Now and Zen

November 09, 2007
Creating the space of one's dreams is easy if you start from scratch. But without a fresh palette, it can take a bit more creativity, imagination and vision. When a San Diego physician and his wife decided it was time to upgrade to a larger home, they turned to local designer Sy John Iverson, of Inside Story, to formulate a plan that would turn the good bones of their master bathroom into a space truly customized for them. Having worked with Iverson through a past remodel, the couple relied on his experience, determination and attention to detail to give them a luxuriously comfortable new space where they could unwind.

Despite a very bland 1980s-style design with poor lighting, uninspired materials and lackluster architectural details, Iverson, with more than 20 years of experience designing residences and hotels, knew the general footprint of the space offered great potential. Drawbacks of the existing bathroom included a tub that "was turned 90 degrees and sat in the window, practically putting you on display," as well as an unattractive glass block that separated the tub and shower. In addition, he noted, "The vanities were white-washed oak, builder-grade cabinets and the predominant colors were white, gray and mauve." Iverson, however, saw possibility in the fact that there were defined spaces for his and her vanities, and "the plumbing elements were all appropriately positioned and the bay window filled the space with light, so I knew we had a lot of options for making the space more interesting and beautiful."

"The overall theme we chose for the master bath retreat was Zen contemporary," said Iverson. "I wanted to give the family a clean, modern spa-like atmosphere that brings the outdoors inside and highlights the beauty of each element." With natural materials and a "less-is-more" attitude, he conceptualized a space where every item adds a sense of tranquility, reinforcing a balance with nature.

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Since the room's 11-ft. ceiling created a cavernous atmosphere, Iverson faced the challenge of bringing the space down to scale while celebrating his concept of soft modernism. Using the laws of proportion, he beefed up the size of the cabinetry, which pulled down the height of the ceiling, making the room feel more comfortable and less intimidating. He also kept a freestanding furniture feel to each component, finding inspiration in the classic Japanese Tansu chest. Just as these chests were designed specifically for a variety of individual uses, the his and her vanities were customized for the different functions each required their space to perform. The husband preferred medicine-cabinet-style storage, but the wife wanted drawers and lots of space to spread out. To accommodate their needs, Iverson designed for the husband two tall tower cabinets, which stand proudly on tapered legs, and for the wife, a dressing table with a seating area and extra mirrors. Both vanities are constructed of quarter-sawn oak with a eucalyptus veneer for contrasting texture and a touch of exotic flavor. They feature a combination of square and rectangular handles and pulls that reinforce the clean-lined modern look.

Overall, the layout of the room is compartmentalized. The vanities are each tucked into a recess, a water closet sits adjacent to the shower and a dry sauna is situated next to the wife's vanity. To create a sense of continuity, Iverson used cross-cut travertine to envelop the entire space. In addition to the floors, it's used as a backsplash behind the vanities, throughout the shower and around the undermounted airbath, seamlessly linking all of the separate areas together. Breaking up the solid lines of travertine with texture, a band of river rock along the perimeter enhances the serene spa theme and harmonizes with the view outside. The river-rock treatment continues through the shower, lining the shower pan. Not only does it bring the organic aesthetic full circle, but it also feels fabulous on the feet. The vanity tops, bathtub deck and shower bench are constructed of a rich green granite, blending with the rest of the room's earthy materials.

"One thing that makes a great master bath is the ability to accessorize it as a real room with furniture," said Iverson. The furniture feel continues in the bathtub alcove, where a built-in display case is lit from above. The dated glass block that separated the bathtub from the shower has been replaced with sleek, clear glass panels. The oversized shower features bodysprays and a handheld shower—something Iverson recommends not only for bathing, but also to make cleaning a bit easier. To aid with wear and tear, he incorporated a commercial vinyl wall covering bearing a subtle bamboo pattern. The durable material protects those walls not covered in travertine.

The final result is a space that subtly blends the nuances of classic Asian design with contemporary style, creating a purely functional, uncluttered space that calms the senses and cleanses the soul.


Interior designer: Sy John Iverson Inside Story, San
Diego, CA;
General Contractor: Brandon Bishop Your Monies
Worth Construction
Sinks: Kallista
Cabinetry: Custom
Lighting: Minka Lavery
Bathtub: Bain Ultra
Faucets: Grohe
Mirrors: Skyline Design
Toilet: TOTO USA
Pulls/Knobs: Carpe Diem Decorative Hardware
Photography: © Scott Basile

Part of the Barbara Barry collection, this undercounter basin design by Kallista features a uniquely curved shape and crisp styling. Used in a stucco white finish, the sink has a beveled X pattern that adds character while the 171/2-in.

Designed to re-energize, revitalize and deliver a new level of serenity, the Pro-Meridian 60 undermount bathtub by Bain Ultra includes a heated backrest and 50 strategically placed air jets for the ultimate in relaxation. Measuring 72 in. x 36 in. x 20 in., it's the perfect place to press life's pause button.

A concealed trapway makes TOTO USA's Aquia dual-flush toilet as easy to clean as it is good looking. With a sleek elongated skirt and high-profile design, the two-piece toilet comes with a push-button Dual-Max flushing system, optional SoftClose seat and large 21/8-in. fully glazed trapway.

A combination of geometric pulls and knobs from Carpe Diem Decorative Hardware enhances the Asian-inspired styling of the custom-built vanities. Rectangular pulls measure 51/4 in. x 3/4 in. with 3-in. centers and knobs are 1 in. sq. Both feature a Monte Verde finish.

Used throughout the room, Grohe's streamlined Atrio faucet collection is sculpture for the bath. The bathtub features a Roman tub-filler spout that measures 81/4 in. and a sleek handheld shower wand. Low-spout wideset lavatory faucets adorn the vanities. Shown with lever handles, Trio spoke handles are also available.
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