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Shou Sugi Ban Bath

Schwartz and Architecture, M&D Construction


  • Neal Schwartz
  • Michael Donohue

Project Status


Room or Space





Award Winners

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Project Description

Picky clients can be a nightmare or a useful guide. Neal Schwartz found the latter to be the case when a San Francisco couple asked him to remodel their ungainly and inefficient 15-year-old bathroom. The wife is in a wheelchair, and she had specific requirements for how she wanted the bathtub area set up.

“Over the course of being in a chair and using the house, the owner came up with a nuanced sense of what was best for her,” Schwartz said. “It wasn’t a case of meeting codes; it was much more particular as to how she moved. So, for a bench that extends from the tub, Schwartz said “every inch was designed with how she approaches the bench in the wheelchair, and how she moves to the bench, and where you put the wheelchair [while she was in the tub], and the same thing coming out. … She gave the specifications for how it worked.”

While the tub and shower space got a new look with a custom concrete tub and bench and new tiles and fixtures, that part of the room’s basic configuration didn’t change. A much more extensive revamp that tested Schwartz’s imagination took place on the other end, where what previously was a cluttered, blocked-off space was reconfigured so it flowed into the rest of the room. The toilet and sink were swapped, and the new sink was made from the same highly finished concrete as the tub.

One of the judges applauded the use of horizontal white tiles and orange-tinged wood, saying it reminded him of the best design projects of the 1970s. Schwartz said he picked wood for the cabinetry because he wanted to balance out the materials given that the floor had to be a solid material and the tub and sink were concrete.

“One thing I like about the project is that in this case the client was very involved in picking some of the finishes and tiles,” Schwartz said. “I originally felt there was too much texture, but when I saw it come together, I liked it. If you look at some of our other work, there’s more color and texture here than I normally would have.” For example, the tall back wall beneath a clerestory window contains highly figured tiles. “It seemed [to me] that that back wall could handle the visual pressure,” Schwartz said.--by Craig Webb

To see a video of this project, click here.

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