My Ensuite Renovation: Breaking Rules, Chasing Dreams Part I

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Turning Daydreams into Reality:

What’s the one thing in a home that you’ve never had but always wanted? A huge kitchen? Home Theatre? Acreage? A pool? All of the above? If you’re anything like me, I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life daydreaming about my forever home; or at least elements of it. And the best part was thinking about the extra luxuries that I never had but always wanted.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve lived in multiple homes across multiple countries and one thing that I’ve dreamed about is to, one day, have my very own spa-like ensuite…and I’ve been working towards making it come true for the past decade.

Can renovating be challenging? Yes. Do you sometimes feel like you’re taking a leap of faith? Yes. But has anything you ever really wanted and dreamt of come to you really easily? No. I’m going to share some lessons I learned along the way in hopes to inspire you to take the leap and pursue those things you’ve been daydreaming about.

Our Forever Schoolhouse

My husband, Josh and I were finally at a point where our family and businesses were growing and we were ready to purchase our forever home. This was the moment I’ve been waiting for – finally getting the house and ensuite I had always wanted! So we did it! We bought our home, but we didn’t just purchase any house, we opted for a century-old schoolhouse with a laundry list of renovation projects that would take years to transform into our dream property. Were we crazy to do this? Probably. Were we up for the challenge? Absolutely.

The Un-Suite

I bet a lot of you reading this can relate, even if you don’t live in a Century home! You will typically unearth some interesting finds when you start demolishing any room, but Century homes come with their own set of challenges that can really affect your costs. Make sure you account for a healthy contingency in your budget!

Why The Ensuite First?

Our ensuite was likely updated in the early 90’s so by aesthetics alone, it was in dire need of an update. However, given the age of the building, fixtures and plumbing, the underlying issues posed much more of a threat than the outdated style. Water damage was a primary concern and structural elements posed challenges in our design plan:

  • Unlevel walls and floors
  • Leaky, misaligned skylight
  • Shower was a small, budget-friendly plastic insert style that leaked
  • Jet tub took up too much room was dated, loud, and unclean
  • Old plumbing
  • Old vanity with 1 sink
  • Outdated small tiling
  • Exterior windows rising up from the first floor into the ensuite

Unique Windows:

The windows posed a unique challenge to our project. The 8ft windows in our home pose a unique challenge in each room on the second floor. They’re so tall, that if not for these ‘window boxes’ in each room, the floor would chop the windows in half, losing the full effect of their beauty on the ground floor.  Check out this before photo for a better visual explanation. (the previous owners tried to install these smaller windows with shutters within the box but they didn’t provide much privacy or safety from the floor below 😉

Second Line Ensuite Windows and Skylight Before

My Inspired Design

Now that we identified the challenges of the project, it was time for the fun part!… finalizing my wish list and creating the design! The style: French Country with a modern twist!

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved the rawness and simplicity of French Country living, particularly in bathrooms and kitchens. What are typically the busiest rooms of a home, stripped back to display all that’s truly needed, in a creative way, gives so much meaning to a space. So when I found this inspirational photo, it kick-started my vision perfectly!

Seeing these simple images set my wheels turning and made it that much easier for me to focus my wish list, which consisted of:

  • Soaker Tub with Freestanding Filler
  • Large, Curbless Walk-in Shower
  • Limestone Sink
  • Hardwood Floors
  • Bright and Open
  • Natural-elements Throughout
  • Clutter-free Counters and Shower (no visible shampoo bottles)

If you haven’t made your list yet, jot some ideas down, start a pinterest board and you’ll be one step closer living your dream! If you already have your list and you’re thinking about renos, you should read our Blog Post on: The Process Everyone Should Follow.

The 80/20 Rule

This is one rule I actually live by, and so should you. If you’re thinking of renovating or redesigning, a good rule of thumb is 80% planning, 20% doing.

Vision Board:

Part of the planning is taking your inspiration and putting it together in a vision board, which will help guide your selections within the space. Now that I had my inspiration photos, it was relatively simple to style my vision board:

Space Planning

This project took 12 months from conception to completion with only 2 months of construction, not to mention the inevitable tweaks along the way. If there is one thing that I hope you take away from this article, it’s to be as fanatical about the details as possible.

If you are not skilled in the technical aspects of a renovation (most people are not), I urge you to hire a trusted, experienced professional. Your space plan and team of contractors are the key components of a successful renovation and if either of them fail, you’re on the path to a project gone sideways – literally. Ask questions, read reviews, be as involved as possible and do as much research as you can before starting.

Everything But the Floor Joists

Based on the extent of the work, we did a full demo of the space, right down to the floor joists. We disposed of all the existing fixtures with the exception of the vanity, which we have repurposed in another area of the home! Stay tuned for more on that!

Once it was all out, we releveled the floors and walls to make sure the rest of the renovation was built on a perfectly squared room. Which, in theory, sounds simple enough, but turned out to be quite the challenge given my wish for a curbless shower surrounded by wood flooring. Wait, what?!

The Flooring Risk: Water & Wood?!

I chose a stunning engineered European wide-plank white oak floor, which would run from the bathroom into the hallway for continuity and flow throughout both spaces. But when I mentioned the flooring plan to my contractor, he thought I was crazy. No person in their right mind would ever think about putting a hardwood floor next to any type of running water, let alone a curbless shower where there is no protection against moisture!

He suggested I install a door to the shower to help control splashing, but this completely clashed with my vision of a clean, seamless room. With this being the case, the door option was a no-go! Keep reading to find out if we made the right decision on this!

Hardwood Floor transition into shower

Oiled Vs. Lacquered Hardwood

I went against the grain again by choosing oiled hardwood over lacquered. For most, the benefits of lacquer far outweigh the drawbacks: it’s durable, easier to maintain and offers increased durability against moisture. I get it. It makes complete sense – especially in the bathroom. But the added layer of protection retracts from the natural wood texture on the feet. I just couldn’t have that! I’m a texture-gal through and though!

There were of course more raised eyebrows but at the end of the day, I’m sure our contractor trusted my vision and expertise! Plus I have a feeling he was pretty intrigued to see how it would all turn out. These were all firsts for him too!

I’m not going to lie, it was indeed a challenge and admittedly a risk. But no risk, no reward, right? It took a great deal of effort and precise calculations from a flooring specialist to create a seamless transition between my wooden floors and the shower tiles.

The dimensions of the shower were absolutely key in being able to make my flooring plan work! This was all considered right back in the start of the space planning. Remember the 80/20 rule! I had the finishes I wanted pre-selected so I could accurately work them into the design. A square shaped shower would have never worked with the wooden floor!

To minimize excess splash, I placed our rain showerhead and hose at the opposite end of the stall and installed long drains along the length of the back wall instead of a round drain. This created a clean, modern look and reduced the chances of moisture coming into contact with the wooden floor. We also installed super efficient and seamless Aria vents to trap moisture straight away.

The Shower: Arabesque Attraction

I don’t know about you, but it’s the best feeling when you find that one, small detail that sets the whole design into motion. During my research, I found a glossy arabesque tile that I absolutely fell in love with. It was the perfect colour, size, shape and texture that would create the perfect inlay to elevate the shower as well as showcase the beauty of the fixtures. It became a jumping-off point for the entire shower design.

For the rest of the tiling work, I chose a larger matte porcelain tile that offered textural, aesthetic and functional benefits: they are modern in their appearance, replicate the feeling of natural slate, they’re easy to clean, and have minimal grout lines to worry about water leakage.

To complete the shower experience and maintain an open feel, we chose a solid teak bench instead of a built-in shower seat, as it provides another natural element and the ability to use throughout the room. And finally, we designed the toiletry shelving that is tucked away from plain view but still provides adequate storage for soaps, shampoo bottles and other shower accessories.

When working with tiles and other fixtures, there’s a perception that they need to be the same finish, but if it works, makes you happy and you see the beauty, run with it! It’s all about finding the right amount of compliment and contrast.

The Payoff

The texture of the hardwood floor paired with the curbless shower was such a major component to the feel and vision that I was striving to create for our ensuite. I would say probably 80% of it! A tiled floor just wasn’t going to give me the warmth I was craving. We spent hours discussing all the obligations and risks that came along with installing hardwood in our bathroom but in the end I trusted my gut! And I couldn’t be happier!

Two months in of daily showering and the floors have hardly seen a drop of water. I’ll tell you more later about our day-to-day care tips in Part II. Of course I knew it was going to come with some discipline and commitment to care for the floor but my husband and I are those kind of people anyway so I knew it would work! In this case, water vs. wood = all good!

Up Next: The Big Reveal

The best is yet to come! Now that you’ve seen all of the before images and a look at the finished shower, I invite you to stay tuned for part II of this series. I’ll let you in on where I saved money and where I splurged, my solution for those window boxes, and tips on how to care for oiled hardwood floors. And finally, I’ll share the big reveal of the final ensuite. It’s absolutely gorgeous so stay tuned!


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