Lessons learned…

This is the first of what will be a short series of posts describing the Spring 2014 projects we completed at the Byrne residence. I thought I would begin with a single photograph, (below), of the shower pan in the Guest Bathroom on the Main Level after the stainless steel edge treatment had been installed, but before the glass tile had been installed. This image illustrates what we’re trying to do with these projects – introduce subtle refinements in a few places at the Byrne Residence to improve the visual appeal of each location, but also respect the original design intent as it was conceived 15 years ago. Enter Will Bruder…


When Martha and I first spoke with Will Bruder in December of last year, we were very clear about our objectives. First, we were going to finish replacing the Kitchen appliances, including the microwave/exhaust vent combination, (effectively completing a project started two years prior when the refrigerator and dishwasher were both swapped out). Second, we wanted to update the shower spaces in both the Master Bathroom and Guest Bathroom on the Main Level. Third, we wanted to revisit the handrail in the stairway leading from the Main Level to the Lower Level. Fourth, we wanted to fundamentally rethink the tub in the Guest Bathroom on the Lower Level, with an eye toward creating a spa-like experience, but without modifying the dimensions of the room or modifying the cabinetry. Lastly, there were a small number of stainless steel grilles meant to replace the vendor-supplied grilles covering several HVAC return air vents and bathroom exhaust vents found throughout the house. The renderings for the HVAC return air vents existed, but had never been fabricated. Once we saw the new renderings for the revisions to the Guest Bathroom on the Lower Level and noticed the exhaust vent grille Will designed, we knew it was time to go ahead and commit to completing this now 15 year-old detail for the HVAC return air vents as well.

As I mentioned earlier, our intent was to improve the visual appeal of very specific places at the Byrne residence, but we also wanted to preserve the integrity of what already existed in each of these places too. In other words, we didn’t want to completely re-design these already carefully thought-through spaces, but merely introduce what we hope will, in time, appear to be subtle refinements that could have dated back to when the house was originally built. This first image, (above), illustrates how we went about doing both – the suggestion Will made to incorporate new stainless steel elements in all three bathrooms made perfect sense. It eliminated need for tile to be cut into tiny pieces that wouldn’t reference any other existing pattern, or theme, found in any of the bathrooms. The re-introduction of a material already used, but in a completely new location accomplished our objective, and rather elegantly! The same holds true for the Ann Sacks glass tile we used – a rectilinear shape that references a rectilinear pattern found in the CMU walls throughout the entire house, and it’s made of a material – in this case, glass – which already figures prominently in many locations throughout the Byrne residence. The dimensions of the shower enclosure remain virtually unchanged and yet the experience is entirely new.

OK, OK, I can’t resist… The image below is of the Guest Bathroom, (taken earlier today), by Will Bruder, featuring a portion of the finished shower pan, (i.e. glass tile is now installed)…


Notice the deliberate pattern of the layout – this is no happy accident – we had to make sure the shower pan surface would provide sufficient friction when wet, (i.e. the grout joint width, tile size and orientation of the pattern were deliberate choices). And the color of the grout? Yes, carefully chosen to pick up one of the hues found in the CMU wall immediately to the right.

So, what did we learn during the course of the past six months?

  1. If at all possible, engage the architect. Sure, we thought we knew what we wanted to do two years ago, but Will Bruder brought invaluable experience and insights to the project we would never have been able to acquire, no matter how long we studied these spaces!
  2. There are tradesmen and there are craftsmen, (or tradespeople and craftspeople). Will Bruder uses craftspeople. The craftsperson is a skilled artist, not a mere technician. We witnessed – first hand – incredible attention to detail, precise fabrication and that special magic that comes “…in the moment…” when the craftsperson is applying their trade.
  3. Take your time. We’ve been contemplating several of these projects for over four years! Allocating a sensible amount of time to the planning phase meant every design decision was carefully-considered.
  4. Quality. Schedule. Budget. You get to pick two, and only two. For us, it was: Quality first. Budget second. We were willing to sacrifice the schedule if it meant we gained a superior end result.
  5. Be flexible – serendipity is, in fact, a very real possibility when you’re dealing with architecture. Did we know beforehand the first row of tile would be made up of exactly six seven pieces laid end-to-end, that they would fit exactly in the space already defined by the shower walls and leave exactly the right amount of space for consistent grout joints? No. Did it happen? Yes.

…more to come.

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