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WELL, the deed is done. A couple of weeks ago I set aside my shame and came clean with pictures of my upstairs bathroom, and I think we can all agree it was bad. If it wasn’t the most embarrassing room in my house, it was certainly high on the list, and only slowly getting worse and worse the longer I tried to just turn a blind eye and make it work. Exhibit A:
I still kind of can’t believe I posted this haunting photo to the wilds of the Internet, but then again, yes I can. All these years of blogging have really messed with my sense of what’s appropriate for public consumption, to the point that somehow I think this behavior of mass-traumatizing my readers is OK? SORRY. This was the kind of space that most reasonable people would probably consider a total gut-job, myself included—salvaging the couple of remaining nice fixtures and starting over with…everything else. I don’t have the luxury of time or money to take that on right now—or in the closely foreseeable future, really—but I just couldn’t take it anymore and something had to be done quickly and inexpensively and with minimal upheaval. So I done it!
OH HEYYYYYYY. AM I REDEEMED? CAN WE BE FRIENDS AGAIN? I’d like to put this bathroom-based drama behind us. I’m not the same without you.
Let me show you around. I like, really want to.
Various people offered that the issue with my leaky old shower valve was worn out washers, which might have been the case, but the whole thing was so corroded that I couldn’t even pull it apart to access them. I had to cut it out in pieces with an angle grinder! I was more than happy to take this opportunity to swap to a single-lever shower faucet and new tub spout, though, particularly since I have access to the plumbing from the other side of the wall.
There’s a HUGE range in prices out there for tub and shower trim, but I went with the Kohler Coralais valve trim (less than $20!!) and the coordinating chrome tub spout with diverter. Both totally nice! Admittedly I would have been happy with literally anything other than what I had, but I was impressed that these inexpensive options exist that don’t look or feel cheap or builder-grade-y. The most expensive part by far of this upgrade was actually the Kohler Rite-Temp valve that goes in the wall, although often you can replace the trim without having to replace the entire valve. But in this case, WORTH IT. Having a single, smooth lever that delivers consistently-tempered water to my showerhead and out onto my bare butt…this is luxury, people!
Installing it took a little head-scratching because I am not in fact a plumber, but I got the new components roughed in and then it was time for tile!
So. Pretty much the last thing I wanted to do for this project was start ripping out walls and ceilings—I know it might not seem like a big deal, but inherent in that decision would have been addressing any potential issues with framing behind the walls, followed by new insulation, followed by all new drywall and cementboard and vapor barrier and…that is not a quick refresh. That’s a straight-up renovation that we have previously established is for SOME OTHER TIME. So I will be doing some things that are not necessarily advisable for your typical bathroom remodel, but I think are fine for a shorter-term quick n’ dirty solution.
FOR INSTANCE, see above. Behind the formica shower surround and the layers of peeling paint and nonsense, the plaster walls were in decent shape. Before tiling, I slapped up a coat of PlasterWeld, which is really designed to bond new plaster to existing surfaces. Why? Not sure. Saw the can in the basement. Grabbed the can. Figured it couldn’t hurt.
For the end of the tub, I picked up this simple 15″ wide Diamond NOW Arcadia kitchen cabinet (currently on sale!) which has a drawer above and an open cabinet below. I have a plan!
Part 1 of my plan was adding filler strips to the sides to make the cabinet fit snugly into that space, and then covering the top and tub-facing side with cementboard for tile. I did this with scrap wood and a scrap piece of cementboard. USING. STUFF. UP!
Could I have made this cabinet myself? Technically, sure, fine, but did I want to? NOPE. That was a project I could happily avoid by just buying something stock. I have to remind myself that not every single thing needs to be as complicated as possible. I’m outta plywood anyway!
TILE TIME!!! So here’s the deal. The lower half of the room is all Keene’s cement, presumably original to this bathroom, that’s in a 6×6 running bond pattern. I love that choice for a vintage or antique bathroom—classic, simple, and cheap!—but I felt like putting up actual 6×6 tile next to the Keene’s cement 6×6 “tile” would feel weird and bad. Ditto on the other most obviously appropriate solution, subway tile. I felt like it needed to be something really different in scale and texture, but at the same time nothing too overpowering because I still want the fabulous sink to be the star of the show. ALSO it had to be relatively inexpensive and preferably easy to install because someday in the likely distant future I’d like to rip out this tub which will prompt ripping out the tile as well.
So naturally I sprung for marble.
Kidding! It’s faux!!! This feels very out of character because, not that you asked, but I’m generally not about ceramic or porcelain tile that’s supposed to look like something else. There’s just so much nice tile out there that faux-wood or faux-stone tile usually feels to me like a missed opportunity to do something so much more interesting? I also grew up with unconvincing 90s faux-stone ceramic floors…you know the kind, where all the tiles are exactly the same, and the tile installer is supposed to rotate them to create the illusion of randomness and variation?
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a new world. These things have improved by leaps and bounds. I found this 12″ x 24″ True Porcelain Arabescato Gold polished tile at Lowe’s and I think it’s pretty great looking. With natural stone I tend to like a honed finish—also an option here, and cheaper—but I thought the polished ones looked more lifelike. I think there are 8(?) different tiles—enough that you don’t get that phony repetitive look that happens when they’re all identical—and there’s nice depth and subtlety and variation and unless you’re standing 6 inches away and REALLY looking, it’s amazingly convincing. I kind of can’t believe how much I love it. And at $3/square foot, the price is awesome. I find this to be true of Lowe’s tile selection generally, by the way—they have SO many great options that look high-end but are totally budget-friendly. I’m kind of a big fan of whoever handles the tile department internally and think we could probs be friends. *blushes and runs away*
Part of the appeal for me with the large format tile was I thought it would be so fast to install! Ha! It’s just as complicated as smaller tile, just in a different way. I’m really glad I took a little time before I just dove into tiling to plan out my runs to avoid ending up with any little tiny slivers of tile. I hate that! So I drew this very technical sketch and then dove right in.
I’m not honestly sure if I’ve ever worked with porcelain tile before?? The tile itself is harder than ceramic, and cutting the hole for the valve was unexpectedly challenging. After burning through a 4″ carbide-tipped hole saw, I went and bought a diamond grit jigsaw blade which—along with a lot of water from a spray bottle—did the trick pretty quickly. I thought I’d have the whole thing tiled in a couple hours, so naturally it took about that long to get this hole cut and get the first one into place. Live and learn! Things got much easier from there.
I picked up this Spin Doctor spacer/leveling system on my way out of Lowe’s with my boxes of tile “just in case” and they were a LIFESAVER. It can be hard to get large format tiles to sit level and flush with each other under normal circumstances, and particularly when the walls/floor underneath aren’t especially even (like here!) and these are ingeniously designed to fix that problem. If you’re installing large format tiles, I HIGHLY recommend these—you will thank me later. I went with the 1/16″ spacer, although there’s a 1/8″ option as well. I like a small grout line! Unfortunately I can’t find a direct link to these with the rest of the tile spacers on the Lowe’s website, but they’re definitely at my local store so keep an eye out.
By the way, I had a bunch of half-bags of thinset from various projects that I was planning to use up for this, but I’d forgotten that large format tile needs large format thinset! So I bought MAPEI Large Format Floor and Wall Thinset, which is made for tiles this size. I also used a 1/2″ x 1/2″ square-notch trowel to spread it onto the wall. The bag of thinset will usually tell you what size trowel to use depending on how big your tile is. Don’t fear! The answers you seek are right in front of you! Calm down!
The next day, I removed the spacers and scraped out any thinset that squeezed through the grout joints. Then I used MAPEI Flexcolor pre-mixed grout in the Warm Gray color, which I thought went nicely with the tile. Not too dark, not too light. Cool story. You pay a premium for the convenience of pre-mixed grout rather than mixing it yourself, but it’s nice to speed things up and avoid more mess in situations like this.
Moving! Right! Along! With the shower surround tile taken care of, I moved onto the rest of the walls. In some places, the walls easily scraped down to bare plaster, but the paint was more stubborn in other areas. Cracks abounded, old repair work had not exactly contributed to a smooth and even surface…they’re old plaster walls, basically.
Enter, Anaglypta! Do we already know about Anaglypta? It’s cool stuff—wallpaper with an embossed pattern on it that’s been in production since Victorian times! And guess who has a great selection of it? LOWE’S! Color me impressed. Anaglypta is thick and durable, and a great solution for covering imperfections and cracks and stuff without having to do a ton of repair work first. It’s meant to be painted, which can be anything from regular wall paint to a more elaborate faux finish that really highlights the design. So pretty and old-fashioned! There’s a pretty big range in prices, so OF COURSE my favorite—the Brewster pattern— was one of the most expensive options. So it goes. I ordered it anyway because I lack self-control!
To prep the walls, I did some light and quick skim-coating with 45-minute joint compound just to fill in any major problem areas and feather out ridges where stubborn paint met bare plaster. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Then I primed with clear Peel Stop primer, which I had in the basement from another project, to hopefully ensure that nothing continues to peel over time. I can’t tell you if that was the right thing to do, but it seemed like it at the time?
Exciting! So nice to just make all those imperfections disappear. I used this Universal Wallpaper paste, which I still had leftover from when I wallpapered my office (which later became my laundry room) several years ago. The installation isn’t anything too different from regular wallpaper, except that you want to use a rigid bristle brush to smooth it rather than a flat smoothing tool which can damage the paper by flattening the texture. It took me about 4 hours working by myself to get it all hung, which could have been sped up significantly with a second set of hands. Mekko and Bungee were zero help, unfortunately.
After the wallpaper was up, time for some quick millwork! I made baseboards out of standard 1×6 stock, and then used my router table to mill a 1/2″ bead, which I ripped down on my table saw and then nailed to the top of the boards—replicating the simple and modest baseboard molding found in the closets of my house. For the chair rail, I used this super simple pine bead molding from Lowe’s, and this simple pine bed molding as crown all the way around the room. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to finish off the uneven line where the top of the tile meets the ceiling, and applying it over the wallpaper meant I didn’t have to be too precise about the top and bottom of the paper when I was putting it up, since I had a little room to play that would be covered by the moldings.
While I was at it, I also face-nailed 4 pieces of wood to the front of the cabinet at the end of the tub to create a face-frame, so the door and drawer front would look inset and the whole thing more built-in.
Finally, time to sort out the electric! A surprising number of you were disturbed by my exposed conduit electrical solution, and I’m not about to do all this other stuff without at least improving that a little! Since the other side of this wall is now down to the studs, this was the time to get classy and cut in a politely recessed outlet and boxes for the lighting. So I grabbed my Dremel MultiMax MM50 sidekick and made a nice clean electrical-box-shaped hole next to the sink.
At the last minute, I decided it probably would be nice to have an overhead light as well as a vanity light above the mirror, so I cut a hole in the ceiling and ran a wire for that, too. I’m really glad I did!
Then it’s just that same old familiar story of a little sanding here, a little patching there, a little caulking all over, paint, installing the lighting, etc. etc. and…well I’ll be damned, it’s a bathroom!
I am PLEASANTLY surprised by this space! It feels so much bigger and brighter and cleaner and just all-around a million times nicer. Being able to comfortably allow guests to use the bathroom for the first time in so many years feels GREAT. Of course, I’m enjoying it too!
I really wrestled with paint colors for this room, but I like where it ended up! The Anaglypta and ceiling are Valspar’s Wispy White (the ceiling is flat and the walls/crown are satin finish). The cabinet at the end of the tub, window/door casings, and Keene’s cement are painted in Valspar’s Country Charm in semi-gloss, a warm beige-y neutral that’s extremely close to the original paint color in here. It was tempting to go with something more exciting or saturated, but I think between the texture of the wallpaper, the marble tile, and the Keene’s cement, keeping the colors subdued helps it from feeling too busy or over-the-top. Everything is painted in Valspar Signature paint.
Spot the difference!
I got all naughty and reinstalled the shelf and mirror a little bit lower than they were originally, and I think it looks better. Take that, Victorians! It feels so good to be bad.
Even going really basic and inexpensive with the new shower trim, the new valve/trim combo feels lux beyond words. The Waterpik showerhead is possibly the ONE thing that had actually already been updated in this room—thanks to Max who insisted on it when we bought the house—so that stayed. It’s not the most elegant thing in the world but it’s still going strong, so no real reason to replace it. I think it’s this one, or at least very similar?
For the vanity light, I wanted something that would kind of blend in with the original hardware and was excited to find this one! Like a lost member of my little hardware family over here. I think the ribbed glass shades add a nice vintage touch, too. I ordered it online, and for the $100 price tag I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but the quality is really excellent—I feel like it looks way more upscale than the price suggests, and it’s nice and heavy and well-made. You can hang it with the shades facing up or down, and it’s also available as single, double, or quadruple light arrangements—and they’re all on sale! Mine, of course, is the triple light version.
I’d just like to point out the antique towel ring/hook combo seen above was NOT part of the original bathroom, but something I picked up a few years ago on a visit to Brooklyn. I knew it was a different manufacturer than the shelf brackets, but had no idea at the time that it’s by the same company—Brasscrafters—that originally made the mirror! Fun times with hoarding. Both can be seen in this catalog from the 1920s.
The roses I grew in my own yard and I feel v proud of them.
This tub really doesn’t belong in this bathroom, and the space it leaves at the end there—particularly in relation to the window—is kind of destined to be a little awkward. I tried to make the best of it! The drawer provides a nice little bit of storage, and down below…
Who says a hamper can’t be a trash can? This Rev-A-Shelf slide-out trash thing used to be in my kitchen for trash and recycling, but then I went and destroyed my kitchen so it went into indefinite storage. Along the way I seem to have lost one of the plastic cans, so I ordered new white ones online and now this thing is back in action!
The glass handles are vintage, but Lowe’s carries these guys that are similar, as well as an impressive collection of glass bin pulls that are so super cute!
Up on the ceiling, we have this adorable little deco light fixture I blogged about a while ago. $10! I still love that little light.
I think this is the most mortifying and sad photo to ever appear on this blog, and now I’m publishing it for the second time because evidently I’m a true glutton for shame.
BLESS UP to this cute cute cute Eastlake-ish cabinet I got at auction years ago for like $30. It’s been hiding in the basement ever since! I dragged her out, cleaned her up, and wouldn’t ya know it…she holds a ton of stuff! Pretty much everything that was crammed into that awkward spot at the end of the tub, that dumb little red IKEA cabinet, and clutter from the shelf all fits in here. I think the scale of it helps draw focus away from the lopsided basic modern toilet.
All that remains of the exposed conduit is a short length that comes out the wall and ends in this little single-gang box with a double switch for the overhead and the vanity light. Am I wrong to think it’s a little cute? This bathroom has NEVER had a light switch in 100+ years, so having TWO lighting options both powered with the flick of a finger when you walk in the door seems extremely modern and cool.
Also let’s appreciate my original TP holder while we’re here. Changing the roll is a little more complicated than the tension designs of today, but it sure is pretty!
Does that about cover it? Did we talk about all the things?
OH RIGHT! Where’d the money go? I did spend a bit more than I’d hoped, but came pretty close! I’m not counting various vintage things or renovation supplies I had squirreled away, or things like the notched trowel that are reusable tools—you get the idea. Let’s run it down:
GRAND TOTAL: $1,064.18
I love my bathroom now! This came out a lot better than I expected, and I can’t really express how great it is to move this bathroom down to the very bottom of the list of renovation priorities so I can focus on the rest of this crazy house. A huge thank you to my friends at Lowe’s for making it all happen!!