Money Down the Toilet?

If you’ve ever considered a bathroom remodel, you may have wondered why it costs so much. Is it worth it? Or is it just money down the toilet?

That depends.

Today, I’m going to go over the budget of my recent bathroom remodel. Part I will be a budget review and Part II will be comparing this budget to similar projects that kitchen and bath showrooms I’ve worked with have done. There are huge differences in the quality and functionality of the design, but no major differences in the quality of the products used. Hopefully, they’ll help you understand where all the money goes and help you become a more savvy consumer.

I hope you do learn something because I’m basically committing heresy here. The design community will probably want to burn me at the stake for this!

I won’t bore you with a line item budget, but I will break down the fees based on category:

Labor- $6968.58
Design fees- $750.00
Plumbing, fixtures, lighting, materials- $1115.33
Tile and Cabinetry- $2586.75
Designer’s cost plus- $285.16

Grand Total: $11,959.62

Each category has several items that will be included for the project. The labor category includes all of the contractors: carpenter, plumber, tile installer, and electrician. Each of the providers will include some of their “products” in the cost of their labor. For example, the carpenter may include drywall, nails, lumber, etc. Tile installers usually include the cost of grout in their labor. The carpenter happened to be the most expensive of the group, a little over half the total labor cost, but tile installation can also be very expensive. In this case, the tile was about 1/3 of the total labor cost. That being said, you want to make sure that you hire competent contractors, particularly the tile installer. This particular installer guaranteed his work. Meaning that if there were any leaks or issues with the tile, he would come back and do the repairs at no additional cost. That is a rare commodity in the construction world. And to emphasize just how labor intensive a shower remodel is (at least one that is done well) I am including photos of the shower at various stages in the process.

Shower floor with waterproof membrane

Design fees includes payment for the work required to design the space, interact with the clients, any required travel, hire and coordinate contractors on the client’s behalf, and make purchases for the client. It’s the “labor” portion for the designer. This is the portion of the project that kitchen and bath showrooms and Big Box stores tell the customer that they do for “free”. Repeat after me, “There are no free design services.” Your “free” or “complimentary” design service is not free, though. Trust me, the designers are paid for their services, at kitchen and bath showrooms, they receive a commission for their work. And it’s usually quite large.

cementitious backer board over the waterproof membrane

Plumbing, lighting, etc. speaks for itself. For this job it includes the grab bars, the shelf, all of the plumbing fixtures, the shower caddy, the toilet paper holder, and the mirror.

waterproof paint-on film

The tile and cabinetry here are the wholesale price for these items. I purchased four different types of tile, including pencil liner tiles and glass mosaics, which can be expensive. The cabinets used for this project were very high quality cabinets, so they were a little more expensive.

waterproofing complete, now the pretty stuff can be added!

“Designer’s cost plus” is a mark-up above and beyond the wholesale price or “to the trade” price the designer has paid. This is a very common practice in the design world. It is a way for designers to pay themselves a commission of sales, so to speak. What varies between designers is how much mark-up they charge. Some designers mark-up as little as 10-25% and others mark up 100% and above. I personally don’t mark-up very much and I am very transparent about how much I do mark things up. Quite frequently, these are hidden costs that the client doesn’t really he is paying. Designers are not up front about these costs and that can be a source of frustration for clients. I don’t play by those rules. I charge 10% over the cost of tile, flooring, and counters; and 15% over the cost of cabinets.

almost there!

In this project, I made about the same amount of money as the tile installer or about 10% of the overall cost of the project. From an design and project management standpoint, I put in about 24 hours worth of work. Just over half of a work week, but administered over the duration of the project. The design took 2 full days worth of work (about 16 hours), the rest of the project was spent in project management and product procurement.

finally! a beautiful, new shower!

Next week I’m going to compare this project to similar projects in size and scope. You’ll get a chance to compare apples to apples.

Accessorizing or Problem Solving

Olympia Dukakis had some of the best lines in Steel Magnolias. One of my favorites was when she said, “the only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize”. It’s hilarious, but I’d argue that it’s probably not just our ability to accessorize that sets apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

I’ve I missed a couple of blog posts because of some technical issues with my website and I want to get back to my bathroom series as soon as possible, but first I want to take a few minutes to talk about designers and working with us because I have learned so much from my clients this week.

I spent a fair amount of time this week in my own home painting over this sandy, beige wall color recommended to me several years ago by a designer I used before I became a designer myself. When she showed me the color I knew I didn’t like it, but she presented it as my only choice. Not in any overt way. She didn’t say “this is THE color for your den and dining room”. It was just the ONLY color on the board for those two rooms. Although I wasn’t over the moon for the color, I didn’t question her.

I should have.

Slightly disliking that color has festered over the years and now I loathe that color. To say it brought me great pleasure when I managed to cover it all up with a fresh coat is an understatement.

The mental solitude of painting and ruminating over that experience really got my wheels turning about my own client interactions and what I would want them to know…
1. A good designer gives you choices. It’s not his/her way or the highway. They don’t push you into making decisions, they allow you to participate. Trust your gut. If you don’t like something you should speak up!

2. They educate. At the end of the day, you’ll understand why they selected the $45/gallon paint over the $30/gallon paint. “Why,” as a friend once said, “would I ever spend $3000 on a bed. Isn’t the $1000 bed just as good?” Maybe. There can be major differences. A good designer knows these differences and can articulate them. The quality and value of products depend on many factors, which should be thoroughly investigated. Rest assured, if I recommend you buy a $3000 bed (assuming it’s in your budget), I’ve done my homework and it is worth it!

3. They’re not question averse when it comes to cost. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask why something costs as much as it does! Don’t assume the piece is costly because it is of high quality. The designer may be charging a huge mark-up, sometimes up to 100%. This is not my practice, but it happens.

4. They help you build YOUR style. They don’t impose their style on you. If you look at a designers portfolio and everything looks exactly the same and that “exactly the sameness” looks like everything in particular style, RUN.

5. They listen. They’re flexible. And if they screw up they own it and they make it right. We’re all human. We make mistakes, but taking responsibility for them and problem solving is what really separates us from the animals.

Add Some Sass with Brass!

Brass and gold hardware and fixtures are back in! I know that brass brings back horrible memories of the 80’s. The bright, shiny brass finishes of that era really made us all grow tired of the finish. Today’s brass is different. The “now” metal is a brushed, matte finished version. There are still bright, shiny versions available, but now they’re being paired with deep, rich colors like navy blue and smoky grays. Playing cool colors against the warmer metals dresses up any space. Like the preppy look of brass buttons on a classic navy blue blazer.

You can find the new golds and brasses at any price point. Delta has a few lines that come in “champagne bronze” and Kohler, which is a higher end retail brand, has the modern “Purist” line, which is available in “vibrant moderne brushed gold”, which happens to be my personal favorite. In the high market not accessible through larger retailers, Watermark, Rohl, and Newport Brass offer shinier versions of gold and brass. Watermark, based in Brooklyn, has 4 brass finishes and one polished gold finish. Rohl’s “Inca Brass” is a more classic shiny brass, but the faucets come in contemporary shapes and styles, which breathes new life into the classic. Like Watermark, Newport Brass, offers 4 different brass finishes in various sheens and patinas, and a “French Gold” finish that has a matte champagne look.

Are you feeling this new trend? Or are you feeling like your having a brass flashback? Do you think you’ll be trying out the brass look in your bathroom anytime soon?

  1. Kohler “Purist” 1.75 gpm shower head. $177.
  2. Rohl “Rodello” 6″ raining shower head. price not listed.
  3. Newport Brass “Alveston” in “forever brass”. $675.
  4. Rohl. Avanti faucet. price not listed
  5. Newport Brass “Cube 2” in “satin brass”. $693.
  6. Delta. “Vero” toilet tissue holder. $70.65
  7. Delta. Traditional soap dispenser. $175
  8. Kohler. Purist “Hotelier”. $540.
  9. Delta. 36″ ADA grab bar. $213.
  10. Kohler. Purist 24″ towel bar. $221.




Aging in Place, Gracefully

Tuck-in, this is going to be a long and uncomfortable post, but I promise it will be worth your time!

Did you know?
Tile flooring can last a lifetime.
Most of todays cabinets can last up to 50 years.
The average cost of a full bathroom remodel is $16,000.
The average lifespan is 79 years.
When it comes to aging most baby boomers (85%) want to live in their own homes rather than an assisted living or a nursing home.
The one-year risk of mortality for people aged 65 years or older after a hip fracture is about 50%, and increases with age.

Okay, that last one was a tad morbid, but were talking about aging in place today, so no aging topic (within reason) is taboo. My point is, these are ALL things you should think about when you remodel your bathroom.

Beyond slipping and falling on wet tile, I bet you’ve never thought about how a bathroom remodeling project could pose a danger as you age. On the flip side, I bet you didn’t know that good design could enhance your life as you age, instead of endangering it. I’d also wager that if you’re under 50 you’ve never given ANY thought AT ALL to the intersection of bathroom remodeling and aging, but you should. As I mentioned above, bathroom remodeling projects are pricey and the materials used in remodeling projects, like tile and cabinets, are meant to last a long time. If you spend the time and money to remodel your bathroom at 40, you really should be thinking about the room will work for you when you are 70 or 80 because it could last that long. Many people plan to live in their own homes as they age past 65-70 years old. Remodeling projects are time consuming and costly. Not many people want to take on that kind of time and financial commitment in retirement.

Remodeling a bathroom can create opportunities for making aging in your home easier, and if designed appropriately, remodeling your bathroom can actually improve your quality of life and reduce your risk for injury as you age. A well designed bathroom that has been planned with aging concepts in mind will allow you to adapt the space over time. Which, in turn, will allow you to live in your house longer.

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s nice, but I don’t want my bathroom to look like a nursing home, I’m only 55”. I’ve got great news, it doesn’t have to. You can have a beautiful, aging friendly space. Or you may be thinking, “I’m only 45, I don’t want to think about what I’ll need when I’m 80.” Well, see that last fact? That one is the one that scares me. I’m only 41, but I think about how fast the last 20 years have passed me by. Sixty-five will be a reality before I have time to stop and wonder where the time went. So, I think about what my bathroom is going to look like at 65 and beyond all the time and it’s going to be safe and beautiful! AND… lucky you, I’m going to share some of those ideas with you!

Since I mentioned it first, let’s talk about the best way to reduce the risk of falls. Selecting appropriate flooring is the first step. When selecting flooring, if you want a larger square tile or a plank tile choose a porcelain tile with a flatter finish. However, a higher grout-to-tile ratio will provide more a textured surface and improve slip resistance. A major concern for some of the clients with whom I’ve worked is keeping all that grout clean. The good news is that there are new grout products on the market, like Bostik’s QuartzLock urethane grout, which resist mildew and reduce the cleaning work. Great news if you want a smaller tile, but less work.

This tile has been turned on the diagonal, which maximizes the grout surface. It also has a textured finish, as opposed to the shinier glazed tile on the wall, or a polished floor tile.

Grab bars
Oh! The dreaded grab bar! No one like to think about grab bars. The very words conjure images of frailty and feebleness. The need to be assisted to stand. And inevitably the image is accompanied by the image of the stainless steel type that don the walls of hospital rooms and nursing homes. But here’s the thing, grab bars can be attractive. Most manufacturers of bathroom hardware, like Delta and Kohler, make very attractive grab bars that look like towel bars and toilet paper dispensers. If you’re really not ready for grab bars, during a remodel you can still prep your walls for grab bars, by blocking the wall. Blocking is the application of plywood between the studs so that the hardware for a future grab bar has an anchor. If the wall is not appropriately blocked, the future grab bar can be easily pulled from the wall if enough weight is applied, essentially making it a safety hazard.

This is what most of us envision when grab bars come to mind…

They can also be this…

Or this…

Which look more like towel bars than grab bars.

Shower seats
Shower seat 101. This is NOT a shower seat…

This is…

and this is…

You need at least a 15”x15” square that is approximately 18” in height to be a shower seat. That can be a wall mounted seat or a built in seat. Certainly, a shower seat can be in the corner and have a triangle shape, but there must be a 15” square within the triangle, meaning the two short sides of the triangle must be at least 30”. Anything smaller is a safety hazard and is simply a shelf. You also need at least a 30”x30” square of remaining floor space in shower with a built in shower seat. Which leads to our final topic…

Clear floor space
Life brings many unexpected surprises as we age, wonderful things like grandkids and retirement and travel, but it can also bring knee surgeries and arthritis and even the temporary need for an assistive device. That’s healthcare speak for walkers and crutches and wheelchairs. I know! I know! I’ve again broached a subject no one wants to talk about. You’re imagining a person fumbling around in a bathroom. Again, it doesn’t have to look like that. Imaging moving around nimbly in a space without barriers. If you have enough clear floor space, you’ll be able to navigate your bathroom with ninja-like agility!

This shower floor is a great example of maximizing slip resistance, but the curb poses a risk for falls. It also creates a barrier for assistive devices and the entry is rather narrow.
This shower floor provides a wide, barrier free entry.

To create clear floor space you need to remove any floor-level barriers. The NKBA recommends a “turn radius” of 60”, but it can be hard to find that in a small space. Ideally and at minimum, you will need an entry that is 32” or wider, a 36” path from the entry into the bathroom and in front of the toilet and vanity, and a curb-less entry into the shower. This will create enough space to back in or out of the room without barriers (see below). You may never need this much space, but it can’t hurt to plan for it.

Those are some basic tips on creating an aging friendly space that is attractive without looking “clinical”. If your interested in this topic and you want to learn more about barrier free kitchen and bath design, check out the National Kitchen and Bath (NKBA) guidelines. Do you think these are ideas you might incorporate into your bathroom remodeling project?

I also bet you’re wondering how much this costs. I’ll cover that in the next long post. Stay tuned!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today it’s all about green… And in keeping with my bathroom theme, I’m going to share some luscious green tiles with you.

Sonoma Tile Makers is one of my favorite tile manufacturers right now and it’s all because of their “Euphoria” series. This gorgeous emerald hued tile is one of my favorites.

They also have these great crystallized glass tiles in muted green colors in their “Tantrum” line… I’d throw a tantrum to have these beauties in my bathroom!

Daltile and Florida Tile are affordable tile manufacturers. They both have some great wall tile offerings in green. Florida Tile’s “Retroclassique” line has a classic “Avocado” green color

…and in the “Fusion” collection there is “Plantation”, a pale muted sage.

Daltile’s “City Lights” collection features “Fiji”, a beautiful multi-colored green tile with an iridescent sheen

…and the glass “Color Wave” line features “Green Parade” a light green, avocado-ish color that would look great in a modern or mid-century modern application.

Walker Zanger, a high-end specialty tile manufacturer, has a glass mosaic line called “Vintage Glass”, that features a color called “Onyx” that is a sea glass green with an iridescent sheen.

Crossville’s “Groove Glass” has a color combination called “Vogue” that is a combination of tan and green triangles. It’s a tad busy for me, but I could see it used in an eclectic artsy space.

And finally, for the truest emerald green tile of them all… Crossville’s “Glass Box” line’s “Green Glow” cannot be beat!

Hope you enjoyed the St. Paddy’s Day themed tile trends! I’ll be back next week with the second installment of bathroom remodeling: Aging in Place, Gracefully.

Cottage Style Bathroom Remodel

I am so excited to share with you all a project I recently completed. This “project share” will also be the start of a series on bathroom remodels. Each week, I’m going to share information on bathroom remodeling. I’m going to help you understand the costs of remodeling and the benefits of using a designer versus going to a showroom or a big box retailer. I’ll also be doing some mini-posts on current trends in bathroom design.

Now, onto the project!

The clients are in the early to mid-60’s and were very concerned with designing with aging in mind. In interior design, this is called “aging in place”. Like most people, they wanted to avoid a “clinical” look. They were interested in a traditional look that would be in keeping with the 1950’s cottage style of their home. The client was interested in a muted blue, gray, and green palette.

The clients had replaced the original vanity with a temporary vanity unit because the original vanity was in poor shape. They wanted to replace the vanity with a pedestal sink and add either wall or tall cabinets for storage. The bathroom is approximately 5′ x 7′ and expanding the size was not possible due to structural issues. The clients desired a walk-in or curbless shower, which would give them ample barrier free floor space for turning in a wheelchair or walker, if needed in the future, which also meant we needed a 32″ door opening, at minimum. They also wanted grab bars in the shower and and a secondary source for heat – either through heated floors or a heat lamp – and they were concerned about their ability to keep the tile clean. And, like most clients, they wanted to keep costs as low as possible!

Before Photos

The final design was beautiful! The clients absolutely love the look and functionality of the bathroom. The shower is completely barrier free and with the wider pocket-style door they will be able to maneuver a walker or wheelchair, if the need arises. The flooring is finished in marble-look, skid-resistant porcelain tile. The shower surround is in a white subway-style tile with a 50% offset for a traditional look. The original tile was blue with a white band, which was typical of the homes built in that period. I wanted to give a little nod to the period, so I added a complimentary blue mosaic tile band. The wall color is Tradewind by Sherwin Williams and the clients loved it so much that they also used it in their bedroom. The fixtures and grab bars were all in a polished nickle or chrome finish and do not look “clinical”. I added cabinets above the sink and toilet for storage. I opted for the wall cabinets because a Tall cabinet would have created a floor level barrier and would have eliminated some of the available floor space. Check out the after photos below. What do you think? Leave me a comment below.

My next post will be a mini-post on tile trends, but I’ll follow that up my talking about aging gracefully in your bathroom. Would you like to get my blog delivered right to your in-box? Just click here and fill in the contact sheet (an indicate “blog only” in the free text field).

After Photos

Chair-y Red

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today is my regular “blog” day, but I have to share a mini-post today because I spent the morning at a seminar learning how to build my blog audience, which didn’t leave me with much time to blog!

To celebrate this Valentine’s Day I’m celebrating the color red! Chairs in all styles and shapes and sizes and shades of red!

I’m so excited to roll out my new blogging strategies with you! Up next: a 6 week exploration in bathroom remodeling! See you next week!

And a parting thought…
“Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.”— Khalil Gibran