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Three Bathrooms, One Designer

Max Humphrey shares three very different bathroom designs for inspiration

written by Melissa Dalton
photography by Christopher Dibble

Considering everything Max Humphrey has done before starting his Portland-based interior design business—including working in television and film production in Los Angeles, and touring the United States and England as a bassist in a punk band—perhaps it should come as no surprise that he has this advice for prospective bathroom remodelers. “Bathrooms don’t need to be neutral and boring,” Humphrey said, who is also the author of the recent style guide Modern Americana. The following three projects show us how that’s done.

Manzanita: A nature-inspired main suite

For a top-to-bottom gut remodel of a 1978 house in Manzanita, Humphrey worked with the Portland architecture firm Beebe Skidmore to swap out the home’s dated finishes for a beach cabin aesthetic that takes inspiration from the immediate natural surroundings. “An Oregon beach is very different from a California or a Cape Cod beach,” Humphrey said. “We wanted to keep the palette in line with the Pacific Northwest.”

In the primary bathroom, that meant covering the walls in two colors of handmade Ann Sacks MADE tile, including a moody blue reminiscent of the ocean, and a sage green that recalls sea grass. The blue is fixed horizontally across the lower third of the wall, while the green runs vertically to the ceiling. “We went for it with the tile,” Humphrey said. “It’s not just at wainscot height. It’s floor-to-ceiling everywhere, which really makes you feel encapsulated.”

The large hexagon tile from Tempest Tileworks that Humphrey chose for the floor ensures the grid doesn’t overwhelm the room, and suits the ethos of a vacation home. “Less grout on the floor is easier to clean,” Humphrey said. Warm wood, via the tongue-and-groove at the ceiling and a custom maple vanity, complements the cooler hues of the tile. Brass details, including the sconces flanking the mirror, a chandelier, the faucets, and even the trim at the shower glass, add a touch of luxe well-suited to a grown-up retreat.

Humphrey has fun with light, and tile color and size.

Manzanita: A playful hall bath

While the layout is pretty standard for this hall bathroom, the finishes were an opportunity to do anything but. “It’s a guest bathroom, so we got to be playful,” Humphrey said. To that end, the designer started with stacked square tile, opting for a pale pink color that’s a twist on traditional white. The remainder of the wall is unexpectedly covered in a pale pine tongue-and-groove paneling, which meets the wood of the ceiling. “It’s cabin vibes, but it’s completely modern,” Humphrey said.

As a point of contrast, the sink was given a more traditional set-up, including a pivot mirror from Rejuvenation, an articulated sconce, and an unlacquered brass cross-handle faucet. A few black pieces, like the light switch plate and door knob, temper the pastel palette and make a case for metal mixing. “I try to keep it to two metal finishes per space, and then have each happen more than once. It needs to feel intentional and not random,” Humphrey said.

The knotty pine and brass give this bathroom an updated cabin feel.

Bend: A fun, functional bath for teenagers

The client’s brief for this bathroom in a new build in Bend can be summed up in one word: “fun,” Humphrey said. That directive, plus the fact that the room is located in a guest wing with a bunk room and is primarily used by five teenagers, gave Humphrey an abundance of creative freedom. Inspired by vintage Pendleton blankets that belonged to the client’s father, the designer suggested ensconcing the room in a striped tile treatment that mimics the pattern on the company’s Glacier National Park blanket.

A wall-hung, Kohler cast iron sink with a double basin ensures two teens can brush their teeth at the same time, while a Caesarstone ledge underscores the mirror and offers a staging place for stuff during primp sessions. “I will ask, ‘What do hotels have that are so useful?’” Humphrey said. “It’s just so nice to have a little spot to stick your toothbrush on the ledge, especially because the sink doesn’t have a countertop of its own.” That Caesarstone continues to wrap the outer perimeter of the pony wall that separates the shower from the rest of the room, and lines the threshold at the shower door.

Next, Humphrey carried two-inch hexagon tile from the main room onto the shower floor, which shouldn’t have a tile size bigger than that in order to prevent slippery falls, proving the room is both fun and functional. “That size is the sweet spot,” Humphrey said. “If that was a little one-inch tile, like a small hex or penny round, it might have looked busy. There’s enough going on the walls that the floor tile just needed to go away.”

Still, the unexpected wall tile remains a favorite of the designer. “Most clients would have sent me packing,” Humphrey said with a laugh. “But to really go for it like this is what makes it so much more special.”

The Pendleton blanket bathroom. Humphrey reflected the iconic blanket in his tile design and jumps the pony wall with the same color of floor tile in the shower. The Kohler cast iron sink serves many in the bunkhouse wing of the Bend home.

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