Per square foot, the bathroom is the most expensive room in your home to remodel. Even if you keep all the plumbing where it currently is, the cost of new fixtures, toilets, tub, shower enclosures, tile, cabinets and labor costs can be daunting. When it is necessary to move plumbing, it gets worse. The bathroom is, however, one of the most rewarding rooms to update. You will nearly always increase the value of your home over and above what you spend. For such a small room, the variety of materials and design possibilities is surprisingly abundant. Flooring alone ranges from natural stone, woods (engineered plank flooring and laminate are resistive to moisture, but not impervious), mosaics, or durable porcelain tiles in a large variety of colors and styles. Some mimic natural stone so convincingly it is hard to tell them apart. Even more choices are available when it comes to materials for the shower, walls and counter tops. Add ceramic and glass tiles, patterned mosaics and metals to the floor options and you have a beginning. When it comes to the materials and the combinations in which they can be used, you are limited only by your imagination.

When I have a client about to embark on a bathroom remodel, I take them to my favorite place, a showroom for the trade in Laguna Niguel, Surface Concepts, that specializes in all the materials needed to transform hard surfaces. I always feel like a kid in a candy store as I explore the huge variety of products there. The possibilities are delicious. On my last trip I discovered an etched stone tile that looked as if it could have been pulled off of a decaying italian villa. There are irridescent glass tiles and handcrafted mosaics and frescos. Old world to contemporary the selection is enormous.

Taking a client there is an education in possibilities. Suddenly, the client has choices beyond the products they discover at their local home improvement store.

Here are some helpful tips for making your bathroom remodel a success: 1. Always hot-mop a shower pan. Water will find its way through grout, and stone is porous. I have spent a good amount of time trying to match 80's and 90's style tile after making repairs for leaks, necessitated because the shower floor was not waterproofed.

2. Make sure there is an adequate moisture barrier under any flooring on a second floor bath. Backer board or cement board is a necessity. It reduces the flexing of a wooden sub-floor (murder on tile mud and grout) and creates a moisture barrier if water gets out where it shouldn't. Once again, repairs, repairs, repairs. Make sure your contractor knows what he is doing.

3. Whenever you change out a plumbing fixture and open a wall, replace the stuff (technical term) inside the wall. It's probably old, and you don't want to be tearing out the beautiful new tile or stone you just paid to have installed when the old stuff springs a leak. There is an amazing variety of fixtures to choose from. Metal choices range from polished chrome to brushed nickel and bronze and everything in between. Also amazing is the price range. Shop around for a good price. I have used the internet to some success and savings. is a good source with a large variety of products. Pacific Sales has quality fixtures at a reduced price. Take your decorator with you for a further discounts on most products. Expo has a good variety of fixtures both in their off the floor sales and their special order section.

Purchase the best quality that you can afford.

Consider components such as shower heads (do you want it to rain softly or blast you with invigorating massage?) hand held wands, diverters, mixers, and multiple heads. Your budget will determine your selections, but do get the highest quality that you can afford.

4. It's also a good time to make changes in windows if that is on your agenda, especially if you will be installing tile around one. The new windows are more energy efficient, as well as better looking and can be installed with a variety of opaque glass styles for privacy.

5. Review the lighting in the room. You will need both overhead and vanity lighting. Overhead lights the room. Vanity illuminates your face. Remove any outdated fixtures and install can lights overhead and a vanity light that beautifies the room. If you have a double sink vanity, consider lighting over each sink.

6. A new vanity can make a world of difference. You can purchase one that looks like a piece of furniture, or have the cabinetry custom made. Home improvement stores have semi-custom cabinets in a variety of finishes and configurations that have nice cabinetry details. An antique or used piece of furniture can be a great choice for a vanity. A carpenter should be able to make alterations and cut a hole to drop a sink into. I have used all of these choices and they have turned out beautifully. If a new vanity is not in the budget, consider painting the existing one and change the hardware for a fresh new look.

7. Counter top options range from a solid stone, such as granite or marble, to any variety and combination of glass, stone and tile. Most bathroom vanities can accommodate a prefabricated granite counter top, which is helpful on the pocketbook. You will still need to have a fabricator cut the holes for the sink and faucets and install for you.

8. Use skilled craftsmen. Make sure you include the cost of demolition and dumpster rental in your calculations. If you are removing a cast iron tub, let you contractor know ahead of time. He will need to bring more help to move the 400 lb. monstrosity out of the house and cart it away. Stone-layers should be able to install your stone with as little as 1/16 inch grout line. Ceramic tile requires a large grout line, but a good tiler can also lay porcelain tile almost as close for an authentic stone look. (No one likes to clean grout!) If you want a specific design discuss this with your craftsman before ordering your tile as some designs may require more tile. More elaborate designs may cost more to install because of the cuts required. Make sure they seal the grout and stone with a proper penetrating sealer. Remember, a tiler or a contractor is not a designer. Don't let them talk you into their design for your bathroom. (That's a personal pet peeve). If you need help with the design and materials, hire a decorator. Your decorator will talk to them about details like where seams should occur and how to center a design.

9. Get rid of the old sliding shower doors on the metal tracks. I don't know anyone who enjoys cleaning those monsters. Invest in a frameless glass enclosure. It is well worth the extra cost. It looks elegant and will truly showcase the new tile or stone you have installed. Depending on the size of your bathroom, you may be able to do without a shower door. Careful placement of the shower head and shower wall may allow you to have an open style shower.

10. Mirrors are essential. Invest in a wall to wall and counter to ceiling one for a clean, modern look. If you are able to keep the one currently glued to your wall, frame it in molding for a custom framed look. You can also purchase beautifully framed mirrors to hang over each sink.

11. Paint is a way to add color and warmth. Fresh fluffy towels add color and texture. Baskets, accessories, soap dispensers, florals, window coverings and artwork can give your space great personality.

12. Find a way to bring some fabric into the room. With all of those hard surfaces, towels provide some softening and color, but more can be added with valances, shower or door curtains and rugs. Don't limit your towels to those hung over the racks. Rolled up in a basket or folded and stacked on a bench, they can add a luxurious spa appeal. Is it worth it? Yes. By updating your home you increase its value and your enjoyment of your property. It will pay dividends when it comes time to sell, but the best dividends are those you enjoy daily as you live in a beautiful space.

i would love to hear about your bathroom project - leave me a comment!

Until next time, happy decorating!