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Virtual Bathroom

Revamping the Marches' master bathroom was more than a remodeling project; it was a quest. Jo and Rick March not only wanted to correct the odd, do-it-yourself design devised by the previous owner in 1985, they wanted to upgrade with a unique design of their own — one that had McClurg Remodeling & Construction Services of Marcellus, N.

December 31, 2007
Products List
The Financials
Company Snapshot

Refinished and topped with a blue granite counter, vessel sinks and elegant faucets, the vanity gains distinction and style. A tile frame integrates the large mirror into the design.  Photos courtesy of McClurg Remodeling & Construction Services

Revamping the Marches' master bathroom was more than a remodeling project; it was a quest. Jo and Rick March not only wanted to correct the odd, do-it-yourself design devised by the previous owner in 1985, they wanted to upgrade with a unique design of their own — one that had McClurg Remodeling & Construction Services of Marcellus, N.Y., searching for products and design inspiration everywhere.

The original owner tailored the bathroom to fit his extraordinary height, with a sky-high showerhead and a homemade, two-person tub large enough for a giant. The fiberglass tub was bumpy inside and so huge that the water was always cool by the time there was enough for a bath. "It was worthless," says Jo. "We never used it." By 2006, the shower had developed a bad leak and only one of the two sinks in the vanity had a functioning faucet. The cats took naps in the other sink.

A few years earlier the Marches hired a "bargain" contractor to replace their windows. "We were never really happy with the work," says Jo. This time the Marches went straight to the best contractor they could find for their bathroom remodel. Through her job with the New York State government, Jo knew of McClurg's quality work. "I know their reputation," she says, "so we just went with them."

McClurg project consultant Mark Waite first met with the Marches in August 2006, long before they planned to start the remodel. They wanted the new bathroom to be beautiful, luxurious, and out of the ordinary, and they wanted plenty of time to develop a design that was perfect in every detail. Besides, says Jo, "there was no way to get trucks up our 1,000-foot driveway in winter," so the couple reserved March 2007 — six months off — for the construction.

The time frame worked out; designing the bathroom took a full three months.

Almost everything in the 10-foot by 10-foot bathroom had to be scrapped. The vinyl and carpet flooring, dated ceramic-tile vanity top, and deteriorated fixtures and fittings had to go. Even the pipes were inadequate; Waite knew he'd have to replace the ½-inch pipes with ¾-inch conduits to provide decent water flow. "The vanity was the only good thing they had," he says.

As for the new look, the Marches knew just two things at the start. They wanted big tiles. And they wanted a distinctive and romantic space, perhaps in keeping with their handmade, castle-esque, Renaissance-style bed. They had accumulated piles of magazine clippings of pretty bathrooms, but the designs they chose were all over the map. Remembering a medieval grotto-theme bathroom McClurg built a decade earlier, Waite suggested this rich, earthy style to the Marches. They loved the idea. The quest was on.


Hashing Out the Details

Waite needed to develop a distinctive design using virtually all off-beat, new products, while staying as close as possible to the $35,854 estimate. The design evolved week by week, with painstaking discussion at every decision point along the way. "We had at least a dozen sit-down meetings as we were doing selections," says Waite, and made countless trips to suppliers — five to the granite store alone and three or four to other places. "Frustration ran high sometimes," Waite admits, "but we tried to make them feel as non-pressured as possible. They had the time, so we let them use it."

As the Marches made choices, Waite kept them informed of the budget impact. "By the time everything was selected they knew what all the increases were." Though the final cost topped the estimate by nearly $10,000, sticker shock never became an issue.

When the Marches signed the design contract — or what McClurg calls a preconstruction agreement — Waite collected a 5 percent retainer that would be credited to the last draw. The retainer fell far short of covering time invested. "We spent 50 percent more time than usual on design," says Waite. McClurg co-owner Brian Ciota wasn't worried. "I'm looking for a commitment from the customer to build the job," he says, and creating a design the clients love ensures that commitment.

Matching granite and tile harmonize the tub and shower. A frameless glass enclosure allows the large corner shower to share rather than block space and light. Oil-rubbed sconces provide atmosphere and non-glare up-lighting around the room.

Googling for a Grotto Bath

The Marches' first selection was blue-green ceramic tiles. The other components had to match this unusual color, and most surfaces and fixtures needed to look like — or be — stone. In most cases McClurg's regular suppliers didn't have exactly what the Marches wanted. So they scoured the Internet, as did Waite, shooting e-mails back and forth as they discovered products that might work.

Except for the tile and granite, virtually all the key products for the bathroom were Internet finds. Often Waite took the Marches back to a regular McClurg supplier, hoping to find a product similar to one seen on the Internet. No success. "Sometimes it would get down to handle style" or slight color variation or another detail that wasn't quite right. But when ordering a product from a manufacturer or supplier new to McClurg, company co-owner Scott McClurg says, "I need it to be somewhat time-tested." (Before ordering a new brand of cement siding he once soaked a slab of the siding in a bucket for a week to test its performance.)

On Internet purchases for the March project, Waite carefully checked out the products and manufacturers. He also closely studied the recommended installation specs "to make sure they were followed to the T" and the warranty would never be voided. He allowed three or four extra weeks for product delivery, though all products arrived promptly. And he forwarded the specs to subcontractors to be sure adequate time and installation costs were incorporated in the schedule and budget.

Finding the two vessel sinks and sink faucets was toughest, says Waite. Stone-look vessel sinks were identical and, to look natural, the Marches preferred each to be unique. They zeroed in on two thick granite units at one Web site, one of them squarish and the other more round. No faucets from local suppliers would fit them. An Internet search turned up a European faucet that looked great but, because it wasn't low flow, did not meet county code. More Internet research at last uncovered code-compliant faucets the Marches liked.

Also on the Internet, Waite spotted an odd-size, 5-foot, 6-inch —long tub that was spacious enough for two bathers and wouldn't crowd the room. He used blue granite for the tub surround, the top of the repainted vanity and the lower walls of the room. A large, glass-enclosed, two-person shower with granite threshold is sized to fill all the space adjacent to the tub. A final Internet trophy — European, oil-rubbed bronze sconces — add ambiance and light to the windowless room.

On-Site Solutions

Lead carpenter Donn Schuldt had to saw the old tub in half to get it out of the bathroom. He replaced three rotted floor joists under the old shower, ran new drains and installed in-floor heating to warm the tile floor. To fit with the grotto theme, he installed a ceramic bull nose around the mirror. The Marches also liked his idea of laying the floor tile at an angle.

Ordinarily McClurg's granite fabricator pre-drills for faucets. The delay in finding faucets put the onus on Schuldt, who had to pinpoint the best faucet location for each one-of-a-kind sink, then drill 1¼-inch holes through the granite counter top on site.

During project planning, Waite gave the Marches a quote on adding an instant hot water heater, alerting them that the existing water heater might not be adequate for their big new fixtures. Shortly after production started, they opted to install the unit. This, at least, was an easy decision. "The instant hot water system is fantastic for the shower and the tub," Jo says. "We love everything about the room."

Says Waite: "If you run into anyone else who wants a grotto bathroom, call me by all means. At this point we could cut that product search process in half."

2006 Stage of Project
Aug. 17 Initial meeting
Aug. 29 Design contract signed
Dec. 4 Design complete
Dec. 18 Construction contract signed
March 1 Begin demo
March 5 Begin framing
March 7 Begin drywall; complete plumbing and electrical rough-in
March 13 Install in-floor heating; begin tile
March 15 Install cabinetry
March 16 Tile complete
March 19 Begin trim; finish electrical; make granite template
March 22 Install granite
March 23 Install shower door; finish plumbing
March 26 Punchlist complete
Payments: 2006
Sept. 7 $1,792 design fee
Dec. 18 $10,000 to order materials
March 5 $10,000 upon start of construction
March 7 $10,000 upon start of drywall
March 13 $12,328 upon installation of tile
March 26 $2,984 upon completion


Products List

In-floor heat mat: Watts Radiant (HeatWeave) Light fixtures: Minka Group Shower fittings: Moen Sink faucets: Grohe Towel rings and accessories: Murray Feiss Tub and toilet: Kohler Vessel sinks: Stone Forest Wall and floor tile: Portenza-Verde Lagos

The Financials

Vice president and co-owner Brian Ciota sets the draw schedules on McClurg projects, and has the job down to a science. "We are very careful to stay at least even on our draw schedules," he says, without "borrowing money from the bank or other jobs to cover expenses, but being fair to the homeowner." Ciota collects a draw up front to cover non-returnable products that are ordered; the March project required a $10,000 draw for the granite, tile, specialty sinks and custom shower door.

He pins subsequent draws to visible, indisputable markers such as start of drywall, and requests payment within just two days; change orders usually are due upon signing. "Most people don't have any problem with paying right away," Ciota says, and the fast payment enables McClurg to take advantage of early bird discounts from subcontractors and suppliers. "We always receive those discounts," he says. "At 1, 2 or 3 percent a month, the savings add up."

Company Snapshot

McClurg Remodeling & Construction Services 
Owners: Scott McClurg and Brian Ciota
Location: Marcellus, N.Y.
2007 volume: $5 million
Projected 2008 volume: $6 million
Web site: 
Biggest challenge: Creating a unique luxury bathroom to exacting aesthetic standards

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