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Part IV: How we carved a modern master bathroom from a former bedroom

In the fourth installment of our 2016 Renovation Diary series, Mark Goff and Phillip Engel have their DIY smarts challenged by ceiling tile

After years of shuttling between New York City and Los Angeles, Mark Goff and Phillip Engel wanted to change their location and their lives. They landed in the tiny town of Healdsburg, California (approximately 1.5 hours from San Francisco in Sonoma County Wine Country, population 11,254). The home they found there—an extreme fixer—was certainly transformative. The work they did on the 1870 Victorian turned the business analyst (Engel) and graphic designer (Goff) into seasoned renovation experts and tested their patience and skill. This week, in our second annual Renovation Diary, the pair describes the joy and the frustration of bringing the decrepit home back to life, a process Goff fully details in his blog, 227NorthStreet.

The second level had seven bedrooms when it was built. In order to make room for a closet in every bedroom (including a walk-in in the master), a linen closet, a laundry room, and a master bath on this level, we eliminated two bedrooms and used the square footage to create all or parts of those spaces. When we finish a third-level bathroom we are working on, we'll have a total of four-and-a-half baths and five bedrooms, with closets. The house is between 3,500 and 4,000 square feet.

Back in the day, a Victorian house like this would not have had a large master bath or closet. Instead they had lots of bedrooms for large families and furniture for clothes storage. We wanted to be somewhat true to the house and how it was originally, but we did want that master bathroom.

We created one by using part of a small bedroom and adding an addition. Now keep in mind, there had been a bathroom that was cantilevered off the side of the second floor, but it had long been defunct. We removed it when we took off the 1903 addition.

Before undertaking the remodel of this 1870s Victorian home, Mark Goff's tile experience was limited to a kitchen backsplash. He says that the marble tile in his new master bathroom presented a host of challenges. Here, the tile floor takes shape over waterproofing material.

The new master bath is supposed to look like a steam room in a gentlemen’s club. That’s also the inspiration for the marble-tiled walls and floors, the dark wood vanities, and the nickel-plated hardware. Now, we are shower people, we never take baths, but we decided Melissa would really want a bathtub, so we made the shower area a wet room with a tub. [Melissa is a fictional character created to imagine what someday buyers would think of the house.]

Mark has a thing about not wanting shower doors, so a wet room solves that problem, you just step into it. To make things watertight there, we used a Kerdi system. It’s a German waterproofing system, and it’s like vinyl mats that live under the tile. We’d never heard of such a thing before, but later we saw Mike Holmes, the contractor on the television show Holmes on Homes use them, so we were pretty pleased with ourselves.

Mark found the small dressers on Craigslist that became our bathroom vanities. A man in San Jose was listing them, and they had belonged to his great aunt. It is almost impossible to find a matching set of dressers, but there they were for just $300. Their proportions are perfect.

Left: After a series of ceiling tiles came crashing to the floor, Goff and Engel devised a way to keep them in place until the thinset dried. They put up several two-by-fours as a brace. Goff says it looked like a "forest of two-by-fours." Right: The (nearly) finished product is designed to look like a gentlemen's club.

If you want an example of "what can be done, can be done again," look no further than the story of the marble tile ceiling in our bathroom. In this room, we covered the walls, the floors, and the ceiling with marble tile. Before this, Mark had only tiled a kitchen backsplash, and we both were worried about tiling a ceiling. We had done a lot of reading about how to do this, and everything we looked at assured us the tile would stay. Perhaps some people live in a fantasy world that doesn’t have any gravity.

We finished the ceiling and went downstairs for coffee. We were relaxing and laughing, when we heard a "thunk." Then another, and another, and another. We ran back upstairs. Four tiles had crashed to the floor, two of them shattered. Of course, what can be done...can be done again. We used less thinset and installed two-by-fours that stretched from floor to ceiling to to hold the tile in place until it dried. It worked perfectly, and we have never been so happy to see a job complete.

Up next: A new look for an old face.