Beyond the boring rectangle

Getting creative with tiles in a whimsical bathroom remodel

Bathroom remodel
A fun bathroom remodel

When Meredith Aby-Keirstead and Anne Keirstead called up Otogawa-Anschel Design+Build to redesign the bathroom for their home in Cooper, Minneapolis, the couple wanted something a little whimsical.

As educators and parents who are active in social justice causes, the family’s home reflects their creative spirit, with bright colors and art. They wanted a bathroom that was a relaxing space but was also very original. 

Boy, did OA deliver.

The bathroom’s tile design is something of a work of art in itself, with bold angles and contrasting textures. Featuring a palette of light blues and grays, the tiles offer a relaxing, soothing mood — with quite a bit of spunk. 

The lead designer for the bathroom was OA’s Scott Barsness, with Michael Anshel taking on the tile design. 

“This one is kind of a funky space with the angled ceilings, and we wanted to better integrate the physical space with the design,” Anschel said. 

OA, which is based in Uptown, has something of a reputation for thinking about tile in unconventional ways. Whether it’s a bit zany or more refined, Anschel says the firm specializes in creating layers and textures.

“That would be a hallmark of our work,” he said.

He jokes that while New Jersey gangsters might wear one color, most people feel don’t feel comfortable in monochrome. Instead, even without realizing it, most of us wear outfits that have lots of different colors and patterns.

“You look outside and you see how many textures and colors there are there. The brain and the eyes can support a rich texture, a rich tapestry,” Anschel said. 

bathroom remodel

From commodity to creation

For bathroom tiles, Anschel prefers not to be limited by squares and rectangles, just because that’s how they usually get delivered from the factory.

“That’s pretty boring and it’s been done a million, million times,” he said. “You can be so creative with the medium. I treat it more like paint.”

He likes to experiment with his designs so that tiles become an outlet for creative expression.

“It moves it from the realm of something that is bought at a store as a commodity to something that is created — a commissioned artwork for an individual (or) for a family that fits their life and their lifestyle and connects to them in some way,” Anschel said. 

Anschel has had a relationship with art since he was a little kid. In high school and college, he spent a lot of time doing ceramics and eventually moved into large-scale metal and ceramic sculptures.

After he graduated, Anschel lived in China for a few years and Japan for a year, where he was introduced to Eastern aesthetics. The experience influenced the way he thinks about design, including ways of decorating and adorning space and connecting architecture and design to the natural world.

bathroom remodel

Mechanically perfect, aesthetically expressive

As a designer, Anschel is interested especially in the meeting between form and function.

“The tea pots in Japan need to pour perfectly, they need to be weighted perfectly, they need to not have water drip back down,” he said. “Everything about pouring it should be mechanically perfect, and aesthetically as expressive as possible. There’s this push and pull between those two pieces.” 

In thinking about the Aby-Keirstead bathroom space, Anschel wanted to experiment with shape and color.

“I can trick your mind into thinking the space is an entirely different shape from what it is, which enhances the function,” Anschel said. “It makes it feel more spacious, makes it feel less confined.”

That was important for this project because the bathroom is relatively small. By tricking the eye with proportion and color, the small bathroom because an oasis. The idea is to meet all the requirements for durability and functionality, but to also evoke an emotion. 

bathroom remodel

Getting to know the client

When working with clients, Anschel taps into their aesthetic, the arch of their home, even places they’ve travelled. After getting to know them, he said, “I use that as a starting point of inspiration, to bring in as a nuance or as a palate to inform the colors or the pattern itself.”

Meredith Aby-Keirstead says the couple worked with the OA team to come up with a concept that would consider their likes and dislikes, eventually gravitating toward one design. The reds and browns featured in the initial solution were a bit to dark for her taste, however. She thought the colors didn’t reflect the couple’s personalities.

“They were too dark for that room and for that space,” Aby-Keirstead said. “We wanted different shades of blue.”

Eventually they settled on turquoise and sky blue tiles contrasted with light grays and a dash of black and white. There are large contrasts in the shapes of the tiles, the direction they face and the way they are patterned.

The tiles also don’t just conform to the shower and tub space but burst outside of it with interesting geometrical shapes. There’s an additional section of light blue tiles on the floor, as well as a triangle of playful teal hexagons placed over the kitchen sink. The cool colors of the tiles look lovely adjacent to the marble counter and sink, which has hints of purples and coral. 

“We are incredibly happy with the design,” Aby-Keirstead said. “We think it’s really fun and creative. It makes the house look more like our house.”

Besides the tiles, the bathroom includes a new toilet, sink and bathtub, as well as a globe light that hangs from the skylight and two additional waterproof light fixtures. 

“Our daughter loves it,” Aby-Keirstead said. “She thinks it’s super-fun. We all like taking a bath in here. It’s pretty relaxing and very calming.”