Teaming up with a woman general contractor in L.A., a remodel partnership delivers a dream bathroom
“After” photos by Madeline Tolle for Sweeten. Stylist: Emily Bowser
Before: Turn a must-do gut reno into a custom master bath remodel
When they bought the Spanish Revival Mediterranean in South L.A.’s Park Mesa Heights, they’d pulled off a victory: a first-time home purchase in SoCal. But Liz and Kevin’s 1923 house had a secret: water damage beneath the master bathroom floor, thanks to a shower pan installed incorrectly a decade before. “To deal with it,” said Liz, the executive director of an education nonprofit, “we needed to take the bathroom down to the studs.” With this, Liz and Kevin started planning for a bath remodel in their L.A. home.
Liz and Kevin, a technical production senior manager at Disney Studios, viewed the dank discovery as an opportunity “to add storage and maximize space,” Liz said. But also to showcase their style. The two Mid-Century enthusiasts, who live with daughters Omari and Naiobi, love each piece they’ve hand-picked for the 1,850-square-foot home; they wanted elements of the era in the new bathroom as well. When they happened on a vintage-modern walnut dresser they liked, Liz envisioned it in a new role as a vanity. “We purchased it without knowing what the conversion would entail,” she said. Finding a contractor who could turn it into a sink while retaining drawer space below was key to their search.
A general contractor that’s the right fit
Liz had already received bids from two recommended contractors, she said, but neither wanted to do the dresser/vanity retrofit. “I wondered if I might have a different experience communicating with a woman contractor, if only I could find one,” remembered Liz. Then she came across Sweeten, posted their project and got a match with a woman-owned contracting firm. “Her bid came in lower than the others,” Liz said, “and her communication was more clear and direct.”
Sweeten matches home renovators with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.
After: Build an on-trend bathroom with vintage-modern flair
With a general contractor who’d take on the vanity challenge now checked off, Liz turned to other essentials. First, they needed to deal with the water stagnating under the floor. The room would have a clean, uncluttered, and functional aesthetic. Spa-like, but not sterile. “It’s a bathroom,” she said, “not a museum!”
Creating a “wet room” feel
They wanted a seamless look—the same tile for the bath floor and shower floor, no curb. They’d discussed basically keeping the floorplan, but breaking out with a separate shower and soaking tub. The contractor suggested instead that they move things around, repurposing the toilet alcove as a long, spacious stall comprising shower and tub.
They had chosen a large, vintage-feel tile which was fine for the bathroom floor but not the shower floor. A small mosaic, instead, would allow a drainage slope, and a curb would be necessary to contain pooling water. “We struggled to get on board,” Liz said. “But once we did, it was smooth sailing.” Demolition revealed the water problem to be less serious than they’d feared. They were rolling.
Multiple showstopping designs
The dresser-turn-vanity plan proceeded. Liz found a high-rimmed, shallow trough sink that would float above the drawer space beneath. The sink’s height would also raise the low-sitting dresser up to standard vanity height. Brushed-brass faucets match the shower fixtures. Old-school, frameless medicine cabinets sit mounted on a wall of vibrant penny-round tile. (“The orange,” Liz said, “felt like a risk, but a little playful, like us.”) Milk-glass pendant lights complement the shape of the tiles. Swivel towel racks offer space to air dry towels or clothing.
Deliveries during a pandemic
Putting pieces together proved perplexing. “This was our first renovation project without a designer,” Liz explained. “Taking on that role myself meant dealing with myriad decisions.” During a pandemic, it was harder. Shipping delays defied the contractor’s requirement that all finish materials be on-site before demolition could begin. “I wanted to see elements laid out before deciding,” Liz said, but plumbing or electrical couldn’t wait. By the time multiple pendants arrived for Liz to view over the tub, the electrician had installed wiring for a formerly planned recessed light. “We paid to bring him back,” Liz said.
Communicating with your contractor
During the job, the Sweeten general contractor was capable and professional. “The crew was on time, and clear about decisions they needed to be made,” Liz said, reminding renovators to also ask for the answers they need. “Staying on the same page with your contractor ensures your project is executed precisely and saves you money.” The reno cost $26,000 ($19,000 to the contractor, and $7,000 for finish materials), allowing Liz and Kevin to stay on budget. Since they’d been braced for costly water-damage (and possibly mold) remediation, it felt like a windfall.
The final result was an absolute win. “The vanity, to me,” Liz said, “is the centerpiece of the room (even though most people comment on the soaking tub!). It makes our bathroom unique and adds warmth and depth.”
Bonus: Bids can make your heads explode. The couple’s brain saver: “Sweeten’s consultation step let me bring all my bids and talk through them with a trusted partner,” Liz said. “Sweeten helped me understand how to compare different line items, to think through what could be missing and come up with clarifying questions to ask. Sweeten’s bid-leveling expert helped me look at payment terms and project management. This helped us feel confident about signing our contract.”
Thank you, Liz and Kevin, for sharing your L.A. bath remodel with us!
BATHROOM RESOURCES: Dimensions Artifice 18 x 36 ceramic shower wall and tub surround tile in matte white; Akura Marengo 20 x 40 porcelain floor tile in matte gray; Mar Bianco Dolomite 2″ hex polished marble mosaic shower floor tile; Maravilla Rosso Venato polished-marble shower niche tile; Festival porcelain penny backsplash tile in turmeric: Floor & Decor.
Tenet shower column with shower head and arm in brushed gold: Pfister. Neodrain 24″ linear drain in brushed gold; KES swivel towel rack in brushed gold: Amazon. 59” acrylic freestanding soaking tub with brushed-gold overflow and drain: Woodbridge. Concord two-handle wall-mount Roman tub faucet in brushed brass; Concord single-handle faucet in brushed brass: Kingston Brass.
Caspian two-piece, dual-flush elongated toilet: Glacier Bay. 47″ double trough sink in glossy white: Homary. Archer frameless medicine cabinets: Kohler. Sculptural brass pendant with 8” milk glass globe vanity lighting; sculptural brass pendant with 15” milk glass Geo shade (over tub): West Elm.
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