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To Remodel or Not to Remodel: The Bathroom

The bathroom

My bathroom, with its original 1923 white fixtures and finishes, is a classic New York apartment bathroom. It’s just a very, very shabby one.

The tile wainscot

The coffin tub and pedestal sink are beautiful but their surfaces are cracked and the bottom of the tub is pitted, as if by bullets. The original tub and sink fittings were replaced in the 1960’s with ungainly modern stainless steel ones that are out of character and have lost their luster

The showerhead, added during the 1960’s remodel, was installed along the long side of the tub, an eccentric detail that I have gotten used to but that makes little sense. The original 3×6 subway tile on the walls has fine grout work and a delicate crackle glaze but has been chipped and patched in many places. Water has seeped behind the shower tiles and yellowed them like bad teeth.

The tub and the shower wall

The 1″ hexagonal floor tile is level and in good condition but the grout is permanently stained. No amount of scrubbing will make it clean.

The floor tile

My mother, who lives in a modern house in a Connecticut suburb, has little patience with the state of my bathroom. Each time she visits she asks, “When are you going to remodel the bathroom?” and once she even said, “How can you live like this?”  But my friends, artists and architects, have compared my bathroom to the ones at the Chateau Marmont and encouraged me to leave it as it is.

Early this summer my bathroom faucet developed a perpetual drip. The original piping and valves were so fragile that my superintendent Eric would not take a wrench to them, explaininig “This is a pandora’s box.”

The sink

At that moment I knew that my bathroom, like my kitchen, needed some sweetening. But I also felt that the original design of the room was almost perfect. I began thinking about how I could remodel while retaining the restrained, old-fashioned feeling of the room. I wanted to sweeten the space without changing it too much.

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