Natural Home Bath of the Year 2007: The Art of the Bath

A California couple's off-the-grid home includes a bathroom that showcases its artist owner's handmade designs and recycled materials.

| September/October 2007

  • Nina sculpted the shower out of red-tinted mortar, which is much like concrete but made with a finer grain. Where the mortar cracked as it dried, Nina patched it with a soft-looking black grout.
    Photo By John Durant
  • Nina's artistic bathroom incorporates many unique elements made of reused items--such as a cotton-swab holder fashioned from a dried gourd.
    Photo By John Durant
  • Water flows from the three-sided sink into the shower, where it then drains into a graywater system that irrigates the yard.
    Photo By John Durant
  • Homeowner Nina Karavasiles
    Photo By John Durant

California sculptor Nina Karavasiles’ bathroom is more than a place to shower. The room is a handmade, artistic showcase of sustainable design and creativity.

Nina often installs her artwork in public places, where city governments and other groups dictate project specifications. So when she created her own bathroom, Nina gave herself permission to break free. “There’s a lot of ‘no’ involved in public art,” she explains. “So I gave myself a lot of ‘yes.’”

In their solar-powered rural home, Nina and her husband, Scott Richards, incorporated green design and materials into the bathroom wherever possible. Nearly everything in the bathroom is reclaimed or handmade: The couple rescued the track lighting, which uses compact fluorescent bulbs, from a local theater that was being demolished; they bought mirrors from a local salvage store; and Nina installed a salvaged door she mounted with tempered decorative glass for a personalized touch. She made doorknobs from salvaged copper wire.

Nina also put her sculptor’s hands to work throughout the room. She used clay and scrap metal from the couple’s 10-acre property to create the bathroom shelves. She fashioned the countertops and shower out of mortar, which is like concrete but made with a finer grain. Mortar cracks as it dries, but Nina solved that dilemma by applying black grout wherever it cracked, giving it a soft, moody feel. Nina also conceptualized and sculpted the unique, three-sided sink from clay, which she fired and glazed.

Crafting a sink is not a project for a beginner, Nina warns. Check with local community colleges and craft stores for pottery classes if you’re interested in learning more. “It takes weeks to make a sink, let it dry and fire it,” she says, “but I enjoy the challenge of making things most people have to buy.”

The Challenge: Nina installed a composting toilet but soon discovered that its capacity was too small for even her two-person household. “We had a model intended for occasional use in a cabin, not as the main functioning toilet in our home,” she says. The couple decided to remove the toilet from the house entirely and installed a larger Sun-Mar composting model in one of the home’s many nearby outbuildings.

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