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Cracked Tiles Give Way to a Crisp, Classic Bathroom Redo

Clinton Hill homeowner Diane moved into an apartment in a large, residential co-op on historic Clinton Avenue about a year and a half ago. Diane was no stranger to renovation and hoped to bring lessons learned from renovating a kitchen in a previous home to make the bathroom in her new home more functional and comfortable. The bathroom layout worked for Diane but the small space was in rough condition: large floor tiles covered the walls and were starting to loosen and crack. More importantly, Diane needed to adjust the height of most of the fixtures and add a few other touches around the room to customize the small space and make each element more comfortable.

“My Sweeten contractors were so great – I could not have found a better contractor. Best experience I ever had.”

– Diane, Clinton Hill Homeowner

I loved Diane’s no-nonsense approach to this project. After a series of “nightmare” interactions with independent contractors, and after two different contacts walked with Diane’s deposits, Diane posted her project on Sweeten with all of her bases covered: she had already purchased new fixtures and navigated her building’s renovation approval process – two huge time-savers. We matched Diane with Sweeten Expert Sean who brought in rave reviews for responsiveness, staying in touch with project updates, and carefully protecting Diane’s home while work was underway.

To restore a bright, clean, and classic feel to the space, Diane turned to white subway tiles, an all-time Sweeten favorite for a crisp and easy-to-clean finish. As Sean’s team gutted the bath and cleared out layers of old tiles, Diane discovered an extra bonus; the work revealed two additional inches in the width and height of the room – a big win in a small bath!

Diane set out to find a taller sink and toilet, a cast iron tub for soaking, and a grab bar for the shower/tub. Diane selected a Toto sink and toilet; the toilet’s design conceals all of the pipe work and extends to the floor with a seamless surface that makes it extra easy to keep clean. The new sink provides a full six inches of counter surface area behind the Toto faucet, putting daily items well within reach. Diane looked far and wide for a tub with relatively petite dimensions and found a gorgeous Porcher tub that fit the bill. Sean’s team customized the tub installation with tile work and a bench.

With such a sleek and classic finish, it’s hard to picture the major showstopper that Sean’s team expertly handled in the middle of the project. Because Diane had done so much prep work with her co-op board and already had all of the materials on site, Sean was ready to knock out the work in less than two weeks. A few days in, Sean discovered that the building’s stack of galvanized steel pipes behind the bathroom wall was corroded and rotting. Sean and team jumped in to manage the unexpected issue with Diane and the building’s management and got the project back on track in three days.

We’re delighted that Sean and Diane made such a great team. These photos speak for themselves in showing how smart design and carefully selected materials can make a space more comfortable – we’re so glad we were able to introduce Diane to such a capable and considerate team! Thank you, Diane, for showing us around your new bath!

Feeling inspired by Diane’s customized bath? Take a look at this quick rundown of materials and get your project posted on Sweeten!

Source list for Diane’s Sweetened Bath

– medicine cabinet from Kohler

– tub from Porcher

– toilet, sink, and faucet from Toto

– white subway tile and floor tile from Home Depot

– Elle vanity lighting fixture from Maxim

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Grazyna and Howard’s Sweetened Contemporary Lower East Side Bath

“Sweeten provided a number of good contractors who were willing to do the job. Honestly, the hard part was picking which one. Sweeten Expert Alan was honest in his estimates and delivered on time, with no surprises.”

— Howard, Lower East Side homeowner

After our recent roundup of modern classic baths by Sweeten experts, I was especially ready to talk with the architect and designer behind an innovative and contemporary bathroom upgrade over on Grand Street. Grazyna and Howard bought a co-op in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2001 and took on a kitchen renovation shortly after moving in. After thirteen years in their home, Howard, an architect who now works in education, and Grazyna, an interior designer and associate professor, couldn’t help but notice more than five decades of wear and tear that were starting to show in their bathroom. The original sink and bathtub were pitted and dented, and short-term attempts at new coatings didn’t seem to last. Grazyna and Howard thought about taking a minimal approach to the work but knew that swapping out fixtures without a full re-tile plan would guarantee a patchwork result because they wouldn’t be able to find identical tiles. Tile damage aside, getting a new tub into a New York apartment would be an unnecessary challenge for a couple that wanted a more accessible walk-in shower down the road.

Both wife and husband had worked on a number of renovation projects throughout their careers in the industry, but this time, the project felt personal and the stakes seemed high. Howard posted the couple’s vision for the project on Sweeten to find a contractor who would take on the relatively small project and also be willing to think creatively about how best to use the space. We matched Howard’s architect eye and Grazyna’s design expertise with Sweeten Expert Alan – a Sweeten blog regular with an extensive background in kitchen and bath tile work. Alan’s team cleared out the space to make way for a slew of customized design features and unique materials.

Three striking material choices

Grazyna and Howard specifically wanted to avoid the all-white bath approach and felt inspired by the color and flow of water. They selected a luminous green-blue translucent glass tile, in varying widths, lengths, and monochromatic hues, to cover the walls, using a horizontal tile placement that evokes an ashlar masonry effect. The couple chose large, gray, square-cut porcelain tiles for the floor, minimizing grout lines and providing visual continuity in both the vanity and shower floor areas. The sink, window ledge, and shower bench/curb enclosure are constructed of engineered stone (a composite of crushed stones), which is typically more durable and less porous than its natural stone and marble counterparts.

Fixture overhauls 

Alan’s team replaced the tub with a partially-enclosed, walk-in glass shower and worked with Howard to create his vision for a surprisingly futuristic sink vanity. Howard designed the sink with an especially minimal footprint and Alan created a base that seamlessly joins the engineered stone waterfall counter with the floor tile. I don’t generally spend time closely inspecting the point where a sink meets a floor, but this one is worth an extra look! Howard also selected a Kohler toilet for its narrow tank, dual-flush efficiency, and sleek curves.

Unexpected design features 

Here are a few unexpected design choices that you might have missed while looking at all that gleaming tile:

Alan built concealed storage under the shower bench to take advantage of the form and function of that element of the shower.

Alan rigged the recessed, built-in medicine cabinet with interior electrical wiring to hide plugs for small appliances.

Alan added a towel rod to the sink vanity for easy placement of hand towels that help to conceal the under-sink plumbing.

Thank you, Grazyna and Howard for letting us tour your most interesting and innovative bath! I’m willing to bet that we’re going to start seeing a rush of requests from homeowners posting projects on Sweeten for smart design secrets like these…!

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Amy’s Sweetened Brooklyn Heights Bathroom Renovation

“Sweeten Expert Pedro was responsive whenever I called or emailed him about the project, and he was able to accommodate all of my requests.”

–Amy, Brooklyn Heights homeowner

Brooklyn Heights homeowner Amy moved into her one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op two years ago, facing a not-so-terrible but oh-so-prevalent NYC problem: the bath in her new home was ok. It was fine, really; functional and clean and perfectly non-offensive. Amy was not dealing with any pastel porcelain fixtures or layers of cracked floor tile and dropped ceilings, but she couldn’t shake the sense that the materials selected by the previous owners felt dated and at odds with the way the rest of her home was coming together. As she settled in, Amy, who works in advertising, began noticing how the double-wide mirror and counter extension made the room feel cramped without adding any function, and decided that she could do without the under-sink storage if it would help her reclaim a few extra square feet. Amy found her way to Sweeten via Apartment Therapyposted her project on Sweeten, and we matched her with Sweeten Expert Pedro to strip out everything but the tub and streamline the space for this Brooklyn Heights bathroom renovation.

Tile sets a new tone

Amy had a classic bath in mind and went right for timeless and unfussy white subway tile to line the shower and go half-height up the walls. The subway tile pick was simple and inexpensive, allowing Amy to accent the space with a sea-foam green penny floor tile from Ann Sacks. Pedro lined both sections with a neutral medium-gray grout, which helps balance the shine with a bit of grit and texture. To bathe the new finishes in plenty of light, Amy selected a white glass, silver-ringed Schoolhouse Electric flushmount (disclaimer: I try not to be biased but this has long been my most favorite lighting fixture in all the world!).

Custom sink details

Amy’s pièce de résistance, and the object of considerable research and finagling, was the console sink. The room’s wall bump-out provided a natural cut-off point for the sink depth at only 20 inches, but Amy found that sink options commonly clocked in at more than 24 inches. Amy sourced a custom-cut Carrera marble counter top and combined it with chrome legs to create a vintage-inspired console that fit precisely within the space constraints. Amy went with Kohler faucet fixtures and Pedro replaced and re-located the newly-exposed sink pipes upward for a more polished look. Amy loves the way the sink turned out – putting her stamp on the design and bringing her vision for the fixture to life in spite of the room depth was no small win!

Storage losses and space gains

Most urban dwellers would be loathe to lose bathroom storage (or storage of any kind, for that matter), but Amy was able to take a minimalist approach to medicine cabinet and sink storage space because of the linen closet in the bathroom. Without the original top-heavy medicine cabinet and bulky sink vanity, Amy traded a few square feet of concealed storage for a few square feet of open space, a sleek glass shelf, and a spot for artwork – all told, not a shabby deal.

No pain, no gain

Amy and Pedro worked through a few unforeseen issues together during the three week life span of the project. Amy inadvertently under-ordered tile amounts and needed to wait for back-up tile to arrive, and Pedro discovered leaks in the shower body that needed to be replaced behind the tile walls. The shower work added unexpectedly to Amy’s budget but was worthwhile to ensure that the work would hold up in the long run. 

Thank you, Amy, for this tour of your gorgeous new bath! Proof, again, that there are endless and simple ways to do great modern, classic baths. For more on the bathroom renovation process, take at look at our NYC bathroom pricing guide and post your project on Sweeten!

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Two Washington Heights Bathroom Renovations

I thought we’d ended the year on a high note with Claire and Mike’s gorgeous Park Slope kitchen renovation, but we have a competitor for our best of 2014 awards in Pepper’s double bathroom re-do. This week’s blog post also brings us a new renovation vocabulary term: this is the first time that “encaustic” tiles are appearing on the Sweeten blog since they cameoed in a Sweetened West Village Italian eatery back in 2012. Very exciting on all fronts.

NYC bathroom renovations

“I didn’t even know where to begin. Sweeten helped me re-consider my budget and plan for a project that had been stalled for months because I didn’t know where to start.”

— Pepper, Manhattan homeowner

Pepper moved into this two-bed, two-bath Washington Heights co-op in 2008 after scouring the City for her own slice of Manhattan real estate and realizing that she wasn’t going to come away with much more than a studio in pricier neighborhoods. Pieces of the 1940s bath materials had been haphazardly replaced by previous residents, but with no idea where to start or how much it would cost, five years passed before she got serious about the work (notably, at the insistence of her husband, Marshall!). Pepper posted the project on Sweeten, hoping to meet with contractors who could help guide her through the renovation process.

Pepper, an actress and voice over artist with a weekly radio show that reads periodicals aloud for blind audience members, and Marshall, who works in finance, were originally interested in combining their two adjacent bathrooms to create a single, expansive, luxury bath. While that would have made for amazing blog photos, the couple were dissuaded when they realized that the combination would limit the future sale value of their home, add $20K to their budget, and create significant plumbing and building approval needs. We sent over four general contractors to discuss other options and the couple especially hit it off with Sweeten Expert Aleks after deciding to leave the fixture footprints in place and avoid high permit and plumbing costs.

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The decision to leave layout intact helped the couple focus their funds on beautiful materials and design decisions that would make each narrow bath feel more spacious. Pepper held the romance and history of the building’s past in high regard and wanted to find a way to make the rooms more functional without severing grand old New York ties entirely. For the bathroom with the full-size tub in it, Pepper found herself gravitating to large-format subway wall tiles for their timeless sensibility and cost efficiency, but she also loved unexpected design quirks and offbeat color, stumbling upon encaustic tiles that offered both in abundance. At first glance, these cement tiles may not seem at all consistent with the Art Deco / Art Nouveau history of similar buildings in the neighborhood; they are often seen in Morocco and Spain, but also in Paris bistro settings that have become emblematic of the era that was inspiring to Pepper. Pepper found this rose and burgundy encaustic tile at Amethyst Artisan in Manhattan’s design district. Encaustic tiles are generally not as durable as ceramic tiles – they can crack and age more dramatically – but Pepper liked the graceful patina that they develop and loaded up on replacements that could be swapped in down the road if any cracks developed.

The tile choice set the tone for each bathroom and freed the couple up to find simple accents to complete each space. Pepper went with an open sink console from Signature Hardware, a frameless Robern wall-mounted medicine cabinet, a Schoolhouse Electric vanity lighting fixture, a Toto toilet, and a shower glass partition that runs halfway down the re-glazed porcelain tub for easy access.

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In the second bath, Pepper had come to accept that nothing could be salvaged or restored, opening the door for less traditional design decisions. Pepper chose shower tiles from Fire Clay Tile, a San Francisco-based shop that specializes in recycled glass products. These tiles were a splurge, but limiting their use to the stand-up shower helped minimize the amount needed, and these translucent squares are truly beautiful, equal parts shimmering and earthy.

After falling for the shower tile, Pepper found hexagonal encaustic floor tiles that subtly echo the green shower hue. While the floor tiles in the second bathroom are decidedly mod, their hexagonal repeat is a nod to Art Deco origins. Aleks raised the shower’s dropped ceiling and installed a space-saving wall-mount Duravit Starck sink. Pepper selected sink and shower faucet fixtures from Watermark, in Brooklyn, a second wall-mounted medicine cabinet from Signature Hardware, and a lighting fixture from Restoration Hardware. Pepper found vintage glass towel bars on Etsy and ended up with gray encaustic tile baseboard framing that was actually intended for use in the first bathroom, but works beautifully as an unusual finishing detail here.

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These colorful new bathrooms really are the ideal bookend to a year of Sweetened spaces across NYC. Pepper reports that the kitchen in the couple’s home also needs a renovation and is next on the list – I can’t wait to see that project get underway! Thank you, Pepper and Marshall, for walking us through these jewel-box baths!

Would encaustic tiles transform a room in your home? Post your project on Sweeten to meet hand-picked general contractors who can help you create a space you will love.

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Three Modern Baths and Two Custom Built-Ins in One, Sweetened Upper East Side Condo

There is something undeniably delightful about a great bathroom before and after — this week, we have three! It’s possible that I love to live vicariously through other folks’ bathroom renovations because the depths of despair in the “before” photos appear to know no bounds; New York City sure seems to have more than its fair share of aged, beige tiles, peeling laminates, and harsh lighting all piled into miniature rooms upon which dwellers make endless daily demands. Despite the obvious space limitations, the bathroom can be the ideal place to showcase beautiful design and materials precisely because there is so much to fit into a typically tiny space. Hard-working fixtures and finishes are forced to play nicely together as they compete for square inches, and a bathroom renovation somehow feels contained — a great before and after bath serves as a reminder that every home has to make space for basic bathroom essentials. Even the tiniest of urban baths can do so stylishly.

Here, three full baths complete an Upper East Side family’s condo renovation. Scroll down to see how design duo Sweeten Experts Lauren and Adam and Sweeten’s expert general contractor Alan worked together to create modern and simple baths throughout this home, and take a bonus peek at the custom millwork that brought similar form and function elsewhere in this uptown Manhattan renovation.

In the master bath, Lauren and Adam worked to balance two competing values: the bath itself is the largest of the three, with plenty of room for his and hers sinks, a sizable window, and a full tub, but the condo’s owners wanted to create a sense of privacy and make room for more storage. To take advantage of the bath’s spacious footprint but minimize sight lines into the master bedroom, the designers left the layout of the room generally intact, swapped in high-end tiles and custom cabinetry, and split the tub into a standing shower with a bench and expanded shelving.

Here, 6″ Carrera marble hex tiles create an understated geometric floor foundation, evoke the feel of a refined version of the identically shaped black asphalt pavers that ring Central Park, and are complemented by simple white subway wall tiles from Heath Ceramics. Alan’s millworkers built the vanity with white-lacquered cabinets and drawers and inverted the medicine cabinet, previously wall-mounted and hanging over the sink counter. This subtle detail really stands out: Lauren and Adam chose a walnut inset ledge to line the vanity mirror, creating a slightly recessed niche and allowing for an additional lighting strip to sit just inside the top line. The Toto toilet, Duravit sink, and Lefroy Brooks sink and shower faucet fixtures complete this clean-lined look.

In the second bath, Lauren and Adam found ways to balance continuity with diverse details by using 6″ square Carrera marble floor tiles and by making the shower the centerpiece of this room with luminous green Heath subway tiles on the inner shower walls. White subway tiles from Daltile, lined with neutral gray grout, complete the shower surround. The underlying footprint of this bathroom was altered to meet the owner’s suggestion of relocating the entry door – a move that allowed Lauren and Adam to focus the viewer’s eye on the shower details, add shallow storage shelving behind the newly-converted closet door, and take advantage of the narrow niche next to the shower stall to warm up an impeccably-tiled room with open cedar storage shelves and a compact cabinet. I can not get enough of that tiny oil-rubbed bronze door knob – the owners sourced both the knob and the vanity lighting fixture from Rejuvenation. The bathroom sink, chosen for it’s asymmetrical corner counter, is from Pozzi Ginori, and the plumbing fixtures have been outfitted with Grohe.

In the third bath, Lauren and Adam continued to rely on subway tile but added variety and character with a cubed navy floor tile from Mosaic House, a red cedar inset vanity ledge and cabinet, a gently-squared Duravit tub and sink set, Grohe plumbing fixtures, and a wall-mounted Rejuvenation vanity sconce, identical to the light selected for the second bath.

For one final example of the beautiful design and flawless execution that accompanied this project, look no further than the intricate built-ins that now line the master bedroom and the family’s living room. Lauren and Adam worked closely with the condo’s owners to make the most of these wall-to-wall units. The owners came to the table equipped with sketches and inspiring images, and had specific proportion requests in mind for each piece. While they intended to use the living room shelving to house the tv, they were smart to focus on a design that would minimize the appearance of the tv by placing it alongside other interesting items, and by slightly off-setting the tv area so that the tv is not the focal point of that wall. The team played with ideas like incorporating a bar area or bench seating, but ultimately created a piece that houses books and media and art without overtaking the room.

In the master bedroom, Lauren and Adam designed a full-wall custom built-in that is unbelievably functional and simultaneously well-integrated. With no visible pulls or hardware, it is easy to miss all of the elements that the wall now accommodates: a workspace by the window, storage cabinets, deep drawers, and hanging wardrobes — all concealed by lacquered doors and inset handles. The workspace has pocket doors that open and slide back toward the wall, which gives the owners the option to keep the desk open or slightly sectioned off from the rest of the room. 

Many, many thanks to Sweeten Experts Lauren, Adam, and Alan for this insider’s look at the design and craftsmanship throughout this home. So fun to see a renovation that included everything AND the kitchen sink!  We are beyond psyched that we were able to bring this team together — if you are thinking about similar projects or feeling inspired by the transformations in each room of this home, post your project on Sweeten and let us help you find the right designers and general contractors for your space.

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