Detailed approach results in a beautiful bathroom: 2011 Renovation Inspiration Contest, small project runner-up

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An architect for a bathroom renovation? Who does that?

People who want it done right, like Mari Pena and Jason Xenakes.

The couple bought a nearly intact Craftsman-style house in Morningside in 2006. Among the pieces that weren't intact were the kitchen and the house's only bathroom, a 1950s pink-and-green-tiled horror show that not even a midcentury modern fan could love.

"Craftsman is my favorite style," said Ms. Pena. "Jason is very midcentury modern."

This Craftsman is a gem, with original stained-glass windows and dark-stained fireplace mantel and wainscoting in the living room and dining room. They didn't need an architect to help with any of that. (Ms. Pena has a subscription to American Bungalow magazine.)

But pretty pictures aren't much help when you hate your bathroom and the roof and gutters are leaking. So in early 2007 the couple signed up for a RenPlan consult through the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh.

The result was the beautiful Craftsman-style bathroom you see at right. It was named a runner-up in the small project category (less than $50,000) of the 2011-12 Renovation Inspiration Contest. The contest is organized and judged by the Post-Gazette and Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, the same nonprofit that led Ms. Pena and Mr. Xenakes to their architect, Fred Fargotstein.

Although they were mainly interested in a bathroom redo, Mr. Fargotstein gave them a multiphase plan for the entire house when he met them in 2007. Then he didn't hear from them for a couple of years.

"It's not unusual that you meet with someone and then never hear from them again. They hire someone else or just do it halfway," he said. "Mari and Jason did it right, saving their money and taking care of the exterior first."

In the summer of 2009, they repaired the slate roof and box gutters and downspouts. Then they got Mr. Fargotstein to work on designs for a new upstairs bathroom and renovation of the one downstairs. Contractors finished the upstairs bathroom first, then completed the expanded first-floor bath. Together, they took a total of five months.

Mr. Fargotstein, an old house specialist who also lives in a Morningside Craftsman, was delighted to reimagine the 1950s remuddling before him, which combined pink ceramic tile with green plastic that covered everything, including the ceiling and back of the door.

He began by expanding the space, borrowing it from two adjacent closets. The bath grew by only 15 square feet, from 45 to 60 feet, but it looks much bigger.

He tried several variations before arriving at one that left the sink in the same place and added a larger tub where the closets had been. The old tub was square, 4 by 4 feet, in a corner. The new one is standard length, 5 feet, but instead of the usual 30 inches it's 32 inches.

"That extra 2 inches makes it feel more spacious, especially when you're showering," Mr. Fargotstein said.

The original hexagonal floor tile couldn't be saved. The new hexagonal tile has the same period feel in a slightly larger scale. Ms. Pena and Mr. Xenakes discussed replacing the old radiator with a radiant heat floor. But in the end, they decided to reuse the old radiator (sandblasted by Mr. Xenakes) and put that money instead into the pedestal sink they really wanted, from Kohler's Memoirs line.

The sink became the project's focal point along with a custom-made medicine cabinet made from quarter-sawn white oak by Mission Furnishings and reproduction light fixtures from Rejuvenation. Replacing the hideous pink and green tile is a soothing 3-by-5-inch white subway tile that contrasts beautifully with the dark oak woodwork and Benjamin Moore Westminster Gold paint on the walls.

Part of what makes this bath renovation so beautiful is what you don't see. In such a small, brightly lit space, every small mistake is amplified -- crooked grout lines, misaligned outlets or switches, even an exhaust vent that's off center. Mr. Fargotstein makes sure that doesn't happen by hand-drawing detailed elevations of every wall.

"Fred gives you beautiful drawings," Ms. Pena said. "I wanted to frame them and put them up in the bathroom."

"I'm a dinosaur because I do everything by hand," the architect said, smiling.

Now this beautiful 1911 Craftsman has a modern bathroom befitting its surroundings. It's exactly what the homeowners hoped for.

"We wanted a bathroom that looked like it belonged with the house," Ms. Pena said.

She and Mr. Xenakes planned to start on the kitchen next -- until life interceded. She is expecting their first child in three months, so they opted for a nursery instead. When will Mr. Fargotstein get to tackle that kitchen?

"I have absolutely no idea," she said, laughing.

Architect Fred Fargotstein can be reached at 412-362-1537 or


Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978. First Published May 19, 2012 4:00 AM


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