Design Reveal! Modern Neutrals in a Tranquil San Francisco Bathroom

Calm, relaxing, warm, peaceful… These words describe the atmosphere inside this newly designed San Francisco bathroom.  As the mother of a 3-year-old, I find even the briefest moment of  bathroom privacy to be an absolute luxury. If I could enjoy a moment of privacy in THIS bathroom I would feel like I was being pampered at a day spa.Heather Zerah modern neutral bathroom-008

Many San Francisco homes appear to be two stories from the outside, with a garage door at the ground level and a set of stairs leading up to the front door. Once inside, you realize that the entire livable home is on the upper level. The ground level is an unfinished garage and storage space. My client undertook the major task of turning the entire back half of her garage into a master suite / den, along with a finished laundry room and interior stairs leading up to the entryway on the main level. My help was enlisted for the bathroom design.

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Having done her homework on Pinterest, my client had a clear idea of what she wanted. She loved the look of clean, modern, large-format porcelain tiles. If you have ever shopped for porcelain tile, you know the range of options is huge. We looked at an assortment of patterns, textures, and geometries (circles, squares, ridges!) in shades of charcoal, beige, and bright white. As we considered various options, my client’s thoughts kept returning to a particular image she had seen during her research: a bold horizontal stripe constructed out of contrasting tiles. Of course, like most trends, a bold design choice can quickly become outdated. She feared that the bold contrast stripe would grow tiresome within a few years. I made it my mission to find the perfect balance of contrast and neutrality. And we did it!

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The solid, matte, mocha-colored tile has a smooth but slip-proof finish and is a lovely complement to the mix of cream and beige tones in the polished “marble look” tile. It stands out without screaming “look at me!”  With the perfect tiles selected, our next challenge was finding the exact sizes we needed. Both tiles were available in the large 12×24″ size that we liked, but they didn’t have many sizes beyond that. Luckily, our skilled contractor was able to cut the porcelain tile down to the dimensions required for our design. He trimmed the solid tile down to 6×24″ for the wall stripe and 6×6″ for better traction on the wet shower floor. He then trimmed the 3×24″ surface bullnose down to a quarter round for the trim, and created baseboard using the through-body matte tile. *Side note: Through-Body means that the color pigment runs through the entire material, rather than just resting on the surface. This allows you to cut and polish the tile yourself and still have a finished, color-matched edge.

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We looked at a variety of paint colors in shades of blue and green, ultimately selecting the tranquil Bali color from Benjamin Moore for the walls. For fixtures, we considered polished nickel and dark, oil-rubbed bronze. Once again, my client looked past the trendier bronze option in favor of the classic, timeless look of brushed nickel. For the shower floor, my client opted for a curbless shower, which slopes down towards a slim drain along the far wall. The curbless entry and bench are fantastic features. Although they are comfortable for people of all ages, they add resale value, particularly among older buyers with decreased mobility.

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This fairly compact bathroom had to be built to fit within a typically narrow San Francisco footprint. But once inside, compact becomes cozy. And this bathroom proves, once again, that small spaces can have big style.

Photo Credits: Frederic Zerah


Design Reveal! Classic Meets Modern in a San Francisco Bathroom

Are you ready for show-and-tell? It’s as fun now as it was when I was 5! Today’s big reveal is a bathroom remodel I recently completed in San Francisco.

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The home, built in the late 1920’s, falls into the classification of “Storybook” architecture prevalent in San Francisco’s Sunset District during the depression era (although it predates the fanciful peak of the Storybook period by a few years). Despite the similarly colorful facades, this period is a notable contrast to the typical Victorian architecture for which San Francisco is famous. My client wanted to incorporate classic period details with respect for the home’s distinct architectural personality. We considered a range of ceramic and marble subway tile options with various accent colors, including black, jade green, and gray. However, this particular client (who was a designer’s dream to work with!) had an eye for unusual shapes, bold colors, and modern details that simply couldn’t be ignored. We followed her instincts, and the design evolved from a traditional subway pattern into a marriage of classic forms, bright colors, and clean, modern fixtures.

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Classic white subway tile covers the walls in keeping with the original concept. We took a more playful approach with the floor, choosing an Ann Sacks arabesque pattern in custom handmade-to-order Robin’s Egg Blue, with glossy blue liners to match. We wrapped the liner around the perimeter of the entire room, so that wherever you turn you get a glimpse of the lovely shade.

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My client took her unique taste one step further with the fixture and furniture selection. Although we looked at more traditional options of the Restoration Hardware variety, she ultimately settled on clean, crisp, angular pieces from Duravit in a dark walnut finish. They serve as an unexpected, yet surprisingly pleasing, contrast to the curvy floor tile. The walls are painted a subtle, barely-there blue that changes with the light and keeps the room from feeling too stark or overwhelmingly saturated.

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Last but not least, you may be wondering where the toilet is located. In keeping with the time period, the bathroom layout features a separate water closet. We kept the original toilet, but refreshed the small room with the same floor and wall tile as the main bathroom.

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The bathroom feels fresh, bright, and contemporary with just a cheerful nod towards the home’s historic roots. Most importantly, it brings my client’s unique design style to life.

Photo Credits: Frederic Zerah

Before & After: Powder Room Makeover

The powder room, a.k.a. the half bath, is a great place to experiment with style. Due to the small size and limited assortment of fixtures (typically just a toilet and sink), powder room renovations can be opportunities to splurge on fun features that might be too costly in a larger space. And believe me, a few small splurges can go a long way. The powder room renovation shown here is a perfect example of how minor changes can have major impact. Witness the before pictures:

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This bathroom had not been renovated for more than 25 years. Bright and cheerful, the room suffered very little wear and tear over the last quarter-decade and had never demanded repair. Nonetheless, the homeowners were ready for change. Down came the pastel floral wallpaper, and up went grasscloth, saturated paint, and warm metallics. The flooring, toilet, pedestal sink, toilet paper holder, and shelf stayed. We replaced the wall covering, mirror, lighting, artwork and accessories. Our goal was to give the space a hint of drama to keep things interesting, while still maintaining a cohesive color flow with the adjoining laundry room and family room.




With so little wall to cover, we were able to splurge on gorgeous grasscloth without blowing the budget.



We saw no need to replace the old hardware. Haven’t you heard? Brass is back! We enhanced the existing brass elements by adding a mirror and light fixture with complimentary warm patinas. We didn’t worry about matching the exact finish of the metals, but we kept them within the same color family.





The biggest challenge we encountered during the installation involved the light fixture. We originally had a funky double sconce with milk glass shades and Edison bulbs. The oiled bronze metal finish was lovely and the proportion of the fixture was perfect. Unfortunately, the milk glass shade was too opaque, creating a sharp line of shadow around the entire perimeter of the room. The lower 6 feet of wall glowed beautifully, but the top 2 feet and ceiling were completely dark. Other glass shades had a similar effect, either due to the shade itself or the metal hardware. We needed diffuse light on all sides of the fixture. Enter the Graydon Double Bath Light from Thomas O’Brien. Not only did it minimize the shadows, but it is a more timeless and versatile fixture than the trendy Edison bulb sconce. Stylistically our problem was solved, but one more dilemma remained. The glass of the new fixture was still more opaque than expected, and it didn’t emit enough light to offset the dark paint and grasscloth. We swapped out the original bulbs for warm LED’s, which produced a more powerful glow without exceeding the fixtures wattage limits.



So what do you think?  Did we achieve major impact by changing just a handful of elements?



The grasscloth wallpaper was purchased through The Treasure Trove in Lafayette, California. The paint color is by Benjamin Moore. The mirror is the Compass Mirror from Wisteria. The light fixture is the Graydon Double Bath Light in Hand Rubbed Antique Brass, purchased through Neena’s Lighting. The hand towels, floor mat, and baskets came from Homegoods. The artwork is from my client’s personal collection.

Photo Credits: All photography is by Frederic Zerah

Design Trends: White Tile with Dark Grout

As the saying goes, what’s old is new again.  White tile with dark grout is a simple, classic look that has been around for decades, but it’s popularity has been making a steady comeback in recent years.  The combination of white tile and dark grout has both aesthetic and practical appeal.  White subway tile is timelessly stylish, easy to find, and available in a range of prices from cheap to expensive (factory made versus handmade).  Likewise, black grout is readily available and inexpensive, but more importantly, the unexpected color contrast adds instant oomph to an otherwise basic tile layout. And the added bonus? Dark grout hides unsightly stains and discoloration that appear over time in even the cleanest bathrooms and kitchens.  The key to this look is getting the right shade of dark grout.  A too-light shade of gray falls short of intentional contrast, while stark black grout shocks the senses and draws too much attention away from the tiles themselves.  The ideal shade is a deep charcoal, which has a natural subtlety and softness despite being a dark color.

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White tile and dark grout blend seamlessly into kitchens and bathrooms with classic black and white color schemes.  The look is enhanced even more by the added contrast of dark floors, dark window trim, and black appliances.  I love the way the black claw foot tub, shown below, pops in the white-and-wood bathroom!  To keep the look fresh and current incorporate open shelving against the tile backdrop.  Brass hardware with traditional detailing adds a dash of glamour and shine.

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Whether your taste runs modern, rustic, industrial, bohemian, or retro, white tile with dark grout can work for you.  Subway tile is the standard choice, but white tile can be found in a wide variety of shapes and sizes for a more unique design.  The one rule that applies to all design styles: carry the tile all the way up to the ceiling.  You won’t see any wimpy partial backslashes in the photos here!

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The best thing about white tile with dark grout?  Well, the low-maintenance cleaning schedule is pretty great, but more importantly, black and white is a classic color combination that is sure to maintain it’s beauty and style even after the “trend” has passed.

For more kitchen and bathroom inspiration visit my Pinterest page:

Photo Credits: Domino, Domino, Chatelaine, Little Green Notebook, Domino, Chic Design, Steven Gambrel, The Design Files, Paper Blog

Home Style: White and Brass Bathroom

A dose of interior design inspiration:

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Simple? Check.  Refined?  Check.  Boring?  Absolutely not!  The subway tile walls, hexagon mosaic floors, and shiny brass fixtures bring to mind bygone eras, yet the overall feel is fresh, clean, and oh-so current.  The sloped ceiling, bright window (either that window is made of frosted glass, or the house is in a peaceful locale far from peeping neighbors), and black tile grout give the otherwise traditional bathroom an edgy twist.

For more design inspiration visit my Pinterest page:

Photo Credit:  Chic Design