Better Homes and Gardens Remodel (January 2010) – “Port of Calm”


Mission Hills, CA


"Port of Calm"


December 2009 / January 2010
A home’s maritime roots inspire a master bath update that’s sophisticated, soothing, and “see-worthy.”

The Change:
A modest-size master bathroom gets an updated look that modernizes its function while respecting the home’s history.

What It Took:

    Working within the existing space to create more openness and comfort without moving plumbing.

  • Forgoing a tub to enjoy the luxury of a spacious glass-enclosed shower with multiple heads.
  • Installing twin console vanities and recessed medicine cabinets that serve a couple’s grooming needs while hugging the wall to save space.
  • Retaining French doors that let in natural light, provide access to a balcony, and make the bath feel bigger.
  • Relying on an adjacent dressing area and closet to store linens and larger items.

History makes Karen Mehalek and Tom Paluch’s San Diego home more than just another charming old place.
Called Villa Orizaba, the home is named after the USS Orizaba, an 1800s side-wheel steamship known as the Mayflower of San Diego.The daughter of the ship’s captain built the villa in 1887 to realize her late father’s dream of a home on a hill overlooking the sea. Various changes over the years had left it looking part Victorian, part Arts and Crafts.

For 13 years, Karen and Tom didn’t change the master bath. “We initially liked the bath, which had been redone about four years before we bought the house,” Karen says. “The style was in keeping with the rest of the house, but as the years went by, the white monotone color palette and mix of Arts and Crafts and Victorian styles in the same room got a bit old. The closed-in shower also made the room feel even smaller.”

So while remodeling another bath and a laundry room on the same level to accommodate their growing family, the couple decided to go full-steam ahead with a master bath remodel, seeking to combine modern function with vintage character.

They viewed the project as historians. “We did research, research, and more research,” Tom says. “We looked at every periodical and book that so much as mentioned bathrooms of this era. Karen spent countless hours studying products. We never once entertained anything that didn’t look like it could have been manufactured between 1880 and 1920, and we got lucky. There are a lot of products that are historically accurate in appearance while being modern in functionality.”

The couple asked Architect Ione R. Stiegler, AIA to modernize the space while working within the existing footprint. “This is a 122-year-old house, so no walls are plumb and no floors are level. But that didn’t stop Ione,” Tom says.

As the bath was gutted, Stiegler gave the couple a reality check on their wish list. With just 95 square feet to work with, they would have to forgo a whirlpool tub and separate toilet compartment, as well as cabinetry. “To open up the space, a glass-enclosed shower was installed next to wash-basin stands that take up less room than conventional sinks with vanities,” Stiegler says. “To further the illusion of a larger space, marble was used for both flooring and wainscoting so the eye doesn’t distinguish as much between the two surfaces.”
Finding storage was tricky, but the solution was just a few steps away – linens and bulky items, such as blow dryers, are stored in the adjacent dressing room or in a nearby hall closet.

“Our primary, fundamental goal was to maintain the historical integrity of the house,” Karen says. “Not only did we do that, but we now have a bathroom that’s light and airy, doesn’t feel crowded, and is a great place to begin one’s day.” She has only one regret.“Why didn’t we do this sooner?”