Art underfoot: Two city bathrooms get a colorful treatment

Photo: Andrea Hubbell Photo: Andrea Hubbell

What’s an art collector to do about the bathroom? You can’t hang valuable paintings in there. But Don and Allison Innes—who own an impressive collection of American representational art—found a way to bring their passion into even the smallest rooms of their home.

The couple, whose 1949 Rugby neighborhood home was due for a double bathroom renovation, asked Alloy Workshop to come up with designs based on two of their favorite abstract painters. For the small bathroom off the entry hall, De Stijl master Piet Mondrian would be the inspiration. And in the larger master bathroom, it would be Gene Davis, member of the Washington Color School known for his compositions of vertical stripes.

 With the bathroom’s open floor plan, the shower “stall” seamlessly blends with the rest of the room, and the water stays contained in the appropriate area. Photo: Andrea Hubbell
With the bathroom’s open floor plan, the shower “stall” seamlessly blends with the rest of the room, and the water stays contained in the appropriate area. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

“Alloy ran with it,” said Allison. The Mondrian bathroom dances with playful square and rectangular fields of primary colors on a white field—all executed in small glass tiles made by the Italian company Mosaico.

“We looked at other tiles, and we didn’t see anything else with that color quality,” said Don. The color blocks not only reference Mondrian’s geometrically pure compositions, they delineate spaces and features within the room—like a red field marking where one would stand to use the sink, or a yellow pathway leading from shower faucet to drain.

The Alloy team completely reimagined the layout of the bathroom, too, finding new storage space and eliminating the need for a separate shower area. Instead, the shower “stall” seamlessly blends with the rest of the room. “The water stays contained in a certain area,” said Allison, adding that although there is a shower curtain in the room, they haven’t needed to use it.

The open feel speaks to one of the couple’s major goals—greater accessibility for aging in place. Alloy widened the doorway to accommodate a wheelchair, installed a pocket door to save space and worked grab bars into the tile composition so that, as Allison said, “it doesn’t make it look like an institution.” A towel warmer doubles as a radiator, and a new frosted-glass window eliminates the need for curtains, brightening the room.

Local soapstone tops the sink counter and a built-in wall niche handles all the toiletries. Squarish Kohler fixtures are the perfect complement to the tilework.

Local soapstone tops the sink counter and a built-in wall niche handles all the toiletries. Squarish Kohler fixtures are the perfect complement to the tilework. Photo: Andrea Hubbell
Local soapstone tops the sink counter and a built-in wall niche handles all the toiletries. Squarish Kohler fixtures are the perfect complement to the tilework. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

In the master bathroom—built in 1990 as part of an addition undertaken by the Inneses—a tall ceiling had made for a cavernous feel. The Alloy designers lowered it in most of the room but left it high in the shower area, lending contrast that’s enhanced by daylight from a light tube. From the top of the shower wall, the Gene Davis stripes, in unusual color combinations like green-blue-brown or pink-orange, flow all the way down and across the floor.

This may not be Davis’ biggest canvas (he added similar stripes to streets in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia), but it is certainly a dramatic one. The white and gray background for the stripes finds an echo in the Carrara marble countertop, added along with cylindrical metal hardware to update the existing wooden vanity.

The master bathroom is due to be finished soon, while the Inneses have been using their Mondrian bathroom for about a year, and happily so. Said Don, there is a “feel-good joy that the colors and the design create.”

Photo: Andrea Hubbell
Photo: Andrea Hubbell

The breakdown

42 square feet (Mondrian); 63 square feet (Davis)

Primary materials or finishes: Mosaico glass tile on walls and floors

Cabinets: Custom-built vanity cabinets by Jeff Barratt Woodworking with an Alberene Soapstone countertop and custom-built tall recessed cabinet by Jeff Barratt Woodworking (Mondrian); existing cabinetry (Davis)

Tiling: Wainwright Tile & Stone

Plumbing fixtures: Grohe shower fixtures; Kohler undermount sinks and faucet; Runtal “Fain” heated towel bar/radiant heater (Mondrian)

Other notable, custom or innovative features: In the Mondrian bathroom, a custom-built light box conceals a shower curtain track and differentiates the shower zone from the vanity zone; grab bars and a shower seat for accessibility. In the Davis bathroom, a custom-built “faux skylight” differentiates the shower zone from the vanity zone; the shower ceiling steps up and two sun tubes bring natural light into the shower.

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