A little more space goes a long way in the bathroom

| Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Four square feet can be a big space in a small bathroom, Danielle McKenzie has found.

When she and her husband, Jason, had some work done at their Overbrook home, the use of the space in a small, adjoining closet was the difference in the project, she says.

Bath designer Mark Uchida from A reMarkable Kitchen in Blawnox says “stealing some space” from nearby rooms or closets often is the secret to success in renovations of a small bathroom.

But that is not the only solution. Walls do not have to be knocked down.

Edgewood designer Nancy Drew says visibility is one of the most important secrets. Steps such as installing glass-wall showers can create a feeling of openness that even simple shower curtains prevent, she says.

Steve Erenrich from Luxury Bath and Pateete Kitchens and Baths in Carnegie agrees items as simple as brighter colors and larger tiles can create a bigger look in a small room.

“In older homes, we often have to knock a wall down,” he says of design that can be cramped.

Sometimes, the key decision is whether a tub and shower — or a tub with shower — are necessary, says Ken Moeslein from Dormont's Legacy Remodeling. Taking out a tub creates a great deal of space. Turning a tub and shower into a walk-in shower can create a more open look because it eliminates the box at the bottom.

Making a bathroom bigger sometimes is a matter of looks.

Knocking out a wall seems an obvious way to increase the size of a bathroom, Erenrich says.

“But the big question is: Where are you going to get that space from?” he says.

Older, smaller houses don't often have the large closets or rooms into which a bathroom can impinge, he says. That limitation often means dealing only with the space given, he says, offering some simple solutions:

• If a wall can be turned into a half-wall somehow, do it to create a feeling of openness.

• Use glass for shower stalls because the opaque nature of a shower curtain creates its own “wall.”

• Similarly, the 24 inches or so of a tub side can cut the open feeling; a walk-in shower opens the look even if the floor-space used is the same.

• Use lighter colors for vanities, commodes or sinks instead of imposing dark colors.

• Use bigger tiles — say a 12-inch rather than 2-inch-square — on the floor because fewer lines of grout create a sense of space.

Drew says she often has had success taking out a tub and putting in a corner shower in half of that space,

“You end up basically with the same footprint, but it opens things up,” she says. The small area next to the shower might provide some storage space, she says.

She agrees removing or reducing some walls can open up the look and also recommends being open to moving sinks or shower/tubs to make better and more logical use of space.

“Water lines can be moved easily, especially when you have opened up the floor,” she says. “The toilet drain is tough just because it is big, but water lines are easy.”

The McKenzies made use of space that way by gobbling up a hall closet and moving the vanity to that space, to open up the room. It is the only full bath in the home built in the 1920s, she says.

Danielle says they were considering eliminating the tub to create a more open footprint, but Uchida suggested they keep it “in case you have kids.” Son Silas has come along since, and Danielle says they are glad to have made that decision.

When space is available, the solution to the small bathroom is easier, the designers all admit. Such ease makes that choice frequent.

Uchida says 50 percent of his jobs involve moving or eliminating walls. The possibilities in those cases are plentiful, he adds.

“You can take part of another bedroom, move into it and turn the rest into a smaller bedroom, a den or work room, or even just a walk-in closet,” he says. “Sometimes there is nothing you can do short of moving a wall.”

Moeslein agrees the shifting or elimination of walls makes for an easy solution. He says his company encounters it “more and more” but had no estimate.

“Really, the only wall that can't be moved is that exterior one,” he says.

Of course, he says, work in that direction also can “change a little job and make it a big project.” He recalls one client who got into moving and expansion, and the bathroom was resolved $28,000 later.

Taking the bathroom down to its core often is the way to go even if space is available. Christina Watson of Mt. Lebanon says she and her husband, David, wanted to add a big, walk-in shower in their master bathroom. She describes it as a “California-type” shower that is so big it does not need doors to keep the water inside.

Accomplishing that end meant gutting the whole room and then moving pipes around to make everything fit.

But the Watsons were lucky, she says, The home from 1938 had three additions. The bathroom was in one from about 1990, so it was simply a matter of readjustment.

“Everything still had to be made to order, even though we had the space,” she says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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