better plan, a greenhouse window and some bold blue tile give a
dingy bathroom a brand-new look
1: Blue tile winds its way around the room in this view from
the bay window. The soffits create a coffered ceiling, and mask
the dropped header made necessary by the bay window. The old
wall mirror was removed and trimmed to compensate for the lowered
ceiling, and the scrap piece saved for the medicine-chest door.
friend L. Dennis Thompson bought a small stucco house in one of
Santa Barbara's older downtown neighborhoods. Dennis is an architect,
and he immediately began to make lists of the remodeling jobs he
wanted to do. They ranged from plumbing repairs to skylights, porches
to second-story additions. But because he's working on a tight budget,
the projects had to be assigned priorities, with some scheduled
as more distant dreams.
the job that got done first wasn't the highest on the list. He decided
to tackle the bathroom right away because he was made an offer he
couldn't refuse-free labor. I was teaching my annual tile-setting
course at the local university extension program, and I was looking
for a suitable site for hands-on instruction. Dennis assured me
he could have plans and materials ready in two months.
the bathroom looked fine. It had been hastily upgraded to help sell
the house. A huge mirror covered one wall, and thin wood paneling
had been applied around the tub. But there were gaps between the
strips of paneling-a lousy wall covering for a damp location. A
cheap carpet covered the old vinyl floor, and the toilet occupied
the most prominent spot in the cramped room. Beyond it stood an
antique vanity. The room had only one small window, and Dennis wanted
a lot more light. So the challenge was to turn an adequate bathroom
into a light-filled space, and to give a group of student tile-setters
a range of experiences.
with constraints - To reduce costs, Dennis wanted to keep plumbing
modifications to a minimum. His new plan kept the supply and drain
lines in nearly the same place, but switched the location of the
vanity and the toilet (drawing). This made the vanity the center
of attention and tucked the toilet behind a low privacy wall.
room needed more floor space, but there wasn't any easy way to claim
it. The adjacent rooms didn't have any extra square footage to give
up, and the setback limitations of the local building code wouldn't
allow any footings beyond the existing foundation. The solution
was a room-wide bay window with a wide shelf supported by knee braces.
Since this bay is defined by the building department as just another
cantilever, it doesn't violate the setback code.
picked a cobalt-blue tile to establish the color in the room. He
wanted it to march along the wall above the vanity, over the partition
wall and then wrap around the corner and onto the bay window shelf.
To balance this dazzling blue, he chose creamy white tile for the
vanity itself and around the tub. He decided that both color tiles
should be 4!4 in. square, which would create a strong, grid-Iike
pattern in the room-if everything could be made square and plumb.
keep from having to trim too many tiles, Dennis drew elevations
of the room, at a scale of a half-inch to the foot, showing all
the fixtures and every tile in place. The drawings were a lot of
work, but they were worth it. They helped both of us to layout the
framing to accommodate the tiles, and to anticipate the detail problems
before the place filled up with eager students of the tile trade.
the entire exterior wall was removed and reframed to form
a greenhouse bay window. To stiffen the structure, triangular
gussets tie the horizontal members and their knee braces to
the cripple-wall studs.
L. Dennis Thompson
and new framing - Only one piece of the existing bathroom survived
the remodeling-the wall-size mirror over the vanity. We hired a
glass company to remove it and cut it down to a size that would
fit into the new space. We used the 1-ft. wide scrap that resulted
to make a door for the medicine cabinet (photo 1). With the mirror
out for fitting, we gutted the bathroom down to the studs, and opened
up the exterior wall for the bay window.
horizontal members that support the bay window (photo right) are
essentially floor joists, only at sill height, and they are supported
by 2x4 knee braces. These braces are tied to the cripple studs by
plywood gussets. The result is a rigid framework that may seem overbuilt,
but with two rigid surfaces-stucco finish on the outside and tile
on the inside-we didn't want the kind of movement that results in
bay faces southeast and catches plenty of sun, so we gave its sill
a 1 !,1-in. mortar bed for a bit of thermal mass. The major opening
in the bay is finished with three Pella windows. They have double-glazed,
snap-in panels, with translucent glass on the inside. The shed roof
and ends are fitted with custom-cut pieces of clear safety glass.
When the landscaping grows enough to provide some privacy, Dennis
plans to replace the translucent glazing with clear glass.
solution - There is a closet between the tub and the hallway,
and we didn't want to disrupt the existing framing. The problem
was where to run the plumbing for the shower head. Dennis solved
this one by detailing a furred-out frame that butts the existing
wall, and holds the shower supply line and the tub faucet (drawing
left, photo below). Its dimensions were worked out to allow full
tiles wherever possible. This solution left the closet intact, and
created a pleasing ceramic sculpture reminiscent of a high-tech
office building. The nook near the wall is a good place to store
and partition - ln a room this small, all of the parts are interdependent.
The low partition wall not only screens the toilet, but also serves
as a towel and magazine rack and holds up the end of the vanity
top. The vanity, in turn, is a box-beam on its side, and it firmly
anchors the partition (photo and drawing, below).
thickness of the partition was determined by the width of one full
tile plus two quarter-rounds. At its core is a 2x4 frame covered
with 5/8-in. plywood. It's best to use kilndried lumber for this
kind of framing because green lumber will shrink away from the outer
layer of tile, creating voids between the two that at the very least
will crack the grout. A layer of moisture-barrier paper covers the
plywood, followed by a thinset mortar base about 1/4 in. thick to
bring the wall out to the right dimension for the tile.
to use Aquabar B paper (Forti-Fiber, 4489 Bandini Blvd., Los Angeles,
Calif. 90023) for the moisture barrier in this kind of work. It's
a sandwich of two layers of kraft paper with an asphalt-emulsion
center, and it gets high marks for water resistance. It's more pliable
than builder's felt, making it a lot easier to fold around angles
and projections. Also, it doesn't bulk up at corners the way felt
thinset base hangs on galvanized expanded metal lath. This stuff
comes in several weights. I used 3.4 Ib. per sq. yd. I specify galvanized
lath for wet locations because in many of the bathrooms that I've
remodeled, the non-galvanized lath behind the old tile is often
close to total disintegration. Although it's nearly impossible to
recognize visually, expanded metal lath has a right-side-up. On
a vertical surface, the cups in the lath need to slope upward, away
from the backing. You can check the lath's orientation by rubbing
your hand over it-when you've got it right, the up- stroke will
feel relatively smooth, while the downstroke will grab at your fingers.
the partition, all the tiled surfaces in the room have a thinset
bed on lath over ply- wood. We used bent-over 5d galvanized box
nails to secure the lath, and we spaced the nails about every 8
in.-close enough to eliminate any springy spots.
tips - To begin setting the tile in this room, we marked a line
one tile above the top lip of the tub. We carried this index line
all around the room, and tacked lx2 guide boards to the walls just
below it. My ten students laid up most of the tile in one weekend.
Some mixed thinset, some cut tiles and smoothed edges and some laid
up the courses. It was chaotic but marvelous, and I was amazed how
ten people could work harmoniously in such a small space.
tiles that we used have tiny lugs built into their edges to ensure
uniform spacing. The danger here is that they will occasionally
overlap one another, producing a high tile in an otherwise smooth
wall plane. A good way to prevent this problem is to cover the windows
and hold a drop light directly above the tile. The raking light
will create exaggerated shadows next to the protrusions, allowing
you to correct the position of the tiles before the mortar sets.
most difficult part of the tiling was laying the curved section
in the face of the vanity top. Dennis and I cut lots of little pieces,
1 in. wide, to lay like piano keys around the curve. We used a water-cooled,
diamond-blade saw for this, but I wish we'd had a newer blade. The
thicker the band of diamond chips on the blade, the cleaner the
cut, and our blade left ragged edges that had to be smoothed down
with a stone. We gave the tiles a day to set, and then grouted them
(see FHB # 17, p. 75).
completed bath is now the most delightful room in the house. The
bay window warms up the room at an early hour, and makes it a pleasant
place to pry open your eyelids in the morning. Plants do well on
the window shelf, and the room contributes a bit of solar heat to
the rest of the house when the bathroom door is left open. The large
mirror and the bay window team up to create a surprising increase
in the amount of light and perceived space.
Dennis were to do it again, he'd do a few things differently. First,
the room needs a heat source other than the windows. It's warm during
the day, but chilly at night. Also, he's had second thoughts about
the flooring. He finished the floor with oak strips, stained to
match the floors in the rest of the house. Hardwood floors in the
kitchen and bath are okay for the fastidious, but guest bathers
sometimes fail to mop up their splashes, and some of the strips
are beginning to cup.
total cost of the project was almost exactly $7,000, which included
replacing some of the old galvanized water pipes under the house
with copper ones. Besides getting the bathroom he wanted, Dennis
saved about $800 by using student labor.
Allen is a contractor who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.