Eric Liebeler remembers the first time he saw the master bathroom of the Hollywood Hills home he bought last year.
"After working my way through the beaded curtain, the thought in my mind was, 'Not livable. Totally redo.' "
Hardly anyone would object to that assessment. There were floor tiles laid over carpeting, broken-off shower tiles and no shower fixtures. The toilet was in a closet.
But because of the 1960s home's other qualities--a spacious living room, slate floors, sweeping views of Laurel Canyon--Liebeler, an attorney, and his wife, Carmen, bought it last year.
Immediately after moving in, they began planning the bathroom remodeling project. Less than a year--and $60,000--later, they had the elegant bathroom of their dreams, complete with granite counters, a steam shower and a whirlpool tub.
Hiring a designer for the bathroom was "absolutely" necessary, Eric said, and he delegated the search to Carmen. Though she now works for an animation company, she wasn't employed outside the home then, and had time to devote to the task. But first the couple had to agree on some basics.
The Liebelers expected their tastes to clash over the design. Carmen was born in Hawaii, lived for a while in Japan and prefers Asian-influenced lines and colors. Eric favors a contemporary look--lots of chrome and glass--and regards functionality as very important.
Finding Tastes in Common
To determine where their tastes overlapped, the couple went though several issues of Architectural Digest. He placed green tabs on his favorite bathrooms, while she stuck yellow tabs on hers.
"The ones that had both colors of sticky tape we showed to the designer," Eric said.
To find the designer, Carmen interviewed four who had been recommended by the real estate agent and his company. She was looking for several attributes, including experience designing upscale bathrooms and the ability to "read my mind."
She also wanted a designer who would get along with her husband, who, after hearing a suggestion for a certain color or material, was likely to ask: "What's your basis for that?"
Los Angeles designer Christopher Grubb fit the bill.
"He had answers for my questions," Eric said. "It wasn't all hoity-toity feelings. He was very professional. He called when he said he would."
Another plus: Grubb had lived in Japan for several months and had a feeling for what Carmen liked.
In their talks with designers, it became clear to the couple that this would not be a low-cost remodel. Eric set a budget of $50,000, but Carmen wanted to get the job done for less.
"Being a bargain shopper, I thought it was a lot of money," she said. "Thought?" her husband interjected. "It is a lot of money."
But it was enough to get what Eric considered a "rock-hard, bottom-line requirement" for the new bathroom: a steam shower, which needs expensive plumbing and materials, and a towel warming rack.
Adding to the expense was the expansion of the bathroom into an adjacent, empty exercise room, which doubled its size to 250 square feet and created space for a whirlpool tub.
As it turned out, the Liebelers' tastes were not far apart. For instance, she had put sticky tape on a bath with a Japanese soaking tub, and one of his tabs landed on a bathroom with a tub in a square concrete surround. The final design, a deep whirlpool tub in a rectangular granite platform, suited them both.
To create the luxurious surroundings both Liebelers wanted, Grubb suggested richly toned slate for the walls and floors, and even for the ceiling of the sunken steam shower.
For trim and cabinets, the designer specified maple wood stained a cherry shade. The black-and-chrome cabinet pulls have both Asian and contemporary influences.
The biggest challenge was satisfying Carmen's desire for a light-infused bathroom. The original bathroom had no windows, and the adjacent exercise room had just a small window overlooking a neighbor's yard.
The problem was alleviated with light-colored ceilings and large mirrors above the light-colored granite counter tops.
To bring in light from the connecting bedroom, Grubb suggested a sliding pocket-door made of a wood frame and textured glass. He specified the same glass to create a shield for the toilet area, and talked the couple into increasing the size of the small window at the end of the room and filling it in with the textured glass.
The results were exceptional. Making the window larger, Carmen said, "changed the whole feeling of the room."
To get the job done, the couple hired Cortney Lofton of Lofton Construction, whom the designer recommended. Demolition started in July 1998 and the bathroom was complete five months later.
Cutting Costs for Slate and Granite
To keep costs down, Carmen shopped for the slate and granite, "schmoozed" with the distributors to get the best colors and hired the plumber and electrician on her own. The plumber was wonderful, but the electrician was not, they said.
"In retrospect," Eric said, "we would hire someone to do the whole thing."
And because she did save money--even though the project went $10,000 over budget after structural problems were uncovered and then fixed--Carmen decided to upgrade the sink and bathtub faucets that operate like waterfalls.
Now that it's done, the couple have a bathroom that Carmen said "exceeded our expectations."
"Everything works," Eric pointed out. "The fan works. The steam works."
According to Carmen, when she walks into the bathroom, "it feels like us."
"We found out you can have functionality and aesthetics," Eric said. "You just have to pay for it."
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for 10 years. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The project: Gut and remodel 1960s bathroom.
Designer: Christopher Grubb, Jennifer Kenney, Arch-Interiors, Los Angeles, (310) 724-6464.
Contractor: Cortney Lofton, Lofton Construction, Littlerock, (661) 944-5505.
Duration: Five months.