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Pardon Our Dust / Remodeler's Tales

Pulling the Plug on Boring Bathrooms

A couple forfeits closet space to come up with distinctive his-and-her bathrooms.


"The secret to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms," says Lucy Deny-Gardner, who four years ago bought an upscale tract home in Northridge's Porter Ranch area with her husband, Craig Gardner.

Though the 1960s home had lots going for it--most notably an appealing trilevel design, large backyard and a pool--it also had remarkably boring bathrooms.

This bothered Deny-Gardner, who said: "Just for us to be happy, we need a good place to greet the morning."

The two upstairs bathrooms, one attached to the master bedroom and one down the hall, were anything but cheery. They were both little more than squared-off white rooms with low light and lots of aluminum--aluminum windows, aluminum tub surround, aluminum shower-door frame. There were even aluminum blinds hanging above the shower door. "I never did figure that one out," Deny-Gardner recalled.

In the beginning, the couple debated whether the two bathrooms, which share a common wall, should be combined into one large room. But this scenario presented two problems for the couple: (1) They had radically different desires for a new bathroom, and (2) they had shared a bathroom early in their relationship, and Gardner got short shrift.

"He didn't have any room for his stuff," Deny-Gardner said, recalling her cosmetics all over the counter. So keeping both baths seemed like the best idea.

Having made that decision, the couple lacked specific ideas about how to remodel. A creative person--an illustrator for Nickelodeon--Gardner wanted a bathroom with style. So they pored over books and architectural and home improvement magazines.

Clearly a designer would be needed, and a contractor, to turn the drawings into reality. They got both in John Sofio, a Silver Lake-based architect and contractor. Because Sofio's brother-in-law works at Nickelodeon, Deny-Gardner knew about some of Sofio's previous projects.

After Sofio saw the two old bathrooms, the couple showed him photos and color samples of what they each wanted.

Deny-Gardner imagined her bathroom as soft and romantic, and she wanted a steam shower similar to those she had used in hotels while on business trips.

Gardner, on the other hand, imagined his bathroom looking like a "boy's locker room" complete with a metal paper-towel holder and soap dispenser, metal lockers and a floor drain.

The one area of agreement was that they wanted each bathroom to be larger than the original, but they didn't know where they would get the extra space.

With these dreams, they gave Sofio their budget: $35,000.

Within a few weeks, Sofio came up with ideas. By incorporating the space of two closets, one of two in the master bedroom and one in the hall, both bathrooms could be enlarged. This allowed room for Deny-Gardner's steam shower and Gardner's extra-large whirlpool bathtub.

Deny-Gardner's floor would be limestone, her counters travertine, the cabinets light birch and her walls a soft buttery yellow. Gardner's floor would be a durable gray tile, his counter black marble, his cabinets stained dark and his walls an industrial white.

As is often the case for home remodelers, the estimate came in high--in this case at $60,000. The couple considered creating luxurious bathrooms of this caliber, but decided to limit the cost to $45,000.

"These are just bathrooms," Deny-Gardner reminded herself. "We don't want the bathrooms to be the nicest rooms in the house."

To reduce the cost, the couple decided to eliminate several features, such as curved barrel ceilings (pitched ceilings remained), two skylights (one from each bath) and a tricky installation where the shower head above Gardner's bathtub was to be placed near a window, allowing him to enjoy the mountain view while he showered. And there would not be tile installed halfway up the walls.

"It's all about compromise," Gardner said.

Demolition started in April of last year and was scheduled to last six weeks. Fortunately, the couple have a third full bathroom on the first floor, which they used while these two were torn apart.

But living in a construction zone was more stressful than Deny-Gardner anticipated. "There were people around all the time," she recalled. One day, while she was sitting in the kitchen downstairs, a worker's foot burst through the kitchen ceiling from the bathroom floor above.

The length of the remodel added to the stress. It dragged on for more than twice as long as scheduled. Part of the delay was the result of discoveries inside the walls, which couldn't have been predicted before demolition. One prevented some plumbing from being moved, requiring last-minute design changes. Another required the installation of a more sturdy support beam than anticipated because of new code requirements adopted after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Even so, the project did not grow more expensive. Sofio made up for every unforeseen expense that arose by saving money in another aspect of the remodel.

"We stuck with our budget, and he stuck with our budget," Deny-Gardner said.

The bathrooms were finally finished in August and the couple have no regrets about scaling down their desires.

"We have two perfectly good bathrooms," Deny-Gardner said. "And we're not in debt over it, which is important to me."

But the remodel has presented her with one surprise:

"I've ended up spending more time in the bathroom than I ever did before."

Kathy Price-Robinson has written about remodeling for 10 years. She can be reached at


Source Book

Project: Transform two bleak bathrooms in Northridge home.

Architect-Contractor: John Sofio, Built by Design, Silver Lake, (323) 661-8293

Duration: four months

Cost: $45,000

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