Small touches add life to a bathroom

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The smallest room in your house is also one of the least complicated to remodel.

Charlotte Camilletti, manager of Carpets Plus in Steamboat Springs, works with baby boomer couples who remodel their bathrooms as an anniversary gift to one another. She said the new ceramic tiles make it easier to get the look of natural stone around your tub without the expense and difficult maintenance.

Add a modern vanity with a ceramic or granite tile top and an old bathroom is transformed.

Of course, some customers are determined to make the project more complex.

Americans building new homes are leaning toward bigger bathrooms in order to make them more comfortable. It takes more room to move away from the standard rectangular tub. Another trend, bathroom furniture, requires even more space.

For remodelers, enlarging the bathroom means knocking out walls and taking over a nearby storage closet in order to gain a few square feet.

Elmer Balvanz of Fedewa Custom Works has a suggestion for customers contemplating a new bathroom vanity. Bump the counter height up from the traditional 32 inches to 36 inches, he said. It will mean less bending over to wash your face. The added depth in the cabinet can also accommodate a set of horizontal drawers at the base of the vanity. They make excellent storage for linens.

The taller cabinet may require the added cost of some plumbing changes, but the improvements are worth it.

Camilletti greets many customers who come into her store with pieces of old tile they want to match. They have four or five loose tiles in the shower or tub surround, and think replacing just those tiles will be satisfactory. In fact, Camilletti said, loose tiles are a sign of moisture damage in the wall, and that it's time to do the entire job over.

She suggests customers consider installing larger tiles in a new tub surround.

Moving up to 8 by 10, or 12 by 12 tiles offers greater color selection, Camilletti said. And by all means, spend a little extra money for a decorative strip of tile at eye level in the tub surround. It makes all the difference.

Granite tiles can be a great way to get the look of real stone on a vanity top without the expense of real granite, Camilletti said. Black grout makes the joints between dark granite tiles almost invisible, she added.

Materials to avoid in bathroom remodels are carpeting, hardwood flooring and even laminates meant to look like wood, Camilletti said. Even though the laminate joints are tight, high moisture environments can eventually cause water to seep under the floor where it promotes mildew.

If the tile surrounding your tub is hopelessly out of date, and the wall is bulging from water damage, there's only one thing to do -- demolish the wallboard behind the tile and start over.

This is a nasty job, but certainly one you can do yourself, saving significant labor costs. The professional way to do this job is to use a circular saw with the cutting depth set just a hair deeper than the width of the drywall and tile combine.

Safety glasses and a respirator are absolute musts for this job. Take care to avoid plumbing and electrical wiring.

The wallboard behind your tile should be a heavy board suitable for the cement used to attach the tiles. If you find out that it is gypsum board, be prepared to generate a significant amount of dust; taping off the shower stall with plastic sheeting is a good idea. Also, if you plan to keep your old bathtub, protect it with old sheets or towels during the demolition.

If you find the dust to be overwhelming, don't be afraid to demolish the wallboard and tile with a hammer and pry bar.

You can also install the new cementitious board yourself without much trouble. Although the board is heavy and resembles concrete, you won't use a saw to cut the sheets down to size. After snapping a chalk line along the measured dimensions, you can score the board with a heavy utility knife and after a few passes, break off the excess board. Remodelers can purchase a perfectly suitable oval sink for between $50 and $100.

An option that offers ease of cleaning is to buy a sink already incorporated into a one-piece vanity top.

People willing to spend more than $500 in order to make an artistic statement with their new sinks, can get one of hand blown glass. Bump the price to $2,000 and a hammered copper sink can be yours.

If a fashion statement is where you're headed, consider a high-style spout. The old-fashioned two-handle faucets still offer the most control over water temperature.

A basic two-handle set in chrome ranges from $20 to $70 in price. Single-handle faucets can cost between $70 and $150.

One of the trends in bathroom vanities is a pair of shallow single drawers beneath the traditional cupboard doors in the middle of the vanity.

The drawers are ideal for storing towels and reclaim wasted space usually dedicated to a main cabinet that is taller than necessary for the cleaning supplies traditionally stored there.

Other homeowners seeking to make a statement are turning to vintage furniture pieces adaptable to bathroom vanities.

Type the words "bathroom vanities" into ebay and you can find a hand carved Euro style bathroom vanity with a granite or marble countertop offered at $989. The seller claims the antique reproduction is designed to sell for $2,700. The vanity is much too small for every day use by a family, but it would dazzle dinner guests if positioned in a smaller powder room.

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