This Dated Bathroom Gets a Much Needed Upgrade

Can a bathtub be too big? Yes.

bathroom makeover large window by tub with updated vanity
Photo: P Squared Studios

Husband and wife, Pete and Marlene Muraco, live with their three teenage daughters in a four-bedroom Tudor style home in San Jose, California. They love their house and plan on staying there for the long haul. But between busy work schedules and raising three girls, there hasn't been much time to devote to sprucing up the space since they bought it in 2002—or for themselves for that matter. They eventually decided it was finally time say goodbye to the outdated décor and upgrade the space. They hired Caitlin Campbell, the principal designer of Symmetry Designs, to help with the long-overdue renovations. With its fluorescent lighting and 1980s Dynasty-style tub, the master bathroom was practically begging to kick things off, and what a better place to begin getting into that treat yourself mindset. Here, Campbell walks us through the renovation.

bathtub makeover before tub
P Squared Studios

Out with the Old (That Tub!)

Bathtubs are meant to be luxurious—but the original was just trying too hard. The large oval shape in the corner made it difficult to get into and even worse, relax in. Despite it taking up nearly half the bathroom, it was so awkward, they barely used it. The couple wanted the option for a relaxing bath, so they replaced it with a much more comfortable (yet, still luxurious) soaking tub. It's deeper and a little longer than average size, yet still a lot less cumbersome than the original. "With a soaking tub, you feel like you're getting that nice spa treatment," says Campbell. And, of course, they had to get rid of that overhead fluorescent lighting so they could truly enjoy a soak.

bathroom vanity redo
P Squared Studios

Open Up the Space

Taking out the fluorescent lighting was a blessing in more ways than one: not only did it take the vibe from schoolroom to spa territory, it allowed the contractor to raise the ceilings. When renovating a bathroom, Campbell suggests looking at the original space and seeing if there is a way to capture more real estate, from raising a ceiling to taking space from a room next-door or eliminating a hall closet. And, with a larger area to work with, Campbell was able to add two vanities, one by the tub and one to the right of the shower, so Pete and Marlene each have their own section.

bathroom makeover with large custom window over bathtub
P Squared Studios

Let There Be Light

The original bathroom had only one tiny window, but the Muracos wanted the space to be as light and bright as possible (bye fluorescent lighting!), so they had the contractor triple its size. They then picked out leaded glass in a design that complemented the rest of the bathroom's traditional-with-a-modern-hint aesthetic. "Leaded glass still lets all the light in, but keeps it private by not allowing anyone to see straight into the bathroom," says Campbell. Natural light will always make a space feel bigger, but Campbell suggests also having at least two other sources of light as well. "The light above the mirror is going to give you more of a down light which can sometimes create shadows if you're doing your makeup," she says. "Having the chandelier above the tub as well as the recess lights in the ceiling adds a second source of light from a different direction to help fill in those shadows."

Staying on Budget

The couple was not on an extremely tight budget, but they were very calculated about every penny they spent on the project. "We had to value engineer a lot of the original items we chose to fit in their budget," says Campbell. The trick is to pick items from a wide variety of price points. They would first go to higher-end places to get inspiration and a few things, then to more affordable vendors to see if they could find similar items at lower price points, to mix in with the few splurge pieces. For example, the tiles on the shower wall and on the floor are porcelain instead of marble. You can get the marble look with porcelain and it's not only less expensive, it's more durable, easier to clean, and doesn't have to be sealed. Wins all around. They also saved with the faucets and light fixtures, which are all from big-box stores.

bathroom update shower
P Squared Studios

When to Splurge

Campbell encouraged them to spend a little more money on a custom-made mirror from a local glass vendor. "Getting the mirror the exact size you need makes everything around it—the faucet, the lights, the sink—the scale you want it to be," says Campbell. "It looks purposeful and a whole lot nicer than just getting something off the shelf and making it work—it also brings more light into the room." Campbell also suggests splurging on custom cabinetry—it will be the size and color you want, and will hold up longer over time. When it comes to the shower, the glass needed to be custom fit for that as well, but first, the gold frame had to go. "It made the shower look clunky," she says. "A frameless shower makes it feel a lot bigger since your eye isn't being blocked—it's also more modern looking." Campbell always recommends asking for the upgraded Diamond treatment when you get your glass cut. The extra coating will make it so the water beads right off, and you'll have clearer glass with a lot fewer spots that are easier to clean. Definitely worth the splurge!

Find the Perfect Shade

When it came to painting the bathroom, it took a few tries to find the color that ticked everyone's boxes. The couple knew they wanted something soft with a hint of color. Marlene loves gray but wanted a bit of blue in there, and Pete was concerned if it was too blue, it would look like a kids' room. After some trial and error, they settled on Gulf Wind by Kelly Moore. "It's soft and soothing, not too masculine or feminine, and coordinates with the tiles," says Campbell.

shower inset bathroom makeover
P Squared Studios

Add Interest

Although they went with a very neutral palette, both Campbell and her clients wanted a few elements that would add intrigue and a pop of color to the space. "If you have everything in one shade of gray or white there is no contrast and can end up looking very sterile," says Campbell. "I like to use different tiles throughout the bathroom, in the same color scheme, but that offer a contrast as well." They went with a few wave-shape glass mosaic tiles that complemented each other and used them in a niche shelf above the bath and in an inset in the shower. "Any time you add additional elements to the design it just increases the sophistication—the inset in the shower acts as an accent and the shelf is eye-catching when you walk in, and an elegant place to display candles and plants."

bathroom makeover faux plants next to towels
P Squared Studios

The Final Touches

Campbell suggests using decorative baskets and jars to store things like Q-tips, cotton balls, even makeup on the countertops. "If you have items that you always want in reach, use decorative boxes to keep the countertop looking stylish and clean." She also always likes to have something floral or green on display. "I encourage people to pick things from their garden to bring in," she says. "Fresh flowers and color class things up and make everything look prettier." If you live in the city or don't have a green thumb, try silk plants like the ivy and succulents on the shelf—that's right, those are faux! "When I mention faux plants, sometimes people are concerned they'll look fake and plastic-y," says Campbell. "But nine times out of 10 I'll bring them in and they don't even realize." She swears by ones from NDI and HomeGoods.

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