Bathroom reveal + the big marble debate

Today I am very pleased to share our transformed bathroom!

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Our new hall bathroom–a marble oasis!
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The old bathroom–a disgusting and scary place to spend any amount of time

Before we moved into the house, we knew we HAD to remodel the upstairs bathroom. It was old and gross and sad and no one wanted to take a shower in that tub (partially because it was covered in duct tape–which is a bad omen–and partially because it hadn’t been cleaned in several years). We had every intention of doing it all ourselves, but once we realized how long it would take for us to learn and do it all, the decision to hire a handyman seemed like the best option. This was back in October before we lived in the house so time was of the essence! Our handyman was able to do the bulk of the work over two weeks, while we worked on the rest of the house.

When we purchased the house, the bathroom had a tub, a toilet, and a small pedestal sink. We wanted to swap the location of the sink and the toilet to make more room for a larger vanity, while keeping the bathtub where it was. After reflecting on the cost of moving plumbing around, we decided not to change the location of any of the fixtures, which limited how much “design” went into this renovation. We literally ripped out everything and replaced all the fixtures and materials with new fresh updates. Since the house is so old, the bathroom is really tiny and leaves very little space for modern fixtures like elongated toilets or vanities with under-sink storage cabinets.

Bathtub: Eventually we plan to build a master bath in the back of the house, but for now this will be the only bathroom. And one day it will probably be used by dozens of dogs kids so we definitely needed to keep the tub. We were worried that the bathtub was smaller than the standard 30” x 60” size sold in stores. The nasty bathtub measured only 28” X 56.” It was very hard to find smaller bathtubs to fit that space. During demo, we happily discovered that our tub WAS a standard size after all! Over the years, previous owners had installed new tile on top of older tile, essentially squeezing in the three walls around the tub. Our handyman ‘excavated’ the three layers of tile to reveal a standard bathtub size, which made it SO EASY to find a replacement. Not so easy was hauling the old, original tub outside to the dumpster–it was cast iron and easily weighed over 300 pounds. Needless to say I did not participate in that activity.

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Our new bathtub!

We went with this tub that I refer to as “pregnant” because it has a curved edge to allow for more soaking room. We also installed a curved shower rod to make the shower feel larger, which is important since the attic stairs cut off some of the standing room.

Shower wall tiles: We installed these 12-inch white marble tiles with white grout. I love them! They make the bathroom feel very luxurious. At $20 per box, we spent $260 on the tiles.

Nasty old tub
The nasty old tub with tired tiles on the wall

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12 x 12 marble wall tile by MSI (from Home Depot)

Sink: Similarly, most vanities with sinks were too wide and too deep to fit the small alcove with a human also occupying the same space. We wanted a 30-inch-wide vanity but then we’d have to cut off the window sill which seemed dumb. But a 24-inch-wide vanity would have left gaps on the side for your toothbrush to fall down, never to be seen again. These are things that most interior designers probably know, but I’m learning as I go. For weeks, I was building my dream board on pinterest and starting to seriously narrow down my options for a new vanity, only to learn the hard way that all of them were too large.

I ended up buying a vanity in both 24 inches and 30 inches, hoping our handyman could somehow ‘make it work.’ Only after both vanities arrived did we realize that no vanity with under-sink storage would EVER fit in that space due to how tiny it actually is. So back to the pedestal sink we went! We ended up installing this beauty to maximize counter space, with this faucet.

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Our pedestal sink may not have any storage but at least it looks pretty!

Floor tiles: We installed these 2-inch hexagon white marble tiles with gray grout.  They bring me so much joy and I’m thrilled we installed them. (side note: our handyman did a very bad job installing them the first time around, so we asked him to re-do them. Luckily he didn’t make a fuss when we asked him to pull it up and do the whole thing over again–on his dime. In fact, we moved into the house with only half the floor covered in tile, the other half of the room was just a cement floor. Needless to say, contractor timelines are NEVER correct).

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Hexagon marble tiles by MSI, purchased at Home Depot

Toilet: Most people don’t have #toiletgoals but apparently I do. I wanted the smallest possible toilet, for under $300. When I discovered how cool-looking and space-saving floating toilets are, I was sure we would get one. But they cost a TON of money to install, so I’ll let that dream lie in wait for now. Due to space limitations, we ended up purchasing this round toilet which is slightly smaller. But at least it’s dual flush which is better for water usage. Since we removed several layers of wall behind the toilet, there is now a slightly larger gap than standard between the tank and the wall. What should I do with this newly reclaimed space? Just kidding.

The toilet with a gap behind it
Our toilet with a big old gap behind it
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The old toilet…yuck

Paint Colors: We needed to make a paint color decision super fast after we scheduled the handyman, so I did a quick google search and decided on Sleigh Bells by Benjamin Moore. I’m so glad we picked this color (sight unseen!)–it’s a baby soft light green-blue, and makes the bathroom feel like a cool oasis. It’s hard to photograph so just take my word for it–or come over for a visit! We installed the same 7.5-inch floorboard trim to match the rest of the house, and painted all the trim Super White by Benjamin Moore.

We plan to refinish all the doors in the springtime when the weather is warmer and we can strip the paint and re-stain them outside. For now that means we have to look at the nasty old paint job….sigh, no job is ever done!

Unfortunately the 10-day timeline turned into over two months, due to delays on getting the pedestal sink and asking our handyman to re-do the floor tile. Luckily they finished the work shortly after Christmas while we were on vacation so that only lasted a few days of us living there.

Regrets and lessons learned:

Since we selected the bathroom materials in a rush, there are some things I would change but not many. I would have selected a different lighting fixture that’s less massive and a bit more feminine. It’s too late to return it, so we are going to live with it for now.

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The lighting fixture makes me feel NOTHING

We didn’t have time to buy any blinds or window covering before we moved in, but the window faces a VERY busy main road, so we definitely need something to provide privacy. We haven’t figured out what type of curtain or shade to get yet, so for now we taped up a $6 paper “curtain” from the hardware store.

And I’m only now starting to re-think the marble tile choice. Hear me out: they are GORGEOUS but everyone is warning me how difficult real marble is to upkeep over time (seriously, how did we not know this when we COVERED the future children’s bathroom in marble??!). So the real question is: should we install real marble tile or marble-look porcelain tile instead? The porcelain alternative is comically cheaper and much easier to upkeep over time–but it doesn’t give you the same *feeling* that natural stone does, and doesn’t add resale value to the home.

My heart and my head and my wallet all want different things. I mean, how can we have real marble in the kids/guest bathroom and porcelain in the master? What would you do? Does anyone have any POSITIVE experience with marble in their bathrooms? We need to cover the floor, the wall around the shower, and the shower floor in our master–should we do porcelain in some places and marble in others, or would that look insane? Help!

The staircase makeover

before and after

Our staircase has undergone a major makeover. When we bought the house, the stairs were looking a little droopy– it was pulling away from the wall at each step to reveal a half inch gap at each tread, plus some treads were loose. The post and banister were extremely wobbly to the touch and clearly could not support someone leaning on it. Further, the wood steps looked pretty rough, and the banister and post had been worn down almost to raw wood. To make matters worse, someone wrote on the gorgeous post in sharpie (why!?) and the sealant was all bubbly and discolored.

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Before: faded, worn down, and sad!
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Someone defiled the beautiful post with sharpie!
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The 1/2 inch gap at each tread due caused by drooping stairs.

We knew we wanted the original stairs to be a beautiful statement piece immediately upon entering the home, so we got some quotes from floor refinishers on how much it would cost to fix her up. Let me tell you–it is NOT cheap. The estimates ranged from $3800 to pure insanity. These companies claim that it’s super expensive to refinish banisters and spindles, and recommended painting the whole thing white. We did NOT want to sacrifice the beautiful wooden details on our staircase, so we decided to tackle the project ourselves!

Task 1: Fix wobbly post and loose treads

Jeremy used a nail gun to literally nail the wobbly post back into a secure, immobile position. It was much easier than we expected. Our plan B that we didn’t resort to would have required us to install an L-bracket and cover it with baseboard molding like this:

Image result for stair post brackets

He also nailed the lose treads down so they don’t wobble on each step anymore! With just several nails, he was able to stabilize the entire staircase and avoid many thousands of dollars of work that several contractors had quoted us! The lesson here is ALWAYS try a simple fix first, before shelling out the big bucks.

Task 2: Re-stain banister and posts

We decided to remove what remained of the original stain and start over, to ensure consistent color throughout the entire banister and 3 posts. First, we stripped the stain off using Citristrip (which is a horribly messy process). Then we conditioned the raw wood to prepare it to take on the new stain. Then we applied to new stain (in red mahogany) in two coats. Finally, I applied four coats of polyurethane to seal the whole thing up. At this point in October, we haven’t turned the heat on yet to avoid construction dust infiltrating our HVAC system, so it took a long time for each step to dry properly.

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The freshly restored banister after the stain and 4 coats of polyurethane dried!

Task 3: Paint stringer and spindles

Unfortunately, it is simply too labor and time intensive to re-stain the spindles and wall stringer (a.k.a. the baseboard), so we have decided to go the route that many renovated row houses in DC do and paint them white. We will still have the beautiful wooden panel below the staircase in all it’s original stained-wood glory. These are the difficult trade-offs that we have to make since we are trying to do most of the work ourselves.  We primed and painted the baseboard trim, wall stringer, and the spindles to match the rest of the trim in our house (Benjamin Moore Super White). We were careful to not paint the steps white, but didn’t worry TOO much since we knew they’d be sanded and refinished the next week.

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Painting the spindles white
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We don’t look happy because painting spindles is NO FUN

Task 4: Paint wall

Around the same time, we painted the wall a beautiful dark blue. We decided to go with Champion Cobalt–a gorgeous deep blue that will also be the color of our kitchen cabinets. I had studied Emily Henderson’s rules for incorporating “Modern Victorian” style into my home, and I think I *nailed it* with this deep, moody blue.

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Newly painted wall, spindles and stringer (baseboard).

I painted the small, triangle-shaped wall under the staircase after we moved into the house, and Olive thought she could help somehow.

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We plan to install the baseboard trim next week

Task 4: Refinish steps

After completing the above steps, we had the treads and risers professionally refinished to bring them back to their glory. We had them stained red mahogany to match the banister and post. We decided not to refinish the floors ourselves for various reasons, but I’ll always wonder if we could have done it ourselves with the same lovely result.

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Our beautiful staircase has come back to life!

Task 5: Caulk the gap

We don’t know if we need to caulk the gap at each step anymore, as it is no longer such an eyesore. Perhaps we will wait til the spring to decide what to do.

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The gap at each step is still there but somehow less obvious

For now, we LOVE our staircase. It was worth the work to refinish it ourselves, and will hopefully bring beauty to this house for another hundred years.