As part of the renovation of a 225-year-old Rhode Island
farmhouse, we had to remove an upstairs bathroom's tilting
toilet. At first our plan was merely to repair the subfloor and
replace the existing vinyl with wood flooring. However, when we
dug deeper, we discovered the rot that tipped the toilet was
more extensive than we'd thought, and the entire floor would
Gutting the 5-foot-by-12-foot bathroom would further strain the
budget for this project — but it would also allow us to
design a more pleasing and better-functioning space, one that
would maintain the simple feel of the house. Our main
challenge, aside from budget constraints, would be to make the
long, narrow room feel spacious and accommodating.
Stolen Floor Space
Since we were removing the flooring anyway, relocating the
fixtures was relatively easy. Though the floor joists of the
old post-and-beam sagged, they were still plenty strong. That
meant we could sister on 2-by members to level the new floor
— a less intrusive approach than disturbing the ceiling
below to level the joists.
To move the toilet, we reframed one section of the floor,
creating a channel for the drain we were extending from the
existing stack in the outside wall.
The bathroom's width was limited by the hallway, but we were
able to lengthen the space 4 feet by annexing an adjoining
closet at each end. We also created more pleasing proportions
by visually dividing the new, longer space into three smaller
areas: an entry vestibule at one end, the tub/shower at the
other, and the main bath — including the vanity and
toilet — in the center.
Like the other upstairs rooms, the bathroom had an
exceptionally low ceiling — only 6 feet 2 inches high. It
gave the space a boxcarlike feel.
So we decided to raise the ceiling over the central section and
shower area. To remove the ceiling joists, we had to support
the main ridge for the length of the bathroom; we did this only
after studying the framing to make sure we had a continuous
load path through the wall framing on the first story all the
way to the ground.
A vanity mirror placed across from the window makes the
room feel wider (top), while a dropped soffit partition above
the shower doors (bottom) visually shortens the space, making
it feel less like a boxcar.
Cathedral ceilings can be tricky to insulate — especially
in bathrooms, which generate moisture. Because this old house
was extremely leaky to begin with, we couldn't justify the
expense of using high-density spray foam in the rafter bays.
Instead, we carefully cut rigid foam to fit tightly in the
shallow bays, used cans of expanding foam to seal the joints,
and were careful to detail the drywall installation so that it
would work as an effective air barrier.
Adding floor area, relocating fixtures, and dividing the
room into three distinct areas helped make this narrow bathroom
feel more spacious and function more efficiently.
To keep humidity levels down, we installed a Panasonic
WhisperLite 110-cfm fan, exhausting it directly through the
roof through a short length of 4-inch-diameter insulated duct.
This low-noise (1.5 sones) fan is a high-
efficiency unit rated for continuous use; we've installed it in
several projects with good results.
Right above the shower doors, we dropped a soffit partition,
making the room — now 16 feet long — appear 3 feet
shorter than it really is. We left the ceiling over the entry
vestibule at its original height, so that it could serve as a
transition between the low-ceilinged hallway and the much
taller main bathroom.
At one end of the room, a low-ceilinged entry vestibule serves
as a transitional area between the bath and hallway.
Despite its cathedral ceiling, the central area still felt
narrow, so we expanded it visually by positioning the vanity
and a large framed mirror directly across from the existing
window. The mirror helps anyone using the sink feel more
connected to the outdoors and maximizes natural light.
To control costs, we reused the original oak vanity cabinet,
but we tore out the one-piece plastic counter-and-lav unit. We
installed a custom-made mahogany countertop and backsplash,
then mounted the top of a pedestal sink (all of the new
bathroom's fixtures are Kohler models). This lav's 34-inch
height is much more comfortable for an adult to use than the
original sink's 30 inches.
Finally, we trimmed the room with beadboard wainscot; painted
both it and the vanity cabinet white; and laid new wide-plank
pine flooring that matches the rest of the home's floors. We
face-nailed the planks using hand-cut nails, then finished them
with tung oil to enhance that old-house feel.
Joe Cracco is a builder in Cumberland,