Pepper and Marshall’s Washington Heights Bathroom Renovations – Sweetened!

by Kerry O'Brien

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.

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“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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