Our first post of 2020 and it feels right to start it off with a bang! The time has FINALLY come to show you guys our tiny master bath remodel and though I’m super excited that it’s done and totally in love with the finished product, if I’m being completely honest, this process kind of did a number on me. It feels like we ran a marathon and I’m still in (mental) recovery mode. And not the rewarding kind of marathon where you’re dying the entire way but at the end you’re high on life and like, “We survived! We did it! Wasn’t that awesome?!” The kind of marathon where you’re dying the entire time and at the end you’re like, “Ok let’s never do that again.” Also important preface – properly capturing this teeny tiny bathroom in photos is like an Olympic sport and I’m pretty sure I have bruises all over my elbows, hips, etc. after trying to get these snaps. So a thousand apologies that it’s kind of hard to get a sense of the entire space all at once! It was a serious feat of acrobatics just to get these… mostly because I’m stubborn and my eye doesn’t love using anything but a 50mm or 35mm lens. So there’s that.
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See below for the very, very subtle snaps of the master bathroom before this debacle and after it was all done. I feel like this could be a really fun game of “can you spot the difference”?!
Left: Before; Right: After
So what happened? One day last fall we found water coming through the baseboards on the wall in the master bedroom that’s shared with the master bathroom shower. Safe to say that even in this quirky old house of ours where hardly anything surprises us this… was a new one. The only way for us to see just how that was happening was to start peeling back the layers, and by peeling back the layers I mean slowly starting to rip open the dry wall, taking off tile and digging out and exposing the shower drain pipe to see what’s what. What did we find? Well, as you probably guessed we found lots of… water. It appeared that the shower pan had failed somehow, some way, and basically when all was said and done our only option was to have the shower and all of the bathroom tile torn out and the whole thing built back up again. Not only that, but as we peeled back the layers piece by piece to see how far the water had gone and the extent of the damage done, we saw that the water had even trickled as far as our flooring in the master bedroom. So a huge chunk of our master bedroom floor had to be torn up and replaced as well. Sigh.
And as I sit here reflecting on this project and process, I’m still not really sure why this all got under my skin as much as it did. After all, this is an old house with lots of quirks and I usually embrace and even enjoy that, come what may and I’ve never really been afraid of a big project. But for some reason this entire process just felt like a kick in the gut, and I think part of that is because it was all just plain frustrating and so out of our control. We loved the bathroom as it was (well, for the most part) and because of that it was definitely not included on the long list of projects and updates to tackle around this house, which means that not only was it pushing other important projects down our list and delaying them, but it was potentially (and unnecessarily) eating into their budgets, too. Not. Cool.
And so many questions plagued us. Why did this happen? Who’s responsible? Why was it so hard to find someone reliable to help us diagnose and fix the problem? Will it happen again? Can we prevent it from happening again with total certainty? All of that is kind of a moot point because the reality is that it did happen, we did finally find a reliable contractor to help diagnose and fix it and we could only to our best to remedy the problem and help fortify the space so something like this doesn’t happen again, but I feel like I need to be honest and say that I didn’t have my usual rose-colored glasses on throughout this process and definitely wasn’t as teflon as I usually am when it comes to the quirks of this old abode of ours. It feels important to admit that on this one because I don’t want you to think that it’s all sunshine and rainbows around here on every project, or that we always have it all under control. We usually laugh this stuff off and find the silver lining when we hit a bump in the road because we love this little house so much, but if any of you out there living in or renovating an old home feel defeated, drained or even just plain old beat up by the setbacks despite your love for your home, I want you to know that we completely empathize and feel your pain. Those moments are real and I’ve had many of them over the last 3 months, for a lot of different reasons. What I can tell you, though is that it’s all temporary. Even when you’re in the trenches of the most headache-inducing project or home problem, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel and sometimes you just have to slow down, put one foot in front of the other and problem solve slowly but surely to survive.
One thing you’ll definitely notice from the “before and after” snaps here is that the differences in the two are slight. Which goes back to what I said above – we loved the bathroom as it was and before the water problem didn’t feel any need to update this space. It was delightfully neutral to make the space feel bigger and brighter despite its teeny tiny size and it we thought it perfectly honored the era in which the home was built and the style of our home. It had just the right amount of the cottage character and charm we love to make it feel like “ours” and the layout and storage solutions made the best of the tiny footprint. So after much contemplation and a hard-fought battle to supress our natural inclination to go bigger, better, wilder, cooler with this unexpected remodel… we decided to make only very small “changes” to the tile, like the floors and swapping the black pencil tile for white, and simply replace most of it with what we already knew and loved, which is why we used the same subway tile, the same chair rail, etc. etc.. And much to my own surprise, I can’t even tell you how happy I am that we did that. The space feels restored to its former glory (and actually so much better in some really important, small ways) and there isn’t single amount of regret or uncertainty about any decision we made, which is such a great feeling. I think the lesson in there for us is… don’t mess with a good thing. If you’ve lived with something and love it, don’t change it just for the sake of going “bigger and better”.
At first we thought we’d only have to demo the shower and rebuild it, but with the damage uncovered that wasn’t possible. And my entire mantra throughout this project was, “do it right or don’t do it at all.” I wasn’t taking any chances with a single penny that we were pouring into fixing this bathroom, so my answer for every question that arose was, “if it’s not right, let’s just take the time to make it right.” It felt like a waste of our time, energy and resources to do it any other way. So all of the tile in the bathroom had to be taken out, from the floor tile inside and outside the shower, to all of the wall tile inside and outside the shower. In addition to other demo, we also had to carefully salvage anything that was still in excellent condition and needed to go back into the bathroom once the shower was rebuilt and the tile replaced, like the vanity, the cabinet over the toilet, the glass shower door (salvaging this perfectly good door wasn’t super easy for our contractor, bless his hears, but it saved so much money that we didn’t need to spend), the medicine cabinet/mirror, the toilet and the vanity light. All of this was in relatively new and in perfect shape, we loved all of it and there was just no need to replace any of it if we could safely save it. As a helpful little guide, below is a list of what we had to do to fix the damage and put this puppy back together.
Our Small Bathroom Remodel: What We Did
- Took the shower area down to the studs and build it back up again to fix all of the water damage.
- Replaced damaged drywall in the hall closet bordering the shower.
- Replaced damaged drywall and baseboard in the master bedroom bordering the shower.
- Replaced 100 sq. ft. of damaged flooring in the master bedroom.
- Replaced the rest of the tile in the bathroom.
- Added a niche to the shower to maximize space and improve storage and organization.
- Added a step to the shower for shaving.
- Refinished the bathroom vanity with a fresh coat of paint.
- Refinished the pink barn light with a fresh coat of paint.
I want to be clear that we did not DIY this one (well, except for refinishing the vanity and the pink barn light). This was too dicey a project to attempt on our own and we really needed to bring in an expert contractor to help ensure that all of the damage was assessed and properly fixed, which happened to be our friend Brandon from Bare Bones Decor. He tackled this beastly headache of a project and we’re so grateful he took such care with the work and hung in there with us to get it right. He was upset for us on this one, so he really took the time to make sure it was all fixed and put back together perfectly, and not only that but looked even better than before. From making sure every grout line was perfect to problem solving almost every day to find ways to fix all of the damage and work with the quirks, he spent the better part of a month in our tiny little bathroom making it happen and we’re eternally grateful. So basically we won’t be giving you DIY remodeling advice on this one because we can take zero credit for the work done here. What we can do is offer our insight into working with a tiny bathroom and finding ways to maximize your space, improve organization and functionality and design and decor elements you can integrate to make it feel much bigger, brighter and all around more luxurious than its size would indicate.
Small Master Bathroom Remodel: Maximizing Space & Storage
- A recessed niche in the shower maximizes space in a small shower and improves overall organization.
- Using a hinged frameless glass shower door instead of a framed, sliding shower door instantly elevates the shower and the entire space in general. It’s a small detail that doesn’t necessarily maximize the space, but it does goes a long way in making a space like this feel more grown up and luxurious.
Add an extra, shallow wall-mounted cabinet wherever you can manage (in our case over the toilet) to give yourself some much-needed extra storage in addition to your vanity and medicine cabinet.
- A vanity/medicine cabinet mirror that has a magnifying mirror attached to the back of it that flips out so you can do your makeup, save space and maximize organization at the same time.
- A (mostly) closed vanity to give yourself more storage space, better organization and overall visual simplicity.
- A small “foot rest” in the shower for your shaving needs and leg/foot washing needs. This is a small detail that goes a long way in improving the functionality and comfort of a tiny shower like this.
- Again, closed cabinet space is key in a small bathroom space. If everything is neatly tucked away out of site, not only will organization be improved, but the space will feel cleaner, brighter, bigger and more elevated despite its size.
- Using a very light grout with mostly white tile throughout helps make the space feel brighter and bigger all at the same time. If you used a darker color grout in a tiny bathroom like this, it might make it feel even smaller and more cluttered and dare I say… dirtier? Dove Grey is one of the lightest grey grouts The Tile Shop offers and it’s such a heavenly color. It’s not white so it requires less maintenance than white grout, but it’s not dark grey which might make the space feel busier and more cluttered.
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Small Master Bathroom Decor Ideas
Bathroom Paint Colors:
Walls: Glidden “Silver Screen”
Trim: Sherwin Williams “Creamy”
Ceiling: Just a pure white semi-gloss ceiling paint from Ace
The Tile Shop Dove Grey Grout (Sanded and Unsanded)
Bathroom & Shower Floor & Niche Floral Pattern Hex Tile
In general, I love the entire Adelaide hardware collection from Signature Hardware. Though slightly pricey, it’s absolutely gorgeous and the chrome and white ceramic fits so well with this bathroom’s classic, 50s vibe.
Bathroom & Shower Floor & Niche Floral Pattern Hex Tile
Towel & Robe Hook (also love this similar super affordable one)
Towel Bar (this is just an idea if you have more space than we do – also love this one with more bars for more towels)
Vanity (it’s the 30” Martha Stewart Seal Harbor vanity from Home Depot, which is now discontinued, but I love this super similar one, this one, this one, and this one)
Pink Barn Light (learn how we made our DIY pink barn light HERE, but if a DIY barn light isn’t in the cards we love this similar pink one, this similar seafoam one and this super affordable one!)
Hand Towel Ring (also love this one)
Woven Bath Canisters (mine are sold out, but I love these and these super similar sets)
Trash Can (We also use a cute, small retro trash can in here like this one and this one)
Shallow Wall-Mounted Cabinet (Ours is old from Home Depot, spray painted white by my mom. But I love this super similar one, this one and this one).
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