Extreme Bathrooms Give Your Home a Pop of Personality

We look at one bathroom's transformation from standard to edgy

Credit: Terry Guscott

Mixing bold patterns, loud colours and unusual accessories in the bathroom

Pale neutrals in the bathroom? No way. Susan Strangway goes beyond design boundaries with energetic, exotic colour

The word “extreme” often brings to mind death-defying sports, a miraculous makeover and over-the-top actions. However, sometimes being labelled “extreme” simply means being unafraid to show your personality to the world.

Husband and wife Weave Cleveland and Susan Strangway certainly suit that definition, particularly when they defied design conventions and created three gloriously bold bathrooms in their White Rock home. 

On a kitchen countertop sits a bowlful of design inspiration for Strangway’s bathrooms: a glass jar filled with dozens of candy-coloured, polka-dotted and striped porcelain drawer pulls. These knobs are used in every room in the home and highlighted in each bathroom. Their candy tones were the starting point for the rooms’ colour schemes and the design just grew from there.

Inspiration for the three bathrooms’ individual palettes were built on by Strangway’s many trips abroad, a book about the design styles of New Orleans that the couple loves and the pair’s many trips to Mexico.

Canadian Designers often Hesitate to Use Bold Colours

Strangway was convinced: the rest of the world seemed unafraid of colour and weren’t bound by the same rules as Canadian designers seemed to be. She felt that the passion for pale neutrals was a strange North American phenomenon, and she wanted something vibrant for her home.

“I wanted it to look edible – like exotic fruit,” Strangway says. And juicy reds, oranges, pinks, purples, greens and yellows gleam from every surface, corner and decoration. Exotic is almost an understatement.

Always a style icon in the area, the house used to have a lighthouse facade. The couple purchased it, designed most of it on their own, and turned its iconic features inward. Defining the style of her inimitable home was just one of the problems Strangway encountered on her road to extreme design.

“I don’t know if you want to call it Victorian, traditional or historic,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh. Everyone she talked to from designers to retailers to contractors all labelled her design differently. It couldn’t be put into a safe, beige-designed box, and that was fine with her. “Who makes the rules as to what is what, anyways?” says Strangway.

Finding Decor Items for Your Bathroom Online

For months Strangway had tried (unsuccessfully) to find a Canadian dealer that carried both black and white Angolan tile (a nod to her father who grew up in that country). After struggling to make her purchases in a more reserved design world, Strangway turned to the Internet for help. She sourced out her own building materials, and over 7,500 pounds of her floor tile was purchased online and shipped to her from an eBay seller in the United States. 

Every floor in Strangway and Cleveland’s home is covered in these black and white tiles set in a checker pattern, warmed by in-floor heating. The colour scheme gives each bathroom a great starting point against which the vibrant drawer pulls can shine.

The main floor bathroom hosts a punch of orange and Strangway’s personal bathroom boasts bright splashes of yellow, red and pink. Cleveland’s devoted bathroom plays off the absence of colour, with mostly matte black finishes. 

All three bathrooms feature vessel sinks, which Strangway says they were attracted to because they’re reminiscent of historic basins. 

Strangway notes that vessel sinks are a reno-smart choice, since a smaller cut to the countertop is required for a vessel. This makes it easier to update the rooms at a later date with a new vessel sink, or to cut a larger hole in the countertop for a top or under-mounted sink.

After making most of the design choices themselves, the couple called in the help of their home builder and several trusted contractors who helped scout out all the faucets and shower units for the three rooms, including the matte black ones for Cleveland’s more masculine room. They helped choose the best wall tiles to complement the imported Angolan floor tile, and their designer helped to sort out the flow of the rooms.

Strangway’s design choices always started on the traditional side, with items you might find in older stately homes. But that’s where the similarity ended. Strangway soon made her mark on the purchases. She painted, covered or altered most of them in some way. Even the bathrooms’ glass doors are covered in gingham or striped fabrics to match each room’s unique colour palette, in addition to providing much-needed privacy.

Towel and Toilet Paper Holders as Functional Art

Cast deer heads and antlers, purchased online and painted by Strangway, are functional art. These towel and toilet paper holders are a common design thread in the three bathrooms. The search for these specific items might have you calling Strangway a collector, and you’d be right – and wrong.

“I’m not a deer person; I just got in a deer mood,” Strangway says. “Instead, 
I collect toys.”

Those toys are evident throughout the home, but hold a special spot in Strangway’s personal bathroom. Her collection of McDonald’s memorabilia fills up a large wall unit – around 150 toys collected throughout the years. They add more colour and whimsy to an already playful area of the home that is filled with pots full of fish and a bird bath filled with succulent plants. 

Strangway’s bath “room” spills out of its intended enclosed area and into an open-concept space that serves as a living-dining-boudoir area. Here, Cleveland can play one of his many musical instruments, while Coffee, their 18-year-old Lhasa Apso, relaxes at his feet. And Strangway can soak in her iron claw-footed tub underneath the glow from opulent red and green jewelled chandeliers that hang under brightly painted ceiling medallions.

Paint Inspired by Nail Polish Makes Strangway’s Home Glow

To get the fabulous burst of pure glossy colours, Strangway was forced to use high-gloss oil paint – something her professional painter was completely against. Strangway just chalked this problem up to her growing list of requests that reflected her personality but confounded the design industry she was working with.

“I wanted it to look like nail polish, which obviously isn’t a respectable aim,” she says laughing.

There are a number of perfectly reasonable factors why a professional painter might shy away from painting a home’s wall in oil paint, but Strangway stuck to her design goals and her painter agreed to give it a shot. The end result is what makes the home glow.

“It costs the same to paint a pretty colour, as opposed to an ugly one,” Strangway says with a shrug. “Why colour scares people, I’ll never understand.”

And with bright green CaesarStone countertops and yellow cabinets, nothing but bright paint would do. These choices would have fallen flat against a beige or white wall, says Strangway.

Extreme Design Gives a Home a Quirky Personality

With the clashes of colour, splashes of pattern, and the addition of some interesting animal-inspired accessories, everything works in perfect symmetry. Much like a person’s personality, when all facets are taken together, all the individual quirks meld to create an overall pleasing image that’s wonderful, original, and sometimes, extreme.

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.