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Small bathroom in small MCM house - everything must go!

Paul NY 5b-6a
3 days ago

I'm heading toward an overhaul of the only full bath in my house, and although the layout won't be changed, everything will be replaced -- fixtures, cabinets, floor, tub surround, even the wall surfaces. The ceiling can stay, but even it needs some work.

Background: the house is a very early (1951) MCM split-level, and I am only the second owner. The family from which I bought it lived here for 56 years, and they seem to have had a continual tug-of-war. One spouse liked modern and kept adding more modern features, while the other wanted Early American, so there were 50s-60s room dividers, but a large wrought-iron chandelier.

After the modern-lover died, the colonial-lover redid the main bath (there's a powder room in a 1970s addition), aiming for Early American but ending up with Victorian dark oak. What is really wrong, however, is that there are an acrylic tub and surround, which grow mold and are impossible to clean. The vanity top is, I think, cultured marble and also difficult to clean. Furthermore, instead of replacing the floor they covered it with carpet. I removed the carpet and original flooring and put down peel-and-stick tile as a stopgap. I then put up with the rest for 10 years, but I've reached the breaking point.

Now, I do not know whether I will stay in this house. I'm nearing retirement and might sell it in about two years, or I might retire but continue to live here for another 20 or more years. Thus, I'm concerned both about design and materials that will make the house more salable, but also which meet my own needs, chief among which is ease of maintenance.

The bath is not large enough to add any luxury features, but I'm in sympathy with Sarah Susanka's idea that smaller houses should use the best design and materials possible, in order to give a sense of luxury without expanses of space. And, of course, better materials are more affordable when the amounts needed aren't large.

However, I don't want to go so far as to give myself headaches when I'm 80. A neighbor put in a lot of beautiful stone work--the stone installer seemed to be there for weeks--when upgrading the bathroom in his (even smaller) house and it did help to get a quick sale at a good price. However, I don't think that any stone surface is really easy to clean and maintain, so I'm leaning toward stone-look materials: slate-like tile for the floor (the open floor area is very small), probably solid surfacing with a marble appearance for the tub surround, quartz-resin for the countertop. White porcelain sink, tub, and toilet.

For the general look, I'm aiming for a sort of Scandinavian-spa theme. I'm not trying to restore the bathroom to its 1951 glory, because everything I've seen suggests that it would originally have had a wall-hung sink of no distinction. (The powder room has a Victorian oak vanity, like the one in the main bath but very, very small; I'd like to change it to a pedestal sink!)

I haven't gotten far with any choice for the walls. Right now, such open wall area as there is is covered with something that looks at first glance like Laura Ashley (!) wallpaper, but which on close inspection seems to be some sort of weird paneling, held on with finish nails. I'm going to pry up a section of it above the door, but what I expect to find is original drywall, possibly with a skim coat of swirled plaster like what's in the bedrooms.

At one point I had chosen tile for the walls, and I was considering running tile floor-to-ceiling. That would be functional, for sure, but now I think that it might look too institutional. I am not averse to just painting the walls if they can be put into condition for it. The only thing that is absolutely out is wood paneling of any sort -- the house was built with very nice, genuine wood paneling in all or parts of several rooms, but then the owners added fakish wood paneling in several others.

Pictures of what I'm considering in the next post.

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