August 27, 2021
After nearly 20 years in their suburban home in Los Angeles County, a couple was ready to bring their carpeted 1990s bathroom into the modern era. They had already worked with designer Rebecca Johnston, founder of Santa Clarita, Calif.-based R.Johnston Interiors, on a successful renovation of the first floor of the home, so they engaged her to next update the main bedroom, including the bathroom and closet.
By making strategic changes rather than structural ones, Johnston transformed the spacious room from a builder-grade bathroom into one that complemented the fresh, airy style she had infused downstairs and upgraded the function for her clients.
Getting the Most Out of Ample Space
Johnston knew immediately that the big, built-in tub deck that took over the room had to go. It wasn’t something the clients had thought about, but she told them it would make the space appear larger and more open. Once they saw it in 3D, they were convinced.
“I’ve gotten to where I do everything in 3D,” said the designer, who used Chief Architect for the renderings. “It helps me to visualize the space and make sure everything I want to do actually works.”
Less focused on getting the finishes exact, Johnston’s aim is to help clients imagine the layout and understand how it will feel. It aids contractors in understanding her vision, too.
In addition to getting rid of the tub deck and replacing it with a freestanding model, removing the shower walls made a significant difference in the bathroom. Initially, the shower had just a 24-in. opening at the door and a small window that let in a bit of light.
Johnston traded the walls for a glass shower enclosure and a pony wall that abuts the vanity. With the changes to the tub and shower, she did not need to adjust the layout.
“It was already a spacious bathroom,” she said. “We wanted to be able to spend money on finishes, so we tried to limit moving things around.”
Long-Lasting Style and Features
Making sure to coordinate the bathroom’s style with the downstairs renovation, Johnston sought a look that would be timeless. Through selecting materials that have been around for centuries and will continue to be popular – like marble flooring and subway tile – she created a look that is simple and clean but does not make a big statement. This is what she calls “heritage design.”
“It’s something that’s going to last and transcend time,” she said. “It’s not trendy. There is nothing in it that jumps out at you. It doesn’t put the focus on one thing, and it will be easy to update accent features in five or 10 years as styles and trends change.”
Another way Johnston ensured the bathroom can move into the future was the inclusion of plywood backing in the shower walls prior to tile setting for potential grab bar installation. The clients did not request it, but it’s a feature she always recommends because it is a simple, cost-effective solution that can have big benefits later.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of special touches. The white plaster chandelier above the tub adds interest to the classic space. An existing vanity table stayed in place, but Johnston painted it white and added a glass top. The clients wanted medicine cabinets, and Johnston, who is not a fan of them, integrated the look by recessing the cabinets and creating a larger mirror installation around them.
When the designer removed the tub deck, she took away the space the couple had used to pack suitcases, which was a frequent need because the husband travels a lot. She addressed this functional issue in the adjacent closet by building a pullout shelf to hold his suitcase and provide room for folding. She also updated the basic shelves into a space custom designed for the couple’s needs, adding areas for different lengths of hanging, jewelry storage and, of course, suitcase storage.
“The closet design was really about accommodating their particular storage needs,” said Johnston. “But it would also work well for anyone. I’m a function-first designer. I think about how the space is going to function before we put the pretty finishes in it.”
By Carrie Whitney
Designer: Rebecca Johnston, Founder, R.Johnston Interiors
Photographer: Sara Ligorria-Tramp
Accessories, Faucets, Medicine Cabinets, Shower Fixtures, Sink, Toilet, Tub & Tub Filler: Kohler
Chair: Made Goods
Closet Organization, Mirrors & Vanities: Custom R.Johnston Interiors & Ventura Finish Carpentry
Countertop, Flooring & Shower Slab: Arizona Tile
Lighting: Nora Lighting & Visual Comfort
Paint: Benjamin Moore & Dunn-Edwards
Shower Enclosure: Preferred Glass and Windows
Shower Tile: Daltile