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When designer Jessica Gerlach moved into her Portland home in 2019, she recognized the good bones of the main floor’s bath, even through its dated terracotta sponge-painted walls and hodgepodge of finishes from renovations over the years. “The arches were original to the bathroom; our house is a Tudor built in 1929,” she says. “The windows and built-in medicine cabinet on the back wall were also original, and I fell in love with how charming it was.”
To spruce it up and make it more reflective of her style, she immediately painted the walls, added a Schoolhouse light fixture, a new mirror, and a new faucet. The previous owners had left a dresser in the room (right under the arch), so Gerlach painted that and added fresh hardware, too.
But the goal was always to go all in with a bigger remodel when their schedule and budget would allow, since this bathroom is the one the Gerlachs’ guests use. Plus, with the arrival of their daughter, Elliott, last November, they knew they’d want to refinish the tub, retile, and add a some more permanent storage solutions to the bath to make it even more family-friendly, as it’s also located right next to Elliott’s nursery and would one day become her bath, too.
So this past February, while Gerlach was on maternity leave and could serve as general contractor for the project, they kicked phase two of the bathroom renovation into high gear. Naturally, the process started with tons of research and moodboarding.”I looked at a lot of pictures of 1920s and 1930s bathrooms for inspiration,” she says. “My goal was to modernize while still honoring the style and period of our home.”
The work took about four months total, and according to Gerlach, the tile was the biggest part of the job — and the labor to install it their single largest expense. She chose classic shapes and colorways that work with the style of her home: marble hexagon floor tile from The Home Depot and plain, more budget-friendly Daltile subways on the walls, shower surround, and, of course, the shower arch. Tiling the shower arch proved to be challenging for the installers, as it wasn’t level or plumb, but Gerlach was determined to keep this original feature in tact and set if off with white tile and dark grout for maximum visual impact.
With the tiling completed, the new console sink, faucet, and toilet went in next, and she crowned this area off with a simple frameless mirror that echoes the arches elsewhere in the room. “We had the cast iron tub reglazed, and it looks brand new,” says Gerlach, which was another source of savings. The windows were replaced with reeded glass for privacy, and the walls got refreshed with a soothing coat of Summer Friday, a mid-tone blue hue by Clare Paint. Some small electrical upgrades and plumbing updates went into the project, too, and were contracted out by Gerlach.
To make the arched inset area shine and add lots of storage to the space, new cabinetry also topped Gerlach’s wish list. To stretch her funds, she selected IKEA cabinets and Semihandmade DIY Shaker fronts for underneath the windows and the medicine cabinet above them. “I did this install myself, and it took several weeks,” she says. “The bathroom is right next to our nursery, so I didn’t want to make noise during my daughter’s naps and at nighttime!”
Bit by bit, she chipped away at the work and chose to paint the cabinetry Sherwin-Williams’s Alabaster to match the trimwork above the counter, creating a seamless, built-in look that appears original to the home. As a finishing touch, a gorgeous Carrara marble countertop was installed above the cabinets to really nail the period look and provide extra counter space in the bath.
Gerlach’s best renovating advice? Decide what’s non-negotiable about your project upfront and make more affordable swaps in elsewhere. “I could have easily skipped the wall tile or tiled arch, but those were elements that I was really dreaming about and knew I couldn’t live without,” says Gerlach. “In order to make that happen, I took the IKEA/Semihandmade route for the cabinets, rather than having them custom built.” That said, Gerlach wouldn’t change a thing. She’s in love with the total package of her bath and can’t wait to share the space with future visitors.