The “Almost There” Master Bathroom in the India pied-à-terre

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:

Master Bathroom Inspiration

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:

Carved Chippy Paint Wood

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.

Mitered Corners

Master Bath Vanity Wood

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!

Designing Master Bathroom Vanity

Master Bathroom Sink Assembly

Sink Assembly

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.

Installing Sink Vanity

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!

Paint Fixes All Problems


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.

Master Bathroom India pied-a-terre

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.

Things to Fix

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!!):

Hammered Copper Sink Basin

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:

Chennai Glass Shower Walls

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! :)

Master Bath Vanity Carefully Composed

India Oil Rubbed Bronze Shower System

It’s 90% there. It’s that last 10% that’s always kind of tricky. To be continued … on the next trip!


A Shimmery Metallic Copper Wall with Modern Masters

Copper metallics are hot right now. Williams-Sonoma is selling copper kitchen equipment and utensils this season. Home decor magazine pages are full of copper. Copper is a current wedding decoration trend. It’s a warm and welcoming metal, perfect for cozy homes in the fall and winter.

I recently created a luscious shimmering copper accent wall in our basement. We’re turning part of our basement into a “man cave” media center. I prefer televisions surrounded by darker surfaces, so it’s like being in a movie theater. But, there was a bright white wall near the TV that was covered with a shiny dry erase board. It was time to change the wall. Here’s a sneak peak of the transformation:


To make this space into a manly cave, I added high contrast, bold patterns, black color, and dark metallics. The inspiration for this project was this photo of the Le Méridien Istanbul Etiler Presidential Suite living room:

Le Méridien Istanbul Etiler—Presidential Suite

To make the raised patterns on the wall, the inspiration was mud cloth from Mali:

Mali Mud Cloth

The Paint: Modern Masters

If you want to paint a metallic wall, two words come to mind: Modern Masters. Why? They have a huge selection of metallic paints. Not just silver, gold, bronze and copper but also blue, green, red, black, pink, orange … any color you want, but in metallic! It was hard to choose (it helps to get a color card) but I finally settled on Antique Copper for a rich, deep dark copper color. Modern Masters was wonderful to work with, and provided me with a kit of metallic paint, extender and a fluffy roller for this project.

Modern Masters Copper Wall Painting Supplies

(Hey if you can’t beat that light flashing on the wall, highlight it!)

Supplies for the wall

  • Modern Masters Antique Copper Metallic Paint, total 64 fl oz (2 quarts) for a 7′ x 7′ wall
  • Modern Masters paint extender
  • Modern Masters roller with deep nap recommended for the metallic paints
  • 4″ roller with 1/2″ nap for the edges
  • Primer
  • Dark brown Benjamin Moore paint
  • Bucket to mix paint and extender
  • Paint tray

Supplies for the mud cloth-inspired wall art

This was my first time painting with the Modern Masters paint which contains real metal particles. I learned that it’s all about protecting the particles if you want a shiny metallic wall. Think of the particles like newborn puppies. You don’t want to smush them! Thus, the need for a cushy deep nap roller with 1/2″ nap. It’s almost like fluffy sheepskin, but on a paint roller, super cushy!

Before - White Dry Erase Board on Wall

Because there was dry erase board permanently installed on the wall — you can see the slick shininess above — first I applied a Kilz primer. Then I painted a dark brown Benjamin Moore color left over from a previous project, to start with a dark base coat instead of painting on white.

Dark Brown Base Coat

Painting Tips for Metallic Paints

You’ll notice in the supplies list above, I mentioned an “extender.” You can mix an extender into the paint, and it extends the time that the paint stays wet.

Modern Masters Antique Copper Paint Supplies

As Modern Masters recommends wetting the roller, I found it really does help to wet the roller before painting, then spin the roller to fling off excess water. Because the nap is so long, the paint will spread more evenly when the roller is wet. You can spin the roller with your hands, but I found an inexpensive roller spinner at Menards.

Spinning a Paint Roller

Also — important — don’t paint Vs and Ws. Remember it’s all about protecting the particles. If you paint slanted lines, the metallic particles can be facing lots of different directions and you won’t get an even finish.

Instead, paint straight lines up and down, or left to right. Roll your paint from floor to ceiling in one stroke, then “backroll” back down the wall to the floor. So you are rolling up and then rolling back down over the paint you just applied. Keep rolling strips up and down the wall, overlapping with the previous strip by about 2 inches. Keep working so that the previous strip doesn’t dry before you roll the next one.

Let the first coat of paint dry. It may not look so great at this point, but don’t worry. Repeat the process for a second coat. With the second coat, you’ll get a rich, even finish.

Copper Metallic Paint from Modern Masters

You can see the metallic copper emerging in this photo, versus the flat dark brown. The final result is a burnished antique copper penny surface that’s so luscious and luxurious! It’s metallic shiny too!

But Wait There’s More: Raised Patterns

The black patterned wall in the Le Méridien Istanbul Etiler photo above inspired the idea to create raised patterns on boards. I used the Royal Design Studios Tribal Vibes Allover Wall Stencil because it looks like mud cloth, a strong masculine-feeling pattern.

The Tribal Vibes stencil is wider than the boards, so I laid different areas of the stencil on the boards to make each look one-of-a-kind.

Stencil Layout

Then so the surface would be same as the wall, I primed and then painted the dark brown Benjamin Moore paint.

Primed and Painted Boards

Wood Icing Textura Paste was applied through the stencil to make a raised pattern. To apply Wood Icing, load some of the product on a flat-edged trowel and then run the trowel almost parallel over the stencil. The Wood Icing will fill in the stencil. Let the Wood Icing set for a minute, then peel up the stencil. The good thing about Wood Icing is it adheres super well. But that also means, wash it off your stencil and trowel before it dries. You can sand the dried Wood Icing with fine grit paper to give the raised pattern a smooth finish.

Wood Icing

I actually got so excited about the luscious antique copper color that I wanted to paint the whole world right away! So I mistakenly painted the boards copper before applying the Wood Icing. You don’t have to do that! I got ahead of myself. If you follow the steps that make sense, in the right order, apply the Wood Icing, let it dry, and then paint the metallic Modern Masters paint over the raised stencil pattern.

Wood Icing Raised Pattern

And that’s it — mud cloth-inspired raised panels! They add some tone-on-tone subtle texture to the wall. The rest of the room will be “pattern-full” so I wanted to keep the wall monochromatic.

Modern Masters Antique Copper Painted Wall

I placed a mid century modern chair that I re-upholstered with real mud cloth in front of the wall, and stacked up my favorite design books as a little “side table.” The Edison bulb lamp was also a DIY project — this little corner is full of DIY creativity! Though this area was supposed to be a man cave, right? I think it’s styled more “bohemian chic” (or “chick”!) right now. My husband’s large screen TV, stereo and speakers are just out of shot, so that is the manly stuff in this entertainment hang-out space!

Copper Raised Pattern Wall Art

Global Decor

For more ideas on how to use metallic paints, visit the Modern Masters Cafe blog and enjoy the gorgeous projects there.

Oh My Achy Breaky Back – Time for Luxury …

It’s been a tough 10 days in India.

Breathing dust kicked up by the carpenter. Sweating so much I wash my face six times a day. Solving what seem like insurmountable problems, until we think hard enough and creatively enough. It’s rough on the brain. Sleeping on a thin mattress on a tile floor. That last one is the worst of all — I expected to be comfortably sleeping in our apartment’s master bedroom by now. It will be a few more days from now.

I’m ready for the luxury treatment.

To just spin around in fresh air, free of paint fumes, in a swirly skirt:

Swirly Skirt

To lounge among silk pillows on an old canopy bed, snacking on cold pomegranate seeds:

Canopy Bed

To read Indian design magazines all day, surrounded by patterns and textures:

Patterns and Textures

To wear gold zari embroidered outfits and be pampered with a pedicure – a pedicure at home, so I don’t even have to go anywhere:


To be served dinner by candlelight, surrounded by a canopy:

Candlelit Lounge

To wear a dress with pom-pom trim, and stare wistfully out a jali window:


(Though honestly, I would get out-of-my-mind bored if there was nothing better to do but stare wistfully out a window. It sounds nice for about two minutes.)

I shall slide my pampered feet along in padukas:

Doris Duke Shangri-La Padukas

As I make my way to an embellished chest full of silks from travels around the world:

Embellished Chest

I shall lounge by curtains like these billowing with soft breezes through the window:


Why sit in the glow of only one Fortuny lamp, when you can have a bunch in your imagination:


At the end of the day, I rest my head here:

Luxurious Bedroom

All these images are pinned on my India Apartment – Decorating Inspiration Pinterest Board. Making our apartment in India a luxurious space is what has caused an achy breaky back! And overall exhaustion. We’ll bounce back soon!


Seven Days of Dust and Determination

We’re in Chennai, India working on the India pied-à-terre. It’s one thing to sit on a soft sofa and surf for pictures of the look I’d like. This blog was launched in 2010 originally as a place to gather all the inspiration pictures to make a unique South Indian apartment. You can also visit a Pinterest board of decorating inspiration.

It’s obviously a totally different story to make it actually happen. Here’s some sneak peek snaps of what it’s been like for the past week …

Delivery of the glass for shower doors and walls:

Shower Door Glass Delivery in Chennai India

We thought the glass is a little thin, but if it can survive travel like this on Chennai roads, it can survive us opening and closing the doors during our occasional visits to India.

The carpenter explaining to my husband how our custom master bathroom sink vanity will be constructed:

Building a Bathroom Sink


The bathroom is tiny and it’s been a challenge to figure out how to build it so it can be wall-mounted. And today there was a bit of a disaster. The piece of old chippy paint door wood I bought — originally from India and I hauled it back to India — broke when the carpenter trimmed the edges to fit:

Master Bathroom Custom Sink Vanity Front

I had been so proud that I had figured out how to cut angles with my table saw. I was in our garage sawing the wood at 1:00 a.m. the night before catching a flight to India! My saw is much more powerful than the tools these guys are working with, and when they trimmed the wood, the cut shapes splintered and cracked. Bummer. And there’s a straight cut which was not obviously a wood splinter. I think a measuring mistake. You see the flowers aren’t centered? So far the carpenter has been so precise with the wood interior pieces no one will ever see. Why the mistake on the most important piece of wood? We’re insisting on using this piece of wood so the carpenter is fixing it.

Here’s a peek at the work environment! This is our living room!

Messy Dangerous Work Space

Someone said it’s like watching sausage being made. You don’t want to be there while they’re doing it. This is true.

Here’s a meeting with a carpenter to figure out how to make the guest bathroom sink so people can fit in the space:

Bathroom Sink

They painted the walls. And the floors too:

Paint Spattered Floor

It’s a mess! But it’s a fun mess!

It’s Happening! Making the India pied-à-terre Habitable

I’m writing from Chennai, India, where we’ll be for the next two weeks working on our apartment here. It’s gritty right now. As construction always is. It’s like cleaning — things get way worse before they look great. And in the apartment, the mess is on a massive scale, with dust and wood splinters and paint splatters and an occasional electrical cord and saw strewn about on the floor. Yeah, watch for the saws when you’re walking on the floor in your bare feet. In India, you’re always walking in homes in bare feet. And I work in safety as a profession! I tried to keep up with keeping the environment safer, but it’s really hard to keep up with 8-10 men making a massive mess. Here’s a peek:

I apologize for committing the cardinal video sin of holding my phone vertical. It’s what makes most sense though!

In keeping with the grittiness of the apartment right now, here’s some gritty scenes during our runs for supplies, paint, hardware and occasional food …

This is a scene down the street and around the corner from our apartment, maybe 5 minutes away:

Street Scene in Chennai, India

We passed that serene goat scene while bearing brackets to brace the bathroom counters, which will be made of Burmese teak. Of course everyone is freaking out about using wood in the bathroom. Boats are built of wood. I’m sure it will be fine when properly treated.

Pretty shapes and colors found during a foray for wood skirting contractors:

Chennai India

Grille in Chennai India

Buying wood skirting can be treacherous to your pocketbook. One contractor wanted to charge 3x the rate of another contractor that we originally visited. But we couldn’t remember the original contractor at the time. Thankfully we found paperwork and we found the original contractor. And not only were they a fraction of the other guy’s cost, they came up with a linear foot estimate when they measured our apartment that was 2/3 the estimate of the more expensive contractor!

Across the street there was a “stick no bills” sign, so they were stuck over here:

Poster Remnants in Chennai India

Street numbers change, and you will often see “old” and “new” numbers:

Chennai India Street Numbers

A painter’s ladder in our apartment. And more of that blue, because these are the guys painting it:

Painters Ladder in Chennai India

There won’t be much blue in our apartment — for now it is all bright white. More coming soon about paint, because I’m all about the paint!


The Bronze Urli

Urlis (also spelled uruli and uruly) are heavy bronze vessels traditionally used for cooking in Kerala, Southern India. They can also be decorative and used to float flowers and little candles …

Via Villa Jacaranda:

Villa Jacaranda Urli

They can be used as sinks in powder rooms …

From MakaZai, an urli in the Sabyasachi store in Mumbai:

Urli in Sabyasachi Store

From Houzz, an Indian urli on a Chinese cabinet:

Indian Urli on Chinese Cabinet

Via Inside Outside:

Modern Urli Wash Basin via Inside Outside

We have one small urli we found in Cochin during my first trip to India many years ago. It has a Lakshmi on one side and a gecko on the other. It sits on our fireplace hearth and currently holds … cat toys!

Coming from the U.S. where so many things are made in machines, I had no idea how labor intensive – and so dangerous! – the process of making an urli can be:

Making Urli

Check out this video — so fascinating but I warn it might make your jaws drop and your palms sweat — of making an urli in Southern India, for the Relic Hunter show on The Travel Channel:

That video makes me appreciate my urli even more, and everything that went into making it. I feel a bit guilty for just using it to store our cats’ fuzzy balls and catnip mice! We found our urli at Crafters, which is the Fort Cochin shop featured in this video. Sonny, the owner of Crafters, has accompanied me and my husband through his warehouses as we chose a few items for the India pied-à-terre. He knows the stories behind everything there. Once, years ago, I had my eye on a curvy teak and cane chair at Crafters. Before buying it, we left to go to the mountain spice estates of Thekkady for a few days. When we returned, “my” teak chair was gone. I had totally intended to buy it and ship it to Minneapolis where we lived at the time. Who had bought it? Ian Grant – the Relic Hunter in the video above! His shop was only a few miles from our home and yes, the chair wound up there! I left it for someone else who may never go to India to buy. I know we could go to Crafters ourselves any time.

I did eventually get my chair. We returned to Crafters a decade later and there’s now a curvy teak chair in our Chennai apartment. In a few weeks I’ll be reclining in it with an issue of Elle Decor India and some warm Kerala Chips just out of the fryer down the street.

So back to urlis. Here are more photos of pretty urlis …

Urli with Etched Pattern

From Shikara Design:

Shikara Design Urli

From World Market:

Urli from World Market

If you go to India, an urli is a wonderful unique souvenir. They can fit into western décor in a lot of ways – they can float candles, display fruit, hold potpourri. The gold bronze or brass would be pretty holding a pile of holiday baubles at Christmastime. Small urlis could display little guest soaps in a powder room. But I warn, urlis are heavy so account for that in your plans with your check-in luggage weight. Or, reputable sellers will ship urlis worldwide to your home. If you ship anything, take a picture of it and be sure staff tag it before you leave the shop, so you receive the one you want.

English/Victorian Exposed Shower Plumbing

Exposed shower plumbing was a trendy choice here in the U.S. when we remodeled our master bathroom nine years ago. The look is industrial, it’s vintage, it’s a little bit country depending on the finish you choose. It’s often imported from England by brands like Rohl, Samuel Heath or Perrin & Rowe. It’s a design choice in the U.S., but in India it’s a necessity. Both our bathrooms in our Chennai apartment require exposed plumbing and pipes. Exposed shower plumbing looks like this:

Exposed Shower Plumbing

True to the name, the pipes are exposed on the outside of the wall.

It’s also called exposed thermostatic system.

The exposed shower plumbing choices we’ve seen so far in Chennai showrooms are very chunky looking and they’re nearly always shiny chrome. Contemporary shiny things are popular there. There’s limited design options available especially if you want an oil rubbed bronze, or a soft brushed brass look like this unlacquered brass from Waterworks:

Waterworks Unlacquered Brass

If you can get these finishes in Chennai, they will be special ordered and we will be there only 2.5 weeks and really want a shower while we’re there. Surely everyone around us will appreciate it if we shower too. So there’s no time for special orders. So I’m seeking shower plumbing in the U.S. to haul over in suitcases. !!! Yes. We fly Etihad and we get four large check-in suitcases between the two of us with 200 pounds of stuff for no charge. You can easily take bathroom sconce lighting, plumbing, sewing machine, drilling tools … yes that is our vacation packing list right now!

While we installed Rohl in our Chicago area home, the quality and cost were worth it in a master bath we use several times daily. But for only very occasional use in our place in India, the more upscale brands like Rohl, Perrin & Rowe and Waterworks are way too pricey. We also don’t want to risk getting docked for import taxes while bringing expensive plumbing into India. So I’m seeking other brands this weekend, and meanwhile finding the coolest showers with exposed plumbing …

Exposed Shower Plumbing

Shower Plumbing Exposed

You can also build an exposed shower system yourself with copper pipes. In the right setting, usually very simple and purposely understated, it can look charming versus just cheap DIY.



So wish me luck. I hope we’re hauling finished shower pipe systems on Etihad instead of rigging up copper pipes in a pinch!