Design New England

Less is more

A bath suite downsizes to meet a family’s needs in a smart, stylish conversion

A double shower lined with limestone tiles and enclosed with glass doors is the backdrop for the oval-shaped tub that seems to float on a bed of smooth beach stones in this updated master bathroom.
Bob O’Connor
A double shower lined with limestone tiles and enclosed with glass doors is the backdrop for the oval-shaped tub that seems to float on a bed of smooth beach stones in this updated master bathroom.

Editor’s note: This article is from the March/April 2014 issue of Design New England. Read the full edition. For regular updates from editors and contributors visit Design New England’s blog.

Rarely do new homeowners conclude there is just too much closet space in their house. Isn’t “closets, closets” right up there with “location, location” in the real estate agents’ mantra? Aren’t architects and designers constantly tasked with finding more storage, no matter how big the house?

In a seaside estate on Massachusetts’s North Shore, a couple with a growing family found quite the opposite was true. “The master bath actually consisted of two baths, a his and hers, each with its own walkin closet,” says designer Lian Eoyang of ViF Studio in San Francisco. “It was really an inefficient space. In ‘her’ bathroom, the toilet was in the middle of the room and there was no privacy. And there was no shower” — that was down the hall, past “her” closet, in “his” bathroom, where there was no toilet.

The house itself dates to the late 1900s, but this bathroom suite was created in the late 20th century. “It was a different time then,” says Eoyang, and the space was designed for owners who had different needs and wants. Her job was to bring it into the present and make it work for her 21st-century clients, who live in Asia but have family in New England and wanted to create a vacation destination where they all could gather.


First, Eoyang, who graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before opening her firm in 2010, tackled the floor plan. “I needed to give it some human scale and make it more viable,” she says. She closed off the “his” section and converted the closet into a bedroom, accessible from the house’s central hallway and added a toilet to the bathroom to create a bedroom suite for one of the couple’s two young daughters.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

In what would now be a smaller but more efficient master suite, she added a water closet, a double vanity, and a double shower. She positioned the freestanding oval tub from Waterworks on a bed of smooth polished beach stones, creating the illusion of an oasis.

“The stones came from a company in Miami and were specified for color and size,” says Eoyang. “The pebbles are all loose, and they are set in a copper pan built into the floor. Their young daughter loves to splash around in the tub, and because there is a drain in the copper pan, there are no worries about water spilling over.” On either side of the tub, Eoyang set rectangular limestone tiles, creating a steppingstone pathway to the double shower. Aesthetically, the composition is both serene and arresting. “It is like putting a precious egg on top of something organic,” says Eoyang.

The clients preferred a monochromatic palette, which Eoyang delivered in gradations of gray, black, and white. Throughout the room, which measures 14 by 17 feet, she used gray limestone, which, she says, imparts a sense of calmness and comfort, yet is rich and luxurious.

The double vanity was contrived in close collaboration with the wife of the couple, who prefers an open look. Working with Italmarble of Lynn, Massachusetts, and contractor Wilson Brothers Construction in Swampscott, Massachusetts, Eoyang designed a limestone vanity top with sleek sinks carved into the rock. Using precision machinery, Italmarble cut the sinks and then dropped them into the countertop. The final piece is laminated to look as if it is a single slab.


Beneath the vanity top, a shelf lined with simple round baskets filled with towels sits atop a long row of drawers. “The cabinetry is all ash and finished with a custom stain,” says Eoyang. “There is no hardware, just a minimal lip along the top edge.” On the wall, a matching ash frame sets off the mirror and hides the medicine cabinet. Above it, a sleek ash box extends from the wall and houses the light fixture.

“This is a summer house, so it is all very low-maintenance,” says Eoyang. It is also very high-style.