Some fresh paint. Several new tiles. A few fixtures. All minor repairs. When Genevieve Duncan and Keith Snodgrass first thought about updating their war-era black and white master bath, they just wanted to make some small changes to bring it into the new century.
“The master bathroom was just disorganized — tiny and dark. We wanted to maybe get some new fixtures and light sources,” Duncan says.
CG&S Remodeling, of Austin, had done some previous work for Duncan and Snodgrass, so they were the first on their list to help the couple update their 1940s stone farmhouse. Built post–World War II, the house had been remodeled and added onto repeatedly, leaving the master bath woefully dark and landlocked. An original window still existed but was covered by a previous addition, so no natural light entered the tiled bathroom at all. The plain, no frills bathroom was also poorly planned, with the toilet located directly across from the door and the small, old-fashioned heater positioned in the wall nearby.
CG&S, a 30-year-old family-owned company, branched into design/build in 1994. They now have three architects on staff, including Stewart Davis, with whom Duncan and Snodgrass eventually ended up working on this project.
“It is a unique building, and we did not want to ruin the spirit of the place, but the bathroom needed some work,” Davis says.
Looking Up After realizing they wanted a separate shower and tub, Duncan and Snodgrass decided, with the help of an interior designer, to see what Davis could do. They figured a little bit of design was needed to maximize space in this 49-square-foot bathroom.
Davis, after looking at the bedroom and surrounding rooms, decided to take a broader, more dramatic view on the bathroom. “I realized that there were doors to an adjoining dining room on the other end of the bedroom. If we borrowed space from the rarely used dining room for a closet, we could add the existing closet space to the bathroom.” The existing closet backed up to the master bath — so it was an easy step to incorporate that space. Plus, Snodgrass and Duncan were happy to part with the old closet when they realized their new one would incorporate built-ins and have better organization.
With the recent explosion of spa-like bathrooms, Davis knew that this would be the perfect solution to turn this outdated, tiny master bathroom into a dramatic and romantic retreat. This project doubled the square footage of the bathroom.
“We were lucky,” Davis says. “The homeowners were open to new ideas, were interested and engaged from the beginning, and were not afraid of bold changes” — even if they weren't what they had originally envisioned. This was beneficial in this case particularly, because Davis is a big believer in expanding upward to improve the feel of airiness in what otherwise might be a cramped space.
His initial design drawings, for which the company charges a design fee, shot the ceiling from its original 8-foot height through the attic and created what would become an 18-foot ceiling. The design called for finishing off this new ceiling, adding dramatic paint, lighting, and fixtures, and rearranging the layout.
To maximize the space, Davis created what he likes to call a “showering pod,” an enclosure that houses both the shower and tub. They are still separate like Duncan and Snodgrass wanted, but the shower space doubles as a walkway to the bath. Both can be used at once, and putting a showerhead on each wall added to the spa-like atmosphere.
The homeowners, who were not living in the house at the time, were excited for the work to be done, even at the new, more expensive price tag. They signed the contract and work began.
Uncovering a Nightmare And then it stopped. As soon as CG&S broke through the ceiling, they discovered a nightmare. All of the studs in the house were termite infested. Completely destroyed. Duncan and Snodgrass were lucky on one hand because their exterior walls were made from 20-inch-thick stone masonry and therefore escaped damage, but all the internal walls were made of wood.
“It is the worst moment in a project,” says Davis: telling customers their simple, two-month job just fell apart and multiplied in cost is never an easy task. Duncan, Snodgrass, and their young daughter had moved into a small house down the street and were planning on moving back as soon as the bathroom remodel was finished. This would dramatically change their plans.
When they heard the news and the extent of the damage, “my stomach dropped, and I realized there was much more work to be done than I had planned,” Duncan says.
But again, Davis says, he lucked out. “Most of the time, people can only afford to do minor repairs, the bare minimum.” That was not the case here. Duncan and Snodgrass were able to approve a full replacement of all the wood in the house, and CG&S buckled down and started anew.
But there were more surprises to come. During construction, the company realized the entire roof structure was inadequate when a crew member stepped on a beam and his foot went right through it, with drywall crashing down into the guest room below. The entire roof would have to be strengthened. The beams had been made from 2x4s, which were not really strong enough to support the roof and had been weakened by the termite infestation.
“I never had planned on being out of the house for a year, but it was a blessing in disguise that we discovered this problem before it spiraled out of hand or someone got hurt,” says Duncan, who was on site when the beam collapsed.
The original contract had a 25% “plus clause,” which stated any additional work that “cropped up” during the project would be completed at a cost of 25% above their traditional markup. This is exactly the type of surprise these clauses protect against.
“You never know what you are going to find lurking behind the walls of a house” Davis says. This 25% plus helped CG&S cover costs and job volume for a project that was scheduled to last two months and ended up lasting a year.