The all-important en suite design your home

The all-important en suite

Among the most difficult challenges in redesigning your home is the en suite. the name given to a bathroom accessible only through the large bedroom (the “master bedroom in the same old nomenclature). Why? Because what the market wants today, and what builders created 50 years ago, are not really compatible.

Often the en suite consisted of two pieces: a toilet and a lavatory. While it is not unusual to find a window, the third piece—the  shower or bath—if it was provided at all—was typically an unworkable, tight, and leaky affair. In the worst cases, the plumbing was put in a partition wall separating toilet from the shower. Don’t be too finicky. If you are renovating an en suite, then go ahead and demo down to the studs. In bathroom renos, its not a bad idea to start from the stud face and work your way out. If the plumbing for the shower is not on one of the enclosing walls of the en suite,  hire a plumber and move the shower head & taps over. Heres the chance to rough in one of those units that hangs from the ceiling and add a hand-held on the wall.

Note: in British Columbia, if you havent tested for asbestos fibre in the drywall mud and ceiling texture, assume that these materials are present and take the necessary precautions.

Bring on the glass!   (for the meek and modest make it “frosted” glass).

Any way you cut it, the simplest and most elegant approach to the en suite shower stall—when one fits—is a glass enclosure on either a porcelain, or a tiled base. The advantages we will look at in detail below, but the principal draw back is that once installed the enclosing glass will require squeegeeing after every use. Yes, this installation will require a new ritual from the home owner: shower, towel off, then squeegee the glass partitions.

Making the Plan

Use a drawing sheet. To use glass there has to be enough room to swing the door out. If the glass door hits the door knob on the en suite door, or vice versa, it will crumble into tempered-glass pop-corn. Using a glass enclosure will also test your skills at laying tile. It is critical that the walls that receive the glass panel and the glass door be straight. Use a six foot level. If the wall is out of plumb—and there is room—hinging the door off a stationery panel may solve it.

The simplest approach to the bathroom will be to contract a glass company to come in and install the glass for you—they have the equipment to drill through tile, and are insured against the usual pitfalls of faulty measurements and glass breaking. All the homeowner will be required to do is to finish the bathroom walls and floor, including the shower stall’s curb, and then let the glass company do the rest. It will be critical, however, to co-ordinate with the glass company right from the start of the project.

  1. Tile. As the concept sketch demonstrates, the en suite project can become a small space packing a lot of tile. Combinations will make or break the job. Consult a professional and get to know your tile sizes. The shower stall curb can be faced with a square tile of a smaller dimension; move up one or two tile sizes in scale for the wall; and consider large tiles on the floor. If the tile project is properly planned, large tiles on the floor, medium tiles on the wall, and small tiles in the shower stall base will be all that is required. If using porcelain base, then the tile module on the floor and wall should match the base. You will need to pull the toilet for the job in order to tile underneath.
  2. Decisions will be needed in the sink area. Typically in an en suite the market is looking for double sinks. Although this may involve a bit of plumbing work, the finished result will give you more bang for the buck than just about any other “fix” you might imagine. On tight budgets, check around the counter top suppliers, and the marble and stone suppliers, for rejected counter tops. It is a simple matter to match a hole already cut with a stock sink. And a rejected counter top can be cut to length to fit your situation. Two sinks, even of base standard, with paired faucets and paired lighting make a great “en suite” presentation if you have space.
  3. The mirror solution shown couldn’t be simpler. If there is a wall mounted mirror, take it down. If it is glued on, you might consider asking the glass company to do it for you (have the glass company cut the old mirror to size if necessary). Then, find a suitable picture frame for the mirror. You can make two mirrors for paired sinks from one large old wall mirror. You can also order a frame custom made. If you are counting pennies, be resourceful. There are a lot of nice frames out there in discount bins holding awful posters and photos. If you add paired mirrors to the paired sinks and taps, then the size of the frames will be reduced.
  4. Lighting should be of the recessed pot type. Put one over the toilet, one in the shower (not shown), and one over each basin. Consult your supplier to get the right kind of lighting fixture for a shower stall installation. Adjust the wattage of the lamps to compensate for the fact that you will have four pots in a small space. Consider a dimmer and take advantage of the fact that your en suite will probably be wired for two separate light circuits.
  5. Change the shaving outlet, and all other duplex receptacles, into GFCI protected outlets. The days of plugging the hair dryer outside the room and swinging the dryer into the en suite are over Of course, so is the fashion for hair dryer styles.
  6. If you can, change the window in the en suite into a door leading outdoors. Next Mid-Summer Nights Bash your guests will toast your genius.
  7. Storage. At the DYH blog we are unequivocal on this point: add storage into every bathroom.

The photos in this post are from: Bath Design Guide. Better Homes and Gardens (Meredith Corporation, 2008); and The Smart Approach to Bath Design,  3rd Edition by Susan Manely Lovett, (Creative Homeowner, 2006).

Think about minimizing the number of places where two or three surfaces come together. These are often hard to reach and hard to clean areas. For the same reason, I shy away from steel channel supports for the glass sheet. I prefer to float the sheet on brackets secured to the wall through the tile.

For the same reasons just mentioned, I prefer not to build pony walls. One exception would be a case where there is plumbing in the wall (for electrical wiring, move it to a full wall). In the photo above note the location of the hinges—affixed to the ceiling and floor. The floor hinge is set to become a major cleaning chore.

Here are a few things to keep in mind. Frosted glass for those looking for a sense of privacy; wall mounting brackets to hold the glass sheet; and wall mounted hinges to swing the glass door. There is a curb to keep the water in, and a floor drain to take it away.

The only changes I would make here would be to raise the door and the glass panel from 1/4 to 6 above the curb; and about as much away from the wall. Keep the glass partition and door about 12 away from the ceiling. The idea is to leave room for a hand and a sponge to wipe the surface clean, rather than build a water tight compartment. Persons using the shower will get used to directing the water away from the partitions. The trickiest water to control is the one splashing back from the body. The small amounts that may get on the floor can be squeegeed away.

The all-important en suite

Among the most difficult challenges in redesigning your home is the en suite. the name given to a bathroom accessible only through the large bedroom (the “master bedroom in the same old nomenclature). Why? Because what the market wants today, and what builders created 50 years ago, are not really compatible.

Often the en suite consisted of two pieces: a toilet and a lavatory. While it is not unusual to find a window, the third piece—the  shower or bath—if it was provided at all—was typically an unworkable, tight, and leaky affair. In the worst cases, the plumbing was put in a partition wall separating toilet from the shower. Don’t be too finicky. If you are renovating an en suite, then go ahead and demo down to the studs. In bathroom renos, its not a bad idea to start from the stud face and work your way out. If the plumbing for the shower is not on one of the enclosing walls of the en suite,  hire a plumber and move the shower head & taps over. Heres the chance to rough in one of those units that hangs from the ceiling and add a hand-held on the wall.

Note: in British Columbia, if you havent tested for asbestos fibre in the drywall mud and ceiling texture, assume that these materials are present and take the necessary precautions.

Bring on the glass!   (for the meek and modest make it “frosted” glass).

Any way you cut it, the simplest and most elegant approach to the en suite shower stall—when one fits—is a glass enclosure on either a porcelain, or a tiled base. The advantages we will look at in detail below, but the principal draw back is that once installed the enclosing glass will require squeegeeing after every use. Yes, this installation will require a new ritual from the home owner: shower, towel off, then squeegee the glass partitions.

Making the Plan

Use a drawing sheet. To use glass there has to be enough room to swing the door out. If the glass door hits the door knob on the en suite door, or vice versa, it will crumble into tempered-glass pop-corn. Using a glass enclosure will also test your skills at laying tile. It is critical that the walls that receive the glass panel and the glass door be straight. Use a six foot level. If the wall is out of plumb—and there is room—hinging the door off a stationery panel may solve it.

The simplest approach to the bathroom will be to contract a glass company to come in and install the glass for you—they have the equipment to drill through tile, and are insured against the usual pitfalls of faulty measurements and glass breaking. All the homeowner will be required to do is to finish the bathroom walls and floor, including the shower stall’s curb, and then let the glass company do the rest. It will be critical, however, to co-ordinate with the glass company right from the start of the project.

  1. Tile. As the concept sketch demonstrates, the en suite project can become a small space packing a lot of tile. Combinations will make or break the job. Consult a professional and get to know your tile sizes. The shower stall curb can be faced with a square tile of a smaller dimension; move up one or two tile sizes in scale for the wall; and consider large tiles on the floor. If the tile project is properly planned, large tiles on the floor, medium tiles on the wall, and small tiles in the shower stall base will be all that is required. If using porcelain base, then the tile module on the floor and wall should match the base. You will need to pull the toilet for the job in order to tile underneath.
  2. Decisions will be needed in the sink area. Typically in an en suite the market is looking for double sinks. Although this may involve a bit of plumbing work, the finished result will give you more bang for the buck than just about any other “fix” you might imagine. On tight budgets, check around the counter top suppliers, and the marble and stone suppliers, for rejected counter tops. It is a simple matter to match a hole already cut with a stock sink. And a rejected counter top can be cut to length to fit your situation. Two sinks, even of base standard, with paired faucets and paired lighting make a great “en suite” presentation if you have space.
  3. The mirror solution shown couldn’t be simpler. If there is a wall mounted mirror, take it down. If it is glued on, you might consider asking the glass company to do it for you (have the glass company cut the old mirror to size if necessary). Then, find a suitable picture frame for the mirror. You can make two mirrors for paired sinks from one large old wall mirror. You can also order a frame custom made. If you are counting pennies, be resourceful. There are a lot of nice frames out there in discount bins holding awful posters and photos. If you add paired mirrors to the paired sinks and taps, then the size of the frames will be reduced.
  4. Lighting should be of the recessed pot type. Put one over the toilet, one in the shower (not shown), and one over each basin. Consult your supplier to get the right kind of lighting fixture for a shower stall installation. Adjust the wattage of the lamps to compensate for the fact that you will have four pots in a small space. Consider a dimmer and take advantage of the fact that your en suite will probably be wired for two separate light circuits.
  5. Change the shaving outlet, and all other duplex receptacles, into GFCI protected outlets. The days of plugging the hair dryer outside the room and swinging the dryer into the en suite are over Of course, so is the fashion for hair dryer styles.
  6. If you can, change the window in the en suite into a door leading outdoors. Next Mid-Summer Nights Bash your guests will toast your genius.
  7. Storage. At the DYH blog we are unequivocal on this point: add storage into every bathroom.

The photos in this post are from: Bath Design Guide. Better Homes and Gardens (Meredith Corporation, 2008); and The Smart Approach to Bath Design,  3rd Edition by Susan Manely Lovett, (Creative Homeowner, 2006).

Think about minimizing the number of places where two or three surfaces come together. These are often hard to reach and hard to clean areas. For the same reason, I shy away from steel channel supports for the glass sheet. I prefer to float the sheet on brackets secured to the wall through the tile.

For the same reasons just mentioned, I prefer not to build pony walls. One exception would be a case where there is plumbing in the wall (for electrical wiring, move it to a full wall). In the photo above note the location of the hinges—affixed to the ceiling and floor. The floor hinge is set to become a major cleaning chore.

Here are a few things to keep in mind. Frosted glass for those looking for a sense of privacy; wall mounting brackets to hold the glass sheet; and wall mounted hinges to swing the glass door. There is a curb to keep the water in, and a floor drain to take it away.

The only changes I would make here would be to raise the door and the glass panel from 1/4 to 6 above the curb; and about as much away from the wall. Keep the glass partition and door about 12 away from the ceiling. The idea is to leave room for a hand and a sponge to wipe the surface clean, rather than build a water tight compartment. Persons using the shower will get used to directing the water away from the partitions. The trickiest water to control is the one splashing back from the body. The small amounts that may get on the floor can be squeegeed away.


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