Monday, February 7, 2011

Ms. Blandings Builds Her Dream Bath

One fine day last October I gave my bathtub a long hard look, after a long hard scrub, and came to the conclusion that no amount of industrial nor organic cleaner was going to help brighten the classic, basic, old New York bathtub. It was put in when the building was a gut rehab in 1984. Its slip resistant pattern has not weathered well at all nor has the grout.

The stars then aligned in a way that I could partake of that time-honored rite-of-passage of redoing a bathroom. Blessed to be able to make such a home improvement, it's not something for the faint of heart. I’m channeling Cary Grant’s Jim Blandings from the delightful 1948 Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House on a daily basis to find the humour in the process, but more about that later.

I thought I would get off easy, because I’m ONLY replacing the bathtub and tile around it, plus a new vanity/sink and new, wider door. I’m not touching the other side of the room, or the floor.

My Amalfi Coast
Even though I believed that I narrowed the potential pain of the renovation by limiting the scope, even the basics will wreak havoc: e.g. ripping out tiles and a bathtub; having no place to shower for 16 working days; needing to find and deal with a contractor, etc. And so I decided I would only do this if the results were going to be really special. Otherwise, I’d live with the tarnished slip resistant spots and save the money and aggravation.

And then I saw a simple but beautiful Solistone tile and had a vision: I would capture the sensibility of the bathroom in my hotel on the Amalfi coast several years ago. It was all shades of luscious blue tile and had a window overlooking the even bluer water. I saw that I could evoke that sensibility by putting the Solistone on all three sides of the tub alcove and the ceiling.

I never felt more like a character from Edith Wharton, all those early Americans who went to Europe and saw something that they had to have, or replicate.

Numbers Rule the Universe. - Pythagoras

Never a truer notion than in the measuring of a small bathroom where there is literally no room for error. My brain strains to remember high-school geometry to determine the area of my tub alcove (height x length x depth?).

And the tub itself. I wanted a claw foot, acrylic, because the room is much too small for the weight of cast iron (in my next life I can put that in the farm house I’ll have).

Anyway, I was looking for a small tub, and I found one at Vintage Tube & Bath that is just 54”. I ordered the whole tub package, which includes lots of the unsexy things you need with a tub, and shower package.

Then, for convoluted reasons, I thought the tube would be too small, and decided a 57” would be better. When you're going through all this expense and trouble, you have to keep you eye on the end game. That's what lasts--all the aggravation will dissipate.

And so I started to arrange the great tub switch.

Here’s Where Cary Comes In
I’m channeling Cary Grant, hoping that the wrong 100 pounds of acrylic sitting in my apartment’s basement will feel like a funny, zany 1940s movie. (Maybe I need a sidekick like Betty Hutton to help.) His Jim Blandings is that perfect mixture of optimism and exasperation.

Surprisingly, dry, witty repartee in an English accent with the tub company isn’t really helping the process of telling them that I made this mistake. And trying to get the right size delivered . . . and get the wrong one picked up.

Then, after successfully arranging to purchase a new tub, and have the 54” one picked up, I realized that I can’t actually fit a 57” tub. A freestanding tub needs some space away from the wall to, well, stand free. I make decisions at work ALL DAY for fairly complex, creative projects: I have never been so rattled between 54" and 57" in my life.

So I had to call the good people at Vintage and say, please cancel the new order, I’m keeping the old. And here’s where the third martini of the evening comes in, now channeling Constance Bennett’s Marion Kerby from Topper. I'm seriously thinking of sending the sales people at Vintage a fruit basket.

The Room for Ablutions
Alongside the practical nature of life is the ritual, from the formal religious to the completely organic. Morning and evening ablutions--the ritual cleansing of the body after the haze of sleep and the harshness of city life—-for me is the later. In this jungle that we call New York City, connecting with water and soap is essential to well being. And beauty in this room of cleansing is the best therapy I know, might even be the cheapest.

Demolition started today. Blogging will be a light until some of my space emerges from utter chaos.


Many people love Mr. Blandings for the classic scene of Myrna Loy picking very specific colors. But I like this excerpt that shows off some great Cary lines: "This house has been standing since the second year of the Continental Congress. You take one look at it and the shingles start for fall off."