Before we left for our honeymoon, we spent a weekend putting up the walls in the master bathroom. Our friend Elizabeth came over and we worked like a well-oiled machine to cut and install the greenboard (it’s just like drywall but meant for bathrooms) all over the room. While not very technically difficult, the task is certainly physically grueling, and we were exhausted by the time we were finished! But we knew we’d come back from our wedding and honeymoon ready to FINISH THIS HOUSE!!
Just kidding, at times it feels like we will never finish the house…but at least we are motivated to finish our master suite! This month our plan is to complete our walk-in closet and move forward with the master bathroom.
The day we returned from Costa Rica, we hit the ground running. We went to an AMAZING interiors store called Floor and Decor in Alexandria, Virginia. HOLY COW HOW DID WE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS STORE BEFORE NOW!??! I am actually legitimately mad that we purchased so many of our materials for the house elsewhere, because this store is MAGICAL. They have all types of flooring and tile materials at incredible prices. They are not paying me to say this, but I want to shout it from the rooftops!
Ok, back to our master suite…this week we needed to finalize our design choices for the bathroom and buy the tile. I’m sure you’ve been waiting with baited breath on our selection of tile for the master bathroom and we finally settled on….REAL MARBLE!! I didn’t want the master suite to be a clone of the hall bathroom but we truly love our other bathroom, so we decided to go with a similar look.
Floor and Decor has an obscene amount of marble tile sizes, shapes, and patterns to choose from. We settled on a combination of three different tiles to add some visual interest to our bathroom. It was so hard to make a final decision because it feels so FINAL (because that’s what it is), but after three hours and a lot of different combos, we bought about $2,000 worth of tiles (for a bathroom that’s 9′ x 10′). We had rented a tiny Honda Civic and it was riding loooooow to the ground on our way home from the store due to all the weight (did I mention how fun home renovations are without a car?).
But before we can install the tile, we had to paint the entire room (le sigh). So this past weekend, we kicked it into overdrive to compound the seams in the walls, sand the walls flat, and paint the entire room. With the incredible help from our friend Alan, we applied three coats of compound on Saturday. To speed up the drying process between rounds of compounding, we cranked up the heat and turned on all the space heaters and dehumidifiers we could find.
Then on Sunday, Jeremy single-handedly sanded all the bumpy compound to a flat and smooth surface and vacuumed the entire room. I sealed him into the room so no dust would enter the other rooms.
Then our very helpful friend Chris came over and we primed and painted the entire room!
We decided to paint the room the same color as the other bathroom, Sleigh Bells by Benjamin Moore. It’s basically a greige that leans heavily toward green/blue. It looks pretty underwhelming right now, but once we have our vanity and tiles and trim it’ll look AHMAZING.
We even found time to tag the wall behind the vanity…for posterity.
The entire weekend was a huge amount of work but now we are ready to tackle the truly intimidating next step of installing the marble floor, walls, and shower floor. We got several quotes around $2,500 for the labor alone, so we figure should try to do it ourselves first.
The bonus room in the rear of our house faces out to the back yard. I envision that one day, the space could be used as a relaxing reading corner with lounging furniture and low book cases, or maybe a sun-filled breakfast nook. For the last few months, it’s looked like a war zone. This is what it looked like the day we bought our home:
Last fall, we hired a company to remove the load-bearing brick wall to open this space up to the rest of the house. We had the original old windows replaced. Then we demolished the remaining walls and ceiling, ripping out the plaster and lathe to reveal the studs behind the walls. And guess what we found? Two pretty cool brick columns hiding behind some hideous wall paneling.
We put up sheets of insulation between the studs for temperature control, since these walls are external, and boy, did we feel the cold on the especially windy days in early February! It literally blew into our house before we put up the insulation. Jeremy spent countless hours examining every square inch of this room looking for cold air drafts, and plugging them up with spray foam insulation.
We hired a general contractor to rough in the plumbing and electrical for the powder room (because we are certainly not qualified to install new plumbing and sewage lines). We only paid them to do the framing and behind-the-wall plumbing and electric wiring, then we would “finish” the rooms ourselves to save money.
The contractor originally made the powder room even smaller than this, which they had to re-do because no human being could comfortably use the toilet. We trusted them to build the room to code but they made it WAY too small. That’s why you should always double check their work and don’t assume they have your needs in mind. TRUST NO CONTRACTOR!
In late January, the entire space was finally ready for us to close it up! The first step was installing drywall. One day when the weather was nice, Home Depot delivered 21 pieces of drywall to our back yard. We knew we needed nice weather on this day because they don’t deliver it inside.
For the next nine straight hours, Jeremy and I were in full-on BEAST MODE. Our goal was to install drywall in our entire bonus room and powder room. This included the ceiling, the beam, and around the windows. I am really proud to report that we are supreme drywall experts at this point, after our drywall adventures over the last six months (read more about it here, here, and here). We honestly kicked ass the entire day. Our approach was simple: measure inside, cut the drywall outside without moving it from where Home Depot dropped it, then walk it inside and install it. Jeremy and I worked in shifts–he measured inside while I cut the drywall outside, then we switched places. It was straight up teamwork MAGIC.
At one point I realized I was lifting and moving around our heavy ladder, which I normally can’t lift and make Jeremy move around because I’m a weakling. There was so much adrenaline pumping through my body from the sheer productivity of it all, that I found the strength to get through the day with ease!
We were not able to finish drywalling the entire space, but we got damn close. Jeremy finished installing the remaining pieces over the next few days while I was at work (thanks, boo). Unfortunately since we didn’t finish before the sun set, we had to haul 11 whole pieces of drywall inside. It was NOT my favorite part of the day.
Jeremy insisted he could fit one single piece of drywall into the powder room and he proved me wrong…though it was a tight fit!
After the drywall was up, it was time to compound! We applied three layers of compound over the screw holes and seams. The most important thing we learned finishing this room is the value of using pre-mixed, 24-hour drying compound as the final topcoat. It is a LIFESAVER and so much easier to sand flat and smooth compared to the 90-minute or 20-minute stuff.
Another miracle tool we discovered is a drywall sanding screen, which is 5,000 times more effective than normal sandpaper.
The next step was dealing with the brick columns. Jeremy caulked the gap between the drywall and the brick, which was way easier than I expected it to be!
Then we had to seal in the brick columns. The old cement between the bricks was crumbling pretty badly, so we sealed the whole thing with two coats DryLok (meant for waterproofing basement walls). They look so much better already!
Then it was time to prime and paint.
We decided to paint this room a dark color. As I’ve mentioned before, I wanted to paint our entire house rich dark tones, but we ended up compromising on a lot of the rooms. This room has four huge windows with tons of natural light, so I’m sneaking the dark walls into this space.
I will will post a final reveal of the bonus room in a few weeks, after we restore and re-install the window trim, replace the back door, and install the lighting and powder room fixtures!
Today I am very pleased to share our transformed bathroom!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
I painted the small, triangle-shaped wall under the staircase after we moved into the house, and Olive thought she could help somehow.
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.
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.
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.