2009 Best of the Lake Competition Awards
First Place Bathroom Remodel

It was a small basement bathroom, and one that stayed on the back burner for an eternity. The owners, divers and avid shell collectors, knew they wanted to use a large and rare giant clam shell from the Philippines as the vessel sink, and a mirror with dolphins that had been purchased years ago at Sea World. The bathroom had to be refined without being traditional, it had to feel roomy and luxurious despite being only 6' x 8', and it had to be unique without being odd. Mostly the entire bathroom had to incorporate the nautical theme, but it could not be the typical nautical theme displayed in most magazines or on the internet. In fact, it had to be the kind of bathroom that would captivate anyone whether or not they liked the sea.

The final result met all these requirements. In addition to the shell sink and dolphin mirror, it incorporates a neo-round glass shower enclosure, custom tile work, and a custom concrete countertop. Subtle nautical details finish out the room.

The bathroom had been roughed for plumbing and electrical, and had sheetrock on the walls, but had never been completed. The doorway had been moved to a new location, when the remainder of the basement was finished years earlier. The original plans for the home called for a fiberglass shower, cabinet with vanity and toilet, which besides being tight would not work well with the current door location. The next idea was for the bathroom was to suspend the shell in a custom wrought iron base opposite the toilet and put in a rectangular tile shower. However after building the curb and knee wall for the shower, it was immediately apparent that the space would feel exceedingly claustrophobic. A search for a new solution began.

View an article about this home in Lake Norman Currents.
It was clear that only something curved would do. An internet search showed a variety of enclosures. However, they would not fit the space, or they were not rounded, or they were spec'd for use with an acrylic shower surround and pan. Acrylic is not something one would use in a luxurious bathroom. Custom tempered bent glass was quoted by several fabricators at over $4500! A bit pricey for a shower enclosure! The solution to the problem was to buy a curved glass enclosure ($800) but without the acrylic shower pan and sidewalls. However, since the enclosure was not supposed to be sold that way, there was no template for the curb, and the technical specs were unclear. As a result, the enclosure was ordered at the beginning of the job, and once it was determined how it was to be assembled, a neo-round concrete shower curb was built.

The idea of suspending the giant clam from the wall did not provide many options for a soap dispenser, hand towels, or other things that one would want to put into a bathroom. And a traditional cabinet base/countertop combination would be exactly that...traditional. It would also contribute to that claustrophobic effect. What was needed was something that would include counter space, would look strong and substantial, yet not be required to be supported underneath to provide that feeling of spaciousness. Something like a custom concrete countertop that had a thick 6" apron to look substantial, but be suspended from the back and side walls so it would appear to float in the room. A curved design would contribute to both the nautical and spaciousness requirements. The shell would need to be recessed to meet height and clearance requirements.

As it turns out that the majority of firms that claim to do custom concrete countertops...don't. It took some searching, but finally an adventurous concrete countertop fabricator, who was willing to try something that had not been done before, was located. Although this was not an easy project for him, the end result in polished charcoal black is spectacular.

Next was the task of trying to find someone willing to drill a hole in the giant clam shell. There were not many takers. Finally the concrete countertop fabricator agreed to put a slot drain into the shell. A slot drain is used in several of his standard concrete sinks. Attached underneath is a pan and drain mechanism.

The tile chosen was a porcelain green 12" X 12" tile with black, terra cotta, and mustard colors mixed in. (Sounds awful...but looks great!) It also brings out the colors in the "must have" mirror. It was laid straight on the floor and in a brick pattern on the walls. The tile in the shower was laid up to the ceiling to give the room the feeling of height. By extending the tile on the walls to chair rail height in the remaining areas of the room, the eye is tricked into believing that the floor space continues and the room appears much more spacious than it is. The tile is topped with a border consisting of rope top and bottom, 2" X 2" field tiles, and 2" X 2" pewter shell inserts every 10". A cap tile finishes out the transition from the tile to the wall. The height of the tile on the walls was chosen such that the border would frame the wall mounted faucet.

Details that make the bathroom user friendly for guests of all sizes include the two shower heads with diverter. The adjustable hand held shower head is on a slide bar. Also, there are four staggered wall mounted hooks for towels, the lower ones being more readily accessible to the younger crowd.

Other minute details that improve usability or enhance the overall feel of the room include: a recessed shower shelf for soap and shampoo; a low flow Kohler elongated toilet in bisque to match the shell; vanity lighting in addition to an overhead light fan combination; trash receptacle with a pewter tile insert (the same type as used in the border) adhered to it; Emtek pewter lever door hardware with a nautical rope design; eggshell finish paint (Color: Butternut) which provides a warm contrast with tile; and last but not least, camouflaging the drain and trap assembly by painting it.