Refreshing change

  • Elite Transformations replaced the cabinet surface in the hall bath of Lisa Barker's Winfield home.

      Elite Transformations replaced the cabinet surface in the hall bath of Lisa Barker's Winfield home. Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

  • Re-Bath's Jonathan Tuomey installs a shower in Linda Williams' master bath.

      Re-Bath's Jonathan Tuomey installs a shower in Linda Williams' master bath. Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

By Arlene Miles
Daily Herald Correspondent
Published5/4/2008 12:03 AM

To gut or not to gut when attempting to remodel a bathroom may seem like a difficult question, but is actually one that is answered quite easily.

Whether you totally overhaul a bathroom or merely refresh some of the elements depends on two major factors -- how large is your budget and if the current layout of the room meets your needs. Major overhauls can be very pricey, depending on the amount of work done and the options chosen.


"I've done bathrooms that have cost $110,000 on the high end to $30,000 on the low end," said Neil Kristianson of Crimson Design and Construction in Naperville. "Depending on how big the job is, how many different materials must be used, what must be torn out, walls removed and replaced, hence the increase in price."

Such costs generally are for a complete redo of the master bath, many of which are small rooms in themselves. Options can easily increase the price of remodeling.

"Would you believe that you can spend $1,000 on a medicine cabinet?" asks Mike Dew of Oaktree Design and Construction in Schaumburg.

Another factor driving up the cost of a total rehab is contractors specializing in complete rehabilitation usually offer design services and help in selecting colors, options, etc. The planning and design process itself usually takes about two weeks. Typically your contractor will ask what you want to accomplish with the rehab, discuss ideas to accomplish that. Sometimes homeowners don't know what they want and a visit to the site is necessary to see what can and cannot be accomplished. The next step is formulating a budget, which is where the sticking point sometimes occurs.

"If the budget comes in higher than what they want to spend, sometimes I need to adjust the price," Dew said. "Other times I ask them to adjust their expectations."

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Differences also exist between remodeling a full hall, or second bathroom as opposed to a master bathroom. For one, these bathrooms are generally smaller, averaging 5 by 8 feet, give or take a foot or two.

"In my experience, nobody is going to go too crazy over remodeling a hall bath," Kristianson said.

In short, homeowners who have multiple baths that have 1970s gold tones or 80s brown/neutrals, often opt to do more of a band-aid approach to the hall baths or powder rooms, while doing more expensive remodeling on larger master bathrooms. Estimates for totally rehabbing a typical hall bathroom vary, ranging typically from a low of about $7,500 to around $20,000.

No matter what you decide to do to remodel your bath, there are several trends to consider when determining how you should approach the project.


"People are looking to make the bath an oasis to get away from everyday life," said Mimi Makar, executive director of the Greater Chicagoland Chapter of NARI.

To that end, emphasis is placed on the bath area itself, whether it is a tub or a shower. Among them are heated tile, delicate woods, and mood lighting.


Lighting also plays an important part. Oaktree's Dew said recessed lighting in the shower/bath area has become popular. Other popular amenities include body jets and showerheads that detach.

Tiling is also larger than in the past, with floor tiles ranging up to 10-by-16 inches and wall tiles running up to 24 by 24 inches for wall tiles. With larger tile, a small bathroom will also appear larger.

"The Midwest is a very traditional area and neutral colors are predominately what is chosen," said Keith Carlson, Material Management Director/Web Director of Century Tile and Supply Co. "Color is splashed in a variety of ways, whether it is through borders or accent tiles, to even medallions to add color to a floor."

Another popular trend is stone. Travertine has been on the rise recently and marble and granite are viable options. Glass tiling is also a "niche" trend that has been installed as either an accent as well as the predominant field in an installation. Installing such options, however, drives up the cost of the job.

"Glass tiling is not easy to install, so it takes more time," Dew noted. "For marble or Travertine, these materials are porous so you have to seal them because of the water, toothpaste, etc."

For cabinetry, it's out with the traditional builder's oak and in with darker woods such as cherry and pine, as well as faux finishes and colors such as gold and orange accents. A French chateau look, where the cabinetry is in various shades of cream overlaid with a chocolate glaze is also popular.

Keeping costs down

Let's say, however, that you don't want to spend upward of $10,000 on redoing your bathroom and you don't relish the idea of having trades people in your home for four weeks. You can still give that bath a whole new look just by replacing one or two things.

"I usually tell people that there will be one thing that will jump out at them, so it's usually a matter of finding what is dated or objectionable in the room, and that's what they should focus on," Kristianson said.

Again here, for many people, the bath/shower area is what needs the most work. Companies that provide a one-piece acrylic overlay can give your bath a whole new look in just one day. Chicago Re-Bath, a division of HomeFinishers, Inc. in Lisle, is one such company that installs one-piece acrylic baths and showers in one day.

"Our acrylics are made exclusively for us by Spartac Inc. and are specially formulated for use in bathrooms," said Vince Ferrentino, Home Finishers president. "We measure and they're custom molded to fit your bathtub. We have a mold for just about every bathtub made in the United States since 1909, so it's not something where one size fits all."

Ferrentino said that the acrylic units, which are molded via a heating process, are structured to go all the way up to the ceiling around three sides of the tub. Even the ceiling panel can be included so the whole area is enclosed. What this process does is seal off mold problems as the acrylic is non-porous. The product is not just available in white or neutral colors.

"We have all sorts of different styles and colors," Ferrentino said. "We have slate, tile look and many decorator items available."

Linda Williams of Wheaton liked Chicago Re-Bath's work so much that she just had a second bathroom redone through the company. The first installation, about five months ago, covered old Aztec gold fixtures.

"I had a biscuit, off-white color installed," she said. "They did the whole bath, the tub, shower walls, shower door, and they tiled the floor and gave me a new toilet."

What's more Chicago Re-Bath was also prompt in fixing a small leak afterward and left her home neat and clean.

Ferrentino cautioned that even though his company offers tile installation and other bath remodeling services, an entire remodel job cannot be accomplished in one day. Only one element, such as bath or flooring, can be accomplished in that time frame.

Another way to cut costs if your cabinetry is in good condition is to put a wood overlay atop the existing units, and swap out the doors and hardware. It's one of the options offered by Elite Transformations in Schaumburg. The company, a division of NuTrend cabinetry, was started just over a year ago.

"We have over 100 species of wood, if you want something exotic, we have it," said Deborah Carata, Elite Transformations marketing manager. "We also can give you many different painted and glazed finishes."

Refacing your bathroom cabinetry also has a green aspect to it, as the essential structure, except for the doors and drawer faces, is reused. Elite Transformations does not recommend refacing if your cabinets have significant water damage.

Carata indicated that a typical installation runs about $1,000, for both single and double vanities -- the latter being that usually only the face of a double vanity unit needs to be resurfaced instead of two or three sides in a single. Elite Transformations covers all exposed areas of the existing cabinetry with a wood veneer to match the new doors and drawer faces they install.

"Of course if you want an exotic wood such as Macassar Ebony, which has to be imported, that will drive the cost up," Carata said.

Julie DeVilbiss of Winfield said the new dark maple finish on her cabinetry totally changed the look of her bathroom.

"They were also very detail minded," DeVilbiss said. "There are things they are trained to see that I didn't necessarily see and they added a piece to the bottom of the cabinet that made it look like a piece of furniture."

Lisa Barker, also of Winfield, used Elite Transformations last year for her full hallway bath, having the double vanity cabinet surface replaced with a distressed black and burnt orange veneer.

"They were timely and very friendly, doing a great job," she said.

Barker and her husband used Elite as part of a total redo, but not gutting of that bathroom. The family is currently having their master bathroom completely redesigned and rebuilt.

General contractor can help guide the remodeling process

Even if you don't intend to spend a small fortune to have your bathroom remodeled, you may want to consider employing a general contractor who will give you ideas and take you through the selection process.

Employing a contractor is also helpful for trying to match other rooms in the house, such as a kitchen. That's what Mary Beth Schmidt of Arlington Heights did when she employed Oak Tree Construction.

"We had a really, really bad bathroom from the 1960s," Schmidt said. "I had them match some of the tiling in my kitchen and they even designed a larger area in the wall where you can put your soap and other things for the bath."

Little amenities like that are typical when working with a general contractor. But beware if you're trying to cut corners by securing your own materials for the jobs. Some contractors don't care for that.

"I generally don't' like that because I don't know the quality of what someone is buying," said Oaktree's Mike Dew. "With my suppliers, I do."

Sometimes the remodeling job is even simple enough for a handyman to do. Dew said he sometimes refers prospective clients to handymen if he feels that route is more appropriate.

"I don't see anything wrong with that because there are a lot of good handymen out there with certifications who can do the job," Dew said.

Not all contractors are created equal, either. Some, such as Crimson Design and Construction, specialize in higher end remodeling.

Lisa Barker of Winfield, who remodeled a hall bath last year, used a general contractor who didn't have quite the right fit. Her job was more of a refresher than a total redo.

"I would say if I had to do it again that I would work with someone who understands simple remodeling," Barker said.

Yet, even if you decide to do it on your own, you need to start somewhere for ideas. Web sites are a good place to start as the companies generally have photos of their installations. To find contractors in your area, try Not only will you find general contractors specializing in bathrooms, but sources for countertops, mirrors, shower doors, etc.

Comfort key when choosing a contractor

No matter if you are doing a major rehabilitation project or a minor refresher of an old, tired bathroom, the rule of thumb concerning contractors you hire for the job is comfort.

"What we recommend is that you ask if the contractor does the type of bath remodeling similar to what you want on a regular basis," said Mimi Makar, executive director of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry of Greater Chicagoland.

NARI provides several checklists you may want to use when screening prospective contractors. Obviously, you will need to get more in depth with a bigger job, however a number of questions should be asked of anyone you intend to employ. Some of these include:

• Do you have a presentation book and photos or a visual presentation?

• Do you have liability and workmen's compensation insurance?

• Are you a member of any trade organization or other organizations such as the Better Business Bureau?

• Do you have any continuing education or certification designations?

"When a contractor has certifications, you know that they have been trained to do work up to industry standards," said Makar.

NARI offers a Certified Remodeler designation and Certified Lead Carpenter as well as a Kitchen and Bath Remodeler certification.

Calling references to ask how a job was performed is equally important. Among the questions that should be asked are:

• Was the job completed in a timely manner?

• If you had any changes, were they made willingly?

• If you had a complaint, was it handled willingly and to your satisfaction?

• Did the completed project meet your expectations?

In addition to these suggestions, keep in mind whether or not a prospective contractor listens to your ideas and asks questions about your needs and suggestion options and alternatives for your project.

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