Any real estate agent will tell you that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses. Most people don’t want to deal with the expense and hassle of a remodel, so homes with already-updated kitchens and baths are usually far more desirable to buyers than homes with “vintage” accoutrements.
In our case, buying a home with an outdated kitchen, two ugly bathrooms, a neglected, overgrown landscape and a family of chipmunks in the walls was our ticket into a neighborhood we loved, but where most homes were well out of our price range.
I’m pretty good at seeing the potential of a space. This house has good bones. It’s sunny and bright with an open floor plan, original hardwood floors throughout, and a spacious backyard. I knew most of what I didn’t like could be changed with a little elbow grease and a few coats of paint. The rest I could live with for a handful of years until we have the money to hire a professional.
We bought the house in 2010. One of the first projects I wanted to tackle was giving the first-floor half-bath a facelift. The house was built in 1949, but the kitchen and baths had been (poorly) remodeled in the ’80s. Here’s one of my “before” pictures:
I hated everything about the half-bath, from the blue striped and textured wallpaper (which doesn’t look nearly as hideous in the picture as it did in real life) to the country pine towel bar and matching shelf with a heart-shaped cut-out, to the bizarre mirror choice—an oval mirror glued to a rectangular mirror. What?
It’s a tiny room, just 40 inches wide and 6.5 feet deep. I figured it would take me one weekend, tops, to take it from truly offensive to at least tolerable. Eight months and one hired handy-woman later, our ugly bathroom is finally… a little less ugly!
I really wish Allie of Hyperbole and a Half could illustrate my bathroom fixer-upper adventure, because it would be much funnier that way, but I’ll do my best to give you a step-by-agonizing-step account.
How to (sort-of) update your bathroom for $150
Step 1. To get started, pick at the wallpaper while sitting on the toilet. Discover it peels off easily. Rip an entire sheet off just for the hell of it, annoying your husband, who doesn’t understand why you hate the bathroom so much.
Step 2. Get distracted with work, other projects, the holidays. Leave the bathroom untouched, except for the previously removed wallpaper sheet, for months.
Step 3. One day the following spring, instead of writing a blog post, rip down the rest of the wallpaper, revealing damaged walls and mold behind the toilet. Try not to panic.
Step 4. Wash the wall behind the toilet with bleach solution. Mold comes off easily and appears to be only on the surface. Consider patching and sanding the walls but realize the original paint probably contains lead. Write “mask” on the shopping list.
Step 5. Go to home improvement store. Spend more than an hour perusing the confusing array of bathroom accessories. Choose a polished chrome towel ring and toilet paper holder. Stack items on bathroom floor for safe-keeping.
Step 6. Remove the existing pine shelf/towel bar and matching light-switch cover by unscrewing the items from the wall. Place in box labeled “charity.” Pull the porcelain toothbrush holder off the wall and add to charity box.
Step 7. Attempt to pull porcelain toilet paper holder from the wall and grow increasingly frustrated. Grab a hammer and chisel and try prying it from the wall, badly chipping the plaster. Take a rubber mallet and try hammering at it instead, which breaks, but does not remove, the holder. Realize the toilet paper holder is actually SET IN to the plaster, held firmly in place with wire mesh. Smash the holder to bits (wearing safety glasses of course), leaving a huge jagged hole in the wall.
Step 8. Having no idea how to patch a hole in the wall, hire a local handy-woman to do the work. Wait two months for her to have an opening in her schedule.
Step 9. Go to the home improvement store to buy patching compound, sandpaper, textured paint, and a mask. Stack items on the bathroom floor.
Step 10. Once hole is patched, wait several weeks, dreading how hard the remainder of the project will be and therefore procrastinating. Wish momentarily for a handier husband.
Step 11. Wearing mask, begin scraping loose paint, filling old nail holes, and patching uneven spots in the walls.
Step 12. Wait another two weeks. Sand rough spots, tape around window, door, and fixtures with painter’s tape, and prime the walls with stain-blocking primer.
Step 13. The following week, decide walls need further patching. Fix trouble spots. Let dry and re-sand.
Step 14. Paint the walls with textured paint, which the home improvement store only sells in white. Marvel at how difficult it is to paint a small room. Accidentally bump against wet paint several times while bending, turning, or reaching.
Step 15. Rummage around in the basement for leftover paint. There is already way too much time and money in this project to buy new paint. Find four colors that might work, including a grey-blue left behind by the previous owner.
Step 16. Paint sample swatches of all four paint colors on the wall. Ask husband and good friend which colors they like best. Both like the blue. Think about it for 24 hours.
Step 17. Agree that the blue is the best of the four options. Paint the room blue, being thankful it will only require a single coat.
Step 18. After the paint is dry, call husband upstairs to help hang the new towel ring and toilet paper holder. High-five each other afterwards, as accessories are installed without a hitch.
Step 19. Remove the painter’s tape and sweep the floor. Hang a towel on the ring and place a fresh roll of t.p. on the holder.
Step 20. Have a beer, and thank the universe that awful project is finally over. For now.
Sounds fun, right? There are still some things I want to change about our tiny bathroom. I decided to remove the white shutters that were covering the lower part of the window because they seemed too bulky for the space. I think I’ll just buy some of that stick-on film that makes glass look frosted, so we have some privacy, without adding more clutter to the room.
The layout of the room is terrible. There isn’t enough clearance for the door, so it slams into the sink as you walk in. There’s got to be a way to re-position the fixtures so that doesn’t happen. I don’t like the sink, the mirror, or the light either, and I want to replace the vinyl floor tiles with ceramic tile someday. All of that can wait, though. At least I got the room to a point where I’m not embarrassed to have guests see it.
Including hiring the handy-woman, this bathroom project cost around $150, for patching compound, sandpaper, a mask, textured paint, a paintbrush, the towel ring, and the toilet paper holder. I already had roller covers, and primer, and used leftover paint for the wall color. The art print was $4 at a thrift store and the frame was $10 at Michael’s. You can see more before-and-after pictures on Flickr.
Have you had a home improvement project that got away from you? I’d love to hear about it. If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Peculiar Girl or share it on Twitter or Facebook.