Pardon Our Dust

Ruminate, 12 years; remodel, 5 days. A dreaded bathroom project kicks into high gear when a crew makes a one-week promise.

By Kathy Price-Robinson, Special to The Times

Donna Bankowski has some good reasons why it took her 12 years to remodel the cruddy main bathroom of her Moorpark home, a feat she finally pulled off in April.

“I’m taking my time,” said Bankowski, who bought the fixer-upper with her husband, Leroy, in 1993.

Indeed, since buying the 1970s tract home, the couple has made steady progress on its upgrades — replacing the wood on the front of the house with brick, redoing the driveway and walkways, adding a back patio, replacing the windows and doors, replacing the roof, scraping off the “cottage cheese” ceilings, installing Pergo floors, painting the walls and adding thick crown moldings and baseboards.

As the rest of the house rose up out of mediocrity, the bathroom upgrade kept getting delayed. But it wasn’t for lack of need.

The bathroom had a dropped ceiling consisting of plastic panels on a rusted frame over fluorescent tubes. Plus, the dark oak vanity was not at all in line with Bankowski’s French-Country palette. Worst of all was the cracked and dingy fiberglass tub enclosure.

“No matter how much you cleaned it,” Bankowski said, it never looked clean. “You could bleach it to death.”

Still, for as awful as the bathroom was, something kept Bankowski from tackling it. Maybe it was all the horror stories she’d heard about drawn-out bathroom remodels. In any case, the solution appeared before her in a newspaper ad.

It was for a company that claimed it could remodel a bathroom in one week, including everything from demolition to painting, guaranteed.

“Wow,” Bankowski thought. “That’s the way to go.”

She also took note that the company was owned by Matt Plaskoff of Plaskoff Construction, which has built a few of the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” projects on the popular ABC reality show. Bankowski was a fan of the show and was impressed by how tightly the work of the “Makeover” crew was coordinated and how caring the crew members seemed.

“It seems like they put their heart and soul into it,” she said.

After calling the Tarzana-based company One Week Bath, Bankowski got a call back from saleswoman Sherri Wilson, who interviews potential clients before visiting a house to determine if the bathroom is a good candidate for a quick makeover.

“Our model is very specific,” Wilson said. For instance, the company will not make structural changes, or move or reroute plumbing or electrical components, though it will upgrade electrical and plumbing components that are inside the walls. It does not install or replace windows or skylights, and the maximum size is 76 square feet. (A typical tract house bathroom is 5 by 8 feet, or 40 square feet.)

After Wilson determined that Bankowski’s bathroom and her desires for it fit into the company’s parameters, Wilson visited the home.

There, she pulled out the books and materials to show Bankowski her choices. The company offers four styles of cabinets, 10 finishes, three colors of faux stone solid-surface countertops, a variety of tiles and so on.

Because Bankowski had done a lot of research using magazines and the Internet, she had a pretty good idea of the look she wanted — light and feminine. “I wanted a girl’s bathroom,” she explained.

For the vanity, she chose raised-panel doors with a very light, old-world-type finish. For the countertop, Bankowski chose a stone-like product called Corastone in a color called Tuscany.

For the tub, Bankowski wanted a specific Kohler model, called Village, that flares out slightly in the middle. When the idea arose to have tile installed around the tub all the way up to the ceiling, Bankowski realized that would cut down on painting later on and thought, “Oh yeah, less maintenance.”

Also, Bankowski requested a toilet several inches shorter than the norm to accommodate her short stature. Wilson said it was no problem. “She took interest in me,” Bankowski said. “She looked at our needs and she understood.”

Bankowski chose gold-toned fixtures and hardware, and tile for the floor. For the ceiling fan, she selected an upgraded model that was extra quiet and included a light and heater. She chose a large mirror rather than a medicine cabinet whose high shelves would have gone unused. Two recessed lights were included in the design.

Within 90 minutes, Bankowski had chosen the ingredients for her bathroom and Wilson had told her the total cost. With a deposit check written, the order was done.

A couple of weeks before the remodel was to start, job superintendent Mike Cook did a walk-through and took “before” photos. A week before the start date, a lead man checked whether there was room in the Bankowskis’ garage to store the materials that would be delivered on the first day.

And then at 8 a.m. on Monday, April 11, a truck with “One Week Bath” emblazoned on its side rolled up in front of the Bankowski house and the job began.

“Oh wow,” Bankowski recalls thinking, “this is it.”

With building permits already in hand from the city of Moorpark, four workers began by laying protective paper and plastic on the floor from the front door to the bathroom (which they pulled up each evening and laid down again each morning).

Bankowski left for her part-time hospital job at noon, and when she returned at 4 p.m., “it was all gone” — the tub enclosure, the sink and toilet, the vanity, the floors down to the subfloor, and the walls and ceiling down to the studs.

Because she works part time, Bankowski was home during most of the weeklong project.

On Tuesday, the workers did some plumbing, started putting up backer board for the wall tile and installed the tub. The building inspector came to approve the work before the drywall stage. On Wednesday, the drywall installation began, a plastic sheet with a zipper was put over the doorway to contain the dust, and tile installation started. On Thursday, the toilet, vanity and sink went in and the grouting and painting began.

At that point, Bankowski recalls, lead man Oscar Herrera asked her not to look into the bathroom so that the “reveal” on Friday would be more dramatic. But Bankowski did take a peak and noticed right away that the vanity was too high. Husband Leroy is also short-statured.

“I’d still have to use a stool,” she thought, and mentioned that to Herrera the next day. He told her it was no problem and took the vanity out to the garage and trimmed the bottom.

On Friday, the painting was finished, the molding and baseboards installed, and the crew was out of there by 3:30 p.m.

The bathroom was done, but Bankowski had become attached to the crew with whom she had shared the week.

“By the end of the five days,” she said, “it was like we were family.”


Project: Gut and redo tract house bathroom

Contractor: One Week Bath

Duration: 5 days

— Kathy Price-Robinson

Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for 15 years. She can be reached at kathyprice@aol.com. If you would like to have your remodel considered for use in Pardon Our Dust, please send before and after images and a brief description of the project to Real Estate Editor, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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