I’m a dirty, rotten little tease. Over a month ago I got to talking about the bathroom. I made it sound like an exciting before-and-after was just around the corner. Understandably, you were on the edge of your seat. Or at least you should have been.

Well, all those little details I wanted to wrap up before the bathroom’s blog debut just took a while, that’s all. But it’s about as done as it’s going to get, so find a comfy spot to plant yourself, there’s a lot to look at. Let’s start by taking a trip back in time to reacquaint ourselves with the old john, shall we?

View from the outside, from May (you can see a current incarnation of that wall here).

This is a really, really small bathroom. The longest wall measures just over 6 feet and the wall with the window is just over 3.5 feet. The door is on a 45 degree angle, so it’s not even a rectangular 6′ x 3.5′. I’m pretty sure this makes our bathroom about this much bigger than a coffin. Consequently, it’s difficult to take good photos. Basically, this off-white/beige tile wraps around the entire room until about 2 feet below the ceiling, where it was thoughtfully contrasted with off-white/beige paint.

The window casing made me want to cry. I mean, that’s just a sad, spackly mess.

The light fixture had been painted over tons of times and also looked like it might fall down. I assume it once had a glass globe that some careless previous tenant broke. Oh, and that towel rod was a problem because fluffy towels made a narrow space even narrower (the toilet sits in the cozy 19 inches between the tub and the wall) and nobody likes a towel all up in their space when they’re trying to… finish their crossword puzzle.

Yeah, we have some funky tiles happening on the floor, and even though they’re horribly uneven, cracked, and nestled among disgusting grout, I think they’re sort of special. Like a tribute to our landlord’s Italian heritage. You know what’s not special? The hollow-core door all weathered from years of moisture, that clunky wood vanity, the ugly hardware, or the peeling silver-painted pipe. Or our landlord’s apparent love of putting grout where caulk ought to be.


The walls are painted Benjamin Moore’s “Raccoon Fur” in eggshell. I LOVE this color– it’s somewhere in between a black, a charcoal grey, and a navy without being too blue. It works really well with the tiles on the floor, makes the ceiling feel taller, and just generally makes the bathroom less bland, which is hard to do when you have all that wall tile working against you. The ceiling is Benjamin Moore’s “Simply White” in eggshell, and the trim is all off-the-rack BM white in semi-gloss. I added that little bit of trim around the window to cover up the spackle craziness using a 1/4″ x 2″ x 4′ “project board” I purchased at the hardware store for $4 and cut with a hand saw. I’m not a huge fan of the amount of overhang of the top piece on each side (one of those things that looked better in my head), but I do like the way it cleans up that area.

I’ve yet to find a bathmat small enough (and not for lack of effort), so right now we’re working the Ikea Signe rug, folded into thirds.

Yes, you saw that right. I PAINTED THE MOTHAFUCKIN VANITY. No, I did not ask the landlord. No, I don’t feel bad. I’ll let you know how much of the security deposit I get back when that time comes, but I’m (foolishly, probably) not too worried. That drawer isn’t real, but I picked up some Ikea Attest knobs (brushed finish) anyway with the intention of hanging a nice little tea towel off one of them when I find a cute one. The door pulls are 3-inch stainless steel from Home Depot. I’ll do up a little how-to post about the vanity makeover (yes, they’re the same doors!) since this post is already super long, so get psyched for that.

The pipe got painted, too!

Purely for the sake of luxury and glamor, I splurged and bought this $39 shower curtain from Bed Bath and Beyond. It’s a bamboo-cotton blend that’s nice and heavy and soft without an ugly or overwhelming texture.

I also painted the crappy hollow-core door. I also did not ask first. I used an oil-based primer (it adheres better and is more durable) and finished with more of the off-the-rack BM white trim paint in semi-gloss (2 coats). I also replaced the crappy old doorknob. The door never closed properly before, and then the plastic-and-brass knob broke entirely (a spring came flying out of it once! boy, that was exciting.), so this was necessary. Turns out it’s really nice to shut the door with confidence that it won’t go drifting open when you’re trying to rinse the shampoo out of your hair.

I opted to take the towel rod out altogether (I kept it so it can be replaced when we move) and use these Ikea folding hooks on the door instead. I hate folding towels and I actually like the more casual look of hanging them, so this works out well. And it definitely makes things seem bigger having them more out of the way.

Lastly, I replaced the light with a $15 vintage specimen from Green Village in Brooklyn and another one of those little Westinghouse ceiling medallions ($6).

I didn’t keep super careful track of every little thing that went into this little less-than-20-square-feet room, but here’s my best attempt at a detailed budget breakdown. Let me know if it looks like I missed anything!

BM “Raccoon Fur,” quart: $15.

BM off-the-rack white semigloss, quart: $13

Window Trim: $4

Vanity Makeover: $53

Shower Curtain: $39

Doorknob: $15

Ikea Enje Roller Shade: $20

Light fixture and medallion: $21

Towel folding hooks: $10

TOTAL: $190

So it’s certainly not perfect (hey, we’re still renters after all), but the bathroom is actually sort of pleasant now! And it’s not just that dazzling needlepoint full of friendly woodland creatures, but that doesn’t hurt either.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 10.10.10
    jeannette said:

    the vanity is a knockout, as is the whole thing, so chic.

    my vanities are so ugly i can hardly sleep at night, can’t wait to see the next installment.

  2. 10.10.10
    Shilo said:

    Fantastic job as usual. Bravo!

    I am DYING to hear how you converted those ugly-ass vanity fronts to the totally-inoffensive ones they are today as I have the same exact cabinet fronts in the kitchen of my Brooklyn apartment and they hurt my soul.

  3. 10.10.10
    Ana said:

    Dan! This looks fantastic!

    I love that gray, I’m bookmarking that for a future project. I’ve had my eye on those ikea hooks and next time I’m there I’m grabbing them.

    Well done!

  4. 10.10.10
    Deborah said:

    Oh this is lovely! That dark blue and white (I’m calling it blue) and everything.

    I was a renter for years, but never did anything nearly this lovely and I did plenty of stuff.

    Your blog really is delightful.

  5. 10.10.10
    mina said:

    Those ‘before’ pictures are so tragic, that I was actually shocked to see the ‘after’, I didn’t think there could be a recovery. You are amazing! You should start doing consults.

  6. 10.10.10
    Lena said:

    Wow, what a difference 190 bucks, a lot of creativity and a lot of work did! Dying to find out how you made over that vanity. And the landlord should pay you for your effort!

  7. 10.10.10
    Susan H said:

    Your makeover is impressive! Can’t wait to learn about the vanity redo. I’ve thought about painting ours and after seeing yours I know it will make a vast improvement in our bathroom. Your projects always inspire me. Don’t you just love Benjamin Moore paint?

  8. 10.10.10
    Maddie said:

    That was such an amazing transformation I literally gasped out loud. I cannot wait to see the vanity change because I am totally copying!

  9. 10.10.10
    Mom said:

    That was the most ugly, horrible bathroom I’d ever seen since when I visited a third world country. GREAT job. What a huge transformation.

  10. 10.10.10
    Marti said:

    Awesome job! Adding the trim above the window was a great idea.

    Restoration Hardware has 17″ x 24″ bathmats in some nice colors.

  11. 10.10.10

    Amazing! For a second, I really thought you just replaced the whole vanity. Great job!

  12. 10.10.10
    Allison said:

    Awesome, Awesome, Awesome. I also painted cabinets in my last apartment–they were a nasty two-toned tan and brown…I was also worried about my deposit but I got every single cent back. Either my landlord didn’t notice or she thought it was an improvement. Either way, I’m sure you’ll be fine! :)
    I’m about to tackle my bathroom myself. Hopefully it comes out as nicely as yours!

  13. 10.10.10
    Nat said:

    yumm yumm yumm :) Eva is so lucky to be moving in!!!

  14. 10.11.10

    Your landlord should be PAYING YOU for all of the amazing work you’re doing in that place. :)

  15. 10.11.10
    Logan said:

    Great work. You’re super talented at turning tragic rooms into quite lovely spaces. I enjoy the blog and often wish I was as ambitious as you.

  16. 10.11.10
    Gladys said:

    C’est très joli, très chic. Bravo !

  17. 10.11.10
    Fat Cat said:

    Wow, well done ! It’s incredible how a little paint and streamlining can go a very long way. And how cute is the name of the paint, “Raccoon fur” :-) Makes me wish we had BM in Belgium.
    This is also very helpful for my planned bathroom improvement. Although I own my flat, I lack the budget for a total overhaul, and I find this makeover very inspiring. I am also still holding my breath for the announced “Brick House” bathroom redo – also long overdue. See you’re not the only tease ;-)

    • 10.11.10
      Dan said:

      I won’t lie, the name “raccoon fur” might have been the deciding factor, beating out the decidedly less adorable “wrought iron.”

  18. 10.11.10

    Fantastic job! The tile now looks like it was meant to be there… I love your attitude towards the security deposit. Really, the landlord should pay you for updating his rental.

  19. 10.11.10
    o said:

    any landlord that gets mad about this (other than maybe wanting the darker colors to go back towards white at move-out) has zero business sense.

    I’d be careful not to let the landlord see the place anytime close to lease renewal as they’ll probably try to jack up the price (since they could clearly rent it to a new tenant for a lot more than they are getting from you)

    • 10.11.10
      Dan said:

      Yeah, the kitchen and bath will both be repainted white before we move out. They’re pretty small rooms and the trim work is all done already, so it shouldn’t be a huge job and a gallon will definitely cover it.

  20. 10.11.10

    I’m very impressed! If your landlord has any sense, he won’t say a thing about the changes you made. My brothers each have a couple of properties, and if the tenants show ANY interest in improving/maintaining the place, they pretty much jump for joy (as long as they’re not total idiots and don’t majorly screw something up). I can’t say enough!

  21. 10.11.10
    Ashley said:

    Your work never ceases to amaze. Don’t tell us in your spare time you also ace all of your college courses, too. Very, very impressive.

  22. 10.11.10
    Esther said:

    so… even though you gave a thorough explanation of how you did everything, with pictures and all, i still have to ask, HOWWW did he DO that!? haha. I just moved into an ugly old apt but your site gives me so much inspiration. youre amazing!


  23. 10.11.10

    The whole painting wood white trend has gone a little overboard, in my opinion. That said, your vanity transformation is Awesome. It’s an absolute improvement from that original ugly wood that was going on there before.

    I also am a great fan of the Raccoon shade of paint you’ve selected for the upper half of the walls. Do you plan to use it anywhere else? I LOVE the color.

    Enjoy the updated bathroom – you definitely deserve it!!! And you should make your roommate take you out to breakfast ;)

  24. 10.11.10

    wait, I’m not done apparently. Can we talk, for a minute, about the Bambi painting you have on your toilet? It’s an awesome touch! How are you keeping it propped up?

    Also, I wanted to say that your hardware updates (as usual) are amazing. Love the sleek design.

    • 10.11.10
      Dan said:

      Thanks! Funny you should ask about Bambi– it was just propped up there for a few weeks and didn’t move, but right after these photos were taken it started falling! I blame spirits. So I cut a little piece of white textured non-slip shelf liner (originally from the container store) I had lying around and popped it underneath and it’s stayed put.

      Oh, and there’s not too much of the raccoon fur left (I only bought a quart), but it’ll probably find a use somewhere. It’s a great color!

  25. 10.11.10
    chezerbey said:

    Nice work! Also, I fully support your DIY guerilla tactics. Landlords…

  26. 10.11.10
    Caitlin said:

    Wow, what a transformation! I’m loving the “raccoon fur” paint color and the vanity makeover! Can’t wait to hear all about how you did it!

  27. 10.11.10
    Fiona said:

    Dan’s the Man.

  28. 10.11.10
    Erica Walch said:

    Your landlord should pay you when you move out for classing up the joint, never mind take your security deposit. It looks really good.

  29. 10.11.10
    rareouldtimes said:

    You have definitely inspired me to finally get back to work on my own tiny, beige-tiled rental apartment bathroom! I only hope mine turns out half as well!

  30. 10.12.10

    NO WAY! I have been planning to do the exact same thing with the vanity in our apartment bathroom, which is pretty much exactly the same. It didn’t occur to me to do the little cutout, though, and I think that’s what makes it look finished. I’m going to have to steal this from you!!

    The photo of your painted pipe reminds me of something”¦

    • 10.16.10

      Of course it does! Naturally, when encountered with an exposed pipe (or, more accurately, most things) and not quite sure how to make it look right, all I had to do was think, WWAD? Luckily, you document things like that. I also used your paint trick to get the transition between colors super sharp, worked like a charm.

      Full how-to on the cabinet doors to follow”¦ if you do it, maybe I can stop feeling like such a DIY freeloader!

  31. 10.12.10
    RebeccaNYC said:

    Well done, YOU! I must have the same landlord because I have the same wall tile, same color everything, and the same exact vanity…which we painted immediately upon taking possession of our apartment. We plan to replace it, just the way we replaced the medicine cabinet. Did we ask? no. Am I worried about my deposit? not at all…and neither should you. What an improvement!

  32. 10.12.10
    Sherry said:

    Bathroom looks amazing. You have quiet a transformation there and I can’t wait to see how you did the doors on the vanity. Unfortunately none of us can speak for your landlord, and I can certainly understand them being apprehensive about tenant changing things that can’t be change back easily or cheaply. However, this blog is evidence to the fact that you are doing it the right away, putting in efforts to improve the place that they couldn’t be bothered to do and if anything making their property a much more desirable place to stay. If that doesn’t get your security deposit back, then you probably wouldn’t have got it all (or any) of it back in the first place, which from what I hear is fairly common anyway.

  33. 10.12.10
    Dawn said:

    One word – AMAZING! I’m on the cusp of relocating to a new rental myself where I am dreading having to contend with my similarly tragic 80s bathroom (replete with beige tile, bulky vanity, and eccentric floor tile – sound familiar?). Do you offer anything in the way of consultation services? I would LOVE to get an opinion on what to do with my aforementioned john.

    Thanks in advance!

    • 10.12.10

      Not formally, no, but if you’d like to send some pictures I’d be happy to take a look and send some thoughts (but this is new territory for me, so I can’t guarantee I’ll be any good at it!). Sounds like a fun time!

      Oh, but if you’re looking for someone more profesh, I’d point you in the direction of Morgan from The Brick House blog, who just started The Brick House Design and is taking clients! Bloggy love!

    • 10.12.10
      Dawn said:

      Sounds great! I’ll get on those pics for you right away. And thank you for the additional referral
      (re: The Brick House).

  34. 10.12.10
    Jen said:

    I love tenants who boldly defy traditional “renter rules”!

    Better to ask for forgiveness than permission :)

  35. 10.12.10
    Stacey said:

    Daniel, this looks fabulous! I’m truly inspired to make my bathroom look all the better instead of just settling for its awfulness…and I rent too! Take that landlord…

  36. 10.12.10
    Julie said:

    What is the paint trick you speak of?!

    Also–super job Dan! I wish I had a roommate like you when I was at NYU (when you were probably still watching Sesame Street).

  37. 10.12.10
    gina said:

    Oh do tell what this D16 paint trick is! I’m about to get started painting my bedroom in Ben Moore Blue Note.

    • 10.12.10

      The Door Sixteen paint secret involves painting the first color over the edge of the tape so you don’t get that annoying bleeding through when you paint your second color! In this case, the white pipe was painted (1 coat primer, 2 coats paint), then the line was taped, then white was painted again over the top edge of the tape, then the dark grey/blue was painted over that (twice) to get a super crisp line! Anna wrote about it here, much more cogently than I just did.

  38. 10.13.10
    Adam said:

    Wow! I’m very impressed with what you have done here, especially since it is such a small space! It looks so much bigger and fresher now! What you have done with that vanity is miraculous!

  39. 10.13.10
    Jessica said:

    Amazeballs. No, really.

  40. 10.13.10
    Annika said:

    Lovely, lovely, lovely. You’re such an inspiration for a fellow renter like me. To bad I’m not as bold as you – I do not dare go against the wishes of my landlord…

  41. 10.13.10
    Aleth said:

    Are you thinking about replacing the faucet? I am renting too, and I hate the faucet, I want to replace it with something modern but I dont know if it’s worth it since I do not own the place.

    • 10.13.10

      I’d LOVE to replace our faucet because 1. it’s pretty grungy no matter how much I scrub it and 2. the cold water tap doesn’t really work and 3. the drain stopper broke. But faucets are expensiveeee. I kinda like this cheapo one from Ikea, but still… $70. For something that will probably stay here since I can’t imagine trying to re-install the piece of shit we have. Also… plumbing seems scary.

    • 10.13.10
      Aleth said:

      I found a cheap one online. But yeah you’re right I would not want to mess with plumbing.

    • 10.20.10
      RebeccaNYC said:

      A faucet is easy to replace, and when in doubt, I bet if you tipped the super a $20 s/he would do it for you.

  42. 10.13.10
    Kate said:

    Damn boy… you are good!

  43. 10.13.10
    malshag said:


  44. 10.17.10
    Ann said:

    Dan, you rock! Your landlord will probably give you more than your deposit back. Ask the super if he has any spare faucets. They might manage more than one building and have some lying around. Actually, make friends with the super. He can probably lend you tools and might have all sorts of vintage stuff in the basement that you can use. If they manage bigger buildings you might hit the jackpot. I worked in a drugstore in the Apthorp (Rosemary’s Baby filmed there) on the Upper West Side once. The bathroom was in the basement, which looked like something out of the Magus, or that show where the people lived under Central Park. Scary, but packed full of interesting stuff. Tell the people at Gallatin that you want to arrange an internship with some of the odd shelter magazines, or call the Nate Berkus show. You might as well get credit for whst you are doing. Ann

  45. 10.17.10

    The whole room is really elevated, especially with your paint choice and all of the hardware upgrades. Beautiful.

  46. 10.20.10
    Louise Shin said:

    I doubt the landlord will be pissed. He should be grateful for the work you put in to fix up what was once a horrible bathroom.

  47. 10.20.10
    Nina said:

    Great transformation! Love the color raccoon fur as well, used it in our bedroom. Keep up the good work. I might steal a tip here and there ;)

  48. 10.20.10
    Heather HS said:

    I love the paint color, but I can’t find it on BM website… help!!

    • 10.20.10

      Oh no! The color code is 2126-20, they should be able to mix it from that!

  49. 10.31.10
    JEN RAMOS said:

    I’m always AMAZED at how much of a difference PAINT can make…in this case, very well done! :)))))

  50. 12.17.10
    robyn said:

    Genius!! God how I HATE 1980’s suburban raised paneling on cabinets. Ick Ick!!! You present an affordable way to cover up the yuck. Thanks!!!

  51. 12.27.10
    David said:

    in an apartment full of great rooms, i think this one is the best. well done

  52. 1.17.11
    Jessica said:

    Just stumbled across your site – and not a moment too soon. I can’t even express the god-awfulness of our bathroom, and your post gives me hope! Thanks!

  53. 1.28.11
    Hazel Stone said:

    I know that this post is a billion years old, but as an actual bona fide landlady, I have some advice.

    Ask first.

    I love it when tenants do superficial stuff like this that is mostly reversible and doesn’t get into nasty scary areas like plumbing and wiring. If it looks better and is safe and doesn’t destroy the apartment (like painting over vintage woodwork) I want them to do this stuff. What pisses me off is when I come over to fix something major and there’s a bunch of changes I had no idea about. This makes me paranoid. Are these people dinking around with the wiring as well? Are they going to start messing with my vintage hardware and light fixtures next week? Is my rental property going to burn down (and any chance of being able to retire with it)?

    Also, if you prove yourself trustworthy by asking first and then showing lovely before and after photos, you can get your supply costs reimbursed. Many landlords are into this. I do all the time. Just stick your receipts in the envelope with the rent, and deduct what you spent. Especially for really practical stuff like replacing the busted doorknob.

  54. 1.28.11
    Hazel Stone said:

    Oh, and being able to advertise the apt as “appearing in design blog Manhattan Nest,” is also something any sensible landlord would be very happy about.

    Talk to us, we are not monsters.

  55. 2.10.11
    Patty said:

    Amazing transformation, even the floor looks great now! This is my first time visiting your site and I am loving it. You have quite a talent!

  56. 2.18.11
    jodi said:

    absolutely fantastic!!

  57. 2.23.11
    heidi said:

    As a landlord, i have to say i’d PAY my tenant to make the place pretty (well, i’d replace materials, to a degree, anyways) so you never know… you should at least be submitting the doorknob receipt.

    some of us are kind of nice, and appreciate hard work. very together look. i have NO skill for that stuff.

    wait – Hazel beat me. but nice job!! :)

  58. 6.9.11
    Venus said:

    Just found your blog. I’m in love… had to start at the beginning. I have that same ugly vanity in my bathroom. I might get bold and try something like that too. Great job on your apartment. I can’t wait to see your new place…

  59. 7.25.11
    Jessica said:

    Great makeover! Very inspiring. We have a small bathroom too, about 4×4. Here’s an after shot of our vanity:

    It’s such a fun and gratifying project, why live with a drab sink when you can have something worlds better after just a bit of work and little expense!

  60. 7.25.11
    Jessica said:

    Oops, forgot to say how I found you…googling directions for upholstering our bed, lol! Thanks for that! :)