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Kirk E. Peterson & Associates' Beaux-Arts Master Bath Renovation

Kirk E. Peterson & Associates' renovation of a Beaux-Arts master bath inside the "City of Millionaires."
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Project: Master Bath and Dressing Room, Piedmont, CA
Architects: Kirk E. Peterson & Associates Architects, Piedmont, CA; Kirk E. Peterson, principal
General Contractor: Shaddle Construction Inc., San Leandro, CA

The City of Piedmont, overlooking San Francisco Bay, is surrounded by California's scenic Oakland Hills. A small city of just 1.7 square miles, it is known for its high quality single-family homes, blue-ribbon school system and five well-tended city parks. In the Roaring Twenties, Piedmont was called the "City of Millionaires" because there were more millionaires per square mile than in any other in the country. The city is home to a 1912 Beaux-Arts residence located on a tree-lined street of stately mansions. Always lovingly cared for, the house has been standing for almost as long as Piedmont was named a city on January 26th, 1907. When the living room ceiling showed signs of water leakage from the master bath, the current homeowners were quick to enlist the help of local architect Kirk E. Peterson & Associates with plans to renovate the bath and convert an adjacent bedroom into a dressing room.

On the home's exterior, Federal details meld harmoniously with the Beaux-Arts architecture. Inside, the two-story foyer features a grand curving staircase that leads to an open hallway with Classical columns supporting a cornice characterized by a fully developed order of triglyphs, metopes and guttae. Downstairs, both the living and dining rooms have handsome fireplaces as focal points, complemented by custom casing, trim and molding. On the ceilings there are distinctive plaster garlands in elliptical patterns.

This high style home deserved a master bath to match. Having worked with the homeowners on redesigning the living room mantel, Peterson was the logical choice – and a member of INTBAU College of Traditional Practitioners. Applicants for this prestigious organization, a part of the Prince's foundation, are required to have produced at least five years of high standard traditional work.

"The question of style for the master bath was never discussed specifically because the obvious thing to do was to design it in the Beaux-Arts details of the home," says principal Kirk E. Peterson. "In this town, there are people who take these old houses, gut them and try to make them look like Dwell magazine inside. I don't do that kind of work. I design around the vocabulary that had already existed in the house."

The 150-sq.ft. master bath had been renovated 20 years ago. A doorway off to the side opened to a wall of cabinets, a marble floor, double sinks and a hot tub with a curved shower enclosure that also enclosed one of the two windows in the room. A water closet tucked in a nook contained a bidet as well. While functional, the bath wasn't aesthetically pleasing nor did it complement the rest of the home.

The clients decided they no longer needed the hot tub or the bidet, and in lieu of double sinks, they opted for a single basin and a separate vanity table for jewelry and cosmetics. "There were two things that needed to happen for the design," says Peterson. "First, it needed to function well. In a lot of these old houses there were a lot of doors and windows for circulation so the space is very tight. Then there is the classical Beaux-Arts orientation of trying to get all the pieces symmetrical and balanced."

To achieve the symmetry, the single doorway was swapped out for French doors and moved on axis with a freestanding tub placed between two windows on the opposite wall. The vanity table is positioned at the midpoint of another wall and is flanked by two leaded-glass mirrored closets. Picking up on the Federal details from the windows, the design is repeated on the mirrored cabinet doors above the closets. But the symmetry could not be continued on the fourth wall so, as a compromise, it was brought up to the ceiling.

"There are these plaster garlands in the living and dining rooms so we found a plaster artist to reproduce that on the ceiling," says Peterson. "However, the rooms were oval where these garlands appeared, which allowed for elliptical patterns. The bathroom is almost square but not quite. I tried to design an elliptical but the pattern wouldn't have been obvious so I made it into a circle instead but couldn't position it equidistance from the four walls. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the right distance and now it looks quite regular even though it isn't. Overall, it's a strong aesthetic tool."

Rosettes incorporated with recessed lights were placed at every interval where the garlands met the circular molding to further reinforce the symmetry. At the center, a chandelier gave the room its feminine touch. Matching sconces provide extra light on either side of the sink vanity, which is supported by antique legs Peterson found at Northridge, CA-based Vintage Plumbing Bathroom Antiques. Carrara marble tile was installed on the floor and is bordered by marble and glass mosaic tile featuring a quatrefoil design. Tucked in the corner, a frameless glass shower enclosure is the only modern element in the room.

A new door closes off the water closet where the bidet was removed. This provided space for a short hallway that leads to the adjacent dressing room where Peterson repeated the mirrored closets and Federal cabinets throughout. "There is a fireplace in between the two rooms and that created a challenge," says Peterson. "If the fireplace wasn't there, we would've ended up with a very different relationship between the two spaces."

Searching for the right tub was quite the adventure for both Peterson and his client. "When we went shopping for a bathtub, I asked my client to 'try on' all these gorgeous tubs in the showroom but we couldn't find one that was just right," recalls Peterson. "We ended up using a 100-year-old bathtub from the maid's room in the basement and it was perfect. It was in good shape and the right size; it was nice to reuse a piece original to the house."

The Carrara marble in the bath was supplied by Hayward, CA-based Pietra Fina and was perfect for this Beaux-Arts master bathroom. Other key suppliers and installers include New York, NY-based Artistic Tile (marble and glass mosaic tile); Oakland, CA-based Wooden Windows (doors); Savannah, GA-based Circa Lighting (recessed lights); Long Island City, NY-based Nesle (chandelier and sconces); Little Canada, MN-based Harrison Tile (installation); and Oakland, CA-based Roberts Electric Co. (installation).

"Architecture schools don't really teach their students to appreciate historic architecture so you have to study and understand it on your own, and you have to really like it to do this kind of work well," says Peterson. "You also can't design good projects unless your clients want you to and let you do it. My clients were very collaborative and we talked about everything. That's why the design turned out so successful. The space is dressy but comfortable and somehow, despite all of the stone and mirrors, it's still a warm space."

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