Sheila Kim-Jamet -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
If you want to use the main bathroom at this house in Omaha, you'll have to ask, "How do I get in?" That was precisely the response that the namesake principal of Randy Brown Architects was hoping for when he redesigned the 75-square-foot corner space and gave it a door so large that it's more like a movable wall. When it swings open, it resembles a giant jigsaw piece being pulled away from the puzzle. In a further act of subversion, Brown specified only off-the-shelf materials but used them in unorthodox and inventive ways—for reasons that he explained to us.
Why limit yourself to such basic materials?
It started out as a joke, actually. Every do-it-yourselfer goes to a big-box store, buys cabinets and fixtures, and plops them in. This bathroom shows that a DIY project using nothing exotic or luxurious can still produce artistic results.
Could you describe your innovations?
One was to use standard cement-board for the shower. In a typical bathroom, this material gets covered with tile, but we chose to leave it exposed, coated with a cement sealant. The floor is OSB, a material normally used for sheathing houses. Here, it's finished with polyurethane. And we used 35 feet of metal pipe for a variety of functions, including a towel rail, a shower-curtain rod, a light fixture over the sink, and, of course, plumbing.
A highlight is the cast slab sink, made of basic concrete. We did a lot of drawings to work out the angle so that water would flow into the drain properly, but the slope would remain subtle.
Why the jigsaw-puzzle door?
The bathroom is in an interesting location, on an external corner, so I decided to make it sculptural, a conversation piece that would generate thoughts about architecture as well as straightforward questions like "Where's the door?" and "How does it open?" After some sketching and modeling, we came up with a three-dimensional design, an asymmetrical hollow-frame block 9 inches deep. I hate flat doors!
What materials is the door constructed of?
It's maple plywood except for a notch at the top that's filled with translucent plastic scrim. I used the same scrim again for the narrow transomlike gap between the wall and the ceiling as well as for two other openings, above and below the sink. At night, when the bathroom's in use, it glows like a lantern.
How does the door open?
With a piano hinge. But there's no handle, so you've just got to clamp on. For example, my kids pull the very bottom of the door, whereas I grab it from the edge. There's no right or wrong way. My point was to get people to really touch it.