble chevron tile from TileDaily for the master bathroom.

LiLi's Marrakesh 1 Tile in Bathroom Niche (Also Used on Floor)

LiLi's Marrakesh 1 Tile in Bathroom Niche (Also Used on Floor)

Chevron Mix Blue Marble Mosaic Tile from TileDaily

Chevron Mix Blue Marble Mosaic Tile from TileDaily

2. Make Small Changes That Feel Custom: You may not have the budget for custom cabinetry but consider swapping the hardware or adding a custom countertop to a pre-built unit. In the master bathroom, we swapped out the silver hardware for a square-shaped brushed gold finishes to match the other hardware and paired it with a quartz top (Emerstone Quartz Carrara White from Architectural Stones in Rockville) that matched the in-shower bench added during the renovation. Other ways to add a custom feel without spending too much include using tiles in different shapes (we used 3x9 in the hall bathroom and 3x12 in the master bathroom) or with a contrasting grout (as we did in the hall bath to complement the cement tile floor).

Strasser Woodenworks Vanity (from Wayfair) with Updated Hardware

Strasser Woodenworks Vanity (from Wayfair) with Updated Hardware

Custom Quartz Countertop Added to Pre-Fab Vanity

Custom Quartz Countertop Added to Pre-Fab Vanity

3. Include Contrasting Elements to Add Interest: As in other spaces in the home, don't hesitate to play with tone and texture to add personality. In the hall bathroom, we paired a more modern natural wood vanity with the starker black and white tile work. My client chose to go with brushed silver hardware but another option is to add matte black/iron finishes to tie together the modern vanity and the vintage-feeling tile. Contrast can also come in the form of color, like the Behr Vintage Mauve paint in the aforementioned bathroom or the blue towels in the master bath (bringing out the blue tones in the chevron tile and contrasting with the Behr Sandstorm paint).

LiLi Cement Tile from Architectural Ceramics Contrasts with Fresca Milano Vanity (from Wayfair)

LiLi Cement Tile from Architectural Ceramics Contrasts with Fresca Milano Vanity (from Wayfair)

Behr Vintage Mauve Contrasts with 3x9 Goose Down Matte Tile from Sonoma Tilemakers via Architectural Ceramics

Behr Vintage Mauve Contrasts with 3x9 Goose Down Matte Tile from Sonoma Tilemakers via Architectural Ceramics

Bathroom Makeover: Small & Green to Spa-Like & Serene

Even if we only spend a fraction of our day there, we place a premium on bathrooms. It's not uncommon for many of DC's row homes to lack a dedicated master bathroom but, often when they do have one, it's hardly a spacious five-piece en-suite. 

My clients recently had the chance to move to a larger home in the Brightwood Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, but their new-found master bath was dated and hardly a retreat (see below). While the small space meant there weren't any options for reconfiguring the layout (without undertaking a major renovation), we were able to radically change the feel of the space with new tile, new fixtures and combining some Scandinavian inspiration with natural elements.

Before...

Before...

You can see the end result further down, but I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that helped us create this miniature master spa bath:

  1. Keep your color palette simple. Less is more in terms of color when creating a serene space, especially a bathroom. While white is the go-to for a spa-like feel, adding a contrasting but muted color (in this case a lighter shade of Sherwin-Williams Bonsai Tint, created by mixing in a little more white to tone it down) with a lighter wood tone (via our tile) takes this bathroom from basic to custom.
     
  2. Limit the type of tile (color, size and shape) to create a more spacious feel. For this bathroom, we used a 6" x 24" Driftwood tile (in Greywood) from Architectural Ceramics. Meant to simulate wood planks, the tile was laid vertically in the shower to make the tight stall feel larger and horizontally along the floor to make the space feel wider. We did use a smaller scale 2" square tile for the shower floor, but you also could up the spa-feel by opting for a pebble floor (check out Island Stone's awesome options).
     
  3. Choose smart storage options. While less than 19" deep, the vanity selected features plenty of storage - concealed behind doors and using the open shelf at the bottom. While it may be tempting to add shelves above the toilet (as before), these would contribute to making the space feel smaller; alternatives, like a multipurpose baskets (as pictured below), allow you to store extra towels and toiletries in a stylish, mobile and contemporary way.
     
  4. Blend modern lines with organic materials and shapes. A clean-lined vanity and rectangular tiles could easily read cold but adding in natural textures, such as the twig-based wall art and the rope details on the waste basket and accompanying storage basket (all from HomeGoods), off sets the harder edges without going too country or rustic.

All in all, I just love the way we were able to create a personal spa in such limited space for these deserving clients. 

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Making a (Back)splash in the Kitchen

When I started my home search in Washington, DC almost four years ago, I - like all prospective buyers - had a long list of my must-haves, nice-to-haves and dealbreakers.

As someone who loves to entertain, the kitchen was a key area of focus, primarily when it came to function (hoping to upgrade from a small, enclosed kitchen), but with an eye on aesthetics. One of those design elements was a sleek backsplash.

Touring dozens of homes, I saw a range of backsplashes (or lack of) - from simple 3-4" ones from the same material as the countertops to tiled, decorative backsplashes starting at the countertop (my preference). To make a long story short, the home that I ultimately bought had a 4" granite strip matching the counter. The easiest solution (and what I often see in updated kitchens on the market) is a decorative tile backsplash that starts above that slab. While I've encountered some of these that look decent, I personally still find most iterations like nails on a chalkboard.

Having just invested in a home (with virgin granite countertops, mind you) and all the associated expenditures, I couldn't justify replacing them. I was, however, able to find a tile contractor who would attempt to remove the slab. Of course, that came with warnings that the countertop could be damaged or that there could be gaps between the countertop and wall that would make installation of the new backsplash more challenging (read: expensive). I decided to throw caution to the wind, immersed myself in thousands of tile options, and set the date.

Despite being a fully renovated property with new interior walls, etc., the two-person tile team ran into two hiccups:

  1. Most of the slabs of 4" granite would not budget with a crowbar from the wall. In the end, after more cautions from the crew about potential damage and my approval, the team took hammer and chisel to the pieces. It was loud and time-intensive, but I breathed a sigh of relief that my countertops were still intact.
  2. In one of the corners, despite new drywall, there were gaps that exceeded the depth of the glass tiles I had selected. Luckily a skim coat was able to correct that.

 

Demo and about 1/3 of the tiling was done in one day, and I had a brand new backsplash on day two! I've included a slideshow below of before, during and after above, and I'll leave you with a few takeaways from my experience if you are considering a similar kitchen project:

  1. Ask friends for contractor recommendations and/or consult a reference site online (but I put more weight on personal experiences). You also can consider visiting a reputable tile supply store (I found the one I purchased my tiles from had cards for those they recommended handy).
  2. Get at least two bids, having them visit and see the space. I have found many contractors send you a more detailed questionnaire and even ask for pictures.
  3. Take home tile samples - even ones that you think might not work. You'll have to consider not just color, but size, layout and finish. Even though I was limited to a range of whites and greys by my existing countertop, there were still lots of choices.
  4. If your contractor is not providing materials, confirm that you have everything you need - from the tiles (with extra in case some are broken or there are other mishaps), grout, edging, etc. And, when you pick up or receive those tiles, check every box! I did when I picked up and discovered that a few boxes were the wrong color (luckily before going home and the tile store delivered the remainder due to the mistake).

I'd love to hear about your home improvement experiences and tips, as well!