Old-Timey Bathroom AKA Powder Room

Pursuit of the High Tank Toilet

My husband was insistent on a high tank toilet in the powder room.  He first showed me an inspiration photo, (see below) which if you look closely is really dollhouse furniture.

tiny bathroom

We had recently been to a friend’s 1850’s Victorian home who had their original high-tank toilet and that sealed the deal or should I say our fate.  These toilets are not easy to find.  We tried to find one at architectural salvage places but in the end we bought a new one from The Renovators Supply.

Eventually the day came to install it.

Impediment #1:  According to the website this the toilet can be installed with a standard 12″ rough-in (distance from wall to center of drain pipe). Of course once the floor and drywall was installed and we attempted to install the toilet we discovered this was incorrect. The toilet we had was a rear feed toilet and there was not enough room for the pipe. It probably should have been a 15″ rough-in. Once again it’s best to have all your fixtures in the house before you start construction and double check everything. We contacted the seller who was very helpful and exchanged the bowl for a top feeding version which did fit.

Impediment #2:  Once the bowl was in the plumber (or rather the B team he sent) had never installed one of these wall mounted tanks and had no idea how to do it. With a smirk my husband says, “I’ll do it this weekend.”  I think he likes showing up the “professionals.”

Impediment #3:  After starting the installation it turned out that the chrome pipes that were provided were somewhat shorter than expected. Instead of the tank sitting above your head it would have sat at eye level. That did not have the period effect that we were looking for.  No problem, we bought some extra chrome pipe and extend it. It turns out chrome pipes longer than 1 foot are impossible to find. The good news was that along with the new top feed bowl we got a new chrome feed pipe. My husband got creative and jointed the two pipes together to a long 6 foot chrome flush pipe. Unfortunately, he didn’t have extra chrome pipe for the supply line and had to use copper. It is not perfect and I am sure some Victorian spirit in our house is saying, “why would you expose the plumbing like in our day when you can hide it, you morons.”

HTC 2235 a

Once the old-timey toilet was in we set out to get the sink and lighting hardware.  Again, we tried to find something old but could not find anything that was the correct size so we went with a 24″ Kasey pedestal sink that ended up matching the toilet bowl perfectly.

HTC 2230The lighting we picked out from Restoration Hardware.  They have great lighting as well as furniture and accessories that mimic the styles from the 30’s and 40’s that we like.  We also had a 20% off coupon, which helped with our choices.  These two lights are both in gun metal grey.  The light over the mirror is a vintage English oval double sconce and the ceiling light is a glass barn filament pendant.

We hope to get an antique oval mirror but for now bought this plain inexpensive round one from Ikea as a placeholder.  The walls are painted Benjamin Moore Oatmeal.

The door and its hardware were original to the house.  The etched glass has the New York State seal on it so someone must have worked for the city and somehow “acquired” this door.  We loved it and were excited to re-use but discovered once the glass was cleaned that parts of it are clear, which is not so desirable in a powder room.  Our solution was to put a rolling shade over it so when it is in use there is privacy but otherwise you can see the glass’s design.


If anyone knows how to clean antique etched glass please let us know.  As you can see it is still brown in some areas that won’t come clean.  Or maybe that is part of its charm.

Some Finishing Touches on the Kitchen: backsplash, under-cabinet lighting, pot filler.

While waiting for the contractor to come back and finish (two months now) the deck off of the kitchen, we forged ahead to finish some smaller details that were not part of our original contract.

We hired a contractor to do a basic subway tile pattern back splash.  Why it was not in our original contract is yet another one of those details that got lost in the shuffle.  No loss because we were very unhappy with our contractor’s tile work in two bathrooms so we were more than willing to find someone else.  We don’t have many tips that result from this job other than the recommendation to use quality subway tiles.  Our tiler advised us to get Daltile or a comparable notched tile because they produce a nice thin grout line.  This is achieved with notched tiles because they are installed one right up against the other and the notch leaves space for the grout so you get even grout lines throughout.


Under-cabinet Lighting and Outlets

For our outlets we decided to use Legrand’s under cabinet lighting system.   This system is a bar that runs under the length of the upper cabinets and allow you to add or remove outlets whenever you want and offers other accessories like an iPad cradle, speakers, and under-mount cabinet lights.  This company also has really nice pop-out outlets that we were going to use on the island but in the end we did not use them because they did not fit in the space we needed them.

We liked this system because we weren’t tied to a specific place for outlets, we did not have to plan the tiles around the outlets and it looks cool.  The drawbacks are that it is not cheap and you can see the wires for your appliances.  This will give us the motivation to only plug things in when we need them.  We plan on adding a trim piece along the bottom of the cabinets to hide the lights.

undermount lights


Not much exciting to report here other than the fact that it is in.  Since we did not know when the plumber would be back we installed it ourselves.  Now we just have to make a lot of big pots of pasta or boil a lobster to make the expense of this item worth it.

pot filler

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Systems

When our brownstone was built 100 years ago there was, of course, no such thing as cooling systems so when deciding what HVAC system to install, we had to make some compromises.

Our three options were:  central air conditioning, a ductless split-AC system and window or sleeve mounted units.

Window or sleeve mounted units:  No.  We have lived in many apartments that had window mounted AC’s and they were always loud and they blocked light and well they are just plain ugly.  Our condo had the units that fit into a wall sleeve but they were unsightly on the outside of the building and there is little selection depending on what size sleeve you had.  We bought one new and it was very loud and was still fairly large as it protruded from the wall of our already small bedroom.

Central Air:  The plus to this option is obviously that there are no visible units as they are built into a duct system.  With this option, if you are remodeling an old house you must consider that it was not designed to have duct systems.  These might interfere with ceiling and wall moldings or other period details.  In our opinion, this is the best option if you are gutting your home because they can custom design the ducts in the least intrusive way.  The other downside to this system is that it can be the most expensive.

Split AC Systems:  This is the one we chose.  Since ours was not a gut renovation, we were concerned about creating a system of ducts.  The plus side to these systems is that they are very quiet and cool each room separately. With central air, most systems are designed so that you set the temperature by zone or even for the entire house.  That means you are cooling more of your house than you need to and that is costly.  With a split AC, if you want to cool say only the bedrooms at night you can, which makes this cheaper to operate.  It also has a heat function so that if you a blast of heat in one room you can.  This might come in handy since the front of the house gets sun all day while the back of the house does not.  The down side is that even with the unit attached high on the wall, the in-room units are still pretty big, bulky and I’ll admit it, ugly.

First, you need to install the compressor. We considered putting it in the backyard but did not want to deal with a loud hot compressor next to our patio. We ended up putting it on the roof so it would be completely out of the way.

When installing the compressor on the roof you have a few options. The DOB does not allow it to be mounted directly to the roof. Instead you must put steel bars across your roof parapets or mount it directly to your roof parapet on a rack. The parapet mount is much more economical assuming your parapet is high enough. If not, you can extend it a few feet with some CMU blocks as we did. This is still more economical than the steel bars.


We chose a 4 zone single compressor Mitsubishi system and hired a separate plumbing company to install it (our contractor did not have a particular expertise in this area – don’t ask).

front ac

Next, each wall unit is installed. Even though you are not creating ducts you still need to open walls and install some plumbing. There are coolant feed and return lines that run from the compressor to each unit as well as a power cord and a condensation drain. The condensation drain runs from the wall unit down to your building’s waste line.

All the units were installed this week, which is great because now walls can be closed and finished.  Next to the extension, this was the next big hurdle to jump.  Here are a few photos of them installed.  We tried to put them in the least intrusive spots.  We are not very happy with the parlor floor unit.  It sticks out like a sore thumb.  There really were no other options so we will have to live with it.  The other units were placed so that they could not be seen when you first enter the room.

Parlor floor - sticks out like a sore thumb but not much we could do.

Parlor floor – sticks out like a sore thumb but not much we could do.

Master bedroom - not as obvious tucked in the corner

Master bedroom – not as obvious tucked in the corner

Just don't look at it from the side!  Maybe me can hang a plant off it or something.

Just don’t look at it from the side! Maybe me can grow some ivy around it or something.