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Peak Style

Writer Marirose Krall  |  Photographer Kristina Kroot  |  Designer Renato Cobena  |  Location Burlington County, NJ

A Burlington County bathroom gets an upgrade

The owners of this Bordentown, New Jersey, home were eager to swap their builder-grade primary bathroom for a fresher, updated space that worked for their young family’s needs. To do that, they enlisted the assistance of Renato Cobena, lead designer at Obsidiana Studio in Hamilton Township.

Designer Renato Cobena calls the palette in this primary bathroom “salt and pepper” style. It features shades of white, black and gray.

Before: The original, builders-grade bathroom was badly laid out and crowded.

In typical mid-1990s fashion, the original bathroom featured a built-in jet tub. The tub’s awkward shape took over an entire corner of the room, crowding the shower and the vanity. Its removal transformed the space, creating room for a larger shower and a freestanding tub. “Removing the jet tub made things more functional and spacious,” Cobena says. The new layout also allowed for a larger vanity to replace the standard model that was original to the home.

The new vanity anchors the room, its deep gray tone contrasting with the lighter grays and whites found in the rest of the space. The use of that particular combination of hues came at the request of the homeowners. “The clients really liked what we call ‘salt and pepper’ style, with a lot of shades rather than colors,” Cobena explains. Black accents — such as the faucets, the light fixture and mirror borders — reinforce the theme.

After removing the jet tub there was room for a larger shower. “We increased the shower by two feet on either side,” Cobena says.

The palette brings a subtly contemporary feel to the space. “The rest of the home is a bit traditional,” Cobena says. “For this primary bathroom, the clients wanted something more modern. So we ended up doing a transitional style that doesn’t stray too far from traditional.”

While the vanity’s “Storm Gray” hue leans modern, the piece itself features many traditional elements. “It’s real wood and it has weight to it,” Cobena notes. “It has raised paneling and it’s finished in a wash that gives it a slightly weathered look. This is how we kept a traditional side to the bathroom that works well with the rest of the house.”

Black accents — faucets, towel ring, light fixture, mirror borders — complement the deep tones of the vanity.

As often happens during home renovations, the project team encountered a few issues during the construction process. “We found that the ceiling had mold, so that needed to be fixed.” Once the problem was remediated, Cobena decided to draw focus to the gabled ceiling with tile rising to the peak on the shower side of the wall. “We installed the tiles in a straight, stacked pattern rather than offset. This gave us vertical and horizontal lines to really push the eye up and across the bathroom and emphasize all the special characteristics of the room.”

Modern elements in the space include a sleek, standalone tub and a tub-filler faucet.

In addition, the original bathroom was lacking an exhaust fan (likely exacerbating the mold issue). Cobena decided to take that as an opportunity to add some tech to the space. “While we were in the wall installing the fan, we installed a Bluetooth speaker. It’s a fun addition to the space. That’s where the clients start and end their day. Something as simple as a Bluetooth speaker makes them happy in the morning and gets them ready for bed at night.”

Cobena notes that the new and improved primary bathroom is the result of close collaboration with the clients. “We found it’s always best to treat these projects like a team effort, a partnership. I don’t live in this house. I’m not going to use this room for the next 10 years like they might. We always design with our clients’ best interests in mind.”