Welcome to this month’s Dear Urbaneer where I address housing issues, design dilemmas, and real estate endeavours. This month, I’m fielding questions from clients interested in upgrading their 15-year-old washroom in their vintage loft condo without over-improving it. In addition to sharing my opinion on optimizing a washroom for resale, I’ve included my favourite tips and tricks to elevate my own washroom transformations – with photos from my own residences, past and present.
We love where we live, but admittedly, the washroom in our 12-year old loft condo is showing its age. We are exploring our options in terms of updating it. While we are keen to make it fabulous for us to enjoy as homeowners, we are also thinking ahead to when we want to sell our loft. Do you have any advice on how to strike that balance between updating our washroom, while keeping our spending smart in terms of return on our real estate investment?
Seeking a Beautiful Bathroom.
Here’s my reply:
Dear Beautiful Bathroom:
Not only is updating your washroom going to improve your comfort and elevate the aesthetic of your home, renovating your washroom is one of the best bangs for your buck ROI when it comes to investing home renovation dollars. This is a room where you spend a great deal of time in your home, so to have an updated and highly functional washroom is alluring to potential buyers. However, you are also wise to consider how much money you want to spend updating your washroom. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in a style transformation and cast your budget aside. Before you start, you should set a budget and prioritize your planned washroom updates.
You may find some of these stats helpful:
According to this 2019 report from the home renovation group HomeStars.ca, bathrooms are among the most popular renovations among Canadians planning to renovate over the next year, followed by kitchens. According to this report, the average washroom reno in Canada costs $13,393 with a range of spending from $7,785 and $19,338.
It’s well-known that bathrooms carry a good ROI. According to the Appraisal Institute of Canada, homeowners can expect to recoup 75-100 per cent of their renovation investment. The most popular improvements are upgrading plumbing and light fixtures, updating floor coverings, painting or wallpapering, replacing or refinishing door, trim and baseboards. To break it down even further, which washroom improvements are the best from an ROI standpoint? Replacing the tub, vanity, flooring, finishes and adding waterproofing is top of the list.
A little can go a long way as well. If you aren’t keen to do a full overhaul of your washroom, updating fixtures, paint etc. can assist with increasing the appeal for future buyers without a huge investment.
Here are a few great articles from HGTV, Homestars, and the National Association of Realtors, including “Which Home Improvements Pay Off?” & “Which Bathroom Renovations Have The Highest ROI?” & “2019 Remodeling Impact Report: D.I.Y.“.
With my career as a housing conceptualist, and 28 years operating as a realtor in the sales and marketing of unique urban homes, here is a list of some of my own personal suggestions and successes when it comes to improving your washrooms.
1. The Sink
While there are lots of options for a washroom sink, it was in 2010 when I dropped my morning cuppa on my oval washroom sink recessed into the top of a custom cabinet in my Button Factory Loft that left an unsightly chip which said ‘damaged goods’ that I realized I needed to think creatively on an easy-fix. Only then did I process the idea of removing the existing sink and placing a new larger rectangular vessel on the top of the cabinet (ensuring it was larger than the existing oval hole) and to reuse the same taps. Here’s my post about it called Sink Or Swim.
Quick tip, if you’re going to do this yourself, make sure you use the same brand of sink as your other washroom fixtures so you get the same colour match. What is ‘white’ for one manufacturer can be ‘cream’ for another, and it’s best to ensure the colours match for visual continuity.
Ever since, I’ve really come to rely on these rectangular sinks as a washroom staple, as they’re large, easy to clean, and when sitting on a cabinet they’re a little higher from the ground so they’re closer to your face when you’re brushing your teeth, for example.
Incidentally, allow me to vent for a moment but I find there is nothing more high maintenance than the washroom sinks which are glass. You see too much of everyday life marking the glass bowl. In fact, Glass Bowl Sinks Make Me Scream. Just sayin’.
A recycled mid-century modern chest of drawers with wood top became the vanity with three drawers of storage, one rectangular sink, a wall-to-wall mirror, a rain shower head with a wand, a plumbing pipe to hold the shower curtain, plus funky lighting on a rheostat keeps the vibe cool in my Swell Dwell Garden Suite in Riverdale, Toronto.
See my repeat theme? Cabinet for vanity, rectangular sink, wall-to-wall mirror, a rain shower head with a wand, and neutral tiles keep it timeless, in The Garden Suite of The Black House in Charlottetown, PEI.
2. Furniture As The Vanity
I’ve always found an easy way to elevate a washroom is to incorporate a vintage or new piece of furniture as the vanity, rather than using one of the ubiquitous options offered at Big Box Stores. And, if it’s done right, it can be about the same cost. Again, if you place the sink on top of the vanity, it may be both easier to plumb and ensure you can retain a lot of the storage possibilities in the cabinet. Yes, it does require some carpentry to accommodate your drain and water lines but, when done right, it offers more storage solutions than most Big Box units.
These two washrooms were in my Movie House Loft, so I kept them stylistically similar. Note the abundant use of mirrors. I also love to incorporate art in my washrooms, keeping in mind that the art should be of materials that can withstand humidity from bathing and showering.
Although the cost of installing custom mirrors isn’t cheap, I believe it’s a good investment and return to install wall to wall mirror spanning the length of the washroom wall – both across the sink and toilet until it intercepts your tub and/or shower enclosure, as it visually expands the space and makes it feel significantly larger and more ‘spa-like’. As you’ll see in this blog, there are times where I’ll attach an Ikea mirror on the horizontal to achieve a similar effect but as a realtor, I’ve long found Buyers admire a washroom with significantly sized mirrors. It signals the Seller has gone the extra distance to maximize reflection and light, which translates into a better return.
Here’s an example of a washroom refresh on a budget. Located in the Upper Suite of my Swell Dwell in Riverdale – which I use as a long term furnished corporate rental – I painted the existing cabinets a blue-grey and the linoleum floor in white tile plain, replaced the countertop with a butcherblock piece, installed a new rectangular sink with taps, and installed a black mirror horizontally to visually expand the length of the space (all from Ikea Canada, with thanks). I spray painted the 80s strip light matt black and installed vintage light bulbs on a dimmer, added a waffle white shower curtain on black hooks, and added some art to relax the space.
This is my go-to showerhead which you can purchase at Bed, Bath & Beyond for less than $60.
When you’re removing your old tile you might tap on the studs to see if there’s a possibility of insetting a shower niche to hold shampoo and soap. In my Movie House Loft, I installed a mirror in the niche to use when shaving my face. Notice the rain shower head, tiled ceiling to match the shower floor to elevate the finish. I used oversized white porcelain tiles in a simple symmetrical pattern to keep the lines clean and the costs more economical, inserting bands of stone mosaic tiles to add interest and expand the space. This shower was deep so I never had to install a shower curtain. That’s convenient!
4. Showers & Showerheads
I was a guest on a boat recently where we were touring the waterfront and there were some spectacular estates and some mediocre ones. A contractor who does a lot of luxury home building was telling me that ‘Size Matters’ for a lot of people with new money, and that the quality of finishes and fittings comes secondary. Of course, I cringed a little for I’m all about quality space over square footage. So if you’re renovating a master ensuite that would be the place to spend some money on a walk-in shower with body sprays, double rain showerheads, and even a steam shower if you wanna knock a homerun on behalf of your self and your future Buyer.
If you’re watching your dollars but still want to add some glam (my philosophy is that every room should have at least one bling item of indulgence to serve as a focal point and status marker for resale), then install a rain shower head and a hand wand. One super easy economical fix is a combo unit that replaces an existing builder-grade shower head for less than $60. For those who love a hot shower, this item goes a long way to up desirability.
With respect to showers, I have never gotten on board with the glass-enclosed showers with the frameless doors because, as a realtor, every home I visit which has one there’s also a squeegee in the shower for users to run across the glass to dispel the drops of water which, in many places with hard water that has minerals like calcium and magnesium, dry with a mark. Seriously, I just don’t want the task of using a squeegee to become part of my daily shower ritual. Instead, I’ve always opted for a large shower where the access is sufficiently far from the showerhead that I don’t require any enclosure. And, if it was required, I’d just opt for a white waffle shower curtain.
I’m a tub soaker, and I suspect most tub soakers are like me, in that they look for a tub with a sloped back and sufficient depth and length to really slip into hot suds for a meditative unwind. With that in mind, in my Button Factory loft, I installed a double-sided clawfoot tub in my master bedroom that overlooked the entertainment space below. Masked by a steel I-beam which served as a great place to rest my cocktail, the soaking perch also had a direct sightline at my master bedroom television so I could also relax and watch movies, too. There were some other reasons which I share in my post: Rub-A-Dub-Tub.
By and large, I tend to keep my soaking tubs simple. Yes, there are the jacuzzi’s of yesterday which are so noisy you can’t really relax, and while the air-jet tubs are much quieter, as a true tub-soaker it’s ultimately about soaking out the stress of the day while reading a book or doing some contemplation. Again, if your home is worth gazillions of dollars you might even be expected to have something much more glamourous than a simple soaking tub, but for most
In the washroom of the Captain’s Quarters in The Black House in Charlottetown, PEI – shown above – which dates from the 1880s, it’s clear a former bedroom was converted into a washroom given its generous dimensions. However, the only original fixture was the cast iron tub which appears to be from the 1920s, and the radiator (which we had dipped and stripped of all of its paint and sealed – you can see it under the window). Here we installed a stacking washer/dryer which we located in a cabinet that appears to be old, new marble mosaic floors and new vintage-appearing fixtures. We wrapped the walls in subway tile and installed a dado and painted above it and the ceiling a dark steel grey-blue. We added some white-washed vintage pieces of furniture to complement the history of the house.
6. Respect The Architectural Integrity And Keep It Neutral
If your home is a Victorian, an Edwardian, or even mid-century modern, I personally like to respect the history and architectural integrity of the property by using vintage pieces and fixtures which nod to the origins of the property. I think you’re ultimately serving the property best when you retain some of the qualities and character of the dwelling. I consider it the easiest path to ensuring there’s some design uniformity to your dwelling too, as I cringe when I go into a property where there’s a mish-mash of styles that ultimately date when each renovation or update was complete. And given the fashion of housing and being on trend means your new kitchen or bath could appear dated within five years, I recommend you keep it classic and neutral.
I’ve shown a lot of properties during my 28 years as a realtor, and if there’s one sage piece of advice I can impart to you it’s “Keep the tiles wrapping your bathtub and/or shower white – whether they be subway tiles, squares or circles. It doesn’t matter the shape as long as they’re white (and ideally a warm white rather than a blue-white which can read as too cold and medicinal in appearance. The reason? A washroom could be nearing the end of its life expectancy but if it’s white, the Buyers will reconcile that it will eventually need to be done. However, if the tile has a pattern or a mix of colours that are no longer ‘on trend’ – even if it’s fairly recent – it runs a higher risk of being considered ‘disagreeable’ by your target market and those Buyers are immediately going to slap on a discount for the cost of replacing them, even if they’re fine ‘for now’.
8. My Two-Cents On Powder Rooms
Now, there are people who disagree with me vehemently on this matter, but I consider the powder room 2-piece to be the one place in a residence where you can go wild and create a ‘jewel box’ of an atmosphere. Often I’m covering the walls in pieces from my Art Collection as a way to enliven the space while making it intimate.
I’m also known to be rather impractical when it comes to a powder room, like in the photo above where I paint the small Jack’nJill 2-piece in The Garden Suite of The Black House in Charlottetown, PEI to have dark walls and floor-to-ceiling mirrors opposite each other behind the toilet and the sink so it created a ‘funhouse’ effect. Yes, it’s impossible to put on makeup or blowdry your hair in this 2-piece, but it’s also sandwiched between two bedrooms and I personally felt I didn’t want to be sleeping in one of those rooms only to hear a hairdryer being cranked up.
It’s Ultimately About Creating Visual Balance & Harmony
Ultimately in many cases, particularly in a condominium environment, you are likely limited in what you can do in elevating your washroom because you can’t change the integrity of major building components such as the location of the plumbing stacks or water lines. As a result, it’s really about switching out fixtures and fittings and making cosmetic improvements. But that’s pretty much all it takes, anyway, if you’re truly focused on return on investment rather than personal preferences or your own long-term comfort or needs. Use colours and material to make some items more prominent, while others will mesh into the background.
This article from Houzz.com “10 Things To Consider When Renovating A Condo” suggests as an example, having white fixtures and then installing a boldly coloured vanity as the visual anchor in the space. Nothing is physically moved, but your sensation of the space is altered. Need more inspiration? Click here to read How To Remodel A Condo Bathroom. Playing with decor is a budget-friendly way to alter your space, if you are keen to keep spending low – or if the configuration of your space limits your physical ability to change it.
With decades of experience in Toronto’s real estate trenches, along with lots of personal experience in transforming spaces in my own residences over the years, I have a unique vantage point from which to guide my clients to make their homes fabulous in the current day, while keeping an eye on how to strategically recoup your renovation investment in the future. We are here to help!
If you’d like to dish on design some more, try these additional Urbaneer.com blogs!
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