I warn, this post will go on quite a journey. Some parts aren’t pretty. And the journey isn’t over yet! As you’ll see at the end …
Today I’ll show how the master bathroom of the India pied-à-terre came together during our trip to Chennai, India in September. If you’ve followed along for awhile, these inspiration photos for the master bathroom may look familiar:
I wanted to create a one-of-a-kind carved wood vanity. While surfing Etsy a few years ago, I found the perfect piece of Indian chippy paint wood at Hammer & Hand in St. Louis:
It hung around our house for a few years, waiting for the day we’d be ready to do the master bathroom. That day came, and the piece of wood was too long to fit the airline’s checked baggage rules. So I cut it on the table saw in our garage at 1 a.m. the night before boarding the flight. And I was pretty dang proud of myself!! Because I did some nice mitered corners! First time ever.
These gorgeous corners got wrecked later by the carpenter, and all I can say is … invest in a table saw, dear contractors! It’s time to upgrade from sawtooth blades and under-powered power tools that rip and chew wood like jaggedy Great White Shark teeth. I spare you the full wrath and rant. My husband, the economist, had an epiphany about this situation which happened numerous times – men showed up to work without good tools for the job. He realized labor is so cheap, that it’s far cheaper to send more people with rudimentary tools, than to buy the proper equipment that would get the job done better and faster. It does not make any economic sense to have the right tools. So projects lingered for days, made great messes, and we did get tired of it in the end. A few things didn’t get finished because we had enough. “Next time,” we’d say.
The beginning was exciting though. We shared our vision with the contractors — carpenters, plumbers, electricians. Many meetings occurred on the floor. What we wanted was different, but they got it!
We had problems to figure out, and there was good teamwork to find solutions. For example both bathrooms are smaller so we needed to ensure there was enough room to navigate around glass shower walls and very importantly, also use the toilet. As you see here, space is pretty tight. The edge of the toilet is on the left, and that raised edge on the floor to the right is where the shower glass will be.
This is why my carved wood got chopped and wrecked. I cut the front piece to 25″ long. But the master bath is so tight that every inch counts. If we left the vanity at 25″ wide, someone would soon get a nasty bruise on the sink edge while using the toilet. But the challenge was, we needed room for the sink basin, the faucet, and a bit more than a ridiculously slim countertop edge. At minimum, enough space to set a toothbrush, toothpaste and bottled water (because we can’t use the tap water for teeth brushing). We shaved the width down to 23″ and those extra 2″ buy space that matters by the toilet.
So the carpenter cut new mitered corners and this is when the wood crumbled. The carpenter filled spots with some crumbly-gluey wood shavings. I’ll have to sand and paint the broken crumbled parts on a future trip — the Florence color of Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan will match, I’m sure!
We also got a piece of teakwood to use as the vanity counter. Not a single person we talked to in India thought this was a good idea. No contractors, no family, no friends. “Wood and water?” they said. Bad idea! We insisted it’s okay. Like, boats are made of wood! Right? If the wood is treated properly, it should be fine, and you shouldn’t be leaving huge puddles of water on the counters, anyway.
Thing is, I’m not sure about the quality of the stain and sealer they used on the teak countertop. It rubbed off when the plumber installed the faucet, and the stain continued to rub off and streak when I cleaned. We’ll likely bring stain and sealer from the U.S., and sand and fix it ourselves on the next trip.
The assembly of this counter took quite awhile and made a big mess every day. There are screws and nails in visible places where they really don’t need to be. I can fill them later, but they bug me. I think the carpenter did a great job constructing a vanity that is securely attached to the wall, so the hidden guts are a genius plan, but the lack of attention to the visible parts were making me nervous. The final finishing quality was lacking. Nails were sticking out, and a mistake was made while cutting the front piece and the carpenter glued it together, but with glue that stayed shiny! He smeared the shiny glue around the front of the carved wood! I sanded all that glue off in an exhausted, heartbroken moment one hot, humid night, sweat dripping off my face and plopping on the tile. I had brought wood glue, but they didn’t use it, and I don’t know why glue was smeared all over the front where it doesn’t accomplish anything. I just kept thinking, “it’s okay, this blue-green paint looks just like Florence Chalk Paint! We’ll paint it and fix it later!”
So we called a “time out.” So the ends are not finished. On the next trip, we’ll cut wood pieces to size, paint them to blend in, and attach them.
I thought the plumbers had a chrome piece for under the sink, which I could live with, but this plastic pipe is not good looking.
So on the next trip, I’ll probably paint the pipe copper or oil rubbed bronze.
The carpenter’s marks on the tile wall are also difficult to clean off. I couldn’t get them off, but I’m not panicking yet. I’m sure they’ll come off with the right cleaner. I sure hope that gloppy stuff around the pipe on the wall comes off too. We ran out of time to clean it off before we had to catch a flight home. Why do the contractors leave things like this?
We watched over our copper sink like helicopter parents. Here it is when it arrived in Chicago, and Chaai maybe thought it is a humongous food bowl (oh yay!!):
I know I had a lot of complaints in this post. This was not an easy project. The really good thing is, the pieces all fit together pretty well. We were meticulous about measurements. Especially because we bought a bunch of stuff in the U.S. and carried it to India in suitcases, we had to order things that fit. Here’s sources of things from the U.S.:
- Home Depot bathroom lighting, which our electrician converted to the Indian electrical system
- Mirror found years ago at Kirkland’s
- Waterfall faucet from Home Depot
- Hammered copper sink from Signature Hardware
- Oil rubbed bronze exposed shower system from Signature Hardware
The glass shower wall and door were delivered like this:
The shower glass hardware is shiny chrome because it seems 98% of bathroom hardware and plumbing in India is shiny chrome, so we didn’t even bother asking about any other finish. Though we did find there’s a powder coating company nearby. If hardware is removable, you can take pieces there and get a different finish. The glass installers wound up cracking some tiles at the edge of the shower. They said the tiles are hollow, there isn’t mortar completely under them. ?!? So we’ll have to fill in and fix the cracked tiles later.
So … my vision for the master bathroom is almost there, if you compose the picture carefully! :)
It’s 90% there. It’s that last 10% that’s always kind of tricky. To be continued … on the next trip!
3 Replies to “The “Almost There” Master Bathroom in the India pied-à-terre”
wow thats quite some work. Yes in India it seems like the labour is cheap but they do what they know and do it the way they know! its quite difficult for me to picture this stuff in Chennai but I can only shower praises on your efforts to bring in the best despite the lack of labour and resources ( also opposing all the ‘are you kidding me’ reactions of friends&relatives!) Looking forward to more of the project :)
Hi Angela! I’m sorry I missed this comment when you first posted! I think what works to make this happen is to take an inspiration photo from anywhere in the world and say, why not in Chennai? Then find the pieces and put them together. We had to show videos to the contractors a few times, because we were asking them to do things they hadn’t seen before. But they figured it out! The wood countertop was really giving everyone worries. I figure if it’s sealed properly, it’s teak, it can get wet and it will be fine. We use the apartment only a few weeks a year any way. If it were daily use by a family including kids, I would not recommend using wood for a countertop. It’s all about what fits the need! Deb