Creating a light and bright, spacious bathroom from a former dungeon-like dugout proves that in the world of renovations, anything is possible.
WORDS Jason Burgess PHOTOGRAPHY Scott Espie
The assigned Refresh project manager to this project suspects that in terms of council regulations, the original downstairs washroom in this 1940s Remuera manse was probably illegal and at best, the work of an ambitious DIYer.
The room felt like a dark, dank cave with one small single window providing a light at the end of the tunnel. A grey concrete ceiling met bare brick walls that, in places, protruded into the makeshift shower. Jerry-rigged plumbing sat proud of the walls and the waste pipe ran out through the bricks and straight down the front entry path.
The Refresh project manager worked with his clients from the concept design stage forward. “The owner’s brief was for a simple but sleek room that tied in with the rest of the house,” he says. “The bathroom being just one small part of a much grander makeover that touched virtually every room in the home.” View more photos of this renovation in our before and after gallery.
It may have been the smallest room in the house but it presented the project’s biggest challenges. Mould and smelly carpet in an adjacent bedroom meant that water issues were expected, but nothing like what was discovered.
As it turns out there was probably more moisture seeping into the structure than there was exiting as grey water. Initially the exposed bricks were going to be incorporated as feature walls.
But once the demolition began and everything was stripped back, it soon became evident that new engineering was necessary to create an infrastructure that was both water retardant and able to support the weight of an existing concrete patio and surrounding ground levels that sits above and beyond the bathroom area.
“Telling a client that suddenly we need to call an engineer can be very unnerving for all parties. The reality of this room was that it was built into a bank. The only thing that was keeping the earth from collapsing into the house was a shoddy and very porous double brick wall.
There was no steel and no footings. We needed to build a new retaining wall behind the toilet, so from here on in the original concept plans morphed and the room evolved organically.”
The layout was long and narrow. Awkward angles and a low ceiling made for some tricky working conditions. The size, combined with a lack of natural daylight, usually meant only one sub-contractor at a time could work the space.
Virtually every turn required supplementary equipment, be it water pumps throughout the excavation and retaining process or extraction fans to remove concrete dust when chases were cut for the new pipe work and water feeds.
A concrete nib was created around the new timber walls to capture and redirect moisture to new drainage. Once the cavity was watertight from the outside, the room within could begin to take shape.
A timber frame was applied to the walls and water impervious Gib Aqualine sheets were fitted with a paint finish in Resene Quarter Merino. New concrete had to be poured to level the original floor in preparation for tiling.
To maximise the lower than usual ceiling height, the area was strapped and levelled with Rondo low-profile metal battens. Gib lining was fitted and painted with Resene Quarter Rice Cake, providing a subtle contrast to the walls.
Recessed LED ceiling strip lights run the length of the long walls, keeping the overhead lines clean and expansive. A large wall mirror above the vanity bounces the light and adds to the illusion of space.
Thoughtful repositioning of the utilities now means there is room to move, with the potential for a bath at a later stage. The only aspect of the bathroom that has remained in the original position is the new floor mounted toilet.
‘Warmup’ took care of the shower area, supplying and installing a full ‘wet room system’ and custom glass shower box that leaves the area visually uncluttered. A Ardex Undertile membrane was applied to the walls and floors providing an ideal substrate for the large wood toned rectangular wall tiles.
Keeping with the earthy references, a feature band of textured forest-green and high sheen tiles provide the splashback behind the ‘Splash’ double-bowl hanging vanity. On the opposite wall an Alexander Elan towel rail keeps the bathroom linen toasty.
The Refresh project manager notes that when his clients were faced with the kinds of unforeseen snags that were presented in this rebuild; they were able to trust the experts. “Costs can spiral, we don’t want that. The right team will ensure an attractive and durable result with the best outcomes for all. At the end of the day, pulling the whole room together from something that was previously only ever a sub-floor basement area, was really satisfying for everyone concerned.
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This case study featured on page 68 of Issue 015 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.
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