Bathrooms: Upstairs? Downstairs? How many? How big?

This photo from the Manse kitchen looking toward the front door shows the odd placement of the house’s only bathroom – just inside that front door. (The bathroom is the room with the blue [!] Venetian blinds covering the window that looks out onto the front porch.) Please pardon our ongoing pre-renovation mess… and note the turquoise UCW-style apron hanging by the door.

The Manse was built in 1888, a time when the toilet facilities would doubtless have been an outhouse and the “bathing” facilities would have been – well, who knows? Water heated up on the stovetop, I guess. When I was growing up there in the 1960s and early ’70s, there were still a few houses in Queensborough that did not have running water; the residents used outhouses and relied on hand-pumped water. The legendary quilt-maker Goldie Holmes, our neighbour kitty-corner across the road, lived in a house like that until the day she died, well into her 90s. (I’ll do a full post about Goldie someday soon; she was amazing.)

Anyway, all that to say that the Manse having been built without a bathroom probably explains why the current bathroom is in such an odd place: right beside the front door, with a large window in it that looks directly onto the front porch. I wonder why, when the members of the Manse Committee of the 1930s or ’40s or ’50s decided to install such a modern convenience, they felt that that was the best place.

Looking into the existing bathroom. Yes, we know; it needs work. It’s also about three times as big as it needs to be.

However, I don’t think anyone in my family thought anything of the oddness of the bathroom’s location in the years when we lived there. Nor did it bother us that if we had to use the facilities in the middle of the night we’d have to trundle down 13 or 15 stairs (depending on whether we were using the back or the front staircase) to get there, and then climb back up again to return to bed.

Another oddity about the bathroom is that it is inordinately large, way bigger than it needs to be. Which is probably another indication that it was originally used for something else altogether; maybe the kitchen?

Like everything else at the Manse today, the bathroom needs a big makeover, as you can clearly see from the photos. Our initial plan had been to turn it into a two-piece (sink and toilet) W.C., thus opening up the rest of the space to enlarge the kitchen and create an area for boots and coats to be stored and hung up – and maybe also to put a washer and dryer. This much-smaller bathroom could be contained to the area south of the big window, which would no longer have to be covered all the time and thus would allow a lot more light into the already-bright kitchen.

This upstairs bedroom – the “girls’ room” because it was the one shared by my sister, Melanie, and me – was where we had thought we would put the new main bathroom. (Note the vintage linoleum mat in the foreground – the very same one that was there in my childhood.)

And our thought was to make the second-floor room immediately above the existing bathroom – “the girls’ room,” as we call it, because it used to be the bedroom my sister, Melanie, and I shared – into a fairly big new main bathroom. The reason we chose that room is that the plumbing in the Manse is, shall we say, minimal. (My brother John, the veteran house renovator, says he has never seen a house with so little plumbing.) The only pipes are along the south wall of the Manse, serving the bathroom sink and toilet, the sink and washing machine in the pantry (yes, I know: washing machines don’t belong in the kitchen) and a rough laundry-type sink in the back porch. If the main bathroom were to be one floor up on that same side of the house, extending the plumbing to it would be no big deal.

That location would put the bathroom a short walk down the hall from the master bedroom, and a slightly longer walk from the other bedroom (the “boys’ room,” and you can easily guess why we call it that). It wouldn’t be “en suite,” in other words. But I’ve never felt the need for an en suite bathroom; I know they’re popular and are supposed to be a good selling point for a house, but going to the trouble of putting one in feels kind of 1980s to me. I mean, if one already has one, lovely; but creating one where none now exists seems unnecessary. Besides, in our place in Montreal we have to walk a short distance from the bedroom to the bathroom, and it doesn’t bother us a bit.

So that was the plan.

But then while we were on vacation in Maine last August, I happened to be reading a home-renovation Q-and-A article in the Portland Press Herald, in which an elderly woman wrote in defence of full downstairs bathrooms (which the writer of the column had apparently cast aspersions on in a previous instalment). The letter-writer said that having a full bath with tub and shower downstairs had allowed her to remain in her home for many more years than she would otherwise have been able to. Even though she could no longer climb stairs, in other words, she could stay in her home because the ground-floor bathroom was easily accessible.

Well: that made me think. Neither Raymond nor I are anywhere close to not being able to climb stairs (touch wood), but wherever we end up living I’m sure we’ll want to remain there for as long as possible. That letter-writer made a really good point, I thought.

So now we’re revisiting our plan. We definitely need more than one bathroom; at the risk of sounding like a hopeless sybarite, I have long subscribed to the ideal (as yet unrealized, of course) of having one bathroom for every inhabitant of my house – which, come to think of it, is an awfully long way from how Goldie Holmes and her husband, Art, lived.

But it doesn’t really make sense to have the full bathroom downstairs and a “powder room” upstairs, does it? So our latest thinking is to have a slightly-bigger-than-originally-planned bathroom downstairs, one with no tub but a shower; and the main bathroom (nice and airy and with what I hope will be a big beautiful white new or vintage bathtub and separate shower – ooooh, maybe even a shower with a steam option) would still be in my old bedroom.

Just down the hall, in other words.

14 thoughts on “Bathrooms: Upstairs? Downstairs? How many? How big?

  1. Bathrooms are pretty essential. I think you need three.
    I would keep the downstairs one, maybe add a bath/shower combo (but only if your plans include a future downstairs bedroom – there’s no point having a tub downstairs unless that’s where you will sleep when you’re 100 years old) and put the laundry room in the same space.
    I would also put walls and doors around the toilet so it is it’s own separate tiny room. For privacy and so multiple people can use the space simultaneously. I bet with a bit of strategic planning you could do all this, push the kitchen wall into the existing bathroom space to enlarge the pantry/kitchen and still have room to add a closet at the front door inside the “bathroom” but opening into the old wood stove room.
    Knock down the wall between the kitchen/pantry, and whatever you call the room where the wood stove used to be, and put a peninsula or island somewhere around there to extend the functionality of the food prep. area.
    Then put a big ensuite in the boys room. This will have all your luxuries – soaker tub/steam shower, heated floors (critical at your age) etc. John will tell you that it ain’t that big a deal to move plumbing around as long as you have walls below the space to run pipes. Voila, an expansive, luxurious private space. Say what you want about an ensuite but they are awesome. I wouldn’t have cared for one before we built it and now I would never own a house without one. If there is not enough space downstairs for the laundry machines you could consider putting them here as well, since all of your laundry is generated next door.

    Then put a small two piece in the girls/guest bedroom. Simply wall off a toilet into it’s own tiny room and make the sink/mirror/vanity part of the room decor (mirrors make everything brighter).

    Your guest room is now totally separate and remote with its own facilities and a (virtually) private stair down to the first floor bathroom for more serious ablutions. Close the door between the master wing and the guest wing and you have two solitudes.

    Three bathrooms for two people. If she’s wasn’t already Goldie would think she was in heaven.

    • My gracious, you have it all planned out, Bruce! Three bathrooms, wow! I suspect that – as with all of us – your childhood memories of the Manse make it seem much bigger inside than it really is. You may be surprised when you visit, which you must do one of these times. As for Goldie, I don’t know. At least, I know she is in heaven; but given that she voluntarily lived without indoor plumbing all her life, I’m not sure what she would make of a three-bathroom Manse for two inhabitants. I think she might find it a little bit over the top!

  2. When you do get around to the bathroom renovation, consider the new “tall vanities” as well as the handicap access toilets…..these are things we took advantage of when we built our home as we knew it would be our last home and took into consideration the fact that we were not getting any younger….so, to save us from having to do further remodeling in that area, we fully prepared ahead of time. We also made our doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, “just in case” they would ever be needed…..just a thought!

    • Maybe a handicap access bathtub/shower in the downstairs bathroom _ if you’re planning for your old age. It’s probably easier and cheaper to do it all now. K

      • I think maybe the shower’s a good idea, Kerry, since we are shower people. And besides, one of those rails in the shower or bath is a good idea for everybody, no matter what age, I’ve always thought!

    • Very wise planning on your part, Lu. Several other commenters have made similar suggestions. It feels a bit odd, doesn’t it, to think of oneself not being able to get around well and needing a special setup, and let’s hope that all of us are spared that for a good while longer, but it is indeed a practical thought in the long run. Because, as you say, not a single one of us is getting any younger…

      • Did I mention? Do not go gentle, my good friends. But since you’ve got one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel, I’ve gone ahead and put the call in to Mackenzie’s. Everyone there is on standby. Say hi to Goldie when you see her – if she’s in residence, that is. Hate to say it, but she may actually be in that hot place. Penance for Lady and a life horrifically lived. Lady, on the other hand, is in pooch heaven, for sure.

      • Well, you’re not going to get too far calling Mackenzie’s, because the funeral home in Madoc has been McConnell’s for lo these many years – though it’s still in the same handsome building as Angus Mackenzie’s establishment was.

  3. I’m with Kerry – consider one of those sit-down bathtubs you can walk into; you might be really happy to have that later on (imagione sitting with water up to your shoulders). At least leave room for it if you prefer a shower for now.

  4. I don’t know the lay out of your house but I just want to add one note of caution, if you are considering a claw foot bathtub. I had one of these years ago and found it was the worst, trying to get out of a slippery tub onto an equally slippery floor that was almost three feet lower. There is no worse anxiety than trying to figure out where to place the free foot while the other is slipping!

    • You know, that is a very good point, Dave. Truth be told, I’ve kind of always thought that old clawfoot tubs were more for looking at and admiring than for actually using. Even some of the beautiful modern tubs that you see are so deep that I can easily imagine myself (klutz that I am) having trouble getting out of them, or at least doing so gracefully.

      You and Irina are welcome to stop by anytime and have a tour of the Manse!

  5. Well, you will want to keep the main floor washroom intact. How else will you be able to fit in a toilet, his and hers countertops & sinks, washing machine, laundry tub, clothes hamper, dryer, indoor clothesline umbrella, linen closet, ironing board/table, hot tub, sauna booth, massage table, tanning table/cabinet, shower cabinet, bathtub [I like the clawfoots — one can go “deep-sea diving” in them], foot baths, salon-style hair dryers [ie, the ’50s-60s beehive style]…?

    • That is quite the picture you are painting of the all-inclusive bathroom/spa, Graham! And don’t think I’m not tempted by that. Geez, if I could find one of those retro chair-mounted hairdryers for beehive hairdos at an auction or yard sale… OK, wait a minute: reality check. We don’t have endless space (despite how big the Manse looks from the exterior), and that downstairs bathroom, even if it’s a full one, has to be a compact full one. We have other stuff to put in that area – like the world’s most welcoming kitchen!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s