September 5, 2022
April Case Underwood had a great first meeting with some potential clients in 2020 about remodeling various rooms in their home. In the six months it took them to contact her about moving forward, they had bought a new home with a different request: to transform their primary builder-grade bath into a spa-like, relaxing space, which is all the rage these days.
The former bathroom featured a glum palette of beiges and browns, and everything was builder grade. Although there was plenty of square footage, the space didn’t feel large because of the thoughtless layout. A massive tub deck with a wall behind it cut the room in half, and the shower was big but unattractive.
Underwood, who is the director of project development at Falls Church, Va.-based Case Architects & Remodelers, was tasked with creating a more inviting and functional space out of the builder-grade bath for the busy couple with two kids.
“After providing the clients with a handful of designs, we chose the one that allowed most things to remain where they were, which allowed for a more reasonable project budget,” said the designer. “They wanted a more open space, so I removed a wall, and there was plenty of room for the floating tub in the middle of the room. The wife loves symmetry, so the vanity areas mirror each other for balance, and we removed an awkward, angled linen closet.”
Choosing the Tile and Color Palette
Underwood and her team provided 3D renderings and created a few ideas at the design studio, but she admitted that finalizing the tile selections was challenging. One thing she knew was that the wife loved black and white, which is where they came up with the choice for the porcelain tile behind the vanities and on the shower walls. It just so happens that this tile can be laid out in a variety of different patterns, but they eventually agreed on the bold choice in the new bathroom.
The overall bathroom floor tile could also take on many patterns, and the tile chosen plays well against the black and white on the walls. Underwood also knew her clients wanted geometric shapes with straight lines and no curves, and all tile selections fit the bill.
Splurging in the Shower
This space also carries out the wife’s desire for symmetry, with a door on either side – gone are the two small, metal-framed doors that were there before. Underwood also included a bench, and a knee-wall between the shower and tub provides a hiding place for a shower niche.
“We call this the ‘carwash of showers’ with its variety of showerheads and thermostatic valves to create different experiences,” said the designer. “By angling the wall, we found the perfect place to locate the various valves.”
Underwood also explained that it is important to place the showerheads in just the right place since frameless doors have a bit of a gap around them. You have to consider the type and number of nozzles, too.
The designer always chooses 4 by 4 tiles or smaller because there are more grout joints, which leads to more foot grip. She uses Power Grout from a company called Tec because it has a built-in, stain-resistant quality. The smaller tiles, which are in a black hue in this shower, also come on a mesh-mounted sheet, which the designer says makes it easier for the tile setter to bend and get the proper slope during installation.
Crafting the Storage Solution
The former vanity layout was dysfunctional, and the sinks on either side were not in the same location. Underwood and her team installed counter cabinets on each vanity to make up for the lost storage of the former linen cabinet. She likes to add a drawer – and in this case two – to the bottom of the counter cabinets for easier access.
Underwood chose brushed brass for the plumbing fixtures and cabinet hardware because of its popularity over the last few years and because it complements the overall color palette in the primary bath.
Tackling Project Hurdles
Aside from the challenge of choosing the floor and wall tiles, because those had multiple ways of being placed, the tile setters had to lay them out outside of the bathroom before installation and then had to place them one or two at a time.
“This allowed us to lay the tile out ‘dry’ so we could double-check the pattern before actually installing it and sticking it to the walls,” said Underwood.
The design team planned to remove the soffits at the ceiling in the original design, but after demolition, they discovered they were integral to the attic trusses above. Luckily, the ceilings are on the taller side, the soffits are symmetrical, and Underwood doesn’t feel they impede the overall design aesthetic.
The clients in this transformation of a builder-grade bath were willing to go outside the box. The designer loved that they wanted something that was not the norm but that was still stylish and sophisticated.
“Once I realized early on that they wanted something different, it was fun and exciting for me too,” said Underwood. “A lesson learned is to never underestimate your clients’ desire for detail.”
Designer: April Case Underwood, CR, CKBR, GAC, Case Architects & Remodelers, NKBA Member
Photographer: Stacy Zarin Goldberg Photography, stacyzaringoldberg.com
Accessories, Faucets, Shower Fittings, Sinks, Thermostatic Valves & Tub Filler: Kohler
Cabinets: Crystal Cabinets
Countertops: Q Quartz
Floor & Wall Tile: Mosaic Tile Company
Hardware: Top Knobs
Lighting: Shades of Light
Mirrors: Pottery Barn
Shower Glass: Steel City Glass