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OLD HOUSE RESTORATION: Bathroom Renovations

By Martin Schwartz
of Textured Home

Old homes don’t have to mean old bathrooms. Once you’re decided to update your bathroom and loose that horrible 70’s redo, you call in a few contractors to hear ideas and get pricing. The first thing most say is they must demolish everything - go back to the wall and ceiling studs and put up sheet rock to finish.
“You’ll have more flexibility and it’s easier to work this way,” they tell you.

Wrong. It is easier for the trades to work that way, but it diminishes the quality feel of the room and possibly the value of your home if that sheetrock renovation does not fully resonate.

Of course, some wall and ceiling demolition is generally required to reconfigure and install new fixtures, add recessed lighting, or run new pipes and fittings. You
want to insure that what’s put in new won’t leak later. And if you’re putting up floor-to-ceiling tile, knocking down a nonstructural wall to open up the room, or building bumped out framing, it’s no problem pulling the plaster as needed.

However, there is just no need to immediately demo the plaster and lathe walls in your bath, or any room in the house for that matter, so that the plumber and electrician don’t have to think or work a bit harder to re-channel lines. If your plaster isn’t falling down and there’s no substantial water damage – try to work with the shell you have. Use sheetrock sparingly to close up any electrical and plumbing holes and then plaster over it as part of a good skim-coat finishing paint job.

Unwanted Noise

Why all the concern? A plastered, finished wall has a very different look, feel and
quality than painted sheet rock. For older homes, un-plastered, sheet rocked walls frequently feel out of place and sometimes ‘cheap’. That’s even with applied moldings, high-quality tile and built-in details put back on. In the kitchen however, this is not that much of a concern. There is generally enough cabinetry, appliances, stone or tile - to cover much of the wall space. Your visual focus is elsewhere – not on the sheetrock wall.

But even more important than aesthetics, is the issue of PRIVACY. Often there is
reverberating noise in a sheetrock room because of the hollow nature of the walls.
Therefore, water running and flushing are generally louder, no matter how much soundproof insulation is put in behind the walls. Your old plaster and lathe are gold, both for soundproofing, structural support and general bath appearance. These original walls should be preserved to the extent possible as part of any

Note, plaster walls have absolutely no impact on the style or design solution you chose, or the layout of new fixtures added. Even if you decide to go totally modern -- your finishing elements and fixtures come from an aesthetic choice, not a structural one.


Baths, like kitchens today offer a world of opportunity – from tumbled tile and double sinks, to fully built-in cabinetry. Frameless showers and vanities that look like furniture cabinets have also now become incorporated in the bath. For old
house homeowners, the trick is to make the space feel clean and updated, while maintaining the room’s integrity.

Integrating tasteful architectural elements, old or new, can help give more character. Often we suggest built-ins that mirror the moldings or panels on your
original doors and window casings.

This gives the bathroom an organic connection to the rest of the house and offers always needed storage space! Integration is key. Try to keep that original solid, multi-panel door and casing. It’s as much a part of the home as the front door. Regardless of the type of new fixtures or hardware you choose, it is this connection to the rest of the house, lost during most of the 50’s to 70’s re-do’s,
that defines the space.

Today’s faucet and hardware options also help re-connect and are virtually unlimited in their design. Just a few years ago, you use to have to buy expensive,
hard-to-install European imports to get that been-there-forever look. No longer. Many domestic manufacturers have recognized the demand for a ‘restoration style’ -- with the devil in the details now for price vs. quality. Just don’t let yourself get pushed around. Even if your renovation is extensive with architectural plans that move waste stacks, vents and water lines, a smart design will maximize the existing plaster walls. Options may be available for smaller waste lines to buy you
even more space. You don’t always need to create soffits. Discuss all this fully with your contractor and plumber.

Yes… keeping plaster walls may mean someone has to think it all through a bit more carefully and be more creative. But that’s part of the fun and the challenge
of restoration.

A Montclair resident, Martin Schwartz is a principal of TEXTURED HOME --
Restoration Builders & Modernization Contractors.

Their design/build work includes kitchens/ baths & additions, as well as whole house restorations. They specialize in sensitive renovations for the older home.
If you have questions about updating while still retaining the character of your home, call him
at (973) 783-2580 –

New House...Classic Style
Bathroom Renovations
Kitchen Renovations
Renovations for Resale
Siding Removal and Exterior Restoration


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