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Bathroom design: straight thinking for a narrow room

In a recent Vancouver project, our mandate was to create a contemporary en suite bathroom in a six-bedroom home. Its requirements were in line with most master baths in a home of this size: a large shower, tub, double vanity and toilet room.

What made the room unusual was its length. At 16 feet long and just nine feet wide, the design carried certain risks. Done poorly, it was almost certain to feel like a bowling alley. Our task, then, was to avoid a design gutter ball. In explaining our choices to the client, these five questions were our touchstones.

Why the limestone floor?

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A natural stone floor is one of my favourite details in a home. Marble has been popular for the past five years, but it can feel too refined for a home whose atmosphere is relaxed. There, a flat or leathered limestone tile is perfect.

Less polished and more organic, a limestone floor has inherent warmth. The textures of limestone vary widely; the more complex ones contain mineral deposits and even fossils. In its surface, such stone has great movement and interest – exactly what we wanted in this home.

Our reasoning was simple: a consistent finish would diminish the plane of the floor. A busier floor would draw the gaze from the strong lines of the vanity and tub walls, forcing the viewer to consider the entire room and thus diverting the eye from its unusual depth. Design is an attention game.

Why not limestone countertops?

I'm never afraid of a stone countertop. I know they stain, even if well sealed. It's part of their beauty. But, for many people, a flat or unpolished limestone is a bridge too far. That was the case with this client.

I felt a quieter countertop would deepen the impact of the floor and prevent the room from feeling busy. Our choice was a mottled Caesarstone with a grey tint. The manufactured stone had just enough interest to complement the limestone without looking contrived. We used it on the countertops and tub deck.

We also wrapped Caesarstone up the walls to act as a backsplash. This detail – an "upstand" – is one we often use on counters and tubs. On a vanit,y we prefer it between eight and 18 inches high. On a tub, it's rarely less than 12 inches. (Here, it goes to the top of the shower pony wall.) With less grout to clean than tile, Caesarstone keeps everything looking restrained and tidy.

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Why two different colours of millwork?

Our first design for the room clad the entire vanity wall in dark wooden cabinetry. One look at the elevation and we knew the room needed breaking up. It would feel like a galley kitchen if we didn't introduce contrasting colour and some height.

Our approach was to bookend the dark vanity with two white millwork towers. They effectively divide the room into three areas: shower, vanity and tub and toilet room. The white finish keeps the space feeling open rather than closed in.

Across from the steam shower, we designed the first cabinetry tower with a bench seat, two drawers and open storage overhead for fresh linens. It provides the perfect place to cool off after a steam and there's plenty of room in the drawers for towels, robes and extra shampoo.

At the other end of the room, the sister tower, opposite the toilet, was designed to provide storage for, among other things, lingerie, underwear and toilet paper.

Why the traditional faucet?

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This room is the only modern one in a relatively traditional home. What makes it feel more contemporary is its lack of ornamentation: the cabinet doors are flat panels with no raised profile. Unlike in other parts of the home, there is no crown moulding or wainscoting.

Such a distinctive setup risks disconnection from the idea of the larger home, however. As a preventative, we counterbalanced the en suite's crisp character with traditional faucets and decorative hardware.

In selecting the faucets we avoided anything that felt spindly or delicate – we feared for their frailty within the scale of the room. Our choice was a rather chubby faucet from Hansgrohe. Its substance allows it to credibly clear its throat in the room, and its visual detail executes a nod toward the traditional character of the home.

Why the wood apron on the tub?

People are paranoid about using wood finishes in bathrooms for fear of water damage over time. In a high-traffic family bathroom, the fear is well founded. But here, in a room intended for adults, a wood apron finished with the right top coat will look wonderful for decades.

That said, our reasons for using it were not purely aesthetic. We needed to store the shower's steam unit somewhere it could be accessed. The cavity under the tub provided enough space, so we designed a wooden apron with three vertical seams, creating a series of wood panels, two of which were fixed. The remaining panel was fitted with concealed magnets. It snaps onto the tub apron but can be pulled off with ease when required.


Wall Colour: Spray River CLW1048w, General Paint,

Cabinet Colour: OC-17 White Dove, Benjamin Moore,

Countertops: 4141, Caesarstone,

Floor tile: Limestone, Dalsco 1224, Ican Ceramic,

Tub and sink faucets: Hansgrohe,

Tub: O Design,

Hardware, crystal: Cantu Bathrooms,

Hardware, chrome: Restoration Hardware,

Ceiling light: Bethel International,

Sconces: Crystoram,

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About the Author

Kelly Deck has been advocating for West Coast design since 2002, when she 
 opened an interior decor boutique on Vancouver's Main Street. Since then, 
 Kelly has immersed herself in the lifestyle and community that makes West 
 Coast design unique. More

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