You know those rooms that you know could be SO much better but that don’t technically HAVE to be changed in order to live with them? This was definitely one of those rooms for us. When we bought our house, we saw ourselves renovating this space down the road, but we felt in no real hurry, as we didn’t necessarily hate the space. However, that feeling didn’t last all that long. The thing with renovations is that it’s really hard to stop once you catch the bug, and the more renovations we wrapped up in our home, the more this space felt dingy and like it didn’t belong.
Soon after moving in, we chose to give the space a slight update by swapping out the wicker shelves and towel bar above the toilet for two prints from Animal Print Shop we had from our downtown apartment. We also painted the space in Farrow and Ball Pink Ground. These changes resulted in a softer, fresher space, but it was still nothing special.
Let the Renovations Begin
Adam and I joke that the second he gets any downtime he gets us into another major home project, and this instance was no exception. Over a winter break from school, Adam became absolutely enamored with Gracie wallpapers and utterly convinced that our guest bath would not be complete without this pattern. It didn’t take much convincing to get me onboard for another gut job thanks to the beauty that is Gracie. We also knew that we didn’t want to go through this renovation after having kids and that we would thank ourselves for getting it done sooner rather than later. With the green light given, we jumped into demolition, which can always lead to some surprises in an old home.
Luckily, we didn’t run into too many hurdles. We knew that the bathroom had been updated around the 1990s and that most of what was left was not original to the house. As we peeled back the layers, we were given a better picture of what the space used to be.
From what we could tell, the original medicine cabinet was quite a bit wider, and it likely had a depository for razor blades given the large volume we found tucked behind the wall. We also discovered the etched plaster design that was hidden behind the layers of wallpaper and paint.
Bathroom renovations, like kitchens, are very involved and fairly permanent. We only have two full bathrooms in the house, ours, which we have already renovated, and this upstairs bathroom. When you only have two bathrooms and you intend to live in the space potentially forever, you want to take risks but you also want to get the rooms right, making sure that you can live with them for that amount of time. With bathroom and kitchen renovations, you also want to take the opportunity to update things like plumbing and electrical as much as possible. We decided to keep the plaster ceiling but to open up the walls in order to update our aging pipes and to add outlets in the bedrooms on each side of the bathroom. Knowing the plumbing and electrical situation behind our walls gives us some piece of mind and hopefully prevents issues down the road.
We also knew that we wanted to add sconces to each side of the medicine cabinet, and of course, the right sconce placement fell exactly in line with a cast iron pipe. Given that this bathroom is barely even 5 feet deep, we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room to adjust sconce placement, but thanks the the diligence of our electricians, we were able to find a solution that allowed us to work around the pipe. Other than a few things here and there, demolition went pretty smoothly, and it was nice to have the mess tucked away upstairs apart from our main living space.
The Fun Part
Not that wielding a sledgehammer can’t be fun, but the cosmetic/design side is definitely our biggest passion. As I mentioned, our inspiration for this space was Gracie’s Stone Grove pattern, which we used to set the tone of the room. We loved the calmness brought in by the neutral background mixed with the obvious glam and visual impact that comes with a chinoiserie pattern. While this bathroom is small (~5″x6″), we didn’t want this to hold back the design. Rather, we were excited about the impact that could be had by bringing in so many beautiful elements into such a tight space. We were also excited to make this space look more like the early 1900s bathrooms that we love so much for their utilitarian beauty.
You may remember our tile dilemma from this post. When it came to flooring, we knew we wanted marble tile that was simple and classic. Given the small footprint, we debated which scale would make the room feel larger and were largely between a more classic basketweave and a larger scale, more modern hexagonal tile. Responses from those who weighed in were pretty mixed. In the end, we sided with the basketweave for its sheer beauty and ability to speak to the wallpaper through the green marble tile accents. We’ve long admired New Ravenna’s beautiful tile, and this felt like the perfect place to splurge given the small amount we needed. We were able to purchase the tile from Kenny and Company in Nashville, who were great to work with and were able to accommodate our need for a small order.
In the shower, we wanted to keep it simple but interesting. We’re forever fans of classic subway tile in bathrooms, but it felt like it needed a little something extra in order to pop. So, we went with a 3′ x 6′ white subway tile that had a good amount of movement. This room gets a lot of light, and it reflects the variation in these tiles so beautifully.
While we could have run the wallpaper from floor to ceiling, we decided against it for a few reasons. For one, only covering half of the wall meant half the price, which is always welcome. Also, we don’t always let practicality outweigh design, but it did seem to make more practical sense to avoid placing the wallpaper on the lower half of the wall where it would likely see the most wear and tear in a space that serves a highly functional purpose. And lastly, we were fortunate to inherit beautiful wood details in the rest of our home, and this felt like a nice opportunity for us to play around with trim details on our own.
We kept the trim around the window and door and worked to match the additional millwork to the rest of the home, selecting similar profiles with a level of simplicity. In order to keep it from feeling too busy, we stuck with one shadow box on each wall, and used the golden ratio to determine the height of the wainscoting, which we’ll detail in a future post.
As mentioned above, a major change in this bathroom was the addition of two sconces on each side of the medicine cabinet. This would allow us to have multiple lighting options and to bring in additional metals and architectural details. Our two biggest decisions with the sconces were the scale and finish. We’d decided to use unlacquered brass in the other bathroom fixtures and thought keeping the finish the same on the sconces might make it all feel more unified. However, finding a brass finish that matched our plumbing fixtures was no easy feat, and next to the wallpaper, the brass didn’t really pop. Therefore, we decided to move towards bronze for greater contrast and variation.
You would think that protruding from the wall a few extra inches wouldn’t make a big difference, but did I mention that this bathroom is TINY and that every inch and detail count? While we love tapered shades, those were quickly out due to size. We then moved onto opal glass shades, which we like for the more even lighting than clear shades or exposed bulbs. We ordered the fixture pictured above and loved the look but found that it protruded too far into the room and would block too much of the wallpaper.
When we found this Thomas O’Brien fixture, it ticked all the boxes: surface mounted, dark bronze finish, slight scalloped detail while feeling sturdy and utilitarian, and nice even light. A forever piece for sure. For the ceiling, we wanted to go a bit more glam, and were instantly sold when we found this beautiful fixture by Aerin. Glam but understated in the best way.
The goal for this space was to make the functional beautiful, and Waterworks does such a great job of showing the beauty that can be had in plumbing fixtures. While unlacquered brass may not be for everyone, we love the look and look forward to seeing the fixtures age. The tricky thing with using brass in a space this small with so much exposed plumbing is that once you commit you have to go all in or else the non-brass pieces stand out like a sore thumb. This means finding brass alternatives for everything from the supply lines to the toilet handle to the medicine cabinet hardware to the shower rod. Extra work, but worth the effort. A list of sources for our fixtures can be found at the end of this post.
Given the narrowness of this bathroom, a vanity was out of the question, but if I’m being honest, I appreciated the excuse to choose a pedestal sink and not feel guilty about forgoing the extra storage. This particular pedestal sink has beautiful curves and was small enough to fit comfortably while having enough of a flat surface to sit items on the edge while getting ready. Our biggest advice when choosing a pedestal sink is to maximize the lip to provide some shred of usable counter space. To add even more storage we brought in a simple medicine cabinet and added an easily accessible glass shelf over the sink, which made us all kinds of nervous to drill into the wallpaper.
With such beautiful wallpaper, millwork, and fixtures, it would be easy to stop there and to add minimal styling, but why not go all out? Our goal was to pack as much as possible into this small space, and we used every inch to do so. The tortoise Ralph Lauren cup and taupe trimmed shower curtain work to mirror the warm tones in the wallpaper. The fun green tray from Jill Rosenwald, one of our favorite ceramicists, adds an extra punch of color, corrals products and accessories, and echoes the brass with the gold edges. When it comes to the flowers filling this gorgeous vase, we may have a slight confession. We attended and live very near the University of Tennessee, which has some of the most beautiful hydrangea bushes that were at full peak around the time of this shoot, and we may or may not have “foraged” a few blooms late at night with a friend waiting in a getaway car. I mean, we paid tuition for 6 years. That’s gotta count for something. And you have to admit they’re perfect!
All in all, we couldn’t be happier with the space, and we may be a wee bit jealous that it’s not the master. It’s so light and fresh and one of the most visually rich rooms in our home, and we love going up to the room, closing the door, and taking in each carefully scrutinized detail. Worth every bit of time and effort!