This Old House, the Master Bath Edition

Just about three years ago, we bought an old house. OLD. Built in 1923-old. And despite the fact that it’s seen what we assume is a LOT of living in those years, including being used basically as a rooming house in the several years before we bought it, we were drawn to it by so much of the character that it had retained: high ceilings, wide decorative trim, long double-hung windows, hardwood floor boards that run almost the full length of the house.

As we discovered a year later when we finished the basement, it also had retained some lovely original plumbing and wiring. “Yeah, that’s going to need some work,” the electrician told us as he eyed the random junction boxes strewn about the basement ceiling rafters. But that’s what you get when you buy an old house, so we scrapped the plans to build in a bar and upgraded the electrical instead. (Built-in bar, random dorm fridge stashed in the utility space filled with beer, same thing.)

We were also drawn to the house by the master “suite” – a big bedroom, walk-in closet and full bath built into the bungalow’s dormer. After living in our third-floor walk-up condo with its tiny closets and single tiny bathroom for so long, our bedroom felt luxurious.

We pieced together over time that we think the master bath was probably a decent DIY job, done at the same time at the kitchen makeover, judging by the former owners’ penchant for rustic Spanish tile in both rooms.

bathroom before

The sole “before” picture.

And then the shower started to leak. When we saw the water stain on the ceiling of the main floor bathroom, we started to question just how “decent” the DIY job had really been.

Major home renovations weren’t in the plan for 2016. Last year, we replaced the house siding and the last 10 original windows. (I know, it’s heresy to get rid of original windows, but the other 40 windows had all already been replaced, and these windows weren’t in good enough shape to justify keeping them.) This year, we were going to fix up the yard and call it a day. Until we saw the water stain.

With that, and a call to our contractor, and the creation of a new Pinterest board, we were off and running with a master bath reno. We could have just pulled the shower – which we knew to be the source of the leak – and the floor and been done with it, but when that’s more than half of the bathroom, we figured we might as well do it once and do it right.

So, we packed up that bathroom and decamped down to the previously finished basement, feeling thankful that we took the contractor’s recommendation to put a full bathroom in down there rather than the half bath we’d originally planned for. We covered our bedroom in plastic tarps that did only a so-so job of keeping out a layer of construction dust that grew increasingly thick as the days went by. Each night, I headed up the stairs to check out the day’s progress and to pick out clothes for the next day. Each morning, I headed back up to pick out whatever component of my outfit I forgot the night before: earrings, tights, pants.

The demo, done in the first days of January, revealed what we expected but didn’t necessarily want confirmation of: water damage.

bathroom water damage

I made a bunch of jokes about being grateful that I didn’t fall through the floor while taking a shower, a la Tom Hanks in the Money Pit (a remake of which some days I fear I may be starring in without my knowledge). The contractors patched the floor, laid down new plywood and all the right kind of waterproofing.

Meanwhile, we were making quick decisions about all the materials that would go in the bathroom. There’s the “maybe-we’ll-redo-this-bathroom-someday” kind of daydreaming about what you want, and then there’s the “the contractor needs the toilet and the sink this week” decision making. We were thrust firmly into the latter category.

Based on whatever algorithm I’ve tripped in Pinterest, I guess our style is considered “transitional.” Not traditional or heavy, but not modern and minimalist, either. Here’s what we knew we wanted going in:

  • lots of white in the small space that has only one small window
  • all glass shower enclosure (the previous shower had a glass door but full tiled walls)
  • shower tiles with some sort of impact
  • a pedestal sink
  • quality cabinets opposite the shower

Our bedroom and bathroom are built into the upstairs dormer, which means a heavily slanted ceiling in the bathroom. We would have loved to bump up the ceiling to be able to put in double sinks opposite the shower, but that would have involved serious structural work to the house to the tune of $68,000. Um, nope. I can handle sharing a single sink, thanks.

As Anna Whiston-Donaldson explained in a post about her kitchen remodel, everyone is going to have one thing they get hung up in a renovation. For her, it was her kitchen countertops. Me? The shower tiles. I pinned a million different combinations of marble, glass, and ceramic tiles. Light and dark, honed and polished. I would have loved to use grey glass subway tiles on the walls, but they were expensive – and a long wait. So we went with Desert Gray 3×6 subway tiles for the walls, Greecian White hex tile for the shower floor, and a square Carrera marble-look ceramic tile for the main floor.

bathroom tiles

Style Selections Futuro White porcelain floor tile // Desert Gray subway tiles // Greecian White hexagon polished marble mosaic tile

I should note that although I’d seen a bunch of pictures of bathrooms using the wall tiles online, we ordered them sight unseen – probably not the wisest idea in renovations, especially when the project revolves around their on-time delivery. And sure enough, when they arrived, they were lighter and with more of a matte finish than we’d hoped. (My bad for inadvertently ordering the tiles that said “matte.” Sigh.) But they were close enough, and we couldn’t wait another two weeks for a new order, so…on the wall they went.

Only…we’d also planned (and bought) the paint color for the walls to be a soft, muted silvery-sage green color (Rhino, by Behr – the closest match Behr has to the once ubiquitous Silver Sage by Restoration Hardware). But next to the lighter-than-expected gray tiles? Nope. Back to the Pinterest drawing board we went. We toyed with going lighter, but then we thought the walls would be too boring. What about more green? Ick, no, it would make the tiles look even less appealing. More gray? Ugh, too much gray.

I know! Dark blue.

Dark blue?

Yes, dark blue.

We painted our tiny bathroom in our former condo a midnight blue and we loved it. Maybe some version of that could work here?

And it does.

Then it was time to pick the rest. We wanted clean lines but in keeping with our near-century-old house. For cabinets we opted for a semi-custom white shaker style along the wall opposite the shower, topped with a granite slab in azul platino granite, with just enough hints of blue to fit in with the now-decided wall color.

cabinets and granite

Azul Platino granite // Home Decorators Newport Pacific White cabinets // kid-proofing by Safety First

(The cabinets would have been in within the two weeks specified online, had we not gotten 25 inches of snow the day they were due to be delivered.)

We picked a matching toilet and pedestal sink from Kohler and matching shower and sink faucets in chrome from Moen.

We wanted to keep a medicine cabinet for more storage and went with something that had some old-time charm and chrome finishes in line with the faucets.

We have a recessed light over the shower and another in the newly mounted, much-needed fan, but we wanted another over the sink, too. I love the look of the one we got (at almost half the price of what Lowe’s was selling the same one for).

bathroom fixtures

Kohler Memoirs toilet and pedestal sink // Moen Caldwell faucet // Zenith Early American medicine cabinet // Progress Lighting light

We special ordered the shower wall tile, the cabinets, the granite and the shower door (more on that in a minute), and the light came in two days through Prime. The rest was all in stock at our nearby Lowe’s and Home Depot. I finally figured out the secret to dealing with those big-box stores: order online and pick up at the customer service desk! No combing the shelves for stuff that the website *says* is in stock, no having to find employees to climb ladders to get boxes 8 feet up, no waiting in huge checkout lines. Even better, I used to buy the stuff, so I got cash back, too. (Do you use ebates? This is my new find. Every 1% or 2% back adds up when you are buying ridiculous amounts of tile.)

However, a word to the wise: don’t forget to estimate how many tiles are in a box, and how heavy said boxes might be. I swear our boxes of floor tile weighed – no joke – 60 pounds each. Not a pretty sight watching me try to wrestle those out of the carriage and into the car.

And just as every reno project has an obsession, so too does it have a wrinkle. Ours was the shower door. Our shower isn’t perfectly rectangular, with one short wall at an apparently strange angle, requiring a special order of a special order…and a six-week wait for the door to be cut and installed. It was a long six weeks going up and down to the downstairs shower, I tell you. (I know, the humanity.)


But, of course, in the end, it was worth the wait. I love our new bathroom, what with its lighter-than-expected tiles, darker-than-planned walls, and shored-up and waterproofed floor. And in true master suite retreat fashion, I’m sure someday I’ll even be able to take a shower longer than 5 minutes long, without anyone crying, yelling, or fighting just outside the door.


13 thoughts on “This Old House, the Master Bath Edition

    • I must have been channeling your curiosity! I’m glad I captured it in it’s just-finished state since now it’s all toothpaste and old towels. 🙂

  1. Thanks for the inspiration. Were scheduled for shower redo in July! One thing that made me laugh: the Kohler “Memoirs” toilet. Is that where you will write your memoirs?

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