Smart layout cleans up the look of master bathrooms

DESIGN Smart layouts clean up the look of three challenging rooms

After earning her degree in architecture and working 25 years in corporate interiors, Rochelle Silberman turned her attention to residential projects. As designer of the Berkeley design/build firm McCutcheon Construction Inc., she enjoys using her diverse background to create modern and traditional living spaces that address the needs of her clients. Giving new life to a poorly planned master bathroom is a frequent challenge she tackles as part of her job.

"Form does follow function in a master bath," says Silberman. "For any room, the layout is the No. 1 place to start, but it's especially important in a bathroom."

Silberman believes a well-designed master bath is all about good planning - from where electrical outlets and towel racks will go, to maximizing natural light and keeping toilets out of sight of the bathroom entrance. If done right, a master bath gives you a soothing place to relax at night or an efficient spot to shower and get ready for the day ahead. Sometimes the space has to achieve both goals and more.

"You learn a lot of intimate things when you're designing a master bath," she admits. "Some people have soaking tubs but never use them. It's important to specify how you use the room and what you need."

But don't feel upgrading your master bath always requires an addition. You can improve a master bath's layout by rethinking how existing square footage is used or by incorporating unused space from an adjacent room or hallway. Attention to detail increases the chances your renovation will be worth the time and money.

"Make sure plans are complete before you start a bathroom renovation," Silberman suggests. "Changes in a bathroom are very expensive."

For more design dilemmas and other bathroom tips, see M6

Oakland master bath

Clients: A busy professional couple who wanted a soothing, modern, user-friendly bath.

Challenge: The previous master bathroom felt cramped because it was divided into two small rooms - one with the shower and vanity, and another with the toilet, tub and fabulous views of the bay.

Solution: Removing the wall that awkwardly separated the main components of the master bath allowed Silberman to create a much more efficient layout. Large floating mirrors placed above the long custom vanity with a honed Italian travertine top and double sinks make the bathroom feel more spacious. Roomy vanity drawers and cabinets offer lots of storage for toiletries, towels and cleaning supplies. The vanity was floated off the floor for ease of use and easy cleanup. Keeping the room's elliptical-shaped tub and adding new solid-chrome fixtures updated the look and saved money. An old aluminum slider inside the shower was replaced with a casement window that provides extra ventilation and allows lots of natural light inside. The floor's 1-by-2-foot travertine tiles echo the tones and shades of the stone used for the vanity top and strip of tiles that runs uninterrupted from the vanity backsplash into the new glass-enclosed shower. The shower includes a bench made from the same attractive stone. A plex strip outlet under the mirrors hides electrical work that would disturb the clean lines of the space. The sandblasted glass-paneled pocket doors that now separate the bath from the master bedroom are a nice final touch in a project all about simplicity and attention to detail.

Three more challenges

Here are designer Rochelle Silberman's tips for solving three more master-bath-related design dilemmas.

Choose the right sink: Not a fan of many of the shallow sinks now on the market, Silberman advises homeowners to "be practical."

"You want to make sure you choose a sink that's large enough," she says. "You want a sink that's in proportion with your vanity so you have counter space."

Use this same advice when choosing the color of your sink.

"Typically we use white sinks for baths - the color sinks tend to go out of style fast," says Silberman.

How you use the bathroom and the size of the space should dictate the shape and type of sink.

"Pedestal sinks are great for tight spaces," she adds, "but understand you don't have the storage you get with a vanity sink."

No matter which you choose, Silberman says, it pays to do your homework.

"Go to a plumbing supply store and see what it feels like," she suggests. "Put your hands in it." The size and style of the sink will dictate how tall your faucet should be. Choose a finish that coordinates with the other fixtures in the room.

Tip: Leave above-counter glass sinks (also known as vessel sinks) for your powder room. "They're hard to clean and too trendy for a master bath."

Include ample storage: "People have a lot of stuff, a lot of products," says Silberman, "and you want to put all that stuff away. You really don't want all that clutter.

"Make sure drawers are deep enough if you want to hold items like a hair dryer," she says, "but you want your makeup drawers a bit shallower - like a spice drawer."

Consider adding a sliding shelf or shelves to the inside of cabinet doors for cleaning products and other bath essentials. Free-standing cabinets are great for master baths with pedestal sinks and limited built-in storage.

Tip: Storage cabinets added to empty wall space above a toilet sound like a great use of space, but "things can fall into a toilet," says Silberman. "I'd rather do a low cabinet for storage than storage over a toilet."

Mirror reflections: From simple and modern to oversized and ornate, a mirror can add lots of style to the room.

"Sometimes I'll use a decorative frame around a medicine cabinet mirror or mirror an entire wall to expand the space," says Silberman. "We're also installing anti-fogging mirrors into the tile for those who like to shave in the shower."

Magnifying mirrors are ideal for applying makeup or shaving. A tilting mirror - mounted a few inches off the wall - can be moved up or down to accommodate the height of the person standing in front of it.

Tip: Can't find a mirror with a frame that suits your master bath? Take a mirror in a size you like to a store that offers custom framing and create something that better fits your personality and style.


McCutcheon Construction Inc., 1280 Sixth St., Berkeley, (510) 558-8030;

For more information and tips on bathrooms, visit the National Kitchen and Bath Association Web site at

El Cerrito master bath

Client: A single man who wanted a master bath with a large walk-in shower and a look that complemented his midcentury house.

Challenge: The old master bath was cramped and lacked adequate storage.

Solution: Borrowing space from a hall closet, Silberman was able to enlarge and widen the original master bath. The extra square footage allowed for a toilet niche and creates better flow for the room. Keeping in mind the owner's desire for a modern and tailored look, Silberman used a restrained palette. The streamlined bathroom vanity, lifted off the floor for lightness, features a handsome quarter-sawn oak base with a limestone slab top. Extra storage was created by adding a sliding-door cabinet by the toilet and a tall stand-alone cabinet between the shower wall and bathroom window. The new glass-enclosed shower not only makes the space feel larger, it includes lots of extras - a shower bench, a hand-held shower, body sprays and a rain shower. Polished chrome fixtures reinforce the modern look of the room. The neutral warm cream color used for the walls offers just the right contrast for the 1-foot-square chocolate-brown porcelain floor tiles. Because there was not enough room to penetrate the tongue-and-groove ceiling, lighting strips were added to either side of the tall mirror above the vanity. An additional recessed can in the new dropped ceiling over the toilet and shower provide extra illumination. The upgraded space now has a Zen-like feel that complements the rest of the home.

Berkeley master bath

Clients: A creative professional couple with two active teenagers and a love of color.

Challenge: The master bath, original to the 1950s ranch-style house, was dark and dated.

Solution: Silberman and the design team were able to expand the bath's square footage by taking space from an adjacent bedroom closet and unused bedroom niche. This extra space allowed Silberman to create a long, rectangular bath with enough room for a large glass-enclosed shower with a blue/green/gray pebble tile floor. The shower floor contrasts nicely with the white 6-by-6-inch subway tiles that line the shower wall. Smaller glass tiles were used for the shower niche and the strip of tiles that wraps around the shower and forms a backsplash behind the vanity. The two-bowl vanity includes rectangular under-mount sinks that complement the linear shape of the room. The vanity top was made from a piece of rich limestone found at a local remnant yard that blends with the vanity's Shaker-style maple base. A separate toilet room was created for privacy and improved traffic flow. Silberman used a cheery blue/green color for the walls and, because the space is small, a more neutral clean white for the ceiling to bring the eye up and add volume to the room. Improved lighting - including a modern sconce in the toilet room and two long-and-lean lights above the vanity mirrors - brighten the space. A pair of attractive French doors now separate the master bedroom from this fresh, fun and contemporary master bath.