Modern makeovers

Story by Sarah Gonzales

When Renee and Alex Wardlow* bought their 1940s duplex in the South Addition neighborhood of downtown Anchorage they had a clear vision: combine the two halves into a modern and space-efficient single family home.

To make it happen, they contacted Bruce Williams of Black + White Studio Architects. He quickly came onboard. "We wanted to respect the history and the form of this two story gable structure, while reinvigorating the shape into a building that responded to today's needs and technology," he says.

One of the most pressing needs was to create functional, yet design-savvy, bathrooms.

A hidden bathroom for a busy family

With two young children, a spacious backyard and no downstairs bathrooms, the family wanted a first-floor powder room in an area where kids could "run in and use the bathroom without having to go upstairs," Williams says. A pass-through entryway was added onto the side of the house, providing access from the front yard to the back yard as well as into the house. Now the powder room is neatly hidden behind a closet door in the entryway. "Most people don't even know it's there," Williams says. At just 30-inches wide by 7-feet deep, the powder room proves that small spaces can be functional with the right design. To make it feel more spacious, Williams added a tapered counter and situated the toilet opposite of the sink. "It's an efficient way to accommodate a thin small space," he says.

Upstairs, a modern and spacious retreat

There was another logistical matter waiting upstairs, too: the homeowners had different work schedules and wanted to be able to come and go from the existing baths without waking each other. "We work shift work so we wanted something functional with double access to make it easy for our lifestyle," says Renee. The solution? Turn one of the four upstairs bedrooms into a master bath. "The bathrooms were very small when it was a duplex – the new upstairs bathroom was converted from an office, while one of the original baths was turned into a closet," she says. Now, the new bath can be accessed from the master bedroom as well as the upstairs landing.

Space was also at a premium in the upstairs bath, where Williams added some touches to make the small room seem more expansive: large mirrors opposite windows, strategically placed lights and wall-mounted vanities. The sage-hued tiled walls were a practical decision as well as an aesthetic one. "The tiles have a language that says 'I am a bathroom,'" says Williams. "They reflect light to make it look more spacious." They also reflected the homeowner's design directive – modern, clean and colorful. The focal point of the master bath is the triangular shower. Situated in the corner, the shower is separated from the rest of the room by a floor-to-ceiling glass panel that's half frosted, for a look that's striking, private and functional. It also preserves some history: two of the shower walls are the original bedroom walls, complete with craftsman-style windows. "We kept the windows in the bathroom – the glass in the windows is an etched type of glass so you can't see through it but it allows light to come in," Williams says. Toms Andrews of Andrews Construction, the contractor on the project, finished the floor with what looks like polished black pebbles from Pacific Tile, a dramatic element that had the added benefit of building up the surface to accommodate drainage. "The pebble floors provide a nice massage on bare feet," says Williams. "The radiant heat in the bathroom floor feels great on your feet especially when they are cold or bare. It's all part of waking up."

Now the family has bathrooms that fit their life and style while preserving some of the historic aspects of their 1940s duplex. The end result of any home redesign should be a place where a family can feel like they are "transitioning from what is old and expected to what is new today," says their architect Bruce Williams. No doubt the Wardlows agree.

*Homeowners' names have been changed at their request.