All posts in: Kingston House

From the Vault: My Bedside Tables!

There are two pieces of furniture that are, without exception, always the most difficult for me to source and settle on. The first is coffee tables. The second is bedside tables. Either the prices are out of range, or the quality is too crappy, or the style is wrong, or the dimensions (height, especially!) don’t work with the couch or the bed. It’s a profound struggle! Exhausting! Simply untenable! Something must be done!

Back when I first put my bedroom back together a couple of years ago, I stuck a couple little vintage teak side tables next to the bed while I searched for better ones. I found these on Craigslist years ago, and they necessitated a very…interesting trip to a nursing home to procure. That’s neither here nor there.

On the plus side, they didn’t obscure the panel detail below the windows. But that’s about where the appeal started and ended, because I truly don’t understand how people don’t NEED storage next to their beds. HOW. I don’t know if it’s because I aspire to spend all my time in bed and have everything I need within reach, but I simply don’t understand where the stuff goes otherwise. I need pens and pencils next to my bed for late-night sketching and list-making! I need my crazy pills! Hand lotion! Pot! You see the challenge.

Eventually I got fed up and made my own weird but very versatile solution that I’ve come to really like, so I wanted to explain!

It’s an IKEA kitchen cabinet. This makes…4 IKEA kitchen cabinets in this house, none of which are in my kitchen? The other two are in the closet serving as the dresser.

You won’t see this particular arrangement online, but the amazing thing about IKEA kitchen cabinets is that everything is modular, and they now make the drawers in both the base cabinet depth (24″) and the upper cabinet depth (15″) if you’re more pressed for space. This has opened up a world of hackery options. The drawers come in 3 sizes—5″, 10″, and 15″—that you can arrange to your heart’s content. It’s all so smart.

So here’s alllll it is. The frame is a 15″ high x 15″ deep x 24″ wide cabinet, which is intended to hang on the wall. Like I said. It’s all modular. Choose your own adventure.

For these cabinet frames I got a 5″ drawer and a 10″ drawer. But you could do three 5″ drawers or one 15″ drawer…THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER.

Then I unscrewed the legs from the teak side tables and put the tops underneath the cabinet frame to keep them a bit off the floor. This was intended to be an entirely temporary solution, and then I forgot all about it.

For the tops, I just pried the little rubber feet things off the bottom of these Crate & Barrel marble pastry slabs and placed them on top. They’re heavy so they really don’t shift around, but the original intention was to double-stick velcro them to the cabinet’s top for a more secure (but easily reversible) assembly.

The handles I got years ago in Sweden! I have a ton of them but figured it was better to use 4 now than none at all until whatever project they get used for presents itself. Until then I’ll just hoard the rest, as I tend to do!

That’s it! Obviously you could customize this 10,000 different ways with different drawer fronts/hardware, wrapping the sides of the cabinet in wood or another material, doing something else on the top, adding feet or legs in whatever style you want—I don’t know your business! They could also be wider or narrower or taller, too, depending on your bed/sofa situation of course.

The great thing is that because these are really intended for kitchens, the quality of the drawers and glides is GREAT. IKEA also makes plenty of interior organizers so you can keep all your little bedside thingamabobs nice n’ orderly. I can’t stand chaotic drawers. I would show you the interiors but that feels oddly personal. Like, we’re friends and all, but I’m not sure I know you like that. I’m a very private person as you can plainly tell by my near-decade of blogging in detail about my living spaces.

BTW—how cute is my little macrame plant holder/pot/plant?! It was handcrafted by one of my favorite local makers, Lail Design. Brad’s work is so beautiful! The plant is from Lowe’s—it’s a Hoya Hindu Rope Plant which may or may not bloom someday, but it seems happy being generally neglected, which I appreciate in a house plant.

Other than that, not a lot has really changed in the bedroom since I installed the faux fireplace back in the spring! I futz around with stuff on the mantel sometimes. I picked up this H&M Home linen duvet cover during the Black Friday sale, which I love! I have one in the “light taupe” as well, and I’ve been really happy with the quality and how well they wash and dry. Ordering something in a color called “dark beige” was, for some reason, extremely exciting and funny to me. I LOVE LOVE the “dark yellow” color too, but this just isn’t the house/room for it as much as I wish it were.

I got the linen bathrobe at the same time, also in dark beige, and much to my delight it’s the exact same fabric as the duvet cover. Which means when I wear it in bed, I just look like a floating head with a coupla hands.

I maybe need more adventure in my life.

I dunno. Still gotta paint that door to the nursery. I put up that tiny oval mirror recently. I found that art above the radiator at our local consignment shop for like $20 and I dig it. Still keeping my eye out for a rug…I do miss having a rug in the bedroom particularly in the winter. It appalls me that I have so many rugs and none of them fit/work in this room. It feels like it should not be possible.

Mekko continues to be the most beautiful woman on the planet, perfect in every way. This is not up for debate.

Bungee is an absolute menace and I adore him. I’m thrilled to report that he’s FINALLY coming around to enjoying an extremely close cuddle. He’s super soft and has a lot of loose skin, so I’m glad to see his priorities are aligning better with my own. A huge relief, honestly. I will continue to work on it and keep you updated on our progress.

Brand New Year, Brand New…Paint!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Ahhhhhh, the first days of a new year! The promise! The potential! The overwhelming need to try to start things off on the right foot, as though your actions at the beginning of the year probably-definitely-certainly will inform the rest of the year and, by extension, your entire life. Isn’t it exhilarating?

For me, the new year always brings with it a certain feeling of dread over the things I failed to accomplish in the previous year. I love performing the ritual of listing out goals in January, forgetting all about them, and then later using them to feed my end-of-year self-loathing about all the things that I haven’t actually managed to complete. Then I roll those items over into the next year, so what starts as an actionable plan to finally pull my life together inevitably just creates more evidence that I have not, in fact, pulled my life together. But maybe this is the year! Who’s to say! Because I’m kicking it off with a big grown-up someday project that has, heretofore, rolled over as a goal from year to year but has not actually gotten done.

WELCOME TO MY HALLWAY, A MERE 6+ YEARS AFTER MOVING INTO THIS HOUSE. Allow me to explain.

My house is a big project, as we well know by now. And I’ve done a lot of work on it. But I’ve also neglected this space because it’s not an actual living space—just a large area you pass through to get to the living spaces. Like most typical side-hall layouts, this hallway runs from the front to the back of the house and contains both the stairs and access to all the main rooms. So I’ve told myself that it’s a project for another time since it won’t functionally change how I live in the house, and so I just have to wait.

The problem is, it makes me feel very bad, what with its abandoned paint samples and general rattiness. It’s like a monument to that final 10% (OK, maybe more than 10%) of work that’s so hard to get yourself to actually do, and it’s the FIRST thing you see when you walk in and the last thing before you depart. Added to this is the palpable sense of indecision, which is somehow scarier than the actual work? I generally think I’m a decisive person who knows what they want, and this hallway makes me question that idea every single day. I’ve been stumped for years, which makes me feel worse and more insecure and less capable of just making a decision!

So let’s end the madness. Right here right now. It’s 2020 and I have HAD IT.

To be clear, a lot of work has already gone into this space! It’s easy to forget, so let’s take a little trip back in time.

This is almost exactly 7 years ago, from the first time I saw the house! About 5 feet beyond the grand front doors was this big 1970s wall, covered in fake wood paneling with weird windows and a hollow-core door. I had been OBSESSED with this property listing but there were only a few photos and they were, unsurprisingly, horrendous, so I don’t think I was expecting this. Note also that both doorways to the current living room (left) and the enormous someday-living-room (right) are covered over in plywood, and that little tiny sconce on the wall was the ONLY source of light in the entire space.

BUT THEN! Once through that crazy “vestibule” I was hit with this gorgeous unpainted newel post and banister and I fell in love.

At the back of the staircase was this other 1970s wall, which provided the entrance to the first floor apartment.

At the top of the stairs was yet more 1970s fun and excitement! The door served as the entrance to the second floor apartment, and the entire upstairs banister was obscured by wood paneling to create more of a wall. They stopped the wall about 1′ short of the ceiling, for light I imagine?

It did not work especially well, because this hallway was DARK DARK DARK. So very dark. The upstairs space was also extremely narrow, in addition to being so so dark.

I’m unclear on whether the previous owners were just being kind of lazy when they built these additions or if they were concerned about preserving the house, but either way…the plywood-covered doorways still maintained the doors on the other side, none of the trim work had been removed or even really cut into, and I felt confident that the original banister would be hiding underneath the paneled walls. And it was! All of this was really very lucky and I’m so thankful they didn’t destroy the house in the process of dividing it up.

First order of business was opening up those doors again! It was so exciting.

And then the “vestibule” had to go too! Returning this space back to its original layout and scale was the stuff of old-house-renovation dreams! Immediately the house felt so open and airy, like it could breathe again.

Upstairs, I did in fact find the original banister relatively unscathed. The upstairs hall has no windows and is just generally pretty dark, but opening everything back up really helped.

I can’t forget about stripping ALL THAT WALLPAPER. It appeared to be a couple layers of wallpaper, and that green and gold pattern was actually painted with some kind of patterned roller. It was separating from the original plaster all over the place, and it all had to come down to restore the walls. Fun fun! So messy and sticky and slow.

Later on, I had the radiator moved away from the stairs and closer to the front door (if you really want to know, I actually put the hallway radiator in the dining room and the dining room radiator out in this location in the hall), other plumbing re-routed into the walls, and electric roughed in for new lighting! Then I tore out the ceiling, which had already been replaced with drywall that was poorly installed and even more poorly finished—it just made more sense to take it down and start over, especially since the living room and dining room both got new ceilings at the same time!

New ceiling! This was also the first time I hired Edwin—who knew what THAT would turn into?!

Finally, I did have some good sense to hire out skim-coating the walls, which was a huge job that I still would not want to attempt today. This left smooth and hole-free walls, ready for a little finish work and PRESTO! Restored hallway!

Except that’s not really what happened. All this major work occurred years ago at this point, and then progress in here just hit a total stand-still as other things were attended to. Eventually I did get my act together and throw a coat of primer on the walls, because I was sick of getting covered in white dust every time I swiped against the raw joint compound.

And that’s how it’s been for the last few years. Generally ignored and neglected. Being treated as a landing zone for materials and supplies as they round-robin their way in and out of the house. Waiting.

Well, I’m done waiting! I’m so tired of it looking so lousy in here, and so tired of apologizing to guests and sheepishly telling them the house is a “work in progress” as they walk in the front door and take it in. That feeling? It does affect the way that I live in the house. Negatively. And it occurs to me that if this space was “finished,” it wouldn’t matter so much what’s going on behind a few of the doors where rooms are in various stages of renovation, because the overall impression would not be one of a total construction site. This all sounds so luxurious, so I just have to make it happen!

I don’t think I’m easily overwhelmed, but yet this all feels extremely overwhelming for two main reasons. Maybe they sound familiar:

  1. The scale of the project. It is not really a room and yet there are—count ’em—13 doors in this hallway needing various levels of restoration work (think missing hardware, alignment issues that don’t allow them to close, sloppy old paint jobs, etc.). There are also 17 stair treads—all painted—and 57 spindles—all with some paint on them but not enough to justify painting them—and three transom windows and miles of painted trim and a lot of wall and ceiling surface area to contend with. Oh and the floor needs some patches where radiator pipes have moved around, and eventually a full refinishing.
  2. COMMITMENT PROBLEMS. How many years should it take for me to decide what I want to do? APPARENTLY ALL OF THEM. While my typical attitude toward painting is usually “hey, it’s just paint!” (i.e.—the easiest part of renovating and the least problematic to change down the line), this is SO MUCH WORK (see item 1) and SO MUCH PAINTING that I really don’t want to face redoing it any time soon. Which has created all this internal pressure to get it right the first time, which has led me into an insecurity spiral of uncommon proportions.

So I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to overcome these obstacles and get my butt in gear. I thought if I told you about them, it might help you work through whatever version of this hallway you have in your life! Unless you don’t have one. Think you’re better than me?! Ok fine. You are.

First, I finally cleared everything out. That stack of drywall had been there for years, and now it’s waiting in the other room. Hooray.

Next, I evaluated what actually needed to be done. I’ve had hallway blinders on for so long that I didn’t really have a list, and like most painting projects, it isn’t so much about the painting itself but all the prep that has to happen first to get a nice result. This list quickly became very daunting, so I turned to my default strategy: break up the project into parts so I don’t completely lose my mind! Sometimes you have to take it in smaller chunks to keep things feeling manageable, which I often forget is an option. Not everything is a strictly all-or-nothing endeavor, Daniel!

So. First I will tackle the upstairs hallway. It probably needs the least work? And getting it squared away should help motivate me to keep going. That, or I’ll just get completely burned out…but at least I will have accomplished something.

Then I will tackle the stairs–a massive project unto themselves. I painted the bottom three treads black years ago to see how I liked it, and the verdict is: I HATE IT. Black treads often/usually look GREAT, but not only did the dogs and I quickly wear through the paint, I’ve finally made peace that I just CANNOT have painted floors in this house. They are destined to always look dirty—no matter the color—and I just simply cannot deal. Does that dog look like someone concerned with keeping dirt and fur off the floor? Because he is not remotely concerned. I am outnumbered in this regard and it’s a battle I plainly cannot and will not win.

Obviously, these stairs once had a runner. I’m actually pretty sure they’ve always had a runner, meaning that the paint build-up on other edge of each tread is…immense. So many layers. And I have considered a runner, but I actually don’t think I would like that option much better than painted stairs from a functional standpoint, and it would cost a fortune.

Which leaves me with…I’m going. To Strip. The treads. And I WILL SURVIVE IT. I used to get really hung up on whether to stain the treads to try to match the banister or the floor, but honestly? I think leaving them natural pine and then letting the sealer enrich them to whatever wood tone they want to be is going to be just fine. I’m testing out various chemical strippers to try to avoid lead exposure and endless hours of scraping and sanding, although I know scraping and sanding will inevitably be part of the process. I think I will be extremely happy with this result, and I’ll just divide and subdivide the process to keep it feeling achievable. A little bit at a time is the name of the game!

And then, finally, I will tackle the first floor hallway. And then it will be so so nice. I can’t wait to strip that transom window over the bathroom door at the back of the hallway! And put a doorknob on the bathroom door. And finally make what’s behind that door into a bathroom. Ha!

So now that I have a decent idea of the how, I just needed to commit to some daunting choices like color and fixtures and stuff. Easy, right? Fun, right? WRONG.

FOR INSTANCE. These samples have been on the wall for so long that I no longer remember what they even are. I did not label them because I figured I would tackle this in a timely manner and therefore would still have the benefit of my memory.

I think where I’ve gotten hung up on these decisions is the fact that there are a lot of options that would all look good! Hallways can be a great place to have some fun with some amazing wallpaper, and they can also be a perfect opportunity for dark and moody colors and interesting arrangements of art and some bold, whimsical choices. I’ve felt like there’s a simple solution that I know will look nice—white-ish trim, grey-ish walls, and black doors all around—but that I’d somehow be betraying myself or the house or everyone on the planet by just going with the simple solution. But sometimes classic and simple and—sure, maybe a little boring—is all you really want, and all it takes is the confidence to hush whatever’s telling you it’s not good enough and commit.

So I guess my basic rule is this: if you feel PASSIONATE about a bold decision, MAKE THAT BOLD DECISION. But if you feel on the fence, or like you should but your heart’s not really in it…there is nothing wrong with the most obvious choice. I’ve always felt like paint should complement whatever else you have going on in a given space, but it shouldn’t be the dominant choice. In other words, if you’re relying on the color of your walls to make or break a space, you’re probably doing it wrong—try to think more about lighting, rugs, art, objects, furniture, and architectural detail.

ANYWAY. Upon revisiting these samples that I’ve walked by everyday for years, I finally realized that none of them were really right, but that doesn’t mean the general direction was wrong. I can get a few more samples! Or 17 more!!!

Picking paint based solely on a paint chip rarely works out the way you want it to, so getting actual samples and painting big swatches is KEY. I like to narrow down by a process of elimination, and then paint more samples of the finalists in different areas to see how they work in different lighting.

So. I wasn’t kidding—I literally got 17 samples mixed. The women at the paint counter at Lowe’s are some of the nicest people ever for humoring me in this endeavor. And the craziest thing happened—I ACTUALLY THINK I MADE A DECISION. ACTUALLY SEVERAL DECISIONS. BEHOLD.

A mood board? FOR A HALLWAY? LIKE I SAID, 2020 IS WILD. Here’s what I’ve got!

  1. PAINT, DUH. I’m going with my gut, and my gut says that this space is so pretty on its own that it doesn’t need to get all gussied up—a quiet, classic approach won’t feel dated in a few years, but will really allow the existing architecture to shine. So it is decided: black doors (Sherwin Williams “Caviar”), white trim (Sherwin Williams “Extra White”), and grey walls (Sherwin Williams “Oyster White” I THINK). Grey paint is really tricky because of the temptation to go too dark (like my first round of samples), and the undertones will drive you nuts EVERY TIME. The swatch on this mood board looks like a putty color, but on my walls it has a lot of green and a little blue but somehow is still warm? I think I love it, but I won’t really know until I go for it. Obviously I will report back. After years of mostly using Valspar, I want to give HGTV Home by Sherwin Williams a shot—the paint itself is a little more expensive but coverage and durability I think are both supposed to be better, and since it’s a relatively narrow high-traffic space, the walls and moldings do get accidentally scuffed up on the regular.
  2. I’ll refinish the stair treads, which are old pine and hopefully will look amazing.
  3. A nice vintage rug in the entryway will really help define that space, and add some color and texture!
  4. The banister and spindles need some restoration work and stabilization, but will look more or less the same. I think the wood is mahogany!
  5. LIGHTING! I’ve already added the oh-so-fake-but-who-cares foam ceiling medallion, but I’ve had a little temporary bulb dangling there ever since there’s been an electrical box to power it! I AM SO READY FOR A REAL LIGHT FIXTURE. I like the contrast of a decidedly modern fixture in an old house to keep things from feeling too much like a time capsule, which led me to this fancy fancy Kichler chandelier from Lowe’s (currently 35% off!)! I’m so excited for it to be delivered so I can see it in person. It’s about 3 feet across with 8 bulbs, and I think it’s gonna look great. Eek!
  6. MORE LIGHTING! There are three light fixtures in the hall—one at the front, one at the back, and one over the stairs. The one over the stairs feels like the trickiest, because I want it to throw off a lot of light and feel kind of sculptural/impactful without being too in-your-face. I’m really hoping this Globe Electric number from Lowe’s (currently 40% off!) fits well, because the price is great and it’s also in the mail! It sort of feels like a modern mobile that also lights up.
  7. I got really excited the other night when I realized this is my moment to add traditional gold leaf house numbers to the transom window!!! I’m about to be too classy for words.
  8. Little details! Even though all the light switches in the hall are only a few years old, I want them to look like they’ve been there—so antique-style push-button switches it is! I haven’t used these in the past because $, but I love them and so I’m just going for it. 2020, baby!!!
  9. I ALSO ordered nice radiator flanges for where the pipes come up out of the floor. Currently I don’t think ANY of my radiators have them and I can’t wait for that to change!
  10. I *think* a little console table will fit nicely at the top of the stairs (I have a little modern one that belonged to my grandparents—the one on the mood board is kinda-sorta similar), which will probbbabbbbbly end up being where I stack dirty dishes that need to make their way back down to the kitchen after I eat my meals in bed while watching trash tv. Not that I do that!!! (except all the time).
  11. Finally, art! I’m stumped on art, to be honest. I have a lot of it laying around, including a couple of vintage sketch pads that I bought which are full of figure drawings. Lotsa nudes! Maybe get a bunch of them framed and do a big gallery wall?! I’m not sure. This feels so far in the future. It’s hard because there are big expanses of wall, but I think the space is too narrow for a huge piece to fill them.

SO! IT IS ON! I am shedding my old habit of beating myself up over this space and getting to WORK. I started a few days ago, and I have to say…I’m truly no longer mad at myself for not doing this earlier. The prep is always 10x what you think it will be, and this is no exception! It is SLOW SLOW SLOW so I just hope I can get it all done without losing steam. I’ll keep you updated along the way!

Are you circling back to a long-neglected project this January? Let’s hear it. I can’t be the only one!

My Upstairs Bathroom Refresh: The Big Reveal!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

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:

PLUMBING
Valve: $137.40
Shower Valve Trim: $19.53
Shower arm and flange: $8.99
Tub Spout: $25.68
Plumbing pipe + assorted fittings: $21.22

ELECTRIC
12/2 Romex Cable: $15.87
Lightswitch: $8.48

TILE
True Porcelain Arabescato Gold Polished tile: $243.62
Schluter Edge Trim: $8.83
Spacers: $9.98
Thinset: $24.98
Grout: $33.99
Caulk: $8.48

CARPENTRY
Crown Molding: $37.89
Cabinet: $124.00
Chair Rail: $15.56

DECOR
Anaglypta Wallpaper: $184.74
Vanity Light: $100.98
Paint: $33.96

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!!

Bathroom Update! OH HEY, FLOORS!

If you were unfortunate enough to catch my last post, you will be relieved to know that I started work on my bathroom! Even though I keep talking about this as a “small” renovation, a “light refresh,” a “quick and cheap fix,” I’m not sure this room has any truly quick fixes. You’ve seen it. It’s rough. As a result, the entire house has been thrown into total chaos and immediate disarray. This phenomenon seems to happen every time, and each time I regard it with a renewed sense of wonder. It doesn’t seem like this task would require every tool and supply I’ve ever owned, and yet…all the DIY paraphernalia now scattered around the upstairs begs to differ.

I think the lesson broadly might be that bathrooms are no joke, especially if you only have one. They just involve more than, say, a bedroom, plus they’re small which makes the work awkward and uncomfortable. When you’re working on a living space, it’s easy enough to just avoid living in that space until the work is done…but it is not easy to avoid going to the bathroom. I, for one, typically have to do it several times a day. Which is why I’m definitely glad I’m not gutting this bathroom right now, and also already cannot wait for this to be over. Ha!

GOOD. BYE. FORMICA. You have served valiantly as the shower surround but it is time for you to depart. I got lots and lots of helpful suggestions for the bathroom after my last post (thank you!!! y’all are smart.), which ranged from “try to work with the Formica!” to “OMG KILL IT WITH FIRE,” and I fell more into that latter camp. It was barely clinging to the walls so taking it down was a no-brainer.

Next, I had to get rid of that dumb wall at the end of the tub. “Had to” is strong wording—I wanted to. REALLY wanted to. If the bathroom were a littttttttle bit wider, it probably would have made more sense to keep, but that space it created was just so narrow and deep and awkward and dark and skeevy, I just wanted it gone. The wall was built whenever this tub was put in, and the side facing into the shower was made up of scraps of plywood which were then skim-coated in joint compound and then covered in Formica. Fancy!

IS IT BEAUTIFUL YET? Yikes. The plaster walls under the Formica are luckily in very good condition, all things considered.

By the way, while we’re taking in this spa-like view, several of you suggested/insisted on changing the swing of the door, and you know what? You’re absolutely right! I even noted the awkward swing of the door 6 years ago when first writing about this bathroom, but completely forgot it bothered me over the course of the intervening years. It’s funny how you just get used to things. But now that it’s been brought to my attention again, it’s all I can think about…add it to the list.

WELL, WELL, WELL, WHAT HAVE WE HERE? Removing the wall at the end of the tub allowed me to see under the tub for the first time, and I saw wood floors! And not, like, wide and gappy and soft wood subfloors that I can see from below, but nice finished hardwood. It also allowed me to see that these hardwood floors were residing under only one thin layer of plywood subfloor and vinyl tile, not the several layers of mayhem I suspected I’d find. INTERESTING.

So, I had PLANNED to just peel up the existing vinyl tiles, do whatever I needed to do to prep the plywood subfloors, and put down new peel-and-stick vinyl tiles. I’d found these Stainmaster black “obsidian” large-scale hex tiles at Lowe’s, which seemed like they’d be fast and affordable at about $2/square foot, and they’re cute! It’s nice to see something different than 12″x12″ vinyl—AND, these are GROUTABLE? What is this sorcery? The product shots in finished rooms look pretty great and I’d bought 5 boxes and was prepared and weirdly stoked to go for it.

Upon seeing the wood floors…I was still prepared to go for it? A glimpse of hardwood is not the same as seeing the whole room of hardwood, and someone probably covered them up for reason, like rot, that I don’t want to face. Plus, removing the plywood subfloor would entail temporarily removing that sink—or somehow just its legs, which rest on the floor—a prospect that strikes complete and utter fear into my heart.

I’m not sure I can stress this last point enough. The sink is super beautiful and old and theoretically valuable and fragile and I cannot and will not risk it for the purposes of this renovation. I don’t even really understand how it’s mounted, particularly the backsplash piece which I think might be mortared to the wall like a big tile. Someday, I will have to face this, I suppose. Today? Hell no. This is also why I didn’t even really consider tiling the floor with ceramic or porcelain tile because that would add thickness to the floor and necessitate removing and re-mounting the sink a little higher. There is seriously nothing in this world I would rather do less than fuck with that sink.

In addition to the sink, there’s also a radiator in the room and that presents kind of the same problem. It would be nice if radiators were easy to remove and put back on a whim, but it’s a pain and I wanted to avoid that as well.

So now I am not even one full day into this DIY event and at a crossroads that is causing IMMEASURABLE stress. I am not at all dramatic, why do you ask?

I changed course and spray-painted the radiator while I debated my options. I cleaned it well and then used Rust-Oleum’s High Heat Engine Enamel in gloss. Looking slick, radiator!

Don’t ask me how; I couldn’t tell you. But I got the floor out. Lots of careful cutting with my handy Dremel MultiMax MM50 to get the subfloor into pieces small enough to shimmy out from underneath the legs, which can be carefully maneuvered this way and that without the whole thing crashing down. It was intense. But everyone survived, most importantly the sink.

ANYWAY, floors!! For the most part, the floors were in pretty great shape. There was a little water damage near the toilet and a big patch where plumbing had been run behind the sink, but overall…I’ve seen much worse!

Then I started sanding them, and…what’s this?! The floors in my house are all yellow pine or fir—both very common wood types for flooring here—but I think these are…maple?! Huh! I almost never see maple floors in this region. Interesting!

By the way, even though I just refinished that little floor in my closet, I WAY underestimated the amount of sanding here. Maple is so much harder than pine. I found that if I hand-scraped the old finish (shellac, I think?) before sanding, it went a little faster and saved me from having to replace the sanding pads every 5 seconds, but it was still slow and kind of awful to do with just a little orbital sander.

I took up the old patch behind the sink, which I think was made of shipping pallets? Super rough and uneven wood; not worth saving.

I didn’t have any maple, but I did have boards from the yellow pine patch that I pulled out of the living room when I installed the faux fireplace several years ago in there! The boards are the same width as the maple, and this floor is so full of “character” anyway that a conspicuous patch job doesn’t really bother me. I actually think it’s kind of charming?

So do you, admit it.

NOT BAD, RIGHT? I loved the light tone of the unfinished maple, so I used some leftover Bona NaturalSeal before applying poly. The NaturalSeal has a little bit of white pigment in it, which lets the wood maintain an unfinished look rather than darkening with polyurethane. Then I followed up with two coats of Bona Traffic HD in Satin, which I also had on hand in the basement.

Oh HELLO, floors! I am very pleased. I know that wood floors aren’t everyone’s ideal for a bathroom, but I am more than happy to have these in here. Plus, aside from some sanding pads, they were free! I’m sure I will still have no problem spending my $1,000 budget, but being able to return the vinyl floor tile definitely helps.

A couple more random and possibly interesting things about the bathroom! I didn’t notice that it wasn’t showing up in photos, but the lower half of the walls in this bathroom are not smooth plaster, and they aren’t painted tile either—they’re Keene’s cement! Keene’s cement is a very hard and durable plaster developed in 1838 that was often used in public spaces and other areas needing a hard-wearing surface. I think it maintained popularity until about the 1920s or so, but it’s still in production! My Keene’s cement looks like 6×6 tiles in a running bond pattern. A lot of you guys recommended simple subway tile or something similar for the shower surround—which would be perfect and really affordable—but I got super hung up on having real tile right up next to this more subtle fake tile walls. Maybe that’s dumb? It just seemed…not right. I also got concerned that the toilet, sink, and tub are all different shades of glazed white, and I’d regret adding yet another shade of glazed white. Maybe that’s also dumb? Regardless, I’m taking the opportunity to do something different and kind of unlike me and I think I’m into it.

Anyway! Also of note in that image above: that wall was covered in Formica, so I’d never seen what was hiding underneath—which looks distinctly like years of someone painting around a radiator! A tall and narrow radiator tucked into this corner rather than this lower/longer one that’s here now must have been nice. I wonder what happened to it. It’s cool to see the original beige-y paint on that Keene’s cement, though. Dare I say, I like it?

Also, I took down the mirror to get to work on the walls! The backing is embossed with this “The Brasscrafters” logo, which appears to have gotten its start in 1899. They made all the bathroom things: mirrors, soap dishes, shelves, towel rods, hooks, toilet paper holders, and so on—I really enjoyed scrolling through this catalog from the 20s and finding my mirror!

The clips that hold the mirror backing into place dates the patent at 1904, although it looks like these mirrors were in production for a few decades so I’m not sure when mine was actually made/installed.

I don’t see any manufacturer stamp on the sink itself, but a commenter named Margaret pointed out that it sure looks a helluva lot like a JL Mott sink, which some googling confirmed. Look at this one, which they say was made in 1892! Cool cool.

The shelf brackets are stamped “S. Sternau & Co Brooklyn NY,” which was started in 1893 and later became Sterno, the brand name that’s synonymous with their signature product, canned heat!

FUN TIMES WITH HISTORY. Nerd.

I gotta get back to my bathroom now. GO GO GO.

I Have Got to Do Something About This Bathroom.

Would you like to know something insane? OK I’LL TELL YOU. Last Friday was the anniversary of the closing on my house. 3 whole years!!!!

Just kidding, it’s 4 years.

Actually wait, 5 years.

Fuck. It’s 6 years. I have some feelings about it, as you might expect.

The very first time I came to Kingston, it was for a weekend with friends. We stayed in an Airbnb only a few blocks from the house I’d later go on to buy. Some sleuthing revealed that the owners (now friends of mine—something that tends to happen when you move to a place like this!) were a couple of young guys who had bought the house less than a year prior to our stay. The house was very nice, and every part of it had seemingly received some level of attention to prepare it for comfortable occupancy. Walls had been skimmed and painted, furniture and window treatments installed, and the oak floors refinished to a pleasant shade of medium brown.

So it’s with some cringing embarrassment that I’ll now admit to feeling like the renovation was nice enough, but…could have been better. Freshly painted acoustic tiles still covered some original plaster ceilings, new electrical work had been run in exposed plastic channels rather than behind walls and ceilings, and inexpensive floating laminate flooring hid what was likely layers of old flooring in the kitchen. The bathrooms had been updated with a sheet of linoleum flooring, that unconvincing variety meant to look like natural stone, and the chipped and broken 1930s wall tiles had been painted a deep navy—including the mastic that was revealed when some of them had fully detached—rather than restored or replaced. All of this struck me as kind of a bummer. It was all fine but also not what I would have done. I held this belief with all the authority of somebody whose restoration experience started and ended with spending two years fixing up a 600 square foot Brooklyn apartment. If I’d only had a house, I could show these people how it was really done. Thoroughly. Lovingly. Do it right or don’t do it at all.

Sitting here today, I wish I could go back and slap that judge-y expression right off my dumb fucking face. What these owners had done was not only practical but smart: in most cases they’d done just enough to make the house cozy and clean, which in turn allowed them to begin renting it, which in turn augmented their income, which in turn allowed them to save for the renovations they’d complete down the line. I just hadn’t given them the benefit of the doubt that they had further plans beyond what I could see. Eventually they put in a very nice brand new kitchen. They renovated the bathrooms in a classic and elegant style befitting of a Victorian home. Having a “good enough” kind of solution in the interim took the pressure off to do it all at once, and allowed them to do something within mere months that I have not been able to comfortably do for six years: to stop apologizing. To host overnight guests and dinner parties. To have the flexibility to put the renovation on hold because everything is already fine. 

To be fair: comparing your renovation to your perception of someone else’s is generally unhelpful. All houses are different. While their bathroom tiles on the first floor had been damaged from 80 years of use, mine had been ripped from the wall because they were spattered with human remains. While their exterior work mostly entailed repainting and gardening, mine has involved tearing down multiple additions and reimagining entire elevations. It’s been difficult—to say the least—to prioritize all the many moving parts of renovating this house, and I’m positive I’ve erred from time to time in that agenda-setting. I’m sure I will continue to, because it’s hard. Like everyone else, I’m at the mercy of time and money and weather and a million other challenges big and small with a project of this scope.

And yet: SIX. YEARS. And it’s hard to imagine there aren’t at least another six ahead of me, and probably six more after that. It’s a slog. A satisfying, gratifying, at times exciting, sometimes fun, difficult-to-explain, always educational, and frequently humbling slog. Nothing in my house brings this into sharper relief than my bathroom.

Yes, I have a bathroom. I showed it to you once, almost 6 years ago, when it looked like this. In preparation to sell, obviously someone had done some rushed repair work on the walls and put in a new drywall ceiling, which was slowly being ruined by the still-leaking roof above. Given that the downstairs bathroom was basically a crime scene, this one didn’t seem so bad. As is my habit, I was blinded by a few things.

FOR EXAMPLE, THIS SINK. I mean. There were so many parts of this house that I loved at first sight, but this sink was high on that list. The idea that someone else might buy the house and rip it out made me even more determined to make sure it was mine. Sometimes when people are over I like to joke that I hope the dump will accept it when I get around to replacing it, just to watch the reaction. It’s endlessly fun to me and only me.

Above the sink is this sweet little glass shelf and this beautiful mirror. Of course I can’t be sure, but I’d guess that the sink/shelf/mirror combo hasn’t changed since the bathroom was first installed around 1890.

Where did the 1890 date come from? This hurts, you guys. This bathroom had its original toilet when I bought the house. Most toilet tank lids have a manufacturing date stamped on the underside, and I’m pretty sure this one said 1890. The plumbing wasn’t turned on until a few hours before we had to start living here, so we didn’t realize that none of it really worked—the waste line running from this bathroom to the basement had an impressive crack all the way down it, both toilets in the house leaked…I don’t know, it was a bad scene that we needed to deal with ASAP. At the time, I was precious about plenty of things (see: sink) but not an old toilet—old toilets are finicky and inefficient and a little gross, right?!

DAMNIT, DANIEL. Let’s pretend that the base and the tank were irreparably cracked or something, which might actually be true. But what I absolutely know is true is that I went out and bought a new toilet—a totally basic and inexpensive Kohler—and oversaw plumbers as they removed this one. Which, after lots of grunting and moaning and jostling, ended with one of the guys taking a SLEDGHAMMER to the base to get it out. It was stuck down to that little painted platform (probably installed to cover some rotted flooring—I don’t want to know) with some crazy adhesive putty stuff and they just could not get it to budge.

Hindsight, man. It hurts sometimes. I’m not trying to tell you how to run your life (lol yes I am), but if you have an original toilet…toilets haven’t changed that much since their inception, except sadly in the way they look, and can usually be retrofitted with new parts to bring them back into perfect working order. Pretty much without exception, toilets made before the 1950s are SO pretty, and I really don’t quite understand why nobody is reproducing these elegant old designs. There are decent options I’m aware of for historic renovations—as in, they might fit in more seamlessly than something decidedly modern—but they really don’t look like any actual old toilet I’ve seen. Someone ought to do something about this issue of grave social concern.

Enough about the toilet. I can’t think about it anymore. The nice old shitter with the wall-mounted tank is long gone and that’s that. Keep an eye out for very old toilets because I want to put one back someday.

Which brings us to the tub! This is very obviously not the original tub. It’s probably from the 1960s? But it is enameled cast iron and 100% decent. Never in a million years would I pick it for this bathroom, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Except for the hot and cold valves, which both leak like crazy when they’re on. I have done exactly nothing to try to identify the source of the leak or improve the situation, in spite of the wild temperature fluctuations that occur during most showers, or the way you have to avoid standing in a certain spot lest the leak from the hot valve scald your delicate ankles.

Also, note the shower surround. That is not tile. That is certainly not a slab. That is…Formica!! In fact it’s the exact same Formica that clad the first floor kitchen’s countertops when I moved in.

I don’t think this has ever been what Formica is for, so on one hand it’s held up impressively well—by which I mean, it’s still clinging to the wall. On the other hand, it’s fucking disgusting and slathered in generous layers of caulk and a light spattering of mold and…sigh, I am a trash human.

The floor, by the way, is a vinyl tile that looks kind of like terrazzo. I am a life-long terrazzo fanatic, and there’s actually something I kind of like about the floor except that it’s in this bathroom. The colors are so aggressively unpleasant and the tiles are lifting off the plywood subfloor and a couple of them have broken. CHIC!

And so. After 6 years of living, the bathroom looks like this. It’s funny—I recently told a houseguest with absolute certainty that the walls have always been exactly as peel-y as they appear in this photo, but looking back I can see that isn’t true. Which really speaks to the extent to which I’ve truly turned a blind eye to this room, to the point that I didn’t notice that it was, evidently, actively degrading around me.

Very small efforts have been made. Very small things have happened by necessity. Note how there is some shelving crammed in there between the tub and the wall. A colorful shower curtain is trying and failing very hard to make things mildly cheerful. I hung a couple hooks for towels.

What is happening in this image? Well. There’s a crumpled fabric bin thing on top of the toilet tank to hold excess stuff because there’s not enough storage in here. That little print next to the shelf is concealing some large holes I made almost 6 years ago, when I was trying to install an outlet and decided a 1″ spade bit was a good choice for test-drilling. First I ran into the cast iron vent pipe. Then I ran into the dead gas line for the original lighting. Undeterred, I then ran into a stud. All with this massive drill bit! I have learned some things, thank god.

The larger print “covers” a hilariously awkwardly placed hole where I did successfully install the outlet, only to remove it a couple of years later when the electric to this room got eliminated in the course of other work. That’s when I ran new electric but in exposed conduit this time, since I didn’t want to take out walls or ceilings. Since there’s no active electric currently in the old upstairs kitchen—the room behind that wall—I stuck a power strip through the hilariously awkward hole in the wall to allow me to power a few tools.

It’s called elegance, look it up.

The light over the sink is a Radar Sconce from Schoolhouse Electric, bequeathed to me by my mother who ordered it for her place but then couldn’t use it. It has got to be the worst-looking installation of what’s otherwise a nice light in history. I’m sorry, Schoolhouse. You make nice things and I don’t deserve them.

The window is nice. The top sash contains the only stained glass in the house, and the bottom sash is one big piece of glass rather than divided like all my other windows. I put a piece of vinyl window frosting over it for privacy.

Note that the formica continues around this side of the room on the lower half of the walls. I got this little cabinet from IKEA, which turns out to be cute but nearly worthless when it comes to storage.

SO ANYWAY. Now you have an intimate and detailed glimpse of the space where I have cleaned my body and wiped my butt for the past 6 years. I have unburdened myself and now you get to live with this very likely unwanted information. No matter how much I clean this bathroom, it always looks and feels dirty, and I’m truly mortified whenever someone other than myself needs to use it.

“You didn’t shower, right?” This is what I asked my friend Anna, the cleanest half-Swede and best caulk artist I know, recently over coffee after an overnight stay.

“Oh no,” she replied. “I’m afraid of your shower,” seeming to imply that she would have showered, had the conditions looked less like a staph infection waiting to happen. I cherish this moment because it was so perfectly honest. A polite stranger might lie about forgetting their shampoo or liking to shower at night, but a true friend gives you the straight dope. I love you, but you’re living like a wild animal. 

It’s hard to imagine that over the course of six years, never has this bathroom floated to the top of a priority list. You might be thinking why not just…and believe me, I have the same thought all the time. But if you’ll excuse some brief self-compassion, it really just hasn’t been a priority. As-is, it’s ugly as hell but it works. It successfully performs all the basic functions of a bathroom—whereas at various times the house has been without heat, hot water, a kitchen, a bedroom, various exterior walls…there’s just always been something that at least felt more pressing or essential.

At the same time, my hesitance to make any improvements to the bathroom has probably been informed by the kind of thinking I described at the beginning of this post: do it right or don’t do it at all. Whether or not the bathroom would eventually need a full renovation has never really been up for debate, so I have essentially been waiting for that full renovation and avoiding anything less. And I really do mean avoiding—I mean, LOOK at those walls. Don’t you want to just yank those peeling parts off?? Can you imagine the prolonged exercise in self-control of leaving it alone? Because I know myself well enough to know this: once I start, I will be powerless to stop. And then I have opened another can of worms when I’m already juggling the dozen cans of worms open in front of me. A small gesture like scraping the walls or re-caulking the tub will inevitably spiral, and it’s a dangerous and slippery slope into total chaos from there. And so: blinders, on.

The problem, of course, with putting this stuff off “until the big renovation” is finally, to me at least, evident: that big renovation is a long way off. Years, not months. And I just cannot anymore. The bathroom is gross and makes me feel bad, and unfortunately it will not improve on its own no matter how much I nag it. So I’m going to do…something.

I’m giving myself a week. A week to deal with the floors, the walls, the shitty plumbing, the lack of storage, the bad lighting, the formica shower surround…all of it. I am absolutely determined to keep all walls and ceilings intact—once the plaster goes, then so does the brick nogging, and then I’m dealing with potential structural issues (no evidence of this, but…ya know) and insulation and vapor barriers and cement board and then what the hell, let’s rip out the tub, and THAT IS NOT HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. I’m also giving myself a thousand dollars, by which I mean my corporate overlords at Lowe’s have agreed to provide exactly this sum in materials and I will gladly take it and very likely spend it all. It sounds like a lot of money but I’m sure it’ll go fast.

Just as I haven’t expended significant effort on fixing up the bathroom, I have not allowed myself to put significant thought into what I would do with it if I could! So…I dunno. Wish me luck? Tell me what to do? My current plan is no plan, so…tell me your thoughts.

And then your secrets.

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