Tall House: Choosing a Bathroom Style

Here’s something design-y to distract us from the news. One of the projects I’ve been tackling during our self-quarantine is designing the bathrooms for the St. Martin House. If you saw the original home tour on Instagram, you may remember there are are four floors, but only one bathroom.

It’s a traditional French bathroom, where the toilet is in its own little closet, and the neighboring room has a bathtub, sink, and bidet (pictured above). It’s on the second floor. During the renovation, we are planning to add more bathrooms.

The plan? On the ground floor, where we’ll have the kitchen, dining room, living room, and laundry room, we are adding a half bathroom (toilet and sink) off of the laundry. This will be the most challenging because there’s no easy way to get the sewer pipe where we need it.

On the second floor, which will have the family room, a small studio, and the owner’s suite, we’re adding a sink to the small toilet room, which will create a half-bathroom. And we’re turning the room that has the bathtub, sink, and bidet into a full bathroom for the owner’s suite. We’ll close up the current door, and open up a new door to the owner’s bedroom. The new owner’s bathroom will have a freestanding bathtub under the window, a sink, a toilet, and a shower. This is probably the easiest of the bathroom changes plumbing-wise, because most of the pipes are already where they should be.

On the third floor, where we’ll have three bedrooms, we are adding a full bathroom for the kids — bathtub under the window, shower, double-sink, and toilet. This bathroom will be directly above the second floor bathroom which will make plumbing it a bit easier.

In the attic, which will have another bedroom, a storage room, and some open space (that may become an office? we’re not sure yet), we are adding a freestanding bathtub to the bedroom, and we’re adding a very small bathroom, with a shower, sink and toilet. In an effort to preserve as much of the open space as possible, we can’t put the attic bathroom directly above the other bathrooms, so the attic will require some plumbing-problem-solving.

Additionally, every pipe in the house is being replaced. The new water pipes are copper and will be exposed and mounted directly to the walls. The new sewer pipes are not pretty — big grey PVC — and though they won’t be hidden in the walls, we will likely box them in with some carpentry.

The first step in all this bathroom-design was deciding floor plans, so that the plumber knows where to lay the pipes. We figured out bathroom floor plans for the first 3 floors quite easily, but the attic has been a challenge. The attic has a different layout than the other floors, and the steeply sloping roofline is tricky, but I think we’ve finally got it solved. (Hooray!)

The second step, which is happening right now, is figuring out what kind of look and feel we want — so that we can start picking out fixtures and tile and faucets. This is fun, but also a mental challenge, mostly because I like a lot of different styles.

With multiple bathrooms, in theory we could try several different styles, but it’s like my body has a physical rejection to that whole idea. I don’t think I can do it. My instincts are to decide on one style, and then implement that same style throughout all the bathrooms — almost like a hotel. No doubt part of this instinct is just my own mental health preservation. I want to mitigate decision fatigue where I can.

But because of this instinct, I’m trying to be really careful about choosing an overall style for the bathrooms. I’ve narrowed it to three different directions:

One direction I call Fancy European. Imagine lots of framed art on the walls — line drawings or botanical prints, a big fancy gilded mirror, a bold, classic tile pattern on the floor, and maybe an antique armoire or cabinet. I feel like this style could make sense for the St. Martin house. My concern? Is it more clutter-y than I can handle? Would all those details make it hard to clean? Here are examples:

Another direction I call Loose French Industrial. Picture elements like plaster or cement surfaces, exposed pipes, black metalwork details, faded pinks or greens, and an industrial-wall-mount basin/sink. I’ve been especially drawn to this style for about 12 years now, and think it could look great in this house. My concern? I don’t want to cross the line into trendy territory. If I’ve liked this for a dozen years, will I like it for a dozen more? Examples:

A third direction I call Simple, Modern, Hotel-Inspired. Think lots of white and light grey, clean and somewhat spare, simple tile or marble, and a glass-panel shower. I love this style and went this way for the bathroom remodel we did in the Treehouse. I know I like it. I know it feels clean and easy. My concern? It doesn’t feel right to me for the St. Martin house. There are versions of it that lean more traditional (like the top left example below), but in general I think it may be too modern for what we want in this house. Examples:

What about you? What are your thoughts? Do you have a particular bathroom style you favor that’s different than the ones I listed? What do you call it? Right now, I’m leaning toward the Loose French Industrial. Do you have a strong opinion one way or another?

And how is your brain handling this kind of post right now? Does it seem frivolous and maddening? Or do you feel like it’s a good distraction?

Lastly, if you want to follow along, I’ve got a demolition highlight on my Instagram stories you can check out. It features several very satisfying time-lapse videos of peeling wallpaper.

P.S. — All of these images can be found on my bathroom Pinterest board. Speaking of which, I don’t think it’s right for this house, but I sure am drawn to these bathrooms with saturated yellows, greens, blues, and all-over patterns. So I wanted to share them.

110 thoughts on “Tall House: Choosing a Bathroom Style”

  1. Ooh, I think you can split the difference between the Traditional and Industrial styles. For example the Industrial picture with the sink that is green underneath, and the one with the tub that is pink underneath. It does not seem trendy to me when the sink shape and hardware lean curvy. And you can get creative with the tile. Even the bottom right example from the colorful set (green wall tile) seems right because the sink is a traditional shape.

    1. Very true on splitting the difference. And I suppose that’s what my brain is trying to do when I say use the word “Loose” — I don’t want to feel too committed to one strict style.

  2. I love the third style!

    I popped over here from Feedly, where I typically read your posts (I’ve been a reader for years and just adore your style!). For a few weeks, no images are showing up there. I thought they were pictureless posts, but when I come over, I see them all! Not sure if an issue from this site or feedly, but thought I’d let you know!

    1. Thanks for the heads up. I have no idea what would have changed. There was a WordPress update a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s that? Sounds like I need to hire out some blog maintenance.

      1. I’m late to the comments, but I read on Feedly and while pictures have been slow to show up, they always do for me. I’m typically on Firefox on a PC.

  3. I love that you are aware of “what’s right for this house” … I’m an architect and I think a lot about being a temporary caretaker of a building rather than an “owner”. The concept can flow into other things too: When I was a new mom I struggled with the possessive words: that child is “mine” (in the sense of ownership, not responsibility, I am keenly aware of that!).
    As an American who doesn’t travel much I think if it as a European way of seeing things. Thoughts?

    1. I’ve been in a lot of European bathrooms. Almost all of them looked like your Hotel Modern, some of them “Nice Hotel” most of them “Affordable Hotel“. Some of them “Cheap Hotel in Budapest in 1970.”

      The problem I have with that style is that I think the “CHiB” version is always one step away. One tile gets chipped, there’s one stain in the grout, the shower head hangs funny and suddenly you’re calling each comrade.

  4. Sabrina Kondelis

    What about the Loose French Industrial with a bold wallpaper?! It could be a big wall or a small nook, but brings in some of that Fancy European. And it could be fun to tailor the wallpaper to each of the bathrooms and really differentiate between the intended uses. That feels very Western European to me.

    Mixing in these posts is great! I actually come more often to your site for the Friday links and political commentary, but when the rest of life seems on hold for an undefined period of time, it is nice to create or “do”.

      1. I found that lovely deco martini wallpaper over the weekend and ordered a sample! That was the direction I wanted to take our downstairs bath, off the kitchen – a pop of jungly deep greens. I think that paper will be extra fun with the martini hidden in the design. It’s fun to design bathrooms!

  5. I will second Anna’s comment about “splitting the difference”. I was drawn to the sink and tub with pops of color too! They seem particularly well suited to more economic spaces while having some room for colorful expression. And I admit, as I have watched you design over many years, fun color choices are the first thing that come to mind.

    And since I now find my hands are tied to continue with my own remodel, I’m happy to watch you work on yours. Crack on!

  6. Oooh, what beautiful options! I can see why it’s difficult to choose one!

    I agree with the other folks that you could combine some elements from your faves. IMO, I think that styles 1 and 2 or 1 and 3 could easily blend with the right anchoring pieces. I would also say that you could go with a more traditional simple modern for the kids bathroom (easier to clean) and a less fussy fancy European for the owner’s bathroom (like the top left photo – lighter color palate, fewer framed prints to dust!). For some reason, the bathrooms in my life get SO DUSTY! I also love the idea of another commenter – wall paper could really add charm with less dusting.

    Have you considered choosing a unifying color palate and blending elements, instead of one theme? That might cut down on your decision fatigue while not tying you in to one style for all 4 different spaces. I like the idea of industrial in the attic, fancy in the owner’s suite and a more traditional modern for the kids.

    It’s a tall order, designing 4 different bathrooms from scratch! I would probably feel like you – just pick a style for all 4 and roll with it – quick, before I change my mind again! But the reality is, the 4 bathroom/powder rooms we have in my house are used very differently by very different people…and yet, I end up cleaning 3 of the 4!

    Also, FWIW, my mom is an interior designer, and she uses her tiny 1/2 bath as her “experiment room” It’s the least expensive the change completely, so she takes bold(er) risks in there and has fun changing it up every 5 years or so.

  7. I love the Loose French Industrial style – I actually think it feels less trendy than the modern because it suits the house so much better.

    PS, I love these posts – a great distraction from the constant news streams – and part of why I visit your site daily (though I do love your opinion pieces as well).

  8. I found your blog when you were living in France last time. I find your posts and stories about your life in France and renovating your home there extraordinarily soothing – maybe it’s the symmetry, normalcy? I’m trying to remember when this was – was something hard going on in my life then? Maybe. Anyway, keep them coming and thank you for the distraction.

    I agree – somewhere in between industrial and European. It will allow you to find a great sink/tub/art/whatever for each space without having to have different design concepts. If it was my house, I would lean European for the powder room and maybe master (altho less clutter) and lean industrial for the kid bathrooms – esp the attic. I’d say no to super modern. It just seems to not honor the soul of your house.

  9. I find this a welcome distraction! It’s fun to think about design decisions, particularly ones that I don’t have to make. :)

    I love the Loose French Industrial. It’s my favorite of the three by a large margin. I would have something like that in my home in a minute. I do think the first style is too fussy. I’d be stressed by the idea of cleaning that. I think the third style is too spare for this house. But Loose French Industrial? It’s your Goldilocks style – just right!

    Can’t wait to see what you pick and how the renovations turn out. I know it will be amazing no matter which direction you choose.

  10. RebeccaNYC ( @mybackstageopera )

    I think your idea of keeping things simple is a good one. Standard, leaning towards vintage, attractive fixtures will never go out of style, would fit in the style of your home and you can stretch your creativity with different decorative touches. No matter what you choose, it is sure to be lovely. You have a great eye.

  11. I also agree that Loose French Industrial has a great feeling to it. Trust your gut! I have some of these images pinned for our remodel of a 1987 bathroom, and I think there’s something timeless about them. I also have that awesome blue hex bathroom pinned. Someday, somewhere. . . .

    And keep peppering in these posts. We need a bit of everything!

  12. Loose French Industrial! We’re just wrapping our bathroom remodel and lots of learning here. Hope yours doesn’t take 3 months to complete and 2x the original budget!

  13. I like this type of post right now! It’s a nice distraction. I wonder if you could do the “Fancy European” style, but tone it down a bit? You could use wallpaper instead of framed artwork, and nice woodwork/moldings without having too many “things” in the space, making it feel less cluttered.

  14. I agree with you on the Loose French Industrial. The only thing I don’t like about it (and I don’t KNOW because I’m not living there) is the saturation of colors. I feel like the St Martin house needs neutrals and textures and light rather than bold color? Whatever you choose will be beautiful for your family and generations to come.

    1. For sure I am craving neutrals and textures for this house. I love how the plaster walls look as we take down the wallpaper. They are matte, and a bit messy, and the patina is gorgeous.

  15. I love the Fancy European options, but I generally love real furniture in bathrooms. It adds a certain feeling of luxury and timelessness. I also love the bold patterned floors in the Fancy European option.

  16. Oh please, not simple modern hotel inspired. It’s the current generic trend. But loose French industrial is a great direction for the house as well as a style that reflects your aesthetic so well – it’s interesting and not fussy.
    And I hope you do remove the wallpaper from the 2 remaining rooms – the rooms deserve a more current look.

  17. When did we all switch over to saying “owner’s suite”? I guess “master bedroom” is also not so great as it hearkens back to plantation slavery, but I wish there were a term that doesn’t emphasize ownership (what about renters?). Like “parents’ bedroom,” although of course that’s not universally accurate either. And I vote for Style #1.

    1. The problems with using the term Master Bedroom were pointed out to me a couple of years ago (I admit I had never given the term a single thought), and I’ve been trying to figure out a better replacement. The four that have been suggested most frequently are:

      Owner’s Bedroom/Suite
      Principal Bedroom/Suite
      Parents’ Bedroom/Suite
      Adult Bedroom/Suite

      Do you have a preference among those?

  18. I think you could take the bold wallpaper look with either of the two first styles really easily! Especially in powder rooms!

    I also wanted to say I was so thankful to see this post. I have had to seriously limit my news intake, and a distraction like this one was just what I needed this morning. Thank you!

  19. Love this column today! It is exactly what I needed this am. I totally get it that one general style would
    be the easiest, can’t wait to see the finished results! Please write more columns like this, very soothing
    and distracting.

  20. Random question about the current layout – why is the toilet in one room and the bidet in another? Is that common? Just seems like they are always together. I like all 3 styles but my vote would be for French Industrial.

    1. I had the same question! I don’t really get how bidets work in Europe. The ones I’m a little more familiar with, in Japan and now in the US since all the TP is gone, are built into the toilet seat and seem to be a replacement TP for “personal cleansing” purposes. Is that not how they’re used in France? I don’t understand how it would work to have the bidet and toilet in separate rooms, or even just to have a bidet as a fixture separate from the toilet, which is what I saw in European hotels but never knew how to use. Anyway, if it’s not too crass Ron put on your blog, I’d love a primer on bidets sometime!

      Anyway, thank you so much for letting us into your home and life and family and providing both timely commentary and interesting distractions.

    2. That’s all I could focus on in this post—totally stumped me! Do you have to shuffle across the room with your pants down to get to the bidet after taking care of your business next door? Help!

        1. I googled “how do you use a bidet” yesterday while reading this!

          When I was in India earlier this year, nearly all the toilets everywhere (public as well as at the hotel, etc) had just a spray-hose attached. Like you’d have on a sink to spray off dishes! Those were fairly self-explanatory.

    3. Hi MC. I have no idea! A toilet in a separate room from a sink is also confusing to me.

      In the house we lived in last time we were in France, there was no bidet, but the toilet was in its own room.

      The old French country house we rented one summer a few years back had a bidet, but it was in one big bathroom that had a toilet next to the bidet, plus a bathtub and sink.

      In our current rental there is no bidet and the toilet is not in its own room.

      So I guess there’s quite a bit of inconsistency?

      1. Toilets in their own room make a lot of sense. Particularly if folks in your house don’t tend to put the lid down. I will spare you the details (email me if you want them, although I have a feeling you’ll get the gist), lets just say after an experiment in college, I am adamant about the lid being down at all times and toothbrushes and other personal care items not being stored on sink counters when the toilet is right next to the counter.

  21. I can ONLY see you really executing on the Loose French Industrial in that house – it just seems like the perfect fit! Likely you can go with that look, but not go expensive-to-replace overly trendy pieces, like a pink tub (or whatever else). I absolutely love and and all renovation posts, and, like it or not, you’re in the middle of a renovation during a pandemic! Why not make the best of it!?

  22. I think the loose industrial is a good fit since you will already have some exposed pipes. They will fit in well with that style. Fancy European feels very fussy and cluttered.

  23. I think Loose French Industrial will be fabulous, maybe throwing some Fancy European details in as you see fit? Seems to me you are fairly masterful at mixing styles; I can’t wait to see what you pull together!

    Please keep posting about your lovely old French house. I lose myself in your blog. It is such a welcome distraction right now. Thank you!

  24. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

    First, yes please on sharing anything about your home. Our homes are providing us with the safe harbor we need.
    I love the idea of “splitting the difference” like another reader suggested. It would suit the house and it would suit you and your design imagination.
    Please take care Gabrielle. I hope you and your family stay safe and healthy!

  25. loose french industrial with that wooden cabinet in the traditional green picture. It got so many things that keep popping up with you over the years and fits with the house. And has enough room for each one to really have its own personality.

    White hotel feels like a cop out in this house (brilliant in the tree house though).

    I have a punch list document for my house and its growing longer as I work on the stuff I can do now and dream and think and plan for the rest.

  26. My vote is to align with what feels right for the house and what you love, which appears to be “Loose Industrial” or Option B. If it feels right for the house, it won’t look trendy and out of date. You could always add an element of “fancy”. I really don’t think the third look fits for your house, even though it is tasteful and lovely. Good luck and have fun!

  27. Great looks. None would be wrong.

    Old European for my taste. I think of it as timeless and likely to endure the longest–the most like a restoration of the true house. Maybe somewhat like the bathrooms in La Cressonaire. You could hold back, keep if from being too ornate.

    For YOUR taste, I would probably say Industrial because you’ve liked it before it was in vogue.

    And you’re right, it’s fun to think about something else!!

  28. When I saw the Loose French Industrial photos, I thought, “That is Design Mom’s asthetic for sure!” I’ve been following your blog for almost 10 years and it definitely feels like YOU to me as a reader. They’re all beautiful, though and I can’t wait to see how you put your own personal touches into the house!

  29. If you can’t do Fancy European in France, where can you? I’d go for it! It seems so unlike anything you’ve done before, so is intriguing.

    And YES, I love this content. Bring on the pretty distractions!

  30. Style #2 for me. But more importantly, I wonder why you’re not continuing the traditional practice of separating the toilet room from the bathing room. It seems more respectful of the local custom, more practical when there are are multiple users, and better for eventual re-sale.

    1. Interesting question, but it seems like a pretty casual “custom” — in most homes I’ve visited I don’t see a separate room for the toilet, especially if the home is small.

      That said, we have a young French architect who we hired to consult us on this project and she said if that’s something we want, she could come up with floor plans that would give a little separation to the toilet. We looked into it, but it really cuts up and makes everything feel cramped and small. Maybe if we had bigger bathrooms?

  31. I love all three as well. Option 3 is great because it feels so clean. But, I agree after seeing the photos and videos this house is different and an experience to be lived. I think go with your gut and take a risk on the style you’ve been wanting to try. Loving those moody greens and the black and white tiling. So cool.

  32. I say loose industrial.w a touch of fancy..bug silver mirror perhaps but please, anything but modern hotel grey and white….I’m so, so tired of the look and frankly, it seems gutless.

  33. My personal fav is the “loose industrial.” It goes with the home but gives it a modern twist and lends itself to more creativity. I’ve always loved the juxtaposed of old with modern (as seen in many of the homes in my fav mag, Living Etc.).

  34. Wow. Tough call. I feel your need to simplify and unify. The Industrial vibe seems to fit the house without over the top details. The Treehouse makeover was so thoughtful and I can’t wait to see this project unfold. Is this post frivolous?..Frankly I can no longer watch the press briefings without screaming at the tv and having sleepless nights. I have backed away and focused on my house – routine, cleaning, feeding. We occasionally drive through downtown at what was once rush hour and gaze at the empty shops and roads. It’s like a movie. As for these posts, they are a wonderful distraction. I am moving past the shock/anger and into the management phase of this situation. Your posts are a great normalcy (I read them all the time) and a reminder of the fun and creative parts of life.

  35. Robin Kendall

    Love reading all this—it doesn’t feel trivial at all to me. And I love both the Loose French Industrial and the Simple Modern. Your choices will be good. Also I couldn’t handle different styles-I would want some sort of consistency in the bathrooms.

  36. Greatly enjoying your styling distractions .. right creating feels good — purposeful. I do love door #3. Clean functionality is always a good fit.. I own a 115 year old home. I’ve kept the architectural components for all, but the bathrooms and kitchen had to be best function. Wish I was smart and had Instagram gurus to guide me as a newly married 25 yr old and keep even more of the original Broken things everyone told me to toss.

  37. This post hit at exactly the right time for me as we just started excavating for an addition on our little 1931 cottage. Timing is everything, right? It sounds like you have a real gut feeling about the French Industrial look and you have also liked it for a long time so that tells me you should go with your gut. You have fantastic design taste and instincts. I tend to make my decisions and then not let myself look back. I have been doing everything over the phone and via email, choosing fireplaces, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, quartzite countertops and cabinet ideas. How are you accomplishing all those tasks? Do you go to the showrooms and meet with the people? I know at some point I’m going to have to go into warehouses and choose slabs and tile. Ugh. I can’t wait to see your house all done!

  38. Because I’m so darn tired of cleaning 4 bathrooms, if I could I would lean towards the style we noticed in Norway. The room was all tiled. The ceiling, walls, floor. It wasn’t big, but it had the sink/ mirror, toilet and shower. There was a shower curtain and the floor slanted so any water went down the shower drain. I’d love it cause I could spray it with the cleaner and hose it off with the hand held shower from the shower.😁 Talk about easy clean!!! Then you went out to the room to finish hair, makeup, dressing. Boy, would I like that!!

  39. Ah this is lovely!! Thank you for this taste of normality — I needed this. First, your taste is, as ever, wonderful. Second, I would vote for Loose French Industrial — with art! Not as regimented or plotted out as in the Traditional Euro examples, but one or maybe two pieces per room, that you could swap out when you need a shift.

  40. The loose French industrial with a nod to European grandeur is where I would head for this. It’s so exciting and I can’t wait to see the finished product!

    1. Yes! I love that. I added the word “loose” exactly for that reason. I like the idea of not making it strictly one style and keeping things flexible.

  41. Thank you for the lovely distraction. Here in The Netherlands, were we do not have a strict lockdown, diy stores and building materials have been selling double or triple as much as in the same period last year. Everybody is fixing up their homes. Very appropriate post I think! Keep them coming, I love to follow your design decisions. I would choose a modern clean bathroom with some industrial features where appropriate. Work with the copper pipes that will be installed and the features of the house.

    1. I didn’t realize The Netherlands doesn’t have a strict lockdown. Fun fact: The man who has done all the insulation work and ceiling in the attic is our good friend from The Netherlands who has lived here in France for 8 years or so.

  42. I like French industrial but make sure it’s practical – easy to clean and has enough storage – some of the sinks would require additional storage – especially with a large family.

  43. As much as I LOVE fancy, I’m afraid you’re going to be dusting those frames and gilded mirrors and be very frustrated with the maintenance. You can always ADD wall art to any of the designs.
    Industrial is so great — LOVE it. We wanted to go that route too but I find there’s very little storage involved when you lose that cabinetry. With a family, I find you need cabinets and drawers for storage — I love a clutterfree countertop, with just the pretty items on display. (dreaming bc my countertop looks a mess right now!)
    I would say go with modern —- maybe industrial in your 1/2 bath downstairs. You could have pretty handtowels and soaps on display and add a cabinet on the wall for toilet paper. What else would you need for a powder room?
    Then find a floor tile you love for the baths upstairs. Be solid on a toilet that you repeat in all four baths, find a sink you love (although the attic will have to probably be a teeny one) and repeat that. Maybe a wall tile that has some different colors or accents that you could mix and match throughout?
    Love all your ideas :)

    1. So true on the storage. I’ve been thinking about the same thing. I really like the look of the industrial-basin sinks, but I also really really appreciate sink-side counter space in the bathroom. So maybe I would try a wash-basin type sink in a half-bathroom, but not in the main bathroom. Not sure.

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