When the homeowners of an Austin, TX, residence wanted to renovate their bathroom, they wanted to lighten up a dark space and also transform an outdated bathroom into an in-home retreat — on a budget. They brought in the help of Mark Evans, designer for CG&S Design/Build in Austin, TX, and got exactly what they were looking for. In the subtropical climate of Texas, Evans was able to design a space that brought the ocean and sand to this now airy, spa-like bathroom.

To sum it up, Evans said the design goal was, “To gut and renovate a builder-grade bathroom into a spa with a beachy feel where one person could shower while another bathes [as well as] to bring natural light into a dark, dated bathroom.”

Budgeting the design

When starting to plan the design, as in any project, there were several factors to determine. Evans first considered the theme and color scheme, while also keeping budget in mind. The walls of the bathroom are clad with 4 ¼- x 12 ¾-inch white glazed ceramic subway tiles from American Olean. The floors are covered in 18- x 18-inch pieces of honed and filled travertine, which has a light cream color. Further contributing to the beach oasis is a shower floor covered in sliced pebbles by Solistone and a tub surround featuring 1- x 2-inch Keen Ocean glass mosaic tiles, all of which carry tones reminiscent of the ocean. The colorful glass mosaics were also employed to line a niche in a shower wall — adding a pop of color to the 4 ¼- x 12 ¾-inch white glazed ceramic subway tiles from American Olean.

“In keeping with the beachy theme, we wanted to use blues and sandy colored tiles,” said Evans. “The large subway tiles were inexpensive, as was the travertine. This way we could use the money saved for special tiles [such as the glass and sliced pebbles] to provide the visual punch for the room.”

When working on a design with a budget, it is always important to stretch every dollar spent. Using more expensive touches gives the bathroom’s redesign a “wow” factor that homeowners are looking for. “Deciding where to invest some money on expensive glass tile and how to get the best look was a challenge,” explained Evans. “At first, we were going to have only an accent band in glass running around the bathroom, but during our tile walk-through, it was decided to concentrate the glass on the front skirt of the tub and under the shower seat, which gave us a large band of glass next to the floor, and we all felt the most dramatic effect.” 

The installation

When the design was finalized, and the product choices had been made, it was time for the installation. Douglass Whitaker of Custom Tile Services in Austin, TX, was slated to do the job. “This was specified to me from the in-house designers at CG&S,” he explained. “They give me a set of plans — and the specification plan has been filled in with the homeowners’ decisions. It’s up to me to implement and install it the correct way. In this bathroom, there was glass and natural stone, and ceramic and porcelain, to install.”

Whitaker noted that all installations by his company, including this one, follow the Tile Council of North America’s guidelines for tiling. “We make sure the substrate is clean and then adhere a thin coat of setting material,” he said. “The process is similar to making a sandwich. Most people, unfortunately, put a blob of mud on substrate and stick it to the surface, and you don’t have the bond that you need.”

According to the installer, the glass tile in the design needed some special attention. “Glass tile is a different animal,” explained Whitaker. “It has to be applied with a high-strength thin-set. You need to get it to stick, but with a thin coat to not see through it. The glass is the most labor intensive, and having that much more to do during the installation slows down production.”

A detail that was decided during the installation was the choice of grout. “Most of the time, we will lay it out and then make a determination of which grout will look good,” said the installer. “We make a recommendation back to Mark [Evans] to match the color — which goes best with this material here, in this lighting. Mark will agree with me almost all of the time. This is important to pick correctly because once you grout, you’re done — there is no going back.” The grout used was Polyblend ® non-sanded grout by Custom Building Products. For the walls, they grouted with Antique White, the glass tile was matched with the color
Linen grout and the natural stone used the color Bone.

In a 10-foot, 8 inch- x 14-foot, 8-inch room, the installation of the tile only took about 10 days to complete, but had a big impact on the four-month-long renovation. “Tile is always an exciting point for clients,” explained Whitaker. “They picked out the tile months ago, and they want to see it. Tiling doesn’t usually happen until the project is about three-quarters of the way done either. When the house is under construction, there is nothing pretty happening. They’re used to seeing construction debris, the dust from the sheetrock and spackle. They are tired of the construction phase. The tile installation is like after the winter and you got some spring flowers popping up. It makes people happier.”

At the end of the project, both the designer and installer have positive reflections. When asked about the challenges of the job, Whitaker responded, “Installation challenges? Nothing more than just installing it correctly — and scheduling. The job was textbook, with a few tiny glitches.” Evans also added that the reaction to the project has been, “Wonderful. The room is bright and very functional besides feeling like a spa.”

Installation Details
Installer: Custom Tile Services, Austin, TX
Tile Products: white glazed ceramic subway tiles from American Olean, Dallas, TX; mosaic glass tile from Keen Ocean, Guangdong, China
Stone Products: sliced pebbles from Solistone, Los Angeles, CA; travertine from Travis Tile, Austin,TX
Distributor: Travis Tile, Austin, TX
Installation Products: Custom Building Products, Seal Beach, CA
Number of Installers: 4 to 5
Installation Time: 10 days