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The Swoonworthy Transformation Of Our Lake House Primary Bathroom

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The Swoonworthy Transformation Of Our Lake House Primary Bathroom

When we bought our little Connecticut lake house, the primary bathroom was really something to behold. The vibe was floor to ceiling brown tile...made even more extreme by a light fixture that somehow made it feel like a disco-party in a weird 70s hotel bathroom. Read on to see how we made it our own, including the last minute architectural decision that made all the difference.

Welcome To Our Post-Pandemic Panic Purchase

We bought our lake house in Connecticut in the fall of 2021. We were living back in our Brooklyn apartment after about a year of bunking up with family down south during the pandemic. I share more about this experience here, but basically I felt the need to have a house with more space and a yard should we ever need it again. So without very much thought, we jumped into buying a house in the country to use as a weekend home and rental property. 

Primary Bathroom Before & After

Below is the listing photo of the bathroom. I’m honestly not sure how I looked at this and said “oooh, we should go see this one.” (Ok, I do know why we went to see the house but it definitely was not because of this bathroom.)

Instillerie Lake House Bathroom Before

And here are my atrocious/cringe-worthy before pics. Woof.

For a relatively small house the bathroom was pretty spacious, so we were lucky that we had a good amount of space to work with. This was the only room in the house that we took down to the studs and gut renovated (though oddly at the time I wasn’t thinking of it as a gut renovation…if I had been I may have made a few more stronger choices, like figuring out a better place for the toilet, but c’est la vie). 

Instillerie Lake House Bathroom Gut Renovation

The end result has given us so much joy.

Although this is technically the primary bathroom, it’s also the main bathroom for the house so it gets a ton of use and we really value that it is such a bright, happy space.

Admittedly, we were working on a tight budget, so there are certainly things I would have done differently had money been no object. But we are overall so happy with the space and it has come a long way from floor to ceiling shiny brown tile! 

Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom
Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom

The Inspiration: Light, Bright & Serene

As I’ve said, we were feeling a little frazzled after all our pandemic house-hopping, and we were living on a busy, loud corner in Park Slope, Brooklyn. With our little lake house in the country, we wanted to create a space that felt super light, bright, and peaceful. 

I often lean a bit modern with my design tastes and this upstate home by Tali Roth really resonated with me. It ultimately served as inspiration for a few different areas of the house, in particular our primary bathroom.

Upstate Home by Tali Roth
Upstate Home by Tali Roth
Upstate Home by Tali Roth
Upstate Home by Tali Roth

I love the vertical stacked subway tiles and matte black fixtures (which tie into black accents throughout the house). I also knew I wanted to bring in a little organic feel with some natural wood tones.

Emily Henderson’s mountain house primary bathroom also spoke to me: 

A few other sources of inspiration:

Dealing With A Double Doorway Dilemma!

I seriously wish I had documented this situation better, but the biggest challenge we encountered was a funky doorway situation. Originally there were two doors into the bathroom – one from the primary bedroom and one from the kitchen/landing area. The house is a raised ranch, so you walk in the front door and walk straight upstairs to the top level of the house which has an open kitchen/dining/living room. The primary bedroom and bathroom are to the left, just off the open landing area. 

Excuse the hideousness of these photos, but it’s the best I’ve got.

Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Renovation
Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Renovation – Doorway Dilemma!
Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Renovation
Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Renovation – Doorway Dilemma!

The multi-door situation was super annoying for a few reasons: 

  1. The kitchen in this house is small and doesn’t have a ton of cabinet space. The door was taking up so much space that could have been put to good use! In fact, we actually scorched the side of the fridge cooking on the burner that was flush up to the fridge. 
  2. The doors to the bathroom and bedroom were literally right next to each other. It looked silly and really didn’t improve the flow.
  3. The two doors to exit the bathroom were also essentially right next to each other (one from the bedroom and one from the open landing/living area). Again, silly. 

That said, it’s not ideal to walk through the primary bedroom to get to the bathroom on what essentially operates as the main floor of the house. So we were in a bit of a dilemma about it.

I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to handle it when my genius friend (who has renovated many more houses than I have) came up with a solution. She literally sketched this out while on FaceTime after I walked her through a virtual tour of the house!

Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Renovation – Genius Hallway Sketch

I know it looks like chicken scratch, but my sweet friend reimagined the two doorways into one single hallway, with a door from the hallway into the bathroom, and a door from the hallway into the bedroom. Mind blown. Totally changed the flow and it was the PERFECT solution. Sure, it took a little space from the bedroom but the primary bedroom was pretty giant and that space wasn’t actually usable anyways because there were two doorways right there! 

My contractor loved the solution and got to work.

Instillerie Lake House Hallway In Progress
Instillerie Lake House Hallway In Progress
Instillerie Lake House Hallway In Progress
Lake House Hallway Progress!
Instillerie Lake House Hallway In Progress
Instillerie Lake House Hallway In Progress
Hallway Progress View From Primary Bedroom
Instillerie Lake House Final Hallway View
We have a hallway! And more kitchen space!

(Spoiler alert: we painted the kitchen cabinets and refinished the floors – but more on that in a future post!)

But seriously, this relatively simple change really transformed the flow of the primary bathroom space AND gave us space for an additional upper and lower cabinet AND helped ensure we weren’t going to continue to scorch the side of the fridge whenever we cooked on our left burners. Gamechanger.

Now For The Fun Stuff: Fixtures & Finishings!

We weren’t quite sure when we were going to be able to get started on this renovation, and it ended up being a last minute “hurry, it’s time to get started!” kind of decision because of an opening on our contractor’s schedule. This was great in terms of getting the house ready to be used, which we were eager to do. Less great in terms of sourcing items with long lead times. Choices ended up being a bit limited because I needed items that could ship quickly. 

How did we make our tile selections? 

Initially, I was considering terrazzo tile for the floor but the clé tile version that I liked wasn’t going to arrive fast enough. I also considered poured concrete floors, but didn’t really research it enough to feel confident about the direction. I knew I wanted to go with vertical stacked subway tile for the shower, and likely a small-ish marble hex tile for the shower floor, so I wanted something larger for the bathroom floor itself. I popped into Floor & Decor looking for budget/quick-ship options and left feeling deflated because nothing felt quite right. Then we happened across a sale at Porcelanosa in Industry City in Brooklyn and it all came together. 

Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Tile Selection
Tile Selection at Porcelanosa

I was able to find a large format square tile that gave off poured concrete vibes (Porcelanosa Bottega Topo 23″x23″). And a gorgeous white subway tile that wasn’t trying to pass as Zellige but had a bit more depth/visual interest to it than your standard subway tile (Porcelanosa Mediterranea Calpe Nieve 3″X12″). I ended up ordering Carrara marble hex from somewhere else cheaper (I can’t for the life of me remember where or find the receipt). And the additional wood and marble tiles above were included to represent the style of vanity I wanted.

Speaking Of Vanities…The Options Are Endless!

I wanted to do a custom vanity for this space, but we made some tradeoffs to cut costs and this was one of them. (FYI, I’ve included a list of things I would do differently next time at the bottom of this post – and spoiler alert, this is on the list…I know custom would have looked great). That said, I’m actually happy overall with the functionality of the vanity we went with. But there are SO. many. choices. And it can be hard to distinguish which relatively affordable pre-fab vanities are going to be flimsy junk vs. quality.

While I would have loved a double sink, we didn’t think we had quite enough space to make it work. So we were looking for a 36″-48″ single sink vanity (though I considered a few larger options, you’ll see one below). I wanted something with closed off storage because my husband and kids create mess and I need a way to close it all off so I don’t go insane. And I wanted to bring in wood tones with black accents and a white countertop. 

A couple of the options we considered:

Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Vanity Option
Kuno 48" Single Sink Vanity from Pottery Barn
Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Vanity Option
Rejuvenation Marquam 56" Teak Double Vanity
Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Vanity Option
36" Vinnova Alistair Single Vanity with White/Grey Grain Stone Countertop

I really love the Rejuvenation vanity above, but we went with the Vinnova Alistair Vanity for a few reasons: 

  1. It shipped quick.
  2. It was budget-friendly ($1,068 at the time).
  3. We were concerned about space and didn’t want the vanity jammed up tight to the glass shower wall and this fit the footprint well.

Other Items We Sourced And (Mostly) Love

Here’s a full list of the items we sourced for our lake house primary bathroom renovation: 

And what about the art?

Art fanatic that I am, I couldn’t let the walls sit empty. On a whim I hung a few random pieces we had sitting around and to my delight the little gallery wall brought so much joy. In an ideal world the two frames (both framed via Framebridge) wouldn’t have been so similar, but I’m not stressing it. The piece on the top left was purchased at a vintage store on a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas to see a dear friend. The bottom left piece is by Howard Finster, a self-taught artist and Baptist minister from Georgia. While we were down south during the pandemic, we visited Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia, which was his home and workplace and is now a public park dedicated to his life and art. It’s super fun and wacky if you’re ever in that area. We picked up his Stairway to Heaven print there. And finally, the Be Kind print. I don’t normally buy pieces with “sayings” on them, but I just loved this and had to have it. I’m always talking to my kids about kindness, and thought it was a nice reinforcement of the message. 

Instillerie Lake House Primary Bathroom Gallery Wall

What would I do differently (or the same) in the future? 

I certainly learned a lot, and of course there are a few things I would have done differently. But there is also plenty I love and would keep as-is! 

What would I change? 

  • I’m honestly not sure what the solution would have been, but if I could go back I would try to move the toilet. It’s weirdly placed so that it’s front and center when you walk in the room which is pretty much the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do. 
  • Custom vanity. While I like our vanity and it’s totally functional, it’s a little small and unimpressive for the space. I also don’t love the hardware (but also don’t dislike it enough to have explored changing it).
  • Possibly would splurge on a better shower system – I don’t mind the look but you can tell it’s a little cheap in the way it functions.
  • I would splurge on the light fixtures I really wanted. 

What do I love?

  • The shower. Man do I love that shower. The tile really brings me joy. It’s clean and bright and happy which is exactly what I was going for. 
  • The Shade Store roller shade. The window looks out onto our deck, which looks out onto 40 acres of undeveloped land. Privacy is really not a concern but when we have friends over for parties and grilling on the back deck, some privacy is definitely needed.
  • The floor. It surprised me how much I like the floor. It’s simple and clean but it really works in the space and it’s non-slip which is great for the kiddos, especially when they spill all over the place while taking baths.
  • Speaking of water spillage – we did invest in a Schluter system and I’m glad we did. I honestly can’t tell you too much about whether it’s “working” or not but it gives me peace of mind with all of the water overflow that happens during bathtime. 

And there you have it – our lake house primary bathroom transformation!

What do you think?

Bathroom Design Tips To Share?

Would love to hear your ideas and tips! Let me know in the comments.

xoxox, A

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Ashley Patterson