Without a doubt the most unattractive (aka revolting) room in the those when we acquired it, was the bathroom in what we referred to as the second flat. This was the nicest of the three flats and the bathroom had once been new, but it was – needless to say – past its best.
When we took possession of the second flat we suddenly found ourselves with two bathrooms and two kitchens. The first job on the books was converting the obsolete kitchen into an office (see Original Surfaces). Both this and the bathroom had been carved out of the house’s original dining room and although the bathroom was small, the arrangement of the two rooms worked well. It was decided to progress to the bathroom room next.
The nicest thing about this old version of the bathroom was that we never once had to use it.
With not much thought to the eventual design. I began by simply tearing out the bathroom, stripping it down to the timber framing. This gave me a good view of the proportions of the room which although only 2.4m x 1.8m is 3.5 m high. So in essence I had a grandly proportioned but tiny room.
I don’t really recall now how we settled on the theme for the decoration of the bathroom. What we wanted was something masculine, luxurious, woody and with essentially Edwardian overtones. This came to be referred to as the ‘first class men’s bathroom on the Titanic.’
It seems to me that the world is full of what people think are luxurious bathrooms – it usually comes down to a gold-plated tap or some insanely expensive vanity top. I started with a mahogany framed Beaux Arts mirror and a set of 3 heraldic stained glass windows that had turned up in the local auction house. The windows were reset by Adam Morrison, our joiner, and replaced the original pokey little louver in the corner of the room. Suddenly we were on our way.
Heraldic windows seemed to need an aristocratic ceiling. I decided to try fibrous plaster for the first time. I’d read in World of Interiors years ago, someone recommending that a small room requires large pieces of furniture and emphatically scaled details. So I went straight to Cararra ceilings – whose moulds date from the Titanic period and were used in big commercial buildings (At the same time I purchased the largest pedestal basin in Duravit’s 1930 range).
I chose a classical molding and an enormous ceiling rose. This turned out to be a problem in that the first plasterers we engaged had never handled anything of this scale. Ever trusting, it wasn’t until I realised that the moldings were being put-on upside down that I had to toughen up and get a more experienced craftsman to finish the job.
Edwardian meant tiles and panelling. We tiled the shower and the space behind what was to be a heated towel rail in simple rectangular white tiles, laid brick style. We asked the tiler for a black grout at which he shook his head. We persevered. When he later came back to do another job, he told us he’d been pushing the white tile/black grout all over town – with no take-up.
My original intension had been to partially panel the walls with teak which seemed ship-like. I gulped a little bit at the cost (remember luxury is much more affordable in a very small room than it is in a large one) but was prepared to dive in when Peter intervened. We’d been talking about teak over and over, but I suspect that Peter, like any number of people, thought of teak as a darker richer mahogany – on seeing a teak sample he said – I HATE THAT!
Remembering the big mahogany mirror, I went instead of mahogany plywood with a pine overlay which I decided to paint – initially green but eventually black. We discovered Michael O’Dwyer, a builder who understood immediately what was needed and could interpret my rough drawings and he set about panelling the room.
With Michael’s job done, it was up to me to paint the panelling. Never in my life have I been so pedantic about masking tape. Each mahogany panel was carefully masked off and then a sheet of newspaper taped over that and the edge sealed again.
We’d decided on black – because the top half of the room was pure white. My understanding, having grown up amongst ancient craftsmen, was that with a dark colour you use an undercoat that has been tinted to a dark grey. This gives you better coverage and a deeper colour. Not so, said the man at Resene paints. There are no dark undercoats and their undercoat cannot be tinted He tells me, there is no problem using black over an ordinary undercoat!
After days of careful painting, I was devastated to find, on lifting the masking tape, that the bright white undercoat had penetrated the seal and now edged my mahogany panels like a lace frill. A dark undercoat would have partially alleviated this problem and even after carefull removal of the excess paint with a razor blade, there remains a thin white line that glows sandwiched between the mahogany and the black paint at the edge of each panel.
With the onset of the rare disorder decor depression syndrome, I admit to having abandoned the project for months (and months). I could never face the painstaking job of addressing almost every panel with a scraper and a paint brush. Peter eventually started talking about ‘getting a project manager’ to complete the bathroom’ and I rallied.
We finished the bathroom. The black panelling properly repaired was matched with a black stained floor and then the whole room began to knit together. The Duravit bathroom suite came from Trademe, the lights, pendant and wall, from the local auction. The end result is luxurious and masculine.
However, like its predecessor, I’ve never used it. On completion I passed it on to Peter as his bathroom. An ideal solution to the problem of who cleans what and when. He lives with the maintenance of the glossy black floor he chose and I get to conjure my own bathroom in a planned extension (along with the fabled girl’s bathroom). At the moment I’m thinking something involving gold-plated taps and marble vanity tops (I jest).
One more thing, in writing this piece I googled ‘First Class Bathroom Titanic,’ something I’m glad I didn’t do at the beginning – imagination is sometimes so much more satisfying that reality.