Sunday, January 12, 2014

Surfaces

As part of planning and designing the bathroom, one of the major things we've had to consider is the colours and surface types. There are so many and we seem to keep discovering more. One of the things I've realised is that since everything has to tie together, it becomes a lot easier to start with one thing that limits your other choices. For example, if you are dead set on a particular floor tile or a particular countertop, then that makes choosing the other parts easier because they have to match. Things that might drive that would include design choice, cost, etc.
We started by spending about 2 hours at Art Tile choosing a set of colours that went well together and thought we had that finished. That was relatively easy other than the time spent, because +Liana is the design expert. Then, later we started looking into countertops. Granite was suggested so we duly went to the various granite places in Seattle. Most of them are in SoDo which is quite handy. It turned out that this part was rather an exercise in frustration. The way this system works is that there are those places that sell the slabs and those that fabricate them. That is to say that the fabricators are the ones that pick up the slab (which weighs a tremendous amount), bring them on site, cut them and install them. Each fabricator gets its own price from the seller of the slab and each one charges some different markup. As a result, many places that have slabs won't even tell you what the price of a slab is. Some will indicate price categories so you know that some are more expensive than others but there is no point of reference. A couple of places that we went to that do this include: Pental and MSI. Just avoid them. Not only are they uninformative about price but they have expensive looking showrooms that are paid for by their high prices (I did eventually find out their prices are indeed higher). We did not end up visiting Daltile which would have been the other place to see. The whole business is rather fishy with a lot of people taking a cut before it arrives in your house.
One place stood out from the rest: Meta Marble and Granite. The people there were tremendously helpful and incredibly, were able to provide approximate prices. They still require a fabricator but really made us feel welcome and we left informed with samples that they cut especially for us.
As far as fabricators go, many are also located in SoDo. We ended up at San Yuan, which was one that the contractor recommended and they were able to give us a price a few days later. They were very helpful too. The price they got for the slab was close to the Meta estimate and then on top of that, they add fabrication cost. This is proportional to the amount of exposed stone there is since they have to machine it to look nice instead of a rough cut. So a vanity countertop with only two visible sides is cheaper to fabricate than one with three visible sides.

One of the things we learned along the way was that the plumber had strongly recommended against a drop in tub because of the completely enclosed surround. This is because with a drop in tub, there's nowhere for the water between the tub edge and the walls to go. For a free standing tub, a drop in tub is fine, since it can drip onto the floor. He recommended an undermount tub instead so that the water can end up in the tub.
After we had visited San Yuan though, I got a query from them pointing out that the tub we had chosen was not suitable for undermount, but only drop in. I thought we were back to square one and rather frustrated that noone had mentioned this along the way, but fortunately the contractor suggested that he could make almost any tub work as an undermount by building a flange for it on the frame.

More about the various surfaces:

  • Tub deck and vanity countertop: With decks and countertops, there is tremendous variety: Granite, quartz, marble, limestone, travertine, onyx, and probably more. It turns out that granite and quartzite are more or less the simplest to work with. Quartz requires more precise and expensive fabrication and many places won't fabricate marble because it's more fragile. Also, marble is more easily scratched which is not really a concern for bathrooms but is for kitchen counters. However, most of our contenders were marble (which incidentally was generally more affordable) because we didn't want strong colours or a lot of mottling. We also spent a lot of time thinking about whether we should use large tiles for the deck and the countertop instead, but ultimately decided on Blue Rainbow quartzite:
  • Floor: There is some variety here too. Tiles, hardwood floor, others... We went with a 12"x24" tile which has some texture so you're less likely to slip on it.
  • Tub apron: We chose a matte glass 4"x12" tile. It turns out that glass is rather expensive at approximately $20/sqft. To also have done a tub surround in glass would have been thousands.
  • Vanity backsplash and bottom of tub surround: This can be more granite/marble but we found a nice pattern tile with small 5/8"x4" pieces arranged in 4"x12" group that latch together.
  • Tub surround: Classic white with a bit of gloss so it's easier to clean. This will go all the way to the showerhead (but not higher since the ceiling is so high). Halfway up, there will be another row of the small tiles from the backsplash.
  • Grout: We haven't thought much about this yet. I only recently found out that grout comes in different colours.
  • Walls: We haven't chosen an exact paint colour, but perhaps something like this: