I go through phases in which I am a veritable tornado of home-improvement energy. Plans for our house build up in my mind until I can’t stand to sit idle for one second longer, and then I whirl into action, sinking our relatively well-ordered lives into chaos until my overpowering desire to prettify/organize/improve is satiated. My husband is not necessarily a huge fan of these phases, as they generally involve me working on a half dozen projects at any given time, at least several of which wind up requiring his full participation. Hey, sometimes I need his muscle!
I went through one of these phases back in February, when I decided we would (finally) be painting the laundry room, guest bedroom, and master bedroom; installing a new ceiling fan in the guest bedroom; installing some faux built-in shelving in our bedroom; painting all the doors in the house black and replacing all of the tacky brass doorknobs with less offensive hardware; sprucing up the back yard landscaping and putting down sod; and ripping out everything in our master bathroom and completely remodeling it. Was this perhaps an overly ambitious to-do list? I suppose it must have been because by the time we got around to the master bathroom portion of the program a month later, we’d just about lost the will to live. We were dead tired, not to mention out of money. And then I had to start planning Quinn’s first birthday party, after which I was so exhausted that I had no intention of lifting a finger to do anything at all for quite some time. So I didn’t. We lounged around the house. We went for walks. We took a much-needed vacation to New York City (photos to come!). And then summer began and we started spending our weekends at the pool.
This peaceful interlude was slightly marred, however, by the effects of the aborted master bathroom remodel. See, in my initial wave of enthusiasm for the project, I took down and sold our bathroom’s mismatched medicine cabinets and unattractive towel hardware, and we moved all of our toiletries and bathroom stuff into our second bathroom–the one that guests use, and where we bathe Quinn. At the time we thought we were just temporarily relocating, so when we started showering and getting ready there, it was initially easy to ignore the minor inconveniences. The sad lack of storage space in the second bathroom meant we had to put all of our stuff in the cupboards under the sinks, which are deep, dark, and on the floor–in short, a nightmare to try to find anything in. I attempted to bring some sort of order to the chaos by buying some small plastic drawers for toothbrushes and nail clippers and vitamins and the like, and a bin to hold my hair products, but the improvement was minimal. Then it became Quinn’s favorite pastime to open the cabinet doors and rummage through everything inside, so all of our stuff wound up in a big jumble anyway. Minor inconveniences, perhaps, but they bothered me increasingly as the months passed. And here were all three of us, and our guests, using one small bathroom, while another, larger bathroom was sitting unused, just collecting junk and dust. Silly! The final straw, though, was when Quinn pulled a big bottle of ibuprofen out of the cabinet, scaring the living daylights out of me. Yes, I know I should put child-proof latches on the cabinet doors. I even bought some. But they seem like a pain to install, and not nearly as child-proof as advertised, and to be completely honest, I just wasn’t anxious to add yet another obstacle to the already difficult task of getting things out of those God-forsaken cabinets. Far better to simply move out of Quinn’s bathroom and back into ours! Hence the resurrection of the great master bathroom project…
To give you an idea of the layout of the space we’re dealing with, here are some photos I took of the master bathroom while the previous owners were still living here. When you walk in from the bedroom, this is the view:
To the left are the bathtub and a very cramped fiberglass shower stall:
The shower is tucked back into that dark corner–it’s completely hidden when the bedroom door is open. The natural light coming from that big window is nice, but the window itself is a ridiculously ugly frosted and textured piece of plastic that doesn’t even open.
On the other side of the room, to the right of the vanity, is a door leading to our master closet and a little alcove for the toilet:
So that’s the space. Now here’s what our bathroom looked like back when we were using it, before we moved all of our stuff out:
It’s certainly not the most hideous bathroom in the world, but it’s just not my style. It looks too chaotic–a result of there being not enough storage space. I don’t like the colors–every other room in the house is painted white, and this one should be too. And I’m generally trying to push the style of this house in a more modern direction, so I want to update all of the bathroom’s more traditional features. Plus, you can see that in our desperation for wall storage we were forced to hang a medicine cabinet on the side wall, which made it difficult to use the right-side sink without hitting our heads. And everything in the bathroom was more beat-up and shabby looking than you can tell from the photo.
Now, all I really needed to do to make our master bathroom functional again was to replace our medicine cabinets and towel racks. But we had some leftover white paint sitting around, so even though we no longer had the budget for the complete bathroom overhaul we’d initially planned (which involved tearing out the shower and bathtub and building a giant walk-in shower in their place), I thought I’d go ahead and spruce the space up a bit to hold us over while we save up for the big renovation. This was my plan:
- Paint the walls Benjamin Moore “Simply White” (like the rest of the house)
- Paint over the hideous green peel-and-stick vinyl floor tiles with white floor & patio paint
- Paint the beat-up vanity with some Farrow and Ball paint in “Down Pipe” that we had leftover from our old house
- Take down the builder-basic mirror over the vanity and hang in its place two Ikea GODMORGON medicine cabinets that will match the Ikea vanity and sink I plan to install someday
- Replace the rusting sink faucets with a pair of this nice, sleek Hansgrohe model
- Change out the light fixture, which is inexplicably offensive to me
- Hang three of Ikea’s white LILLÅNGEN wall cabinets over the toilet to provide some much-needed additional storage space out of Quinn’s reach
- Install a few towel hooks
- Hang an Ikea ENJE roller shade to cover that ugly window
Seems manageable, right? Nevertheless, it still took some serious mental pep-talking to overcome the last few months’ inertia and get back to work. But this time I eased into it. I spent a leisurely Saturday morning prepping the walls to be painted–removing nails, filling holes, dusting corners, cleaning baseboards, and taping. Then we went to the pool. The next day Ben painted. (See how he gets dragged into this? Well, someone had to watch the baby!)
Finally, the bathroom got its long overdue white walls:
But as you can see, the white walls made the green vinyl floor tiles look even more hideous, so next up was the floor. I “researched” (i.e., Googled) the best way to go about painting vinyl tiles and discovered that it requires about a zillion steps, so after wasting a week trying to muster up some energy, I decided to tackle the project one step at a time on weeknights after Ben got home. On Tuesday evening, I fired up the belt sander and sanded the tiles. On Wednesday evening, I pulled on the rubber gloves, got down on my hands and knees, and rubbed liquid deglosser all over the floor, almost asphyxiating in the process. (The warnings about the fumes are no joke, by the way–too bad that ugly window doesn’t open!) On Thursday afternoon, I taped the baseboards and slapped down a coat of primer, and then Ben got home from work early so we decided to make the 150-mile round trip to Ikea to buy the medicine cabinets and roller shade. And on Friday, the floor & patio paint (which our nearest Benjamin Moore dealer had to special order) was ready to be picked up.
By this time I was starting to get into a groove. I’m sure poor Ben saw the tell-tale signs of another home-improvement tidal wave building. So Friday, of course, was when my initially modest plans for the bathroom began to expand. It’s all the fault of the countertop, really–that nasty, yellowish cultured marble thing with blue veining and the strange lip around the built-in sinks that does nothing but trap dust. It is hideous, and it has tormented me since the moment I moved into this house.
The photos do not do it justice. You must behold the horror in person to fully comprehend it, I’m convinced. And the more the rest of the bathroom improved around it, the worse that awful countertop looked. White paint, in particular, was its enemy. I hated the thought of making everything around it pretty, but then being perpetually saddened by that ghastly vanity top. So I started scouting around for a very cheap replacement. I came across a promising Craig’s List offer of a brand new granite countertop with double sinks for only $100, but unfortunately, what I had hoped was black granite turned out to be blue, which I just couldn’t swallow. I scoured every other website I could think of and even got a quote from a local granite installer, but the only truly economical 60″ countertop I could find was a cultured marble vanity top identical in style to our existing one, but in white–$204 at Lowes. I didn’t like the design–it had the same strange lip around the sinks and fussy edge profile I wasn’t a fan of–but it was white, and thus a definite improvement over what we had. So Quinn and I went to Lowes on Friday morning and bought it.
When I got back home, though, I realized that after adding on the necessary sidesplash and sales tax, my $204 vanity top had actually cost me almost $250. But the whole vanity cabinet/sink/countertop configuration from Ikea that I wanted to install down the road in our big bathroom overhaul cost only $549. So why was I spending nearly half of that amount on a countertop I didn’t really like and would certainly replace in a few years? It was crazy.
Now, in retrospect I see plainly that this moment was the turning point. What I no doubt should have done was simply return the white vanity top to Lowes and steel myself to coexisting with the hideous yellow-blue vanity top for the next several years. But I’m not always wise when in the throes of a home-improvement fever. So what did I do instead? Returned the white vanity top to Lowes, called Ben, and asked him to drive back over to Ikea after work and pick up that pretty vanity cabinet/sink/countertop combination that was my heart’s desire from the get-go. And because Ben is the best husband in the world, and loves me at least marginally more than he hates going to Ikea (which is really saying something), he did it.
As fate would have it though the 55-inch model we’d planned to buy wasn’t in stock, so we actually got this 48″ GODMORGON/ODENSVIK combination instead:
That switch saved us $50, plus allowed us to buy slightly narrower medicine cabinets, which saved us another $40. And I think a slightly smaller vanity is going to look more appropriately proportioned in our bathroom in any event, so it all worked out for the best.
On Saturday, Quinn went to spend the day with his grandparents so that Ben and I could really get to work. It was destined to be a day full of stops and starts, however. First we tore out the old vanity cabinet, but then we had to come up with a new plan for the floors–which, as it turns out, were vinyl peel-and-stick tiles laid over top of a sheet of linoleum. But neither of these delightful flooring choices had been laid underneath the vanity, so when we tore it out we were faced with a sizable chunk of exposed concrete slab–our home’s foundation. Which rendered all my hard work preparing to paint the vinyl tiles useless!
Then we hung the vanity on the wall and installed the sink, but we realized that the damage to the drywall from where the old, wider vanity and mirror had been attached couldn’t just be patched with plaster and paint–my attempt looked far worse than the above photos would lead you to believe. We considered just living with it, but then we discovered that the new medicine cabinets are so tall that we need to move the electrical box for the vanity light fixture higher up the wall. And we’d actually prefer to have two lights above the vanity, and we can’t do the necessary electrical work without opening up the wall in any event, so we decided we’d just replace the whole wall with pretty new un-patched drywall. But then we thought, hey, if we’re going to have to hang new drywall, shouldn’t we just go ahead and put up hardiebacker, since we know that we want to tile that wall someday for the dream bathroom? But then really, shouldn’t we just go ahead and tile it now? Do you see how these things snowball in my brain??
All of this is to say that I’ve plunged us back into one of my crazy home-improvement phases again. On Sunday, we started all over with a new plan:
- Tear down the drywall on the vanity wall, modify the electrical layout, and put up hardieboard
- Lay all new flooring
- Install the new Ikea vanity, sink, and medicine cabinets
- Tile the wall around them as well as the walls around the bathtub
- Install new towel hooks, new light fixtures over the medicine cabinets, the storage cabinets over the toilet, and the roller blind in the window
Not quite as massive an overhaul as I’d originally planned back in February, but still quite a bit more involved than just hanging the medicine cabinets and towel hooks that we needed to move back into our own bathroom. Ben was a bit nervous about the plan because all of this tearing down walls and laying new floors and tiling stuff? We’ve never done any of that before. But I’m convinced we can learn. And determined to make our dream of showering in our own bathroom again a reality.
So now you know how this happened:
Poor Ben. Much less pool time, much more hard labor. Updates to come…
For the full story of our master bathroom makeover, check out:
Part 1: Tackling the master bathroom
Part 2: Bathroom inspiration
Part 3: Prep work
Part 4: Rubber flooring
Part 5: Wall tile
Part 6: The bathroom is finished!