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Our Bathroom Remodel: Before and After and Lessons Learned

If you follow along with me on social media, you may know that in the fall we started a bathroom renovation for our primary bathroom. Our house was built in 1924 and as far as I know the bathroom was original to the house. While I love old houses and am all for salvaging older things when possible, our bathroom was TIRED. We had a shower pan leak that necessitated the renovation and while we could have pulled out the shower tile, replaced the pan and retiled, it still would have been expensive and the bathroom really did need updating. We adore this house and our neighborhood but we also know down the road we are going to need/want something a little bigger so it was my goal to stay as reasonable as possible with the budget while also making sure the bathroom felt upgraded and would appeal to future buyers. We also wanted to enjoy it ourselves for the time we have remaining in this house. And lastly, and probably most important to me, I wanted to pick finishes that felt updated but also in keeping with the charm of this old home.

I've had lots of questions about it and quite a few clients reach out to me after seeing our bathroom renovation and so I thought it would be helpful to share a few lessons learned, some sources on things I get questions about and also where I splurged and where I tried to save on things.

Here was the state of the bathroom when we started:

Demo was a fascinating process. It took longer than anticipated (despite the fact the contractor assured us he had worked with old houses before) because the walls and floors were so thick. We also had to repair the joists under the house from the water damage from the leak and we insulated the walls behind the dry wall we installed instead of tiling over everything again. That was both for budget purposes but also when we took out all of the lath and plaster, we actually gained square footage back.

While we did not do the demo of the bathroom, we did enjoy taking a few swings at it!

Here were the three most interesting things we found during the renovation (old houses have a lot of stories to tell!):

1. 500+ razor blades inside our wall!! Turns out that in old houses medicine cabinets used to have a slot in the back for people to discard their used razor blades into the space behind the wall. I'm not sure who thought that was a good idea but I guess they didn't think about renovations back then...

2. A petrified squirrel. He somehow got stuck in the wall space behind the toilet (the guys working on the bathroom reckoned it happened back when they were building the house).

3. Old wallpaper from years prior. It was like a glimpse into history and so cool to see! (Also note how thick that piece of wall is! No wonder demo took a while!)

I decided to go with a gray and white scheme for the bathroom. I felt like it was a more modern take on black and white and would appeal to a lot of buyers. I picked a basket weave tile for the floor that I carried all the way into the shower. To save money and to keep with the classic feel of the space, I picked a white subway tile for the shower. It is an inexpensive way to save money although I upgraded from a basic subway tile to one that had a little movement for depth and dimension.

Instead of going with a plain gray vanity, I picked one that was a warmer greige (a gray with some brown in it). I absolutely love the color and also how it works perfectly with the natural variations in the marble counter top we selected and the floor tile which has gray and brown running through it.

One thing we did that I would absolutely consider doing again (and our contractor really liked my idea and how it turned out as well) was that we used some of the counter top remnant to build the threshold to the shower as well as to make a bench seat in the shower itself. It makes the threshold substantial (especially for my kiddos who also like to use our shower) but doesn't have a ton of grout in between tile which would be hard to clean. I also thought visually it just felt more cohesive this way.

Even though it is our primary bathroom, there is only room for a single sink vanity but we got the biggest vanity we could so that we could have as much storage and counter top space as possible. This meant that the sink was off center because of this and because the ceilings are so tall in there, I wanted to get a really large mirror to open up the space and to match the scale of the vanity and to help it feel bigger. The mirror was a bit of a splurge but I think it really was money well spent. Because of this, I had to go with a light fixture over the vanity but again this helped because of the extra tall ceilings to fill in some visual space. I totally saved on the fixture - I found ours on Overstock. I felt looked a lot higher-end than the price tag and I'm really happy with it.

I sourced the sink faucet and rain shower set up from Neither were the cheapest or most expensive options and I've been happy with both of them. Having a nice shower system has really been an upgrade for us and I highly recommend it.

Both the shower system and the sink faucet are in a chrome finish and everything else is polished nickel. While I have no problem mixing metals (in fact, I like to do that typically), if I could do it over again, I'd have done them in polished nickel as well just because I like the warm color of the nickel. Another place I saved? The hardware for the cabinets and towels. I picked ours up at Home Depot very inexpensively and you can't tell and I really like it. The towel hooks and towel ring by the sink are from Pottery Barn.

The finishing touches are always the most fun since that is where the pretty part comes in. First, we needed a medicine cabinet. We had one before in the space and had become used to it and needed the extra storage space since we only have a single vanity.

We needed a narrow one because the bathroom isn't big and we didn't want it jutting out too far. I looked and looked and finally found a simple one from Pottery Barn but when we got it into the bathroom, it just felt really cheap looking in the white finish and also blended into the wall color too much. So I decided to have it painted in a color that matched the vanity and now it looks completely custom and really works in the space. It was a super easy trick that I definitely think I will be repeating down the road.

For color and softness, I knew I wanted to do a fabric roman shade and a vintage rug in the space. I probably went about it backwards since I would typically start with the shade but this time I found a great vintage rug that I loved and pulled the trigger on it first. But it wasn't long afterwards that I was pulling some fabrics for a client when I came across a beautiful Schumacher floral fabric and I knew it was the ticket!

And here is the roman shade finished:

Here is the finished space (FYI photographing a bathroom is hard!!):

The entire process took longer and cost more than we anticipated but at the same time, I pretty much knew that was going to happen (if anyone has ever done a renovation that took less time and cost less than anticipated, I'd LOVE to hear about it!) so all in all I'm happy with the bathroom. When I look back at the before pictures, I think I didn't realize how badly this needed to get done so I am really glad we did it. But you know how it goes, once you fix one thing up, it is a snowball effect so I'm already off scheming for the next space until we find a new home...but for now we are all enjoying the new bathroom!


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