Space Crunch

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Published in NKBA Innovation+Inspiration, March/April 2018

Renovating a tiny bath is always a challenge, but tackling two such projects in an already-cozy townhome—without borrowing perceptible square footage from other rooms—poses a conundrum. Such a predicament, however, didn't deter KUBE Architecture from a recent project in Washington, D.C.

The clients wanted to transform their townhouse's dated and dark master and guest baths into more sizable, spa-like spaces befitting the home's Mid-Century vernacular. At a mere 33 square feet, the master was actually the smaller of the two baths, which were adjacent, windowless rooms on the second floor.

"You can't make space happen," says Janet Bloomberg, a principal at KUBE. "Initially, we looked at making the guest bathroom smaller to maximize this one, but the clients didn't want that in the end. So, we played with dimensions, looking at exact bathroom use and precise furniture footprints, to not impost on the bedroom too much."

The architects did find dead space in the bedroom and extended the master bath into it by 2 feet. Reworking the floor's mechanical and plumbing, they removed the master bath's existing riser to gain an additional foot, resulting in a total of 53 square feet of usable space. (The pipes originally in that wall are now in the guest bath's riser.)

A generous walk-in shower replaced the existing tub, with a frameless glass wall visually expanding the space even farther. The only interruption is a white-oak–veneered proscenium-like soffit that wraps down one wall to form the floating sink vanity and conceal ample medicine-cabinet and drawer storage. KUBE specified a custom Corian sink and paired it with a two-handle Hansgrohe faucet.

Another trick the architects employed to visually augment the master bath is the use of LED strips to outline the floating vanity. Floor-to-ceiling frosted-glass shower walls help compensate for the lack of natural light. "I really like connecting rooms," says Bloomberg. "You see this glass connected to the bath in one place and that reappears in another place. You don't expect that."

In the same sense, KUBE also connected the master and guest baths by selecting the same Italian porcelain tiles in two different gray hues. 41zero42's Mate in Fumo and Oliva impart a warmth and tactility that references Mid-Century Modernism. "The clients didn't want this to feel slick or shiny. They wanted it minimal but natural, clean, and with texture," Bloomberg says.

Both bathrooms feature Mate in a 12-by-24-inch format on the floor. The shower walls of the master bath reintroduce the tile in a skinny 3-by-24-inch format, while the guest bath sports a mix of the two on the walls of the tub area. "When you cut tiles smaller, it tends to make the space feel bigger. We like to vary the format with the same tile because it keeps the simplicity while articulating different surfaces," the architect explains.

Instead of a rod, a ceiling track holds the shower curtain in the guest bath. And, once again, a wall-mounted sink vanity visually enlarges the tight space.

What made this project at once challenging and rewarding was the clients' own involvement. "She's a sustainability expert who works on international energy policy," which influenced the use of no-VOC paints and adhesives, engineered finishes, and LED lighting. Meanwhile, "he does woodworking on the side and wanted to do the cantilevered shower bench. This whole idea of craft and putting your own hands into this project was really exciting to him," Bloomberg says. "I never had a client that wanted that before, so that was really neat."