Switches & Vanity Reface Opinions Needed - My 50's Bathroom Saga

DreamingoftheUPMarch 12, 2014

For those who didn't follow my earlier post, I'm in the process of restoring/refreshing my 1950's bathroom, keeping the tile. I've got two items in which I need some opinions.....

First is the switch/outlet setup. Currently have a ceiling light, vanity bath bar & exhaust fan (light fixtures to be replaced). Will be adding a recessed light in the tub/shower, so an additional switch is needed. In general, I really dislike despard switches. Last picture below is my current setup. I replaced the original despard switches with a combination unit Decora with 3 switches - don't like it much either.

My question is, would you replace it all with a five gang decora setup? (That would be 4 full size switches and the duplex outlet.) I'd have to use a 5 gang plate as shown below. It would roughly go from the 10" mark on the left to where the tape measure ends on the right. Or will that look like a control panel on the Enterprise?

Another option would be to go 4 gang - two full size switches for the ceiling light and fan (used most) and a duplex decora unit for the vanity bath bar and shower light and lastly the outlet.

I could also do two of the above horizontally and leave the outlet as it is. Thoughts?

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The other questions are about the vanity. I've decided to go with a painted vanity but will have the vanity refaced with new doors and drawer fronts.

I'm considering a solid slab or a shaker/recessed panel style similar to the first picture below. Which do you like better or would fit better? (Trying to maintain a 50's theme.)

Second question - IF I went with the shaker style, what to do with the slotted panel below the sink and with the drawers - user shaker style as well or slab? That is shaker style doors, but a slab replacing the slotted panel? Or use a shaker panel as well, as in the second picture? What about the drawers? Do slab all the way across and shaker for the two larger drawers next to the cabinet door? Or all shaker panels?

Note - I will have a painted finish.

This post was edited by DreamingoftheUP on Wed, Mar 12, 14 at 19:59

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 7:53PM
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I like to combine switches into one area, but have found the potential problem with over three is not automatically remembering which switch controls what.

I am planning on putting the ceiling light, exhaust and shower light near the door and the vanity light and outlet on the other side of the vanity.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:05PM
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I would prefer the slab style in a vintage bathroom of this era.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2014 at 9:06PM
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3 switches in a single gang box? What uh, fun.

Normally in a bathroom the way I'll wire it is that the switch closest to the door is always the main lights. The fan will be farthest away from the door, and a heater will be in the middle if there is one. That way you have your two most commonly used switches at the far sides and the one you don't use as often in the middle so in theory you won't really need to look at the switch and find it.

In your situation maybe you could eliminate the need for one switch by relocating the exhaust fan to the space you want to put a light over the bathtub, then installing a light/fan combo there? That way you'd have three switches + one outlet.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 7:53AM
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I lost my post darn!

I agree with all posters above on the switches. I'd get lost on 5 spots.

I have my vanity and outlet at the vanity. At both my doors I have the ceiling light at the door frame, followed by 2 other switches. At the door near the hallway, I have the fan second then the nightlight last, on the outside of the 3 switches. Easy to keep track. The other door near the shower area I have the radiant ceiling heater next to the ceiling light followed last by the floor warming wire setup. I have an outlet in my vanity, one in my medicine cabinet, and one in my laundry cabinet setup. So I am outlet rich.

I like the shaker but not at narrow drawer fronts. I like it on larger drawer fronts. Look on houzz for pictures with the combos you mention. I would also do full overlay. I might just do slab front on the narrow drawer and sink and shaker on larger drawers and the doors. But I would want to see some installed before I made my mind up.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 10:29AM
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I have no opinion on the switches issue. However, I grew up in the 50s (SF Bay Area) and I don't think I ever saw anything approaching a shaker door or drawer in any of the houses of the era. Our house was built in 1948, was considered modern, and all our drawers were slab.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 10:42AM
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Thanks for all the input!!!

Regarding the vanity fronts, based on the comments, I'm leaning towards the slab style and yes, (in either case) it would be full overlay. Agree, slab is more 1950's - that's what's there now.

With the switches, yes it's tight in the box, but it's actually full size (3.5"x3.5"??) with a plaster ring. It would be difficult to move say the vanity light and outlet around the corner below the medicine cabinet. Will have to ask the electrician. Besides the potential of having to replace more tile that might get broken in the process, it's not an easy romex pull through. I'm in suburban Chicago and house is conduit.

Another possibility would be to do 3 gang separated from a 2 gang, sort of like it is now, only with the outlet oriented vertically and paired with a full size switch. Will pass all the ideas by the electrician.

This post was edited by DreamingoftheUP on Thu, Mar 13, 14 at 12:11

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 12:10PM
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Does it really matter if the 50's BR's didn't have shaker? If you like it, and you're going to the trouble of replacing doors, I would do whichever style you like best. Otherwise, why not just paint your 'real 50's' doors? You're not putting in 50's light switches, and I assume you're not putting in a 50's fan. Doesn't look like a 50's toilet...

I actually like the look of the shaker style drawer front in your pic, even though I have shaker doors in my kitchen and went with slab on my smaller top drawers. Problem with the shaker drawer front, is I am not sure if you can put a handle in the middle part, is there enough wood? So, if you wanted to position your new knobs/handles in the middle that might be a deal breaker.

I am not sure if this option would work for you, but in our Master BR we did not have enough space to put in a 4 gang box. I positioned 2 2 gangs one above the other. You could do 3 and 2, or 2 and 2 using one double. I put my two programmable switches (and I strongly recommend using a timer switch for your fan) together, and the light switches together. In your case, I would put the three light switches on one gang, and the fan and the outlet on the other.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 2:12PM
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Thanks, raehelen. You are right, of course, I'm not going for a historic restore! That was one of my concerns - ending up with a recessed panel that's just a slit and wouldn't take a knob. I've searched on houzz and did find a lot of examples with mixed shaker and slab. Some have all the drawers slab and some have slabs across the top while drawers at a lower level are shaker. I will have to ponder this one.

Regarding the switches, I'm leaning towards the divided approach - three light switches grouped together and the fan switch with the outlet. That would allow me to use the same general area of the existing openings.

Thanks again for everyone's input!

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 11:03PM
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Two rows of two are also a good way to go. BT,DT with our old master bathroom.

Cool towel rack, btw! I've never seen one like that. Is it heated?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 7:18AM
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I think that, although you aren't doing a period bathroom, the text-pattern tile and it's combination with the aqua-blue wall tile, in that midcentury sort of off-match just-not-clashing way--dictates a more careful choice of new elements, and that's why people are suggesting the slab rather than the shaker.

If you were redoing the entire bathroom you could do whatever you want stylistically, but here, I think if you mix styles it will look like you weren't paying attention rather than an intentional choice.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 10:03AM
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On a one-for-one comparison I prefer the shaker over slab. But if you want to keep it 50s I agree, the slabs look more appropriate.

For your switches, is the fan in the shower? Will it be used besides when the shower is used? If it's just a shower fan, I'd wire the shower light and shower fan together on a single timer switch. Turn the switch ON and the fan and the shower light turn on. Turn the switch OFF and the light turns off but the fan continues to run for a period of time set by you; 20, 30 minutes, etc.

I'd consider having the first switch the double vertical switch. The top switch for the "top light" or ceiling light, the bottom switch for the vanity bar light.

The second switch a single timer switch for the shower light/fan.

The third could be the outlet, though I prefer outlets separate from switches simply because when reaching blindly or absentmindedly for a switch I prefer people to not end up coming into contact with a plug in an outlet. But if that's not a factor for you, the third space could be the outlet.

So either a 3-gang for everything or a 2-gang for the lights/fan and a single gang for the outlet.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 10:27AM
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Yes, that is a heated towel rack...I just love the luxury of wrapping myself in a nice warm towel after my shower. But, I really bought it to help dry our robes after the hot tub. As that is an outside wall, and previously we had an in-swinging door that was always wedged against the robes, they would actually mildew. Now with a pocket door and the heated towel rack no longer an issue. Plus, it's great for quickly drying my delicate hand washables!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 6:08PM
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Sweet... that + heated flooring are on our list for things to do when our bathroom redo comes along. Does it do more than one towel at a time effectively?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2014 at 10:19AM
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@mongoct - no, the fan is in the ceiling of the room, not the tub alcove, so there's no way to do a combo unit. I wasn't planning on moving the fan.

Side story - the fan is original, as far as I can tell. The weird thing is, it works perfectly and is "whisper quiet" as 1950's advertising would have said. The motor is permanently lubricated, to boot, so no maintenance outside of cleaning. It's a round Pryne Blo-Fan. On the label under the name is "Rhymes with Fine". :-) The only thing I did to it is paint the round grill to match the ceiling. It was chrome and was all pitted. From my online search, I found that the company went out of business over 25 years ago.

Anyway, the electrician is coming tomorrow to give me an estimate. Will see what he suggests.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2014 at 6:20AM
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@schicksal, I am the only one using this shower, so can't comment on using more than one towel. You can get longer and/or wider ones. We didn't have much space in our tiny MBR, so this one works really well for our needs. I assume bigger would use up more electricity? Towel warmers are supposedly very efficient at using energy, I've read some info that says just to leave them on all the time. Guess it's like hot tubs, we lower our temp down after use, I know some people leave it hot all the time saying it takes more energy to heat the cooler water than just leaving it on...I don't know the definitive answer, just know that I turn on the TW for 1/2 hour before I shower, and maybe leave it on to help dry the towel for another 1/2 hour. Not the end of the world if I leave it on longer...(Haven't read the manual on how to program it yet...)

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 9:08PM
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