Basement Project #9: Abracadabra...from Closet to Powder Room

Front Hall Closet....
and soon to be powder room

I knew the basement would be a major project, but I thought the main floor powder room would be a snap. After all, it’s a small space and the existing wood floor could stay. I planned to redo the wallpaper, hang the sink, add a toilet and call it a day. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out that way…


One wall almost done
As mentioned previously, the new plumbing required extensive lath and plaster removal. The two interior walls and the small outside one came down easily and made me over confident. 

Early Sunday morning, the day before the plumber was due, I tackled the final wall, assuming I would be done in time for Meet the Press at 9 AM. Smashing into it I was greeted with a nightmarish downpour of vermiculite insulation—almost certainly containing my old nemesis, asbestos (see Basement post # 4). I realized then that our house is built with “balloon” construction meaning there are no sill plates all the way up to the attic. The walls are basically an open, unobstructed runway between the first floor and the attic. 
Demolition tools (+ muscle)

I frantically stuffed newspaper up between the studs to stop the flow. I was wearing a mask because of the plaster dust but was totally unprepared for more hazardous material removal. I gingerly got out of the room and sealed off the space so asbestos fibers couldn’t float into the rest of the house. I knew from previous experience that I had a big job ahead of me of bagging, boxing, and bagging again. Needless to say, there was no Meet the Press or leisurely pancake breakfast that morning.

Ultra Touch insulation and
the roughed in ceiling fan 
Original horsehair insulation
and some cellulose, before
the vermiculite deluge
Insulation and Sound Barriers

We knew from an earlier energy audit that insulation would be needed. There was a scant 1/2” layer of horsehair and disintegrating paper in most of the home’s walls. I decided to use Ultra Touch insulation again for the powder room wall because it insulates well and also mitigates sound well. We created another sound barrier in the interior wall with framing.

In Floor Electric Heat
It made sense for such a small space to install in floor electric heat. I ordered a mat from NuHeat that fit the space exactly. The electrician checked it when it arrived, and again after the mud was spread over the mat in preparation for installing the tile.
Painting the ceiling metallic gold

Floor Tile, Drywall and Ceiling

After that it was just a matter of installing the natural limestone tile, putting up and priming the drywall, and painting the ceiling.

The Master, Dan Wolf,
preparing to wallpaper

Once again I gravitated to Moorish designs for the walls. I found a beautiful “natural” wallpaper made from mulberry bark with beautiful lattice-like designs stamped on it in gold, a perfect complement to the brass sconces. When Dan Wolf, the paper hanger rolled it out small bits of the mulberry wood flaked off it, leaving white spots on the dark brown paper. I had considered hanging this paper myself but I’m sure I would have completely ruined it. Dan is skilled, with 40 years of experience, and it was a difficult job even for him. Besides working with fragile paper he had to maneuver in a ridiculously small space. Somehow he got the design to come together perfectly at the corners despite the fact that the walls have an inch difference between the top and the bottom of the wall. Amazing!
The paper is up, floor is in and 
refinished baseboards back on.


A job/cost I hadn’t considered when planning the project was re-staining and varnishing the old woodwork. For 90 years the sun had been beating through the window, fading the once-rich colors of the molding and woodwork. It was also nicked and worn from use. It would have been a shame to put up that lovely wallpaper and not have beautiful woodwork alongside it. 

Fixtures and Fittings

Unpolished sconce on left,
polished on right
Selecting fixtures for a 3’ x 4’ powder room (formerly a closet) is challenging. Years ago I purchased a pair of sconces at the ReUse Center (which I’m sorry to say no longer exists) knowing they would be perfect for a powder room. They are solid cast brass, and beautifully made. I paid a mere $50 for them. 

Will it all really fit...
and a person too?
Two years ago I got a Vitra sink at an International Market Square (IMS) sample sale for a terrific price. It’s the perfect size, and eliminates the need for a countertop and vanity. Unfortunately, the sink has to be installed on an outside wall where adequate insulation is a concern, so the pipes had to be run inside the room instead of inside the walls. This sink wasn’t designed for exposed pipes coming up through the floor – and even if I could afford brass pipes it would be too much brass for such a small space. So I still need to figure out a way to cover the pipes. I will probably have a woodworker build a little wood “skirt” to hide the pipes. 

It took some time to find just the right single-handle faucet for the sink. Most are more contemporary than I like and often only available in chrome or bronze. I wanted brass to complement my brass sconces. I fell in love with the Henry faucet from Waterworks. It’s a tad more stylistic than I wanted but it has a brass living finish, meaning it will develop a lovely patina over time. It has a single cross handle that adjusts the water from cold to hot as you turn it, a wonderful feature.

Because the front closet is such a teeny space, a wall-hung Gerberit tank with Duravit toilet bowl proved to be a perfect fixture. Because the tank is housed inside the wall, the bowl extends less than 20” from the wall, which is 6” or 8” less than almost any round front toilet. It has the added bonus of hanging above the floor making cleaning easy. (I know what you are thinking, but it won’t break off  the wall, they are designed to withstand 800 pounds!)


After the sconces were hung there wasn’t much room above the sink for a mirror. There are some gorgeous and unique mirrors available but I found that the ones I loved were far too expensive. So I decided to repurpose a frame from an old tapestry I had. It goes perfectly with the gold stamped wallpaper. David Radtke, a local woodworker, cut it down for me. Glass Art Design added a mirror, wiring and blocking to make it stable enough to hang. Being able to improvise is an important skill when remodeling and designing. 

Finishing Touches

The powder room is almost finished. It still needs some color so I am on the lookout of some fabulous, bright piece of art for the wall and some “just right” hand towels in bright colors. The large window and mirror in such a tiny space make it a difficult room to photograph, but I will post final pictures soon. The powder room transformation is a success!

Meanwhile, back in the basement…the ceiling is being installed; another success, still in the making. Stay tuned…