Historical Home Gets a Bathroom Remodel

The Challenge: 

Our client was the Delano Homestead Bed and Breakfast in Fairhaven, MA. The house has transitional, Federal / Greek Revival architecture and was owned by FDR’s family for about 120 years. While the first floor of this home has twelve-foot ceilings, and the second floor has ten-foot ceilings, the third floor, has lower ceilings and some eves, as it was once servants quarters. This floor is comprised of two bedrooms, a bathroom and some storage areas. The bathroom was installed in the 1940’s (we were able to pinpoint the period from some advertisements that were found inside the walls), but was badly in need of some updates / upgrades.  

The bathroom has a nice, big, triple, casement window that should be the focal point of the room, but it was completely obscured by a wall. The 1940 cast-iron tub was nice, but had a plastic shower surround that was separating from the wall. Paint was peeling on the ceiling, there was no bathroom vent, the windows could not be seen upon entry to the bathroom, and the bathroom flow was awkward. The existing sink was small and only one foot away from the door that swings into the room.  

The Goals:
The client wanted to paint the bathroom and wanted to upgrade it with tile instead of a plastic surround. Other than that, he was open-minded. He was very sensitive to the home’s provenance and wanted to be sure that any renovations would be in keeping with the historical character of property.  

The Solution:
Observing the adjacent rooms, it was apparent that some extra space could be taken from a large bedroom, in a way that would not detract from the bedroom but that would greatly benefit his bath. Once the bath was enlarged and the wall that blocked the windows was removed, the large windows flooded the space with light. A decision was made to relocate the sink, add a shower, and move the bathtub and radiator. Consideration was given to maximizing space and to make the room appear larger. Inspiration was taken from a lovely, 1910, black and white subway tile bath with tub and shower on the floor below.  

We found a rolled-rim, cast-iron, claw foot tub at a local architectural salvage yard, and had it resurfaced in biscuit. Fortunately, we were able to find a 5-1/2’ tub and it just fit. We also found a biscuit-colored pedestal sink from mid-century. The toilet was cracked, so we decided to replace it, also in biscuit. We found a replica of a period toilet that meets current environmental standards, but the client opted for a standard toilet, for budgetary concerns.  

Although the inspiration for the bathroom was the period, black-and-white subway tile bath below, we wanted to soften the colors a bit, on the third floor, so we special-ordered a blue-green-grey tile color instead of black. Earlier bathrooms (1900-1925) were designed to look fairly anti-septic / clinical, so we went with a solid, biscuit-colored, porcelain tile floor in a classic, 1” hexagonal pattern. While the light floor can be a problem keeping clean, the client liked the authenticity of it and reasoned that little dirt is tracked to the third floor.  

A major decision concerned the shower enclosure. The client opted for a separate, stand-alone shower, as opposed to using a shower over the tub. He wanted the shower to be tiled with a, typical brass drain. Because the windows took up the entire far wall, and because the ceiling gradually sloped away from the door, the shower had to be located in a corner, half-way along the wall. A solid tiled wall would have blocked the view of the classic tub and some of the light from the window. It would have made the room look smaller and the shower seem darker. The client opted for a ½ inch-thick, tempered glass shower enclosure. In the end, he felt that he had been faithful enough to the historical character of the house and the clear, plain glass enclosure seems to disappear and allows it to be better enjoyed.  

Final Details:
The client opted for classic chrome fixtures instead of brushed chrome or oiled-bronze. A low-sone combination ceiling light / bath vent with chrome accents, as well as chrome towel bars, towel rings, robe hooks, and soap dishes completed the picture. The client wanted lights over the tub, for bathtub reading. The low ceiling required wall sconces, but building code specified waterproof fixtures. An unusual solution presented itself with some outdoor lighting that matched the biscuit color and has a slightly industrial / nautical theme. These were put on dimmers.  

The rest of the third floor was replastered, repainted, and all the birch floors were refinished. The result is a total upgrade with a large, bright, sunny, historical, and well-appointed bath.


One Person has left comments on this post

» Paul Beauchamp said: { Sep 1, 2010 - 05:09:51 }

Thanks so much for your help, Susie. Gerry was right, and I am so glad her referred me to you. Your pics came out well. I didn’t know you would make me famous!
I hope I didn’t drive you crazy. Thanks for your patience. I had no idea that there were so many decisions to be made in this bathroom renovation project. Hats off to you. Not sure what I would have done without you. I am putting up the robe hooks today. Guests are now sometimes choosing the third floor over the second. Wonderful to work with you. I love the tub, i can actually stretch my legs out now. What a difference 6″ makes.