There’s an iconic scene in the 1986 film The Money Pit, where Walter, portrayed by Tom Hanks, is waiting for a bucket of water to warm up in the kitchen. After casually flipping on a light switch, he ignites an electrical fire that travels along the wiring throughout the kitchen, blowing a blender, the television and a host of other appliances. The scene culminates with Walter and Shelley Long’s character, Anna, pouring the hot water into the bathtub, only to watch it fall through the floor to the room below.
You might snicker watching Walter’s reaction as his kitchen literally explodes around him, but if you are a homeowner, your heart sinks and you cringe in horror—because you understand and appreciate his struggle to keep it together in a moment of crisis. While Walter and Anna’s story is a comedic work of fiction, one Oakwood couple’s home remodeling story couldn’t be more real. Their story started in 2012, when they had the opportunity to purchase a 1925 Elizabethan Tudor designed by local architect Louis Lott. “I grew up in Oakwood and I remember driving by the house and liking its unusual architecture,” says the wife.
The previous owners had lived in the home for 30 years, so the couple was prepared to do some renovations to make the home perfect for themselves and their two children. But just one week after moving in the basement flooded. “After that it flooded 22 more times, so fixing the basement became our first priority,” the wife says.
They repaired the basement and then all of the plumbing in the house failed. “We determined that all of the main water lines needed to be replaced,” says the wife.
While working with their insurance company, which ultimately covered much of the damage, the couple set out to find a contractor to help them replace the plumbing and renovate all of the bathrooms in the house. They approached Eric Buecker, owner of Buecker’s Fine Furniture & Interiors, for recommendations. “They had purchased two red leather camelback sofas from us for their great room,” he says. “They didn’t realize that we also do remodeling.”
Working together with the homeowners and a series of subcontractors, Buecker and his team set out to first replace the plumbing all the way down to the two main stacks in the house. “We replaced one stack, which allowed us to start construction on the bathrooms on one side of the house,” he explains. “Once that side was complete, we replaced the second stack and remodeled the remaining bathrooms.”
In all, the process took roughly three and a half years. “It turns out that having grown up in an old house prepared me for the quirks and surprises,” the wife says.
Despite their differences in appearance and style—all five bathrooms have one major element in common—Rookwood Pottery tile. “I grew up with Rookwood tile in my childhood home and I’ve always loved its handcrafted look,” says the wife. “I knew from the very beginning that we were going to include the handmade tile in our home.”
The master bathroom was the first bathroom they tackled. It also opened their eyes to what they were going to find in the rest of the house. “I figured we would have a few inches of concrete and lath in the walls.” Buecker says. “Instead the old floor tile was installed in nearly two inches of concrete, with lath underneath that, and then four more inches of concrete that held all of the old plumbing.”
Troy Denlinger of TJ Construction & Tile, worked with Buecker throughout the entire construction process, from demo to tile installation. “We hauled over seven tons of concrete and old tile from the house,” Denlinger says. “The demo was the toughest part. Once that was finished, we leveled all the floors and walls to prep for the new tile.”
Both Denlinger and Buecker enjoyed the complexities and uniqueness of the Rookwood tile. They were able to tour the Rookwood Pottery factory in Cincinnati and see first-hand how the tile is made. “The tile is remarkable. The variations in color, the hand-glazed details and painting—that’s the beauty of these tiles,” says Buecker.
The homeowners selected a combination of camel and blue tile for the master bathroom. “My husband wanted a focal point that resembled an Oriental rug in the shower,” says the wife. “So we pulled from three different blue tones to create the look. It is simple but ornate.”
Other unique details include the arched shower entrance, the 1×1-inch red decorative tile used as a border on the floor, and the diamond border on the walls, which mimics the diamond shape seen in the home’s original leaded glass windows.
The boys’ bathroom on the second floor, adjacent to the master bath was next on the list. Featuring predominately blue 6×6-inch field tile adorned with accent pieces and borders, the homeowners are particularly proud of the historical significance in the space. “We were able to repurpose the original pedestal sinks,” says the wife. “And, while we really wanted to keep the original lighting, none of it was up to code. But we were able to find great vintage lighting online and it really looks great in the space.”
The homeowners say they receive a lot of compliments on the black and white bathroom. “We initially planned to use marble tile, but ultimately chose a variety of black and white field tile from Rookwood,” says the wife.
The tile helps to establish the Art Deco feel to the bathroom, while complementing the age of the house. An arch was added to the tub/shower area and a hexagon and diamond pattern on the floor finishes the overall look.
The homeowners selected color palettes of yellow and green for the remaining first floor powder room and second floor guest bathroom. “We chose this beautiful Citrine tile for the powder room,” says the wife. “Paired with the floral decorative tile, the yellow color might be my favorite.”
The highlight of the guest bathroom is the Whitman Rook tiles seen on the pedestal sink wall and in the shower. These tiles are from historic molds shown in Rookwood’s 1912 catalog. Paired with 6×6-inch field tile and Bellamy molding in a beautiful green color, the bathroom is a true homage to days gone by. “Some of these tiles were part of the Heritage collection featured in our architectural catalogs from the 1920’s,” says James Malone, sales associate with Rookwood Pottery Company. “The homeowners wanted to stay true to the age of the house. These tiles helped to achieve that desire.”
The honeycomb-inspired design of the black hexagon flooring further completes the vintage look. “My husband wanted to add the black hexagon tile. He was even able to help lay the tile in this bathroom,” says the wife. “At first I was worried that the black tile would stand out too much, but he really made a great design decision.”
Meant to last
Since 1880, the Rookwood Pottery Company has been making this handcrafted, one-of-a-kind tile. “The fact that it is made right here in our own back yard makes it even more special,” says the homeowner. “The renovation was definitely an adventure, but we couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.”
Buecker and Denlinger echo the homeowner’s sentiment. “Each bathroom is unique in its own right. If you look at them separately you would never know they are in the same house,” Buecker says. “And they are made to last—these bathrooms are going to be there for another 100 years.”
Resources: Contractor: Buecker’s Fine Furniture & Interiors; Tile installation: TJ Construction & Tile; Tile: Rookwood Pottery Co.; Cabinetry: Bowman’s Fine Cabinetry; Plumbing fixtures: Ferguson