September 28, 2022


Design meets need

How to get your head (and wallet) around a bathroom remodel

6 min read


Elizabeth Sharpe had been married for 15 years when she told her husband, “We’re not going to last another five without a second bathroom.” 

She found designer Karen Ellentuck, of Ellentuck Interiors in Seattle, through the home design website Houzz and began a plan to create a second bathroom in her 1938 home in the Lichton Springs neighborhood of Seattle. 

“I knew I wanted something in the character of the house,” Sharpe says. “We have fir floors everywhere. I knew I shouldn’t have wood floors in my bathroom, but I wanted that look — tiles that look like wood.”

There was also a small internal conflict: Sharpe wanted a vintage claw-foot tub. Her husband wanted a modern steam shower. 

The solution? Get both.

It was shell of a room, and the space was big enough. “Karen made modern meet classical to give everyone what they wanted,” Sharpe says. “She took this empty space and made it into this wonderful environment for us.”

Blending old and new

Sharpe found a claw-foot tub on Craigslist and had it sandblasted and refinished. The belly of the tub is now the same sky blue as the walls. Ellentuck helped her turn an old buffet into a bathroom vanity by having it painted with an antique finish and adding a matching custom cabinet, so it looks like one seamless piece. She took the couple to a framing shop to find the perfect mirror. 

The modern steam shower is curbless, with no threshold to step over at the bottom, so they can walk right in. Built-in speakers can play music from her husband’s phone. A sitting area provides a perch to hold a wine glass in front of the claw-foot tub. 

“The shower is all glass, so it’s a little invisible,” says Sharpe. “It all blends together because of the stone used and the subway tile that goes all around the room. We can go from steam to bath and back again, like a spa. We’re both delighted with the result.”

Working with a designer

The bathroom remodel was the first time Sharpe had worked with a designer. Ellentuck “really got me,” she says. “She had me build a Pinterest board of bathrooms I like and selected materials based on that.”

Having a designer also helped them control costs. “She prices everything out. ‘For this tile in this space, it costs approximately this. If you get this, it costs this.’ You spend a lot of time looking for things,” Sharpe says. “She streamlined that process for us for more value than we could have done ourselves.”

Sharpe had heard horror stories of contractors going over bid, but that didn’t happen on her project. “Ellentuck showed pictures of what we were getting, so when the contractor priced it out, it wasn’t a mystery. It was all there for us to see,” Sharpe says. 

The couple had saved for their remodel rather than financing, and Ellentuck helped them cut a couple of things, like wallpaper and a mosaic tile, to stay on budget.

Pricing it out

A realistic budget is crucial to any remodel. “A lot of things go into a price for a bathroom,” Ellentuck says. “The $10K remodel is a thing of the past, especially around here.” 

An 8-by-8-foot bathroom remodel might cost $35,000–$40,000 if you’re replacing a tub with a 5-foot shower and changing out all of the finishes, lights, countertops, faucets, fixtures, paint and cabinetry. A guest bathroom full remodel can be around $60,000, and a primary bath full remodel can reach $100,000 and up.

Remember to include labor for the contractor, plumber, electrician, tile installers and finish carpenters. Amy Lassila, principal at Hyde Evans Design in Seattle, points out, “Selecting less expensive materials can save on cost, but labor is the same. It costs the same to install a $1 tile as it does a $50 tile.” Design costs are additional. 

If you’re selling your home, a bathroom refresh can help get you top dollar, says real estate agent Nicole Dankworth, of Keller Williams Seattle Metro West. “You can never go wrong with a simple remodel: updating the shower/tub inserts and adding a simple white tile, a new vanity and a fun mirror. This really helps buyers fall in love and be excited about their new home,” she says. She’s seen bathroom remodels of this type priced at $15,000–$20,000. 

The important thing is that it’s move-in ready. “As the market has started to shift, I am seeing the homes that are ready to go, go for over asking still. The homes that need work and are dated … sit and have price reductions. It’s crucial to have your home market-ready if you’re thinking of selling,” Dankworth says.

What homeowners want

One common bathroom request is heated floors. “They’re like an electric blanket under the tile, with a thermostat,” says Ellentuck. 

Steam showers like Sharpe’s, with floor-to-ceiling glass, are also popular. Shower doors have moved away from metal to frameless glass. Most new, big showers have built-in or fold-down bench seating and larger showerheads for a rain shower effect. 

For sinks, people want under-mount styles and single-handle faucets.

Energy and water codes have had an impact on design, as well. Florescent lighting is no more, and low-flow toilets and LED lighting are the norm.

Quartz, quartzite and porcelain are on-trend for countertops. And for tile, bigger is better. On floors and even walls, porcelain tiles are getting larger in scale, moving from 12 by 12 inches to 12 by 24 inches and up.

“Modern and clean looks are the way,” says Ellentuck. Satin nickel and chrome fixtures are standard, but black finishes and faucets have been trending. 

Dankworth adds, “A trend I’ve been seeing is natural woods with marble counters and a little more color pop, such as light green or blue tiles for the backsplash.”

But Lassila says the classics have remained in style for a reason. “To create a timeless bathroom, we tend to stay away from anything ‘trendy,’ which turns to dated quickly,” she says. “Avocado refrigerators are a good example of this.”

Bathroom amenities her firm’s clients are asking for include in-cabinet outlets in drawers (for a hair dryer) and medicine cabinets (for electric toothbrushes); recessed shampoo and soap niches in showers; and hardwired, wall-mount lighted mirrors. “Make sure there is adequate lighting to light the sides of your face. Good lighting for both shaving and applying makeup is a must,” Lassila says.

Getting to a happy ending

Lassila’s advice when taking on a bathroom remodel is to hire a designer. “They will provide appropriate material selection options and provide documents for your contractor, including materials, plumbing and lighting selections,” she says. “If you want to go it alone, determine selections ahead of time, down to the paint color and cabinet hardware. Having decisions made — and orders placed — will keep your contractor moving and the costs down.”

Ellentuck says, “Create a wish list and plan before you hire a contractor. Prioritize and know what you want to do — you can always take things out.”

From the homeowner perspective, Sharpe agrees on the benefits of a designer. “We didn’t know what we were doing or how to design it in the way that would work for us. We needed some help. It was so worth it,” she says. The project came in on budget and both she and her husband are delighted with the result. 

The best part? Four years later, they’re still married.


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