Our Bathroom, Our Spa

A Brookline couple create a modern, hotel-worthy space.

By Gail Ravgiala
April 12, 2009
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A casual observer might think there was nothing wrong with the master bath in the house Neal and Susan Heffron bought in 1996. Part of a builder's renovation that turned a 1950 Brookline ranch into a "new" two-story Colonial, the large room had marble tile, a double vanity, glassed-in shower, and Jacuzzi tub. While compatible with the house's architecture, the traditional decor did not jibe with the Heffrons' tastes.

"They were inspired by the modern bathrooms in urban luxury hotels and asked us to transform theirs into a spalike retreat," says Andrew Reck of Oak Hill Architects in Weston, whom the Heffrons hired in 2006 to create the modern, clean-lined spa of their dreams.

Beyond aesthetics, the couple had compiled a long list of the existing room's flaws. It lacked storage space. "The linen closet was out in the hallway," says Susan, "which isn't exactly handy when you really need a towel." And, she says, the shower was all wrong. "The glass door would hit the toilet when you were getting in or out, and the faucets were on the far wall, so you couldn't turn them on without getting wet."

It took a year to finalize the design and nine months to execute the plan. "The homeowners had a lot of vision and patience for the fastidious nature of the work," says Stephen Cohen of

Stephen Cohen Builders in Cambridge. "Everything was so intricately tied together, it was like a giant jigsaw puzzle." That meant that Cohen and his crew had to build every component on site.

"I wanted planes and textures and materials to become the details," says Reck, who used African sapele mahogany, accents of thin aluminum, absolute-black honed granite, and aqua-toned glass tiles.

"Sometimes I walk in here and can't believe this is ours," says Susan.

"All the time was well worth it," adds Neal. "The end result is both functional and magnificent."

Gail Ravgiala is editor of Design New England magazine, a Boston Globe Media publication. Send comments to


Oak Hill Architects Inc.

472 Boston Post Road, Weston, 781-899-1530,


Stephen Cohen Builders

12 Harrington Road, Cambridge, 617-492-4237,