A ‘His’ Bathroom Remodel with Tri-color Marble in Philadelphia

In a couple’s 1929 Colonial, a marble and glass bath refresh comes in on budget at $19,200

Bathroom remodel in Philadelphia
  • Homeowners: Natalie and John, having lived in their 1929 Colonial home for years, posted their bathroom remodel on Sweeten
  • Where: The Mt. Airy community of northwest Philadelphia
  • Primary renovation:  The 100-square-foot vintage second bathroom was finally going to get its re-do after a challenging demolition phase
  • With: Sweeten general contractor
  • Homeowner’s quote: “The vetting process was great—just the ability to know that the contractor was pre-approved and interested in our project from the moment they walked into the door. We are both busy and we didn’t have time to deal with contractors who were incapable or uninterested.”

Written in partnership with homeowner John. “After” photos by Kristina Kroot.

A ‘his’ bathroom gets a makeover

“This was ‘my’ bathroom and I was generally indifferent,” said John, a Philadelphia lawyer, about the project’s “before” appearance. “We believed that it was last remodeled in the 1960s and, frankly, it did not reflect the aesthetic of the rest of the house.”

Portrait of homeowners in their Philadelphia bathroom remodel

The bathroom’s old tile and fixtures “drove Natalie crazy,” John said of his partner, a Creativity Strategist, who was the remodel’s driving force. “She really wanted to have it renovated.”

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Shower with glass sliding doors in bathroom remodel in philadelphia
White and gray bathroom vanity

The couple, and their daughter Sydney, a college student, have been living in the 1929 Colonial since 2009. Located in Mt. Airy, a section of northwest Philadelphia, the stone house was a true find. So was the community.  “It’s one of the oldest integrated neighborhoods in the country,” John explains, “and it is very eclectic. Our home neighbors Fairmount Park.” The place was a keeper. They just wanted to make it—and this man-bath in particular—a little more contemporary.

The bathroom was not large. It measured ”less than 100 square feet,” according to John. “So this,” he said, “was an opportunity to do something grand in a small space.”

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Calling in the experts

The family’s project post on Sweeten read, We would like to update the second bathroom, which will involve removing existing tile and perhaps expanding into an existing closet area to relocate the tub.

Tub shower with White and gray large marble tile bathroom remodel in Philadelphia
Bathroom remodel with shower niche

When searching for bathroom remodelers in Philadelphia, the couple hired one who bid on the project based on the post. Fortunately, their contractor had experience with old houses and understood just what had to be done, said John, who felt he found a real professional. “We wanted to know how long the process would take and what sort of flexibility we had in the redesign. Our contractor gave accurate answers to both,” John said.

“The vetting process was great,” he continues, “Just the ability to know that the contractor was pre-approved and interested in our project from the moment they walked into the door. We are both busy and we didn’t have time to deal with contractors who were incapable or uninterested.” And a project it was—above and beyond anything they’d imagined.

“Our Sweeten contractor was ‘old school’ and understood house construction. He knew enough to gently steer us away from design ideas that would be hard to implement.”

Dismantling stubborn tile

The most difficult part of the bathroom remodel was actually the demolition. The bathroom was an original from the period the home was built, in the 1920s. All wall and floor tile was porcelain that had been set in metal lath and wet-bed cement. In most areas, there were four to six inches of the material, all of which had to be painstakingly chipped and pried from the surface underneath.

Renovated shower with large format shower tile and matte black fixtures

There was literally tons of tile and cement that had to be removed, along with an oversized porcelain cast-iron bathtub. Demolition of a bathroom this size typically would take two men 4 to 6 hours. Instead, it took four men two full days to demo, and 3.5 tons of demo debris were removed.

Large-format shower tiles stretch the space visually

Out with the old, in with the new. “Probably the most significant design choice” Natalie and he made, John said, “was to go with large 24”’ x 48” tiles in the shower”—oversized slabs of smooth tri-color marble that gave the whole room an instant upgrade. They added sliding glass shower doors, a simple gray vanity, and black metal accents, including the hardware and faucet fixtures.

Gray vanity black fixtures bathroom remodel in Philadelphia
Remodeled bathroom window with shelf

The Sweeten contractor, John recalls, “had relationships with many suppliers so he could direct us to the best place for the tile, as well as the fixtures. He was also “old school” and understood house construction, and he could gently steer us away from design ideas that would be hard to implement,” John said. “[The firm’s project manager] was great onsite in terms of answering our questions. He also introduced us to terrific electricians and plumbers.”

Dealing with demolition aftershock

As it turned out, the contractor’s expertise had his work cut out for him. During the demolition, the walls in the rooms adjoining the bathroom, which were also original construction of wet plaster over wood lath, suffered serious damage. Breaking and cracking during removal of the bathroom tile caused collateral damage to two of the bedroom walls. To stabilize them, they were stripped down to the framing studs and new sheetrock walls were installed.

Exterior of 1929 Colonial in Philadelphia

A budget-conscious result

All in, the project cost Natalie and John approximately $19,200, coming in on budget, which made them happy. John said they are pleased with the result: “Everything has a place,” he said. “It’s pleasing to the eye. It’s a real pleasure now to walk into this bathroom!”

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