A thrifty, 12-year renovation

Donna Talis' new master bathroom finished years of renovating her home room-by-room. Here, she waited for prices to drop before buying key elements.

Donna Talis’ new master bathroom finished years of renovating her home room-by-room. Here, she waited for prices to drop before buying key elements. (JAMES C. SCHELL)

Donna Talis has lived in her beloved West Chester townhouse for a quarter-century, and has spent the last dozen or so years transforming the 1980s-era residence off West Chester Pike.

A little patience in purchasing exactly what she wanted, plus some do-it-yourself gumption, helped her cap off the work in the fall with a new master bathroom that incorporates elements of universal design such as a low-barrier shower and open shelving.

Working with the same contractor, James C. Schell, Talis did the renovations on a modest budget but made a big impact on the quality of her living space.

“I work at home when I’m not teaching,” said Talis, an adjunct professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. She runs her own company, Donna Talis Marketing Communications, and is a professional business writer and copy editor in areas such as building products, health care, chemicals, and engineering.

When she and Schell were planning her new master bath, Talis spotted the vanity she wanted at Home Depot. Then she waited.

“It was originally priced at $800,” Schell said. “After a few months, it was discontinued, and they reduced the price to $600. Not bad. But when they got down to the last one – the display unit – they priced it as a close-out at just $159, and that’s when we snagged it.”

As a close-out, the vanity had a few nicks and scratches, but Talis was able to clean it up nicely.

She applied the same planning and patience to the shower faucet, waiting to buy a $300 (at full retail) piece for just $69.

The tile for the master bathroom was a Home Depot “special buy” at about $1 a square foot, Schell said.

“The thing that I splurged on was the frameless glass shower enclosure,” she said.

Frameless glass showers can be tricky. They require installation at specific angles so the shower heads and body jets don’t spray out the door, but instead hit the inner tile walls. Without the right design, water from the glass might not drain properly and instead create puddles and mildew.

Talis had hers custom-made by Frameless Shower Doors ( www.framelessshowerdoors.com). The company not only works with professional contractors, said Schell, who installed the door, but it “has a great program for working with the do-it-yourself customer” like Talis.

The door to the room itself was changed “from a swinging to a wall-mount sliding door, to give the bathroom more usable space. This will also make it easier for a walker to maneuver,” Schell said.

Because it is an end unit in the Hampstead Place community, Talis’ 1,800-square-foot, four-bedroom 21/2-bath home catches plenty of sunlight.

She wanted to make sure she played up the natural light in the master bathroom. To achieve an open feel, she had Schell custom-build open shelving opposite the sink for her supplies.

She also asked him to build inlaid tile shelves in the shower with spaces large enough to to accommodate bigger shampoo bottles.

To create space for the wider step-in shower, Schell removed the traditional sink cabinet and replaced it with a custom country-style cabinet with a shelf underneath. The toilet was moved to the corner.

Talis has done so much work on her townhouse over the years, she said, “I probably invested about $100,000 over the entire time I lived there.”

Her new master bathroom cost her about $18,000, but, she says, it was worth it.




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