Remodeling a Room is a Form of Time Travel

With every shower I took, I experienced the sensation of stepping into a time capsule.

When we bought our relatively not-old house, I realized the master bathroom had curious touches of early 80s aesthetics. For instance, it was wrapped in ugly accent tile. I convinced myself the room had enough classic elements, but when I showered, the offending ceramic stripe was eye level. Through the fog of steam and shampoo suds, I stared at it every…single…day. I lived with THAT COLOR for years.

Otherwise, the bathroom was spacious and functional. And there were many other pressing homeowner moles to whack—failing kitchen appliances, wood rot, bursting water heater, leaky roof. I could go on.

Then, it happened. On a random day my husband and I dared to look at our bathroom objectively. We both cracked like old grout. The caulk was having an ugly contest with the tiles. The vaulted ceiling had been blemished way too long with a souvenir water stain, courtesy of our previous roof. (We stopped looking up when that happened—a handy homeowner trick.) Running parallel to the stain was track lighting we finally admitted was another 80s tribute. Again, I could go on.

The situation was beyond DIY. We found a contractor. He agreed our bathroom was physically wearing out. The tired paint. The sputtering faucets. How was the shower not leaking? On the style front, we were thankful this man was too polite to outwardly gag at our Bon Jovi dressing room mirror lights and throwback cabinetry stain. I was almost embarrassed to show him the space. It was the permed mullet of bathrooms.

I have always recognized home design can be as fickle and trendy as clothing. Each decade has its cringe inducers. With that in mind, our remodeling decisions, from faucets to tiles to light fixtures, had to be “timeless.” We were thinking about the future.

“Now” or “fun” or “punchy” elements were verboten. We chose whites and creams, with touches of grays and silvers. We aimed for eternal finishes. All clean, soothing and subtle.

But several salespeople commented, “So you’re going for the spa look?”

That was scary. Suddenly we had a look. We didn’t want a look. We were aiming for classic. We wanted this whole area to transform into the little black dress of bathrooms. (Albeit in hues of whites and grays.)

As I write this, I am in that anxious lull between completing our painfully detailed selections and the actual parade of painters, electricians and tile guys. I have no idea how the room will turn out. I have a vision, but frankly, I’m shaking like a paint can in a Sherwin Williams store.

I fear what might happen. The moment our spackle sets and the paint dries, a new era of bathroom style will emerge. It will be the opposite of what we selected. Any idea of classic will be shattered. There will be nothing but neon colors and sparkling hologram towel racks. Suppliers are going to develop synthetic fur sinks. Pfister will unveil horizontal shower pods and flying drone faucets. I just know it.

Timelessness itself will become a thing of the past. Within weeks, we’ll be brushing our teeth in a dated bathroom.