Bathrooms: Research and Design


You can tell a lot about a place, be it a house, hotel, or a restaurant, based on the quality and cleanliness of the bathrooms. Whenever I go to a new house I always, inherently, check out the bathroom. Is it neat and tidy? Or is it grungy and smelly – does it have a crusty ring around the toilet? I will make immediate judgements about you, I’m sorry, I will.

Similarly, I will make the same judgements about a restaurant’s washroom. Is it dirty? Is the caulking around the sinks peeling away? Did they paint over the light switches – the same colour as the walls even? Are the fixtures falling off from the walls? If a washroom is gross, my bet is the kitchen will be gross too. I don’t know that I want to eat here.

Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not a germaphobe by any means. I’ll eat a dirty carrot right out of the ground. If I drop a piece of food on the floor, I’ll eat it, I don’t care. But, I don’t like the thought of pink eye or fecal matter on toothbrushes… Call me old-fashioned.

When we were designing the house, there were some considerations we made, first being that we did not want too many bathrooms. Our last house had 4 bathrooms. Too many! Granted they were very nice looking bathrooms. But, have you tried cleaning 4 bathrooms per week? It takes forever. Ug.

Still, you don’t want too few bathrooms. There’s a balance to be had. I like a half-bathroom for guests. A small sink and toilet, near the main space of the house. Certainly, you can use it too. But, there is no need for your guests to have to use the same bathroom you use daily to wash and clean. And worst case scenario, if you have people coming over, just make sure that guest one is clean! That way I won’t think you’re super gross.

An ensuite is nice and all, but that is typically reserved for off of the master bedroom, thus being just for the adults of the house. If this is only going to be you and your partner, and you’re not going to be having any kids, then go for it. Connect your master bathroom directly to your master bedroom. That way, your guests definitely won’t be tempted to use it. For us, though, we decided to make the main bathroom a separate room, off of the main hallway. It is directly across from our master bedroom, but not connected to it. This way kids can also use this bathroom. We also put in another full bathroom in the basement. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a house with only one combined bath/shower in the whole house. With two parents and two teenagers trying to get ready with only one shower – well, let’s just say it caused a lot of unnecessary resentment and many arguments. Two showers are necessary. It will result in a 50% reduction of family strife (that’s my completely uneducated guess anyway).

Now let’s bring this back to my original point: Bathrooms are inherently gross. This is where all of the less desirable necessities of life take place. So it is understandable why bathrooms, not properly designed, can be even more gross. And why a clean and tidy bathroom is so impressive.

I hadn’t really been able to explain this well until I read this series of articles over at which completely made me shift my thinking about bathrooms: “The History of Bathrooms.” This series talks about how the bathroom developed and changed over the years and how various professions and innovations have changed it, as well as, how some cultures, particularly the Japanese, have a deep reverence for the bath.

OK, so let me give you a tour of ours.

Master Bathroom:

The first picture of this post (scroll back up quick) is of the Master Bath as you walk in the door. To the right is the hand-built white oak vanity. To the left is the walk-in shower and behind is a clawfoot tub. In the back right corner, behind the door is the “water closet.” A water closet is the enclosed room for the toilet. That way your mess is contained to that space. When you flush the toilet, the mist stays in there and doesn’t spread to all the other spaces in the bathroom (like your toothbrush and contact lens). I’d never seen a water closet before, but our old house had one and we loved it. That way, someone can be having a shower and the other person can still use the toilet. No need to poop in front of your spouse!


I had written about refinishing this clawfoot tub that we’d bought on Kijiji for $75. It is neatly tucked into the corner of the bathroom, right behind the enclosed shower and underneath a west-facing window.


A double sink was a must-have for us (trust me, it will save your marriage). This hand-built rift sawn white oak vanity was built by our friend, Ryan Unger of Rhine Artisans, who also did our kitchen. We wanted a mid-century credenza-type of vanity and he nailed it with this.

The light fixtures are from One Forty Three, which we used variations of for all of the bathrooms.


When looking at bathrooms (endless, endless bathrooms) on Pinterest prior to building our own, I was constantly drawn to wall mounted and black fixtures. These Brizo faucets met both of these desires… though they were a bit of a splurge. The countertop is white Corian with simple under mounted sinks, which are easy to clean.


The shower is a walk-in. It’s near the side door so we can come right in and wash off ourselves or dogs or little kids without needing to track through the whole house. I’ve never been a fan of the glass enclosed showers. They look nice when they’re clean, but the problem is, they are clean for about a half day between when you clean the bathroom and when someone has the next shower, otherwise, they always look messy. I prefer a simple curtain.

The other bonus of the Brizo Odin fixtures, aside from being sexy black, is that they are low flow too. Being an eco-house and on cistern water, we’re very conscious of our water use. This shower uses 2.0 gallons per minute (gpm) versus the standard 2.5-3.0 gpm.  AND! This has a wand shower. Let’s be frank here for a second, it is impossible to clean your… ahem… nether bits with an overhead shower, a wand hand-shower attachment will keep you… uh… very fresh.

Did I mention, that I tiled this whole bathroom too? This one took about 6 days and 10 hours per day. I tiled a wainscoting around the vanity and bath tub and floor-to-ceiling in the shower and around the entrance.

Guest Washroom:


We installed three ultra-low flow toilets from Caroma, called Somerton Smart 270. These toilets are fantastic and conserve an amazing amount of water. A standard “low flow” toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). These dual-flush toilets use 1.28 gpf for a full flush and only 0.8 gpf for a small flush. One of the keys is a large drainage path. I was worried it may leave some stowaways behind, which I’d heard was a problem with ultra-low flow toilets, but this toilet is great. I would highly recommend it.

Another great part about this toilet, is the smooth sides on the base. If you clean your bathroom, you know that those stupid faux pipes on the side of most toilets are a haven for dust, hair and grim. I hate cleaning those. I was adamant that whatever toilet we bought had to have smooth sides. And, as if it couldn’t get any better, the toilet seat has a slick little button to quickly release it and easily clean. So smart, this Somerton Smart 270!


It took us almost forever to find a tap that would work for this old-vintage sink. I think we ordered 5 different taps before we finally found this cheap $60 one from Home Depot. Works for me.


OK, one other thing that is not easy to find is stylish rods, hooks, and toilet paper holders. They are 99% cheap plastic chrome junk. This, well, I’d Instagram this: #sexytoiletpaperholder?

Basement Bathroom:

The basement bathroom is where my obsession with Japanese bathrooms was most fully expressed. When I read about the fragrant smell and soothing nature of hand-built Hinoki wooden tubs I told my wife – “we have to get one!” That is until, I found the price… ~$9000 + shipping + taxes + import fees… OK, next best option:


We installed this DEEP two-person soaker tub from Produits Neptune, called the “Osaka“. We actually had to put this tub in the basement before framing of the house was done. Being 52″x52”, there was no way this could be brought in after the fact. Granted, this is not a water-conservation tub, but we don’t use it everyday either, more like one every couple months, but it is glorious. When full, you can sit in chest deep water. Rather then getting a wooden tub, I clad the tub, back wall and ceiling in cedar. The condensation of the hot water of the tub and shower results in a beautiful and fragrant cedar smell. It might not be Hinoki, but it’s pretty darn nice.


The shower is completely open to the tub. All of the fixtures in this bathroom are from a Canadian company called Rubi – notice the wand shower *wink wink*. I also tiled this whole bathroom too, three full walls, in these 4×4″ white tiles. This was probably the most difficult tile job in the whole house. At least with 3×6″ brick laid subway tile there is some room for error. But these grid laid square tiles, especially with the dark grey grout, show every error or not perfectly square corner and wall. I had some choice words for the framers while I tiled this bathroom…


In the floor of the shower I asked the concrete guys to very slightly grade towards the drain. This shower is about 60×48″ so there is no standard shower base that would fit here. This option worked great.


I’d asked the lumber yard for 6′ lengths of cedar that would only have needed to be slightly trimmed for the shower, instead I got 7-9′ lengths and had to cut every single board. I was a bit annoyed by this waste. But after I finished the shower and walked into this space right next to the tub/shower, it looked terribly boring with just a drywalled wall. I ended up using the scrap pieces on the back wall – a happy error.

I admit that this toilet-next-to-sink setup is a recipe for a cesspool of bacteria, but it simply didn’t work to hide the toilet in another water closet in the basement. I just won’t brush my teeth down here.


This sink is from Rubi as well. It was a nightmare to get a sink down here too. We’d ordered a different sink with a shroud base for the pipes from another place, but they sent the wrong base. Then we sent it back and the new one they sent was the right base, but wrong sink. Then we scraped that sink and bought this one, but forgot to return the taps, so we had to send the taps back and get new taps… sigh…



Refinishing an old clawfoot tub

There are a few things that we’d really liked in our 102-year old Craftsman character house that we’d sold prior to building our eco-house. One of the things we knew we would miss was our old cast iron clawfoot tub. It had been refinished some years prior, but was not “original” to the house, even though it was still pretty old. We could tell because it didn’t have the original “claw” feet (some fancy-pants tub designer must have thought the brocade and ball looked better?), but it was still beautiful and comforting to have. I’m generally not a “bath-guy” but I do love a clawfoot tub. If for nothing other than it’s iconic design (most other tubs I could do without – with the exception of the Japanese-style deep soaker tubs, which are amazing and would go in our basement bathroom). So when designing the bathrooms we really wanted to try and find an original cast-iron clawfoot tub (with clawed feet) for the master bathroom.

After some searching on Kijiji, my wife eventually found one in a small town about 2.5 hours away. Most the clawfoot tubs that you’ll find are usually being pulled out of old houses being renovated. Even though some people don’t want them in their house anymore they still want a pretty penny for them – usually in the range of $400-500. This one was only $150 and we were able to talk them down to $75 for it! Ha!

I do wish I had a before photo of it, but at the time I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of it – it was just so gross. You’ll just have to use your imagination. Picture: Rust around the drains and running down the enamel under the taps; it had been painted a nasty bluish-green colour on the one side (apparently the side you’d see?); and it must have later in life been built into a surround (when people thought clawfoot tubs were ugly – WTF) because there was CAKED on caulking around the sides and edges.

It was going to be a serious project to refinish this tub. We followed the steps from This Old House blog.

First, we had to scrape all of the disgusting caked caulking off of the perimeter and sides of the tub with a razor blade. We weren’t too worried about scratching it because it would all be stripped and recoated later.

Second, we used a hydrofluoric acid product from Home Depot, it’s in the paint section, to etch the enamelled surface. Make sure to wear protective gear and a respirator with this. This is toxic stuff. We didn’t worry about stripping the outside of the tub because we planned to simply paint over it anyway.

Third,  we used our Dremel tool with a grinding bit to grind off the rust spots of the tub. The dremel worked very well in getting in and around the faucet and drain holes.

Fourth, my wife used an auto body filler compound to fill in the areas that had been rusted and ground down. This stuff works like a charm. She then lightly sanded the compound with a high grit sandpaper to smooth out the filler and the cast iron.

Fifth, was to paint the outside. We wanted this to be a bad-ass black clawfoot tub. We used Rustoleum spray paint in a semi-gloss black. I was impressed at how well this well on. We ended up using three cans of spray paint – pretty well one can per coat.



The sixth step was the one I dreaded the most. Spraying the epoxy enamel paint on the inside of the tub. This is the part you really don’t want to F-up. If you do, you basically have to start back at Step 1 and repeat. We purchased spray gun (high-velocity, low-pressure) for this job as really there is no other way to do it. The spray guns are less than $100 and you will use it again if you have it. Once again Home Depot carries Rustoleum Tub and Tile epoxy paint that is ideal for refinishing the enamel coat. One pack is not quite enough to do the tub so we purchased two packs and used only a small amount from the second (we would end up using the rest of the paint for two cast-iron sinks that wifey refinished in the same way later). Each pack comes with two cans that are both super toxic poison that you mix together. Pour a small amount into the spray gun, hold it steady and on the mid-range spray (not too light as then it will be speckley and not to heavy as it will run), pray to your God, and proceed with even coats of the paint. I started at the bottom of the tub working my way side to side along the long end. For the sides of the tub I used an up and down motion that seemed to give good control. And finished by doing the top and lip, but be careful not to ‘mist’ too much into the tub as it will make it speckled. We let this dry for a day and then applied a second coat in the same fashion (the This Old House blog recommends three coats). The sides and top of the tub came out with a very nice smooth finish. The bottom was a bit speckled to the hand though looking at it you could not tell anything was different (I think I probably misted this too much when doing the top/sides).

All in all this was a time consuming process, but taking it from looking like a piece crap trash to a beautifully refinished, gleaming and BADASS  tub was extremely satisfying. Seeing it installed in the bathroom, waiting for its first soak is such a good feeling.