From Blank Slate to Beachy Space

Even on the coldest Minnesota day, Sid Levin and his wife can retreat to a beach-like atmosphere. Levin, principal of Revolution Design and Build, Wayzata, Minn., wanted to add usable space to his 1,800-square-foot home without building an addition, so he decided to take advantage of the unfinished basement. “We have four children and were looking for a place to add another bedroom/bathroom,” he explains. “Instead of building an addition, we utilized unused basement space to make a bedroom/bathroom master suite.”

The Wave

Before construction could begin, Levin had to address plumbing concerns. The 90-square-foot bathroom was to be located against an outside wall, and he had to ensure plumbing water lines wouldn’t be located along the outside wall. Levin cut a 30-foot-long trench in the concrete to run the drain pipes in the floor and used fiberglass batt insulation to protect the water supply lines from freeze/thaw conditions. The pipes and insulation are concealed in a burlwood column meant to mimic a tree. After overcoming the plumbing issues, Levin was ready to proceed with the design.

Building on the beach theme Levin and his wife chose, Levin and his team, including business partner Rob Aldecocea, set out to integrate shore-themed elements. One of the dominant design elements throughout the bathroom space is that of a wave.

The soffit, countertop and cabinet follow a wave pattern. After Levin and Aldecocea built the soffit, Levin made a template of the same wave pattern out of plywood so the countertop fabricators could replicate the pattern with countertop material. “I wanted the look of a 5-inch front counter, but the material we had was only 3/4-inch thick,” Levin recalls. “For them to make a 5-inch-thick curved front edge where you’re not laminating multiple layers of material, you have to cut the 45-degree angle on the front face and miter the curve to that. That was an extremely difficult counter for the fabricators to make because they had to cut the 45-degree angle into the stone, then curl the front face of the counter to it.”

To achieve the concave and convex angles, the fabricators used a blowtorch to heat the material until it became pliable enough to slowly bend. Using many clamps, it took three full heating, bending and cooling cycles to create the wave pattern. “Those angles are what give the counter the illusion it is 5-inch-thick slab of stone, when in fact it’s just a mitered front edge,” Levin says. “It was a labor of love for the fabricators. They’re very proud of how it looks.” The counter, which was fabricated in one piece, is a little less than 7-feet wide.

The cabinets under the counter are constructed of plywood and follow the same curvatures as the soffit and countertop. The cabinets are coated with burled cherry veneer.

One of the focal points of the bathroom is the tile wave along the far wall. “That wave was fun,” Levin says. It involved cutting the shape, making a template out of plywood to install with framing to create the shape. Once the frame was in place, the tile setter coated it in mud and lath, then tiled the wave. “There are some pieces of glass tile that are smaller than half of your fingernail,” Levin explains. “It’s pretty spectacular tile work.” The tile setter used a diamond-blade saw to shape the pieces and create the intricate puzzle.

A portion of the wave has a cutout to create a cubby that also is covered in tile pieces. “I like it because it creates a place to put your extra stuff that would normally be in a cabinet, closet or on the vanity in a typical installation,” Levin says. “Instead of having a cabinet or shelf, it’s the visual aesthetic that is functional at its core and becomes a very strong element to the whole bathroom.”

Accessibility and Lighting

Thinking ahead to their later years, Levin and his wife decided to include several accessibility and aging-in-place features in their bathroom. The toilet has a remote wall control and includes a washlet system, heated seat and air purification. Levin also left plenty of room between the shower and vanity to make it easy to get around.

Although the vanity is not wheelchair accessible underneath, the countertop curves narrowly toward the mirror so it becomes unnecessary to lean over to get close to the mirror. “We designed that so my wife can do her makeup up close without a separate mirror, and I found I’m always walking over to that space to put in my contacts,” Levin says. “When I don’t have them in, I can’t see as well, and I want to be as close as possible to the mirror without having to lean over. Realistically, you can stand wherever you like in front of the mirror, but the ability to get an extra 8-inches closer to the mirror without leaning is valuable.”

Levin specified direct and indirect lighting fixtures. There are light fixtures by the mirror and 4-inch recessed can lights in the soffited ceiling directly above. Rope lighting, ideal for the curved vanity because of its flexibility, snakes underneath the floating vanity and provides an indirect light source utilized as a nightlight. “It gives a glow to the bathroom at night, which is great because in the middle of the night, turning the overhead lights on can be too harsh when your eyes are adjusted to the dark,” Levin explains.

The bathroom relates to the new adjacent master bedroom through color. For example, the trim in both rooms is a mocha-brown color. The bedroom carpet is a striped, textured prairie color. “We used the metaphor of walking through the prairie to get to the beach when we chose our palette of colors,” Levin explains.

Blank Slate

Because Levin chose to finish existing basement space, he had a blank slate to work with. “It was an unfinished open room and we could do whatever we wanted,” he recalls. The deck and grade around the basement, however, prevented the possibility of windows or natural daylighting. To offset that obstacle, Levin charged himself with creating a visually exciting space. “When you look out a window you have something to look at for a minute,” he says. “But if you go into a room without a window, you have nothing to look at except for what’s in the room itself. If the room itself isn’t exciting and fun to be in, then it’s boring.

“Our goal was to have a room that was functional but at the same time a lovely space to hang out in for my wife and me,” Levin continues. “We actually spend quite a bit of time in the bathroom. I hang out with her while she’s getting ready for the day or to go out at night. It’s also the space where, when we’re done for the night, we regroup from the day and download what happened. We spend a lot more time in there than I thought we would.” Levin attributes some of the bathroom’s comfort to having additional space; his old bathroom was much smaller and he and his wife often interfered with each other’s activities. With all the customization, the project took about two months to complete, which Levin says is about 30 percent longer than a typical bathroom.

Levin cites the multiheaded shower spa system as his favorite feature. Although he had room to install a bathtub, he and his wife do not have time to wait for a tub to fill and then enjoy it. “With four kids we don’t have the time in the day to use something like that to relax, but with a multiheaded shower system we have found it to be very revitalizing and a spa-like experience you can enjoy on a daily basis.”

It’s often said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, after seeing photos of Levin’s bathroom on his company’s website, clients are expressing interest in floating vanities and curvatures similar to Levin’s space. Another hit with clients has been the heated striated tile brown bench inside and outside the shower. (It is intended to bring to mind driftwood that floats ashore.) “We’ve always been advocates of putting a bench in the shower, but the idea of having a bench outside the shower has resonated with a lot of our clients,” Levin says. “Almost every master bathroom we’ve put in since doing this one has had some form of seating. We think of it as a place where clients can hang out and share space without being on top of each other.”