Your Philadelphia Brownstone Bathroom Remodel

Brownstones are a classic part of Philadelphia’s architecture, getting their name from their ruddy brown exteriors made of sandstone. These homes have a lot to offer in terms of history and charm, but their historic elegance often comes with a price. The tight spaces and aging architecture can make even the most rudimentary home update difficult.

Bathrooms often pose a particularly frustrating renovation puzzle –  finding the balance between preserving the historical beauty and injecting modern luxury can be a real head scratcher. Bathrooms are also high use, high traffic, and high maintenance areas whose constant use and small size may cause mold and moisture control problems.

If you’re considering a bathroom remodel in an historic Philadelphia brownstone, there are a few critical factors to think about before starting.

Key Considerations for Historic Brownstone Bathroom Renovations

Rowhomes of any type are typically older and more narrow in size. Brownstones, a particular type of rowhome, can be a little bigger, but many of the concerns are the same. Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing to remodel your historic property’s bathroom.

Previous Remodels

Brownstones are decades old and, over the years, have passed on from owner to owner. Because of this, these housing units often take on a hodge-podge character, with the new and old mixing together haphazardly. 

And whether previous owners did the work themselves or hired a professional contractor, you are often building into, over, or around the renovations of previous owners. Special attention and planning is often needed to navigate the difficult terrain of new and old construction.

Space Constraints:

Brownstone bathrooms were often designed for functionality, not spaciousness. More modern homes have a larger footprint, meaning more room to design a space to be unique and appealing.

With a rowhome, you will quickly encounter narrow spaces and even strange floor plans. Any planned renovations should consider a wide range of solutions. Be open-minded as you consider your bathroom upgrade.

Age of the Home

Brownstones vary in age. The older your home, the more likely you’ll encounter outdated and potentially problematic plumbing or electrical systems. Don’t forget about a pre-renovation inspection to avoid unforeseen complications.

Historical Integrity

Is keeping your bathroom’s historical character desirable? Consider original features like clawfoot tubs, tilework, or exposed brick that could be simply restored. At first, it may seem like a great idea to completely overhaul an antiquated space, but remodeling around it or restoring it may keep some of its historic charm and beauty.

If you really like the antique feel of your bathroom space, you may be able to find ways to ‘reinvent’ its use. Old tile, for example, can be used to accent a space rather than act as its centerpiece – you don’t have to remove it all!

Permits and Regulations

Historic districts in Philadelphia may have regulations that dictate design choices. Understanding local zoning and historic guidelines is a must and a professional contractor is often essential to navigating these codes. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us – we are happy to help.

Balancing Period Features with Modern Desires

One of the most exciting aspects of a brownstone bathroom renovation is finding that perfect harmony between the old and the new. While honoring your brownstone’s charm, you might also desire contemporary comforts. Here’s how to strike that balance:

Reimagined Function

If space permits, replacing a clawfoot tub with a luxurious walk-in shower could elevate comfort while retaining historical ambiance with thoughtful tile choices and vintage-inspired fixtures.

Subtle Upgrades

Adding amenities like heated floors or towel warmers enhances luxury without compromising the room’s original character.

One challenge here is the older electrical work – make sure your hardware is up-to-code and can handle the extra voltage.

Prioritizing the Essentials

If your heart is set on modern elements that clash with the room’s history, prioritize updates that will significantly boost functionality and long-term enjoyment of the space. This way you’ll get the most out of what you change while keeping some of the room’s historical elegance.

3 Ways to Tastefully Update Your Philadelphia Brownstone Bathroom

Now, let’s dive into specific update strategies that marry modern luxury with your brownstone’s unique character:

1. Reimagine, Don’t Replace

If your bathroom boasts beautiful original tilework or a charming pedestal sink, restoration rather than replacement could be the best avenue. Consider these approaches:

Regrouting and Tile Repair: Revitalize existing tilework with a fresh coat of grout and consider replacing chipped or cracked tiles with period-appropriate options, if available.

Hardware Restoration: Instead of tossing out original faucets and fixtures, have them professionally refinished for a gleaming, modern look.

Respecting Original Design: If restoration of the existing room isn’t feasible, carefully consider new fixtures that complement the room’s appearance or that capture the feel of the original space. Consider vintage-inspired designs that may bridge the gap between modern and historic.

2. Prioritize Natural Light (Within Limitations)

Historically, brownstone bathrooms may lack abundant natural light. Here’s how to enhance brightness:

Transom Windows and Skylights: Transom windows, or small windows above the transom of a door, are already common in Philadelphia.

Adding a transom to an internal door may not be apparent. It’s one to consider, however, as transoms or skylights (with regulatory approval) can significantly boost natural light, offering a visual and tonal upgrade to any room.

Reflective Surfaces: Integrate mirrored surfaces, glossy tiles, and metallic finishes to reflect and amplify any light source. This also gives the appearance of a shiny, new space.

Strategic Lighting: Employ a layered lighting approach with a mix of ambient, task, and accent lighting to create a well-lit atmosphere at any time of day.

3. Emphasize Storage and Functionality

Maximizing space is going to be a priority in any room of a rowhome. Bathrooms can be particularly problematic, however, as more permanent fixtures like plumbing have to be worked around. Optimize your space with creative solutions if you want to avoid a full redesign:

Recessed Niches: Utilize wall cavities to create built-in shelving and storage niches within your shower or bath area.

Stylish Vanity Options: Opt for vanities with drawers and compartments to maximize storage while complementing the design aesthetic.

Custom Cabinetry: For oddly shaped spaces, custom cabinetry tailored to your bathroom’s contours can make the most of every inch.

Additional Considerations

Working with a professional remodeler specializing in rowhome renovation can save time and energy. Brownstones – or rowhomes generally – offer a unique challenge that goes beyond do-it-yourself energy.

With over 30 years of experience, we feel confident that we can help you in tastefully updating your brownstone. We offer a free, no-obligation estimate and consultation, and start by getting to know your particular needs and expectations. Your new dream bathroom could only be a few weeks away.

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