Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bathroom Renovation - Things I Love

Besides writing, my greatest joy in life is renovating what needs it and restoring what is possible in my 121 year old folk Victorian house. In its lifetime, this lady has seen hundreds of remuddling attempts. I'm surprised she hadn't barred her own doors before we found her. Set on an acre of east Tennessee land, this house embodies my love, my hate, my triumphs, my failures, my busted knuckles and most of my bad words. 

Renovating and restoring old houses is in my blood. When I see an old house in need of a hug, all in the world I want to do is run up and give it one. I made a promise to myself and to this house that one day -- one lovely day, she will stand with the grace and beauty she once had. 

Not beautiful yet, but she will be
This is how she looked the day we bought her. Awful siding that we later discovered was covering cedar shiplap siding (among other things), rickety hand-crafted homemade porch balusters and railing, metal front door masquerading as something much prettier than it actually is, and a host of other things make up this house that I love. We will pretend that those shutters and aluminum screens aren't there since they aren't anymore. I ripped them off last year.

The first thing I wanted inside this house of mine was a bathroom that didn't make me scream and run off in terror each time I walked in. Here are a few images of what we were dealing with:

Water heater and washer / dryer connections just inside the busted Luan door.

With the existing configuration, I could get my daily workout over and done before I made it all the way into the bathroom each morning by climbing over the washer and dryer. In other words, it had to go. The water heater was also in a stupid place, if you ask me. 

Waterslide, anyone?
Now, I have absolutely no idea what the previous owners were trying to accomplish here. Is it a waterslide? Is it a headrest? What is it? I just don't know. We ripped it out. 

Unfortunately, this situation had to stay. 
Without the funds or inclination to replace the bathtub, and considering that it was in ok enough shape, we kept the enamel bathtub. We also kept the toilet, since it was relatively new. It's not my ideal bathroom stuff, but we had too many other things to worry about without tackling things that didn't require it. 

Phase one of the reconfiguration

After ripping out the combination Headrest / Waterslide of Doom, Mr. Vagabond and I built a wall at the end of the tub. I added 2-by-2 cleats for shelves, and called it (temporarily) beautiful. This image is the middle of the Hardiebacker installation. 

I wanted a ledge on the front of the tub. I am a soaker. I love my baths. A ledge meant that I could set candles along the edge and still have room for a book and a glass of wine. I framed out the front of the tub with 2-by-4s, similar to the way you'd frame and raise a wall. Because I am a splashy bather, I used a ton of silicone under the Hardiebacker along the top edge of the tub instead of hoping thin-set would do the trick. Five years later, and it's still holding beautifully. Because I was not blessed with length of leg, I stand on that ledge to change the shower curtain. 

I made it myself!
This door is something I love. Because the bath is rather narrow, it's difficult to get a shot that shows some perspective. But if you look at the left lower edge of the photo, you can see part of the toilet (you're welcome). 

Because we had to move the water heater, we also had to find it a new home. That home was on the right side of the toilet. I framed up a wall on the left side, making a closet that separated it from the toilet, and then I built this beautiful door!  Did I mention that I am proud of the door? I am. Lots. It's nothing but simple tongue-and-groove beadboard mounted on 3/4-inch plywood and 1-by-4s for molding.  This closet only houses the water heater, and I am on my own with most improvements around here, so I used a sliding bar-style lock. It doesn't really need a knob. How often to you need to access your water heater? That's what I thought. The hinges are plain gate hinges. I thought they were cool. 

The door was eventually painted a creamy off-white to match the rest of the trim in this room.

Rotozip Love
Next came the tile for the shower. I learned to love my Rotozip that day. A wet saw is almost mandatory for a large project, but the dimensions of this shower meant that I had very few cuts. I opted to only use my Rotozip diamond attachments. 

Ugly shoes!
The diamond bit is indispensable for making precision round cuts. The plumbing needed openings, and this little thing did a beautiful job.

Don't worry - the Hardiebacker was re-hung without the gap before I installed the tile. 
See what an awesome job that little tool did on the openings? This is why I love it. Without the Rotozip, I would have cut away a square for the plumbing, and then patched in a small section on the right side. This way, the tiles remained intact, with no ugly joints.

Nice, thin cuts!
The diamond blade on the circular saw attachment made light work of trimming off thin slices of tiles in the few places where I needed it. I made one steady pass across the tile to create a groove, which enabled me to go back and cut the tile cleanly and without worrying over potential chips on the surface.

I love this tile!

After all the cutting and pre-fitting, it started to take shape. 

Oooh Pretty

I used a trick that I learned from my former landlady to achieve the narrow grout lines. Instead of tile spacers, I used pennies slid in on-edge between the tiles. Pennies are uniform, and they're easy to pull out once the thinset is dry. Pennies create a narrower grout joint than spacers, and I prefer a narrow joint in bathrooms. 

One word of caution about pennies. If you leave them in place too long, they will start to oxidize. If your tiles are porous, you may be stuck with green stains embedded in the tiles. Always pull them out as soon as the thinset is dry.

How I love my bathroom
If you're wondering what became of the corner where the water heater and washer/dryer connections used to live, this is it. The vanity was once a dresser that belonged to my niece. I reconfigured the innards to make room for the plumbing and removed all the drawers. I shortened two of them and reinstalled them on the right. The top drawer face was fastened back to the vanity as a dummy plate, and then I built a door to access under-counter storage. The last part of converting the dresser into a vanity was cutting the opening for the basin. 

I didn't want too much of the dark slate in one room since we have a black wood floor, so I tiled the vanity top with pale dove gray 4-inch ceramic tiles and accented them with tan bar tiles. I added a single row of the same decorative, metallic gray tiles that I used in the shower across the top of the backsplash to tie them together. 

I am proud of this little vanity thing that I created. I found the basin at Habitat for Humanity's thrift store in Knoxville for $10. It was practically new.  

Unfortunately, or fortunately, there was a real problem when it came to installing the faucet. There was no room!  I kitty-wopped it at the back left corner, which I think turned out kinda cute. If nothing else, it's different. Mr. Vagabond isn't a fan, since his hands are a lot bigger than mine. The faucet works fine for me, but I will likely need a new style so he can get his man hands under it. 

The other cabinet in this image is an old filing cabinet that I put on casters. The drawers face right, and it houses all those silly little bathroom things.

The finishing touch was the print of Bougereau's Pan and the Water Nymphs. My boys used to look at it and say, "EW!  Girl butt!" They grew out of that. 

My bathroom is nowhere near complete, but it is certainly livable now. Each week, I'll bring a bit of my renovation and restoration insanity into your world. If nothing else, it might serve to make you feel a bit better about your home and hearth! 



  1. Love it! Huge change for the better, Carole. I love the corner faucet, but it would probably irritate Jeremy too. He'd call it the "girl bathroom".

  2. Thank you, Stacey!

    Amy, the only reason Mr. Vagabond doesn't call this the girl bathroom is that he lo-o-o-o-oves the shower. I installed a curved shower bar. With tile that goes to the ceiling and the curved shower bar, it feels positively cavernous in there. He saw a nifty double shower head about a year ago, and replaced the old one with it. If it weren't for turning pruney, I might just live in that shower. Also, the upstairs bathroom is so small its ridiculous. The shower is almost big enough for one small person, and only if that person stands a certain way. And doesn't need to wash her hair. Or shave her legs. I have a plan for it, though. The previous owners installed a pre-fab acrylic shower stall, and it is recessed into an alcove. I intend to rip out that stupid thing, install a mud bed and tile the entire alcove, which will make it a lot more roomy. I also want to add a glass block half wall around part of the front of that shower, so we won't need a door or curtain.

  3. I am so impressed! I've heard you talk about your projects but haven't seen the level of your skill. You are going places lady!

  4. Coming from a person with an eye like yours, that is a serious compliment. Thank you! This actually took place a while ago. I've made a lot more progress since then. Next week, I'm posting about the kitchen. = )

  5. Now I am even more insistent that you adopt me and teach me to do cool stuff. I could be your pet old person.

  6. CAROLE! Will you by my mommy and come and remodel ANYTHING of mine?! This is absolutely STUNNING! I want your shower! :)

  7. Wow, gorgeous work and some nifty tricks! I love the ingenuity that went into this project! :)

  8. Aww, thank you ladies! Amy, I've wanted to adopt you for a long time. If for no other reason, for the protection of all things green and growing ;-)

    Lisa, join the clan! Showing houses some love is my favorite thing!

    Beth, thank you = ) When you're not loaded, ingenuity has got to be a factor. Wait till you see the white porcelain over cast iron double kitchen sink I found at Habitat for $20! That's next week ;-)

  9. Admit it. You're annoyed I only commented with two words after you put in all that effort. :D


  10. I am not. I could never be annoyed with you!

  11. Awwwww! You're just saying that because we're internet family. :P

    (Who one day will realise signing off on his comments is pointless, since it says his name just above the comment.)

  12. Love ya too, Sistah!

    Ada-- DAMN IT.

  13. What a fun bathroom and HUGE improvement!!

  14. Thank you! When we moved in, it looked like a war zone. It's getting better all the time.

  15. when you purchase a home, some of the most dated rooms in them are the bathrooms. They are also the ones that usually best reflect our own personal daily needs and tastes. The bathroom happens to be the room where the best professional craftsmanship is needed.

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  16. The new look of the bathroom is absolutely beautiful. Good thing you kept the enamel bathtub and toilet. Taking it away and installing a new one would have meant doing the plumbing again, and that would be costly and tiresome. But if you feel it needs to be done, why not? Bathrooms are mean to be a place for relaxation, and making it beautiful can help you enjoy your own little space a bit more.

    1. I'm actually preparing to gut this whole room and start over, believe it or not. I had not inspected the plumbing because the crawlspace is more like a shimmy space. Way too small for a normal human to work under there. When I had a plumbing disaster last fall, I discovered things nobody should ever have to deal with. And the best solution? Gutting the whole room and reworking the plumbing from the top side. The tub won't be saved, I'm sure. But hopefully I'll be able to save the tiles. :-)

  17. The bathroom is one of the most visited places in our house, which is why we have to put in the effort in making it as beautiful and comfy as possible. With all the progress, I have a feeling that your bathroom is going to be awesome! So, how is it now?

  18. I continuously keep on coming to your site again just in case you have posted new contents.

  19. You’re pretty funny Carolee! But I don’t get what the headrest/waterslide thing is either! Your bathroom looks a ton better than it was before. I like the tiles you chose too!

    Randell Jeffries

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