Finally, a new design idea

As a remodeling contractor for 33 years, I am always looking for cool, new design ideas. I recently ran across something exciting that remodelers, builders, architects and designers could use to really jazz up a client’s home.

Before I get to this new idea, let me back up. A while ago, I worked with Houston Sign Co. to design and apply a vehicle wrap to my company’s 15-passenger van (See the October 2012 issue of QR, p. 22). During that process, I learned companies like this have the ability to print any image, nearly any size, directly onto acrylic panels. You’ve undoubtedly seen these large, colorful images at trade shows, high-rise office buildings, airports and the like.

More recently, my salesperson at the sign company, Debbie, and I were talking about the type of remodeling projects my company does. She showed me some photographs of a bathroom remodel she had been involved with. The bathroom had a walk-in shower at the end of the room with a very large and colorful mural of lilies in bloom above the tub. It looked like a large backlit piece of art. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Unlike a tile mural, there were no grout lines on this one. There were three niche spaces in the room with complementary images, which seemed to jump off the wall.

Inquiring further, I learned Houston Sign Co. had taken a specific image desired by the homeowner (a designer named Cat Anderson, Cat Anderson Design Consulting) and printed it on the back of 1/4-in. and 1/8-in. clear non-glare acrylic panels. It was incorporated into the bathroom tile surfaces. To create a white translucent-looking background, a layer of white film was applied over the back side of the image. This provides extra protection but it also hid the cement board wall behind the panel. You need the white layer applied over any area that does not have an image on it so you can’t see right through to the rough wall surface behind. The background can be any color, not necessarily white. If the panel is glued to the substrate, care must be taken to use an adhesive that will not react with (i.e., bleed through) the acrylic materials.

The acrylic panels were cut carefully to fit the openings surrounded by ceramic tile, sealed with a high-grade caulk to prevent moisture penetration, then tiled in to keep them in place. The acrylic panel and the film layers are made of nonbiodegradable materials and are well-adhered, so even if there is some moisture penetration in the future, it will not have much of an effect. Like any caulked joint, it should be checked and maintained over time.

This created a striking visual image in this contemporary bathroom and really caught my attention. “I have clients who would love this,” I thought. My mind ran wild thinking of all the possible images that could be put on such panels and all the places such panels might be placed in a client’s home. Think about it — every one of us has favorite images we love. These could find a place to be displayed on any scale to truly personalize a home on a large scale — like over a fireplace, or a home theatre wall or entry hall accent wall. It might be a nature photo, such as a gorgeous undersea landscape photograph, a favorite movie star, a striking commercial skyscraper, mountain peaks, sports images, anything for any room. Truly, the sky is the limit.

Best of all, it costs less than you might think. Sign companies seem to do it more cheaply than digital printing specialty companies, but shop around. For example, printing on 48- by 96-in. 1/8-in. nonglare acrylic panels costs roughly $450 to $600 in Bellaire, Texas. Printing on 1/4-in. non-glare acrylic can cost roughly $600 to $750. For a 2- by 2-ft. piece, costs might range from $350 to $450. Costs may vary depending on which part of the country you’re in. The point is, costs are not that bad for such a unique feature in your client’s home.

Depending on the location, the panels could be backlit or indirectly lit at the perimeter with LED lights, lit from the front with wall wash fixtures, or even by art-light spots to highlight individual features in the graphics.

I hope the wheels in your mind are turning now. I believe this idea has tremendous potential for customizing home design. Think about suggesting this to your next client who has adventurous taste, or who likes the modern or contemporary look. If you sell a project like this, please send pictures of your completed masterpiece to me at


Dan Bawden is president of Legal Eagle Contractors in Houston.