From the category archives:

Art Deco

This Art Deco bath is straightforward in its approach

By Christina Trauthwein

So often, people are attracted to older homes. The charm, the craftsmanship, the nostalgia for times gone by. But many times, homeowners settle into these gems, these beautiful, rare finds, and in an effort to modernize and update, lose the character of the home. We’ve all seen it and, consequently, have all shaken our heads in bewilderment, asking, “Why would anyone do that?” Thank goodness Robin Muto’s clients in Rochester, NY, did no such thing. Instead, they embraced the history of their turn-of-the-century house and paid homage to days past in all aspects of their home: The authenticity of the Art Deco period, with its many geometric forms, remains intact in upstate New York. And while the movement, initially dubbed Style Moderne, may have peaked during the 1920s, representing at that time an elegant, functional, ultra-modern aesthetic, its appeal reaches far into this millennium.

“When I first entered the bathroom of this home, it looked typical of what you might expect of a neglected old house,” said Muto of her initial impression. The newly renovated media room adjacent to the bathroom was furnished in French Art Deco pieces from the 1930s and the clients wanted to extend that theme into the bath—and extend the space, which now measures 13 ft., 7 in. x 9 ft., 3 in., by removing an existing closet and expanding the footprint. From a design perspective, the homeowners specifically requested a space adorned in black and white with a nod to the past—and to keep the original double porcelain sink, which would be perfectly suited for their Art Deco theme.

The authentic furnishings outside the bathroom inspired the furnishings inside the bathroom. “The room had to look as if it had been designed and built in the 1930s,” said Muto. “It needed to reflect the precision of the ‘machine age’ and have motifs associated with that period.” Influenced by a variety of sources, including the streamlined technology symbolic of that age, Art Deco is often expressed in crystalline, faceted forms, which have been popularized by trapezoidal, zigzagged and geometric shapes. The bold use of stepped forms, typical of Art Deco, is particularly realized in the focal point of this bath: a double black stripe using 5/8-in. and 3/8-in. liner tiles that horizontally wraps the room and culminates in a dramatic, 81/2 -ft. “skyscraper” created in the shower—a perfect retreat for two people.

It is, in fact, the abundant and creative use of tile within the bath that makes this project intriguing, yet sometimes made it a bit difficult to execute. “The initial challenge in this project was finding ceramic tiles that expressed the characteristics of the Art Deco period in a variety of shapes needed to trim out the room,” said Muto. The designer was able to locate a line of tile that met the requirements and used them to create and define the baseboard, chair rail and door/window casings. “The tiles are handmade and have slight irregularities that are barely noticeable in the relief tiles, but very noticeable in the flat, white subway tiles that line the walls,” said Muto. “The visible irregularities in the subway tiles detracted from the precision the client desired so we went with a machine-made subway tile that worked well with the black relief tiles.” But the problem was that the original handmade liner tiles were thicker than the machined white tiles and would not create a flush pattern. “So,” said Muto, “we arranged for the manufacturer to send unglazed, machined subway tiles to us, which we cut locally into 5/8-in. and 3/8-in. pieces and then returned them to be glazed.”

The double porcelain sink remained in its original location, just as desired, and over it, recessed medicine cabinets were added to provide much-needed storage for the sink area. Special features include a mirror defogger, interior electrical outlets and a magnifying mirror. The gleaming glass rods of two wall sconces combine with the sheen of the polished nickel faucets to add a touch of glamour to this streamlined interior.

As for this project receiving an Award of Merit, Muto is more than happy to share the credit with Concept II, also based in Rochester, NY: “The success of the project is largely due to the meticulous craftsmanship that was required to execute a design such as this bathroom. They went the extra mile. Not only did they provide quality work and service, but their attitude was exceptional. All of this goes into making a great design.”

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