Bathroom Renovation: The Hammonds’ House, A Case Study

The construction of the Hammonds’ house proves the better prepared you are, the better your bathroom renovation results will be.

Bathroom Renovation

Photo: Richard Bubnowski Design

In 1742, when Thomas Gray wrote, “where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise,” he couldn’t have been referring to building a house. As we have seen throughout the construction of the Hammonds’ house, the more educated you are about the bathroom renovation process, the better your chances are that your dream house won’t turn into a nightmare.

In many cases the families that are having their dream homes built work full time and find it difficult to get out visiting showrooms and stores. Many manufacturers and retailers are discovering that if they can offer sales services all the time—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—it will allow their customers the freedom to educate themselves and purchase whatever they need on their own schedules. Years ago L.L. Bean in Maine became famous for this type of service. In today’s world, companies are using the Internet to provide similar service.

When Bob was renovating his own Cambridge shingle-style home in Season Seven of Bob Vila’s Home Again, he traveled to Wisconsin to tour the Kohler factories there. For our bathroom renovation project we decided to tour Kohler in cyberspace. We invite you to do the same.

Cybersink
Kohler Co.’s website is both informative and impressive. When the Hammonds were looking for their bathroom fixtures not only could they visit the site and find a convenient distributor, they could also browse through photographs and learn about the multitude of choices Kohler offers.

Before choosing their Revival bathtub they could see photographs of several other tubs, whirlpools, and spas. Furthermore, when they decided on the Antique bath faucet and Revival hand-shower they already knew what to expect before they stepped into the showroom.

Take a Test Dry
Homeowners are always on the lookout for new ideas to improve their homes. As you know from any previous projects you’ve done, a good part of the fun is in the dreaming and the planning.

Because bathroom renovation work is expensive, you should make your decisions carefully. In order to feel, touch, and see what kind of bathroom fixtures are available, you may want to visit your local home shows. Of course, if you’re interested in experiencing the most recent advances in bathrooms and furniture and want to get in a game of golf as well, all you have to do is plan a vacation to Kohler, Wisconsin.

The American Club in Kohler Village has 236 guest rooms with suites which have 1-1/2 baths and a whirlpool. The people at Kohler regularly renovate the rooms and furnish them with Baker and McGuire furniture, which are also companies within the Kohler corporate family.

While staying at the hotel, you can visit Kohler’s Design Center, learn how fixtures are made, and see the latest and greatest from Kohler’s designers. When we visited their website we also learned that in addition to producing superior kitchen and bath fixtures, Kohler also maintains two golf courses, which are probably mowed with lawn mowers powered by Kohler engines. Panoramas of their Whistling Straits golf course have recently been incorporated on lavatories in Kohler’s Artist Editions series.

So Many Options
The Hammonds chose their fixtures after considering several different options from Kohler. From the outset, Anne and Ned had wanted their house to have all of the modern conveniences while maintaining a sense of traditional style. When you renovate your home or have a new home built, there are several factors you will want to consider when deciding on new bath and kitchen fixtures.

Even if you are planning to move from your present home in a year or two, oftentimes the bathrooms and kitchen can sell a house. So when you determine your budget, consider if skimping now may hurt you in the long run.

The First Floor Bathroom Renovation
One theme the Hammonds have followed since the design phase of their project is the blending of contemporary architectural features with antique charms. Their choice in the first floor bathroom is a good example of this. Now that everything is plumbed and installed we can see how stylish fixtures are enhanced by the antique faucets and accessories.

The merlot pedestal lavatory is from Kohler’s Memoirs collection. The Sonata shower module ties in well with the Revival lavatory faucets. Even the toothbrush holders give the room a sense of timelessness.

When Bill and his crew from Weston Plumbing installed the pipes in the first floor bath, they also installed the washing machine hook-ups. A design consideration was that in order to have the washer and dryer on the first floor the bathroom would have to be smaller.

Instead of putting in a half bath, the folks from Kohler, Acorn, and the Hammonds decided to put in a shower module. Deciding this early on made it easier for the architects to design a room that was roomy and not too tight.

The two bathrooms on the second floor have full-sized bathtubs so having a shower downstairs was an extra bonus. Because the house is perched above the beach and because the bathroom is located right next to the back door, it will be easy for the family’s beachgoers to shower off the salt after a cool Atlantic dip. The location of the bathroom will also mean there is little concern with children tracking sand and periwinkles on the way to the shower. The Glassworks shower doors and the Revival hand shower will also make it easy for the kids to aim the water at their bodies and let it drain in the shower and not on the floor.

Trickle-Down Ergonomics
Experienced installers and designers of bathrooms can help you determine your needs. It is likely that they will suggest ideas many of us would never think of. For instance, if you suffer from back problems, it may make sense to have waist-level cabinets. Or if you or a family member has arthritis, you may decide to install faucets which are sensor activated like those in many public restrooms.

Faucets and all the other components which are installed in bathrooms come in a wide price range. Though price does not always mirror quality, more often than not it does. If you visit your local hardware store or discount center, you can see several different lines of plumbing fixtures. Of course your decision will be based balancing what you want with what you can afford.

One thing to consider is how often you will need to replace a fixture. A leaky faucet can slowly transform into water torture if you are trying to concentrate or sleep. Not only are dripping faucets and running toilets annoying, they also cost a lot of money in city water and waste charges.

There are many stories of people who opt for the least expensive faucets available and need to replace them within the year. Consider if the lifetime of one fixture is known to be three times that of another manufacturer. If it’s twice the cost, it makes sense to spend the extra money now.

There are many sources and consumers’ guides that rate appliances, fixtures and manufacturers. Again, it’s worth your time to investigate the options. You may also decide to work with a reputable contractor and/or a kitchen/bath designer who has been referred to you.

Ask Yourself or Another
When you are deciding on what type of bathroom fixtures you want in your home consider the following:

  • Which is better for us: sinks which have a single-handled faucet or a faucet which has separate cold and hot valves?
  • Do we need the storage of a vanity sink or will a pedestal sink look better and work for us?
  • How high should the sink be?
  • Is it worth the expense of installing a separate sink for the kids which is lower?
  • Could we swap out that sink as the children grow?
  • Do we want the watercloset to be in a separate area like many European homes have?
  • When we install the shower should we put it on a side of the room that doesn’t abut a bedroom?
  • Will this keep the early risers from waking the slumber bunch or should we relocate the bathroom?
  • If we’re adding a bathroom, is there any way to install it above or below an existing bath or kitchen to keep down plumbing costs?
  • Do we want a hand shower, a stationary shower head or both?
  • Do we want to include any fixtures that will make it easier for our handicapped friends or relatives to visit?

In the Hammonds’ master bath, they chose to have Kohler’s Revival grab bar installed next to the tub to insure that no one would slip getting in or out.

What kind of bathroom cabinets do we want? There are several choices of cabinetry for bathrooms. Ideas to consider include deciding on style and who will be using the cabinets. For instance, if small children are going to be using this bathroom, you may want to put some cabinets higher up for storage of cleaners and soap. You may also decide to have cabinets with pocket doors or sliders if there isn’t a lot of room to open cabinet doors.

What about medicine cabinets? Again the options may seem endless when you begin your search. One idea you may want to consider was offered by Buckminster Fuller when he was working on his Dymaxion bathroom. He designed his cabinets to have mirrors on the inside in order to keep them from fogging during showers. Some companies offer mirrors which have de-foggers. The Hammonds chose unique mirrors from Kohler which they had installed in the master bathroom.

Mirror, Mirror
The Hammonds’ master bath is the perfect place to hang two of Kohler’s nostalgic Revival mirrors. Before the Peaches hung the mirrors, Anne and Ned met with them to determine the best height for hanging them. In the event that someone shorter needs to see him or herself, the mirror simply rotates towards the wall.

The design may have been loosely based on the cheval, glass mirrors which gentlepeople had in their dressing chambers in days gone by. The Kohler mirrors are easy to install with two pieces of hardware which are secured to the wall.

The Master Bath
The master bath is very important to the Hammonds. Anne and Ned wanted to be able to take full advantage of the view while they soak in the tub. As the pictures show, the Hammonds succeeded perfectly in achieving this goal. Lighting consultant Markus Earley created a sophisticated lighting design utilizing Lightolier fixtures. There are several combinations of illumination enabling bathers to enjoy the appropriate ambiance for every mood.

Another great feature of this room is the two-person shower. The shower was custom built and has two Kohler Revival hand showers which are controlled with two separate Rite-Temp valves.

Across the room the Peach crew built the sunken tub enclosure. They used water-resistant cement board over the wood framing as the underlayment for the finish tile work which was accomplished by “Chip” Randall and his son, Matt. All of the tile work in the home was set in mortar — tradesmen refer to this type of work as a “full mud” job.

Bill and the Peaches included a small access door in the tub enclosure. This is a critical step. Too often plumbing fixtures are installed with no access for repairs. If this is the case, even if only minor repairs are needed, it will be costly to retile and repair wherever the plumber needs to break through. Bill was careful to make sure that all the critical pipes, joints and connectors can be reached through the door. Prior to installing the tub, Bill checked his lines for leaks. He also checked the water pressure.

Before Bill and his helper Mark place the Thunder Grey Revival bathtub in the enclosure, they mix gypsum plaster which they will use as a skim coat under the tub. While the plaster is still moist, they spread it on the inside floor of the enclosure. The plumbers are careful to make sure the plaster is pitched slightly (many plumbers suggest a slope of 1/8 inches per foot.) Without a slope the tub could be placed at an angle making it impossible to drain.

Before the plaster dries, Bill and Mark walk the tub in and slowly lower it into place. Bill tightens the pipes and hooks up the Antique bath faucet. The workmen caulk all the seams including the under-lip of the tub.

With this view, a telephone, and a television, The Hammonds’ new master bathroom is a place where they can retire to and soak away the cares of the day.

Green with Envy
When friends and family wash up for dinner, they can gaze at the trees and wash their hands in the deep green Timberline sink in the guest bathroom. The tree theme doesn’t stop here. The bathroom is also made from wood. It’s not often that we think of the trees that were felled in order to build our homes. Remember, lumberjacks yell “timber” just before a tree becomes just that.

Bathrooms often require more framework than other rooms in the house. Tubs and whirlpools can weigh hundreds of pounds, even when they’re not filled with water. In order to support that weight, contractors need to reinforce the joists and headers which will support all the fixtures.

Unlike the master bathroom, the guest bathroom has a tub/shower enclosure which is very popular in new construction. Many of these enclosures are similar to the panelized construction of the Hammonds’ house. The enclosures often come in three or four panels which are snapped and fastened together. Kohler’s Sonata bath and shower module is a perfect example of these advancements. Basically, instead of spending the time and money to build a custom tiled shower stall, it is now possible to purchase a complete manufactured bathing unit.

Because this unit is one molded part with no seams it will not crack or seep as tile might. Modules are made of fiberglass, plastics or a combination of each. Many different configurations are available. Consumers may decide they want a simple module or they may want to buy a module which has shelves for shampoo, soap, and other toiletries.

When the Hammonds imagined their guest bathroom, they thought about their guests. They worked with the architects and designed a room which would accommodate both houseguests and overnight visitors. The key to their accomplishment fit into two doors.

It’s Rough
Before the doors were hung, Bill Weston and his crew studied the floor plan and blue prints. In order to rough in the pipes, plumbers first measure twice and mark the exact location of where the pipes and fixtures will be installed. When the bathroom is new and unfinished, before locating a water-closet or pedestal sink, the plumber will add the thickness of drywall, ceramic tile, and flooring that is not yet installed. After cutting the appropriate holes, the plumber will begin installing the drainage, waste and vent system (DWV).

Because the DWV pipes are larger, it is easier to work the smaller supply pipes around them. The DWV system is set at a slope towards the sewer main. Many plumbers prefer to install the supply pipes in walls instead of up through the floor. This will make it easier to do the flooring, and it will also be easier to clean the floor without having to work around floor pipes.

As we mentioned in an earlier segment, it is illegal in most regions of the country for consumers to do their own plumbing and heating work unless they are licensed. There are several good books and videos on plumbing which are worth reading and watching. Though you may not be able to do everything you read about, it may make it easier for you to understand and justify the cost of plumbing and other work which you contract to have done around your home.