For privacy, architect Aleck Wilson placed the sills of the windows above waist height. He located the window heads at the ceiling trim and filled the spaces below them with shelf niches.
Mark Darley For privacy, architect Aleck Wilson placed the sills of the windows above waist height. He located the window heads at the ceiling trim and filled the spaces below them with shelf niches.

Renovating a great old house can be like remixing a classic hit record. The goal is to say something of contemporary relevance while paying due respect to one’s inspiration—and never upstaging the original music. This master bath, in a century-old San Francisco Shingle style house does all that and more, artfully appropriating the visual vocabulary of the house to foster an atmosphere not of its original era or the current day, but of both at once.

A marble band establishes a water table for this new bath in an old house. Beginning as a lavatory counter, it circles the room as a shelf, window sill, and wall cap.
Mark Darley A marble band establishes a water table for this new bath in an old house. Beginning as a lavatory counter, it circles the room as a shelf, window sill, and wall cap.

Part of a master suite that combines two original bedrooms, the new bath occupies a neat rectangle of floor plan. Architect Aleck Wilson subdivided the space into separate function zones—one for washing and bathing, another for showering and drying—delineated by a soffit that drops over the shower area and a crown molding that wraps the washing and bathing area. With the exception of a separate toilet compartment, which closes with a door, “I’m defining spaces in the ceiling plane,” Wilson explains, “not in the plan.” Having established this separation of spaces, however, he ties them back together with a band of marble that begins as the sink counter and circles the room at counter height, topping a tiled wainscot. “It’s kind of a nice horizontal datum,” he notes.

For privacy, Wilson placed the sills of the windows above waist height. But rather than frame them like pictures floating on the wall, he located their heads at the ceiling trim and filled the spaces below them with shelf niches that rest on the wainscot. The aesthetic strategy starts by adopting bits and pieces of the house’s existing visual lexicon, but continues by “extending, extruding and lining them up with different things,” Wilson explains, “which is probably a modernist approach.”

While Wilson created a separation of spaces in this master bath, he ties it all back together with a band of marble that begins as the sink counter and circles the room at counter height.
Mark Darley While Wilson created a separation of spaces in this master bath, he ties it all back together with a band of marble that begins as the sink counter and circles the room at counter height.

The materials used—marble, painted wood, and white ceramic tile with a limestone mosaic floor and polished nickel fittings and hardware—further the then-is-now sensibility, with a palette that is clean without being cold. The glass shower enclosure and a floor deck and bench of ipe slats at the drying-off area (a mirror-image bench hides behind the shower’s pony wall) are the only exceptions to the theme. Otherwise, Wilson says, the vocabulary is traditional, “but the spatial arrangement is contemporary.”—B.D.S.

Project Credits:Builder: Redhorse Constructors, San Rafael, Calif.; Architect: Aleck Wilson Architects, San Francisco; Living space (bath): 170 square feet; Construction cost: Withheld; Photographer: Mark Darley. / Resources: Ceramic tile, flooring, and plumbing fittings: Waterworks; Plumbing fixtures: Kohler, TOTO USA.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.