The new, old water closet

There are still a few details to complete (we’re awaiting a sink faucet which is on backorder), but the bath is nearly complete and as close to Wright’s vision as we could make it.

The 68″ x 72″ space was the weak spot in the house when we bought it, and we had plans to quickly make it right.

Here it was before the work:

The demolition phase confirmed what we suspected: years of steam and overflows had done damage, and the damage was covered up. We learned that the room was originally painted plaster and trim in yellows and oranges, unlike the Burnham B1 home – which features varnished trim. However, we’re not convinced that paint was in Wright’s plans. Since we didn’t see evidence of a clawfoot, we wonder if the builder veered from the drawings and went right to a built-in tub, and thought that paint would survive moisture. We do know that sometime in the 50’s the tub was replaced, some plaster was removed to tile for a shower, and the original maple floor which had stained and warped was covered in linoleum. Subsequent layers of tile, flooring and paint covered subsequent damage. The space seemed to close in on you and the squishy floor was an inch too high.

IMG_3277 copyWe demoed to the studs where necessary and to the Byrkit Lath where we could, and then started fresh. We stabilized the floor starting at the joists and built a new sub-floor. We replaced all the old plumbing. We ran circuits, outlets and added a fan, new fixtures, and in-floor radiant heat to replace a 1950’s radiator. With cues from B1 and other parts of our house, we elected to return to plaster all around, a clawfoot tub, and hand-rubbed shellac finishes on the all birch trim. We recovered and reclaimed birch woodwork and the door by refinishing, and then milled and finished over 3000 new linear feet of rail and decorative trim to replace what was missing. The new floor is tile, but in a wood finish pattern. This allows for the radiant heat and won’t warp or stain the first time someone splashes in the tub.

We were lucky to have found Peter Halper of Passerine Home Remodeling to help. Peter’s talents are both broad and deep: he can plumb, wire, tile and plaster. More importantly, he was willing to work with us as we uncovered clues, made mistakes, shifted our thinking, and added our own time and effort to remain within budget and on time. His true specialty is in listening, working very hard, and kindly collaborating.

And finally, a note on the door. The original plans show that it was hung to open in and into the knees of a toilet sitter, making for a much smaller, already small space. We had a hard time believing that Wright meant to do this, but, alas, other homes, including the Usonian Gordon Home in Oregon, share the painful inconvenience. We decided to break with the architect on this, while preserving the views he wanted in the rest of the house. Now the door still turns in, but into a wall, not into someone’s knees.

Here is the after:

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