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With a penchant for historical pieces, designer Alexis Humiston of ABH Interiors isn’t intimidated by a bit of patina. Good thing too, considering her task for the most recent San Francisco Decorator Showcase was to take the master bathroom of a 18,000 square foot Presidio Heights mansion (clocking in at over 100 years old) from total disrepair to design triumph. “The room lived many lives since it was built between 1902-1904,” she shares. “It was originally a fainting room, where women would seek refuge when their corsets were too tight, and they needed to play cards or lay on a sofa to fend off fainting spells.” All that history meant she had a serious fixer-upper on her hands. “We needed to do a lot of work to all of the plumbing, electrical, drywall, trim, and flooring to turn this old treasure into a beautiful but perfectly functional bathroom (which even met city code!).”

Get the scoop on this amazing transformation and snag some of this design pro’s best bathroom design tips for everything from how to do wallpaper in the bathroom (the right way!), to fixtures, finishes, and key pitfalls to avoid.

The Inspiration

With a home as old as this one, Alexis had a lot of history to choose from, but was especially taken with the lives of the home’s first inhabitants. “The bathroom was inspired by faraway lands that the original owners travelled to, as well as their love of nature as evidenced by the butterfly-themed debutante ball they hosted for their granddaughter in the home over 100 years ago,” she reveals. “I love the calming effect of an all-white bathroom, but I wanted this to be something that pulled people into another world in another time.”

The Wallpaper

To create a transporting effect, Alexis knew an oversized dose of fantasy was in order. “We started the concept for the bathroom with the wallpaper,” she says. Enter the wallpaper purveyor de Gournay, who offered to partner with ABH Interiors to create a custom wallcovering for the space. “The house was abandoned for several years, then it became home to a squatter who sold a Picasso and other furniture. I wanted to reflect that part of the house’s history with the crumbling ruins as well,” she reveals of the home’s more recent and storied past. “The bathroom, like the house, has been fully restored from a ‘Paradise Lost,’ as the wallpaper is named, to a new paradise of today.”

The Layout

Whereas most bathroom renovations feel like a tight jigsaw puzzle, this storied home presented a different challenge. “We wanted to take advantage of the exaggerated size of the room by creating many different ‘programs’ or specific areas of use in the space,” says the designer of the room’s multi-functional layout. Along with the statement double sink, freestanding tub, and watery blue tiled shower room, the space also includes a less expected fireplace and sitting area. “I wanted to make the bathroom a place that someone could completely escape. While it is a great private place, there was also a seating area by the fire to do so with a loved one or friend.”

The Furnishings

A bathroom of course has an important functional role to play, and Alexis and her team struck a delicate balance between the realities of daily life and more aesthetically led moments. “Everything that involves regular physical interaction, such as the sinks, chairs, and floors, needed to be chosen with function as the most important element; more decorative objects such as the bar-cart-turned-bath cart or antique books could be chosen with form as the more important element.” The provenance of every piece in the space speaks to the designer’s affinity for creating truly one-of-a-kind interiors. “Every piece in the room was either made specifically for the room, or was a vintage or antique find for character. I love using Chairish as a way to add layers of timelessness to any room. One of my favorite pieces was a Gunnar Nylund for Strombergshyttan Glass Art object from their A-List, which we lovingly placed on the English 18th Century George III console table.”

5 Tips For Mastering The Master Bath

1. Don’t Discount Wallpaper
“I’ve had great success using wallpaper in bathrooms. You really just need a good installer who will evenly apply the adhesive. For additional protection, I apply a clear protective coat on top of the paper. Benjamin Moore makes one called Benwood Stays Clear, and de Gournay recommends one by Polyvine called Decorators Varnish, both with various levels of sheen.”

2. Choose Colors That Calm
“The bathroom should be a peaceful sanctuary. The shower in particular is a place to clear your mind and have new ideas. Different colors will do that for different people, so you have to see what they each make you feel in other contexts first. My favorite are blues, to evoke the sky and sea, which is an appropriate association for any cleaning ritual. I like taking risks in powder rooms, where people aren’t likely to spend enough time to tire of it.”

3. Carefully Consider Your Tile (and Grout)
“Tile is great because it is durable and quick to clean, but can be expensive to lay and grout, and if you do it everywhere you’ll have a strong echo. I like combining them with some softer surfaces if possible. If safety is a concern for much younger or much older clients, I like to do a rougher floor tile and more grout lines, for added grip. The grout color seems like a small detail but is actually extremely important to get right. I’ve done custom colors when a bright enough white is not available. Heated floors are always one of the best luxuries if logistically and financially possible.”

4. Know The Realities of Fixture Finishes
“Chrome is the easiest to match if you are using various vendors. Nickel is prone to water spots, so I prefer brushed over polished finishes. Brass can change color over time without a clear lacquer (and sometimes even despite a clear lacquer), which some people love and others want to avoid. The Showcase fixtures were actually done in a brushed gold finish which was warmer than the same product’s brass finish. I’ve seen a lot of great bathrooms with matte black finishes lately, which I want to try.”

5. Sidestep Awkward and Aim For Ease
“I like to avoid mirrors that are too small, sconces that are too low, towel storage that is inconveniently located, and storage that is hard to access or skipped altogether. Bathrooms should be as stress free as possible, so anywhere you can add moments to breathe, do!”

Shop Vintage Finds For The Bathroom >>

Photos by Suzanna Scott, Courtesy of ABH Interiors

July 25, 2019

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