Many, many years ago, when we first moved to Houston, my husband became infected by the tub bug. He fell in love with the gigantic, sunken bathtub in our house. New construction in Texas has for the longest time been a bit over-the-top on many fronts, well, especially the fronts. Even modestly sized family homes may sport doric double columns supporting nothing but a fake portico. Our house was a bit more understated as viewed from the street, but the master bathroom was Texas plush, including the before mentioned, two-steps-down tub tiled in shiny dark blue, matching the dark blue wallpaper with tiny cream dots. There may have been a swinging saloon door to the john … anyway, he loved this tub so much that, decades later, he designed our ranch house with another oversized sunken tub.
And then we moved to France.
Our newest home here in Saintes has many unique features, for example, it overlooks 2000-year-old Gallo-Roman ruins on two sides. It was built of cut stone, altered, renovated and updated over a few hundred years. It has ancient elm wood stairs, it has a glassed-in veranda and much more. It does not have a bathtub.
While we were considering the purchase, we postulated installing a tub in the spare bedroom on the top floor, which was to be his study. Having a bathroom right in a bedroom is a common European tradition, but you have to understand that bathroom means just that, a facility in which to clean oneself. The actual flush toilet or WC or water closet, or john, or powder room for those, who insist on using such euphemism, is located separately in its own little room, usually at the end of a hallway. Any plumber could tell you that this separation makes sense. Toilets require different plumbing and the waste is often directed to sewage facilities separated from gray water. Also, many of the ancient buildings in France, including our own, were constructed with massive stone walls. Indoor plumbing in such stone houses demands outdoor plumbing, meaning pipes have to run along the outside of walls. In our house, we have three toilets, one on each floor. They’re located in the same corner, above each other, so they use a common drain leading into the city main. Practical. Following this logic, our proposed “cabinet de toilette” or “washing closet” was supposed to consist of a bathtub and a sink.
‘Was’ being the operative term. Even before we made an offer on the house, it became apparent that our (future) staircase was too narrow to allow a tub of reasonable proportions to be carried to the second floor (3rd in the US).
The top floor windows were too small to bring in a bathtub as well, so the only alternative would have been to open up the roof. Contrary to common belief, we’re not quite that crazy!! Instead, we opted for a luxurious shower stall. As the whole room needed to be coaxed out of the fifties, we began its total overhaul in mid-December last year.
The built-in wardrobes along the right hand wall would be ripped out and replaced with a shower and a shorter but deeper storage space. Additionally bamboo flooring and a complete paint job were planned.
Eager to get started, we spent two afternoons in mid-December with a salesperson at CEDEO the local bathroom supplier, who came highly recommended. Right away, the first little bumps in the road reared their annoying little heads. Major components of our order, including the wall mounted vanity, wouldn’t be ready for delivery till the end of January or so, because the manufacturer was closing for their Christmas holiday on December 19. As it happened, right after those manufacturing guys had overcome their Holiday blahs and were back on the job, both our contractor and subcontractor were scheduled to take their own winter breaks. Deep breath, deep breath – a renovation always takes more time than expected. We were a little anxious though because my 93-year old mom-in-law was supposed to join us in February, coming all the way from freezing Milwaukee, Wisconsin to enjoy our milder climate for a few weeks. Naturally all this upheaval had to be finished by then.
When your construction site happens to be two floors up, do expect powdery debris in every nook and cranny of the house, not exempting your hollow back teeth!
These are the drainage pipes for the shower and they proved to be quite tricky to hook up to the outside drain. Tricky in so far as they had to be angled steeply enough through the stone wall, to allow drainage outflow to be faster than shower inflow – kind of important, if you don’t like a flooded third floor in your house. So Stuart and his colleague Jimmy drilled the passageway till it was just right. Stuart said, he was about to give up more than once!
By then, we were well into February with our renovation, but the pressure was off to some degree for us because mom, sadly, had had an accident which made transcontinental travel inadvisable for her for the time being. Meanwhile, the shower stall took shape – except …
another little problem delayed our progress. CEDEO, our supplier, had ordered an inappropriate shower frame for our set-up. Owing to their pig-headedness we had to order and pay for a new shower frame. Another delay manifested itself in regard to the wall-mounted shower column, as ordered through – yes, you guessed correctly: CEDEO. It didn’t fit our ceiling height! This was after we discovered that CEDEO had ordered the wrong finish for the shower glass front. If you think, dealing with suppliers in your mother tongue is a pain in the ass – wait till you try it in a foreign language!
Despite these annoyances, our project made progress. One glorious day, the guys were ready to transfer this entire mess …
out the window …
into the street …
What a clean, pastelly feeling!
Now all we needed were a new tile* floor, painted walls and ceiling and a few finishing touches. [* another change of plans: our flooring guys in Angoulême advised us in very strong terms to forget about bamboo or cork flooring because it wouldn’t withstand the shower-generated humidity. Thus we selected industrial-strength, cushy, vinyl tiles. So much for the envisioned bamboo floor!]
Voilà, notre nouveau cabinet de toilette extraordinaire !