Ritual Architecture Transforms Historic Southern California Home Master Bath into a Modern Coastal Retreat
June 5, 2020
Architect and designer Briana (Bree) Ellis is known for her vision. The San Diego native saw a gap in the market—where architecture services end and where interior design begins—and founded Ritual Architecture to fill it. By combining her study of architecture and interior design, she created a holistic and collaborative service model offering her clients complete design packages.
And this vision was desperately needed for the master bath in her clients’ historic Point Loma home.
A narrow space that had been renovated in the 1980s, the cramped room did not fit with the rest of the home, a charming, character-filled 100-year-old Spanish beauty overlooking downtown and the San Diego Bay.
“One of the complaints of the original bathroom was that there was not even enough room to walk through comfortably without bumping your shoulder on something,” said Briana. “It had standard bathroom cabinets with really tall linen cabinets on either side. The owners just kept bumping into the walls and the cabinets. They’d stub their toes.”
“It was nearly impossible to even take ‘before’ photos because it was so small and cramped,” she added.
The clients envisioned relaxing in a more spacious bathroom but were locked into an existing six and half feet wide by thirteen feet long footprint. Style-wise, Ritual Architecture was tasked with creating a modern but timeless master bath retreat that aligned with the history and aesthetic of the rest of the house but confined within the existing space.
“The goal was to make it feel more expansive, more open, but try to keep the plumbing in the same spot, which made it really tough because the distance between the sink and the shower is about two and a half feet,” said Briana.
To make the bathroom layout accommodate the clients needs, increase the amount of natural light, and open up the space, Ritual Architecture’s plans included Kohler pedestal sinks to give the couple room to move, a glass shower enclosure to allow natural light to reach the entire room, and a dramatic Pebble Stone tile feature wall and Victoria and Albert clawfoot tub to anchor the space.
“We wanted to do something that was more fitting with the rest of the aesthetics of the house,” said Briana. “My concept was to take it back to the era when it was originally built, return the bathroom to how it was intended to look, with details like a clawfoot tub and pedestal sinks. The cool thing about this look is that it is also super spacious because there is not a lot of built-in cabinetry that is taking up what is now their walking space. So, it is right for the house and also right for what the client wanted.”
After several months of design work and carefully choosing all of the fixtures, demo and construction started. The clients and the architect were completely aligned as a team, taking the time to be thoughtful—intentional—visiting several different showrooms before finalizing decisions. They landed on vintage inspired fixtures paired with natural, beachy materials. The result is a look and feel that is finished and casual, organic and tailored.
“I definitely give credit to the clients because they were so trusting of me,” said Briana. “I think it helped that I provided them with a design that met their aesthetic, but I think the project would not have been as successful if they were stuck on certain design elements , such as having cabinets under the sink.”
“It really speaks to Briana’s vision—and ability to conceptualize—to know that we didn't need to remove a wall to achieve this open feeling,” said Travis Derks, owner and founder of Derks Construction, the builder on this project.
Travis’ crew took the room down to the wall studs and built it back up, lighter and brighter, according to Ritual Architecture’s specifications.
“For the most part, locations of things stayed the same,” said Travis “With all the added glass and the clawfoot tub, pedestal sinks, things like that, it just completely opened up and transformed the room.”
Travis was familiar with Island Stone and Pebble Tile before this project—he actually has the tile on his own shower floor—and has installed it in many luxury builds around San Diego, but what impressed him with this project was how the tile was used. Yes, it is on the shower floor, but it is also a design statement and that gave him an all-new appreciation for the tile.
“On that wall it's so impactful, and it's gorgeous, and it's different. It makes you want to run your hands on it,” he said.
The focal wall was installed by Art Marble and Tile, who pieced together full pebbles all the way around the window as opposed to just taking sheets and cutting them.
“There's very few, if any, cut pebbles around the window opening,” said Travis. “The installer was able to mix and match and use full pebbles in there.”
“You can't see any of the pebble tile mesh-mounted mosaic seams or anything, it's such a good product,” added Briana.
Briana’s design also used different materials to play spatial tricks that achieved a lighter and brighter look, such as putting sand-colored, fossilized limestone tile as wainscot on either side of the focus wall to break down the proportions of the room. “If we had done the tile all the way around the room it would have accentuated and reinforced the proportions of the room,” said Briana. “The combination of installing the tile only part of the way up, and having that Pebble Tile focal wall; it breaks down the room so you don't read it as four walls, a ceiling and a floor, you read it as different planes of different proportions.”
Another trick Briana used was to address the ceiling area above the tub that was taller than the rest of the room, the original design felt very ‘shaft-like’.
“By creating that built-in shelf area by the tub, it brings your eye up into that ceiling area that's a little bit taller and then by bringing the pendant light down, it ties the whole geometry together,” said Briana. “It also breaks down the proportions of the room, because now that elevated ceiling area is actually relating to something else happening in the room and it ties it all together.”
When it came time to document the bathroom, Briana reached out to another female business founder, photographer Haley Hill. Haley is used to maneuvering her tripod to capture the best angles of residential and commercial spaces and was not flustered by the confines of the bathroom.
“The space was, for the most part, easy to capture because it's gorgeous, obviously,” said Haley. “There were so many fun details to highlight and every angle had a unique feature.”
“Also, Bree and her team had staged the entire bathroom to make it look perfect, which always makes my job easy.”
Learn more about the people and the products that made this beautiful space:
Island Stone Cobbles pebble mosaic in Sterling Megamix
Victoria and Albert Clawfoot Cheshire tub
Kohler Memoirs® Stately pedestal sink
Pottery Barn Vintage Rounded Rectangular Mirror
Original Hinkley wall sconces featured are no longer available, but they do have comparable styles: The Eton Family, The Everett Family, The Jackson Family