Hawthorne Street Row of houses

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Bathroom renovation ideas, sources

This is what our bathroom looked like for about 9 months, pre-renovation

When people say that the most important rooms of any house are the kitchen and bathroom, I have no idea what they're talking about. The kitchen, sure. But what are these people doing with all that time in the bathroom?

Nevermind. My point is that our bathrooms are small (5' x 8'), but who cares. We're not making babies in them, working out in them, or using them to store heavy appliances. All we want in a bathroom is a well-designed, functional space that serves its purpose.

When we bought our house, all 3 bathrooms needed new shower walls and new tile. The one I'm going to focus on here is on our parlor floor. We had initially planned to merely regrout the tile, but upon sawing off the old grout we discovered the entire wall was shot. So the first thing we did was removed the glass shower walls and demo'd the tile. Doing your own demo is probably the easiest way to save money. One itemized quote I got from a contractor charged $2,500 for work that took me 3 hours! Just make sure you wear gloves and a dust mask (I like 3M's N100 respirator). We had drywall behind the tile and that stuff is nasty when it breaks up.

SHOWER WALLS, TILE, AND SHOWER BASE. Our contractor, Alex Seaton, built the shower walls and base. Alex is a regular on the John Bridge tile forums (which is how I found him) and used the Kerdi system for the foundation (which all of tile pros on the forum seem to agree is the best, most waterproof method). Bathroom1After several days of tile shopping, I selected off-white subway tile for the walls and 1" hex for the floor. I got the subway tile at Home Despot and the 1" hex at Bergen Tile (gmap). The stuff was super cheap but you'd never know it; it looks awesome. Glass tile, my original choice, turned out to be insanely expensive and more difficult to install. After visiting a friend's apartment whose glass tiles were falling out all over the place, I knew for sure we made the right choice. Alex also did the plumbing. He rules but, alas, he hates working in Brooklyn. (I'm sure he'd be up for jobs in Long Island or Queens, though.)

BATHROOM WALLS. On the rest of the bathroom walls, Alex put in wainscotting with a little chair rail. That took about a day. I painted it, along with the rest of the walls. Looks great. Visitors usually think the wainscotting is original to the house.

Stratfordfixtures FIXTURES. I chose fixtures by Watermark Designs, a Brooklyn-based company (though they don't have a retail store; I ordered online). They're more expensive than what you'll find in a big box store (about $350-$450 per faucet setting) but worth the cost if you want old-fashioned, two-handed shower fixtures instead of a modern dial. (The two-handed fixtures are hard to find in New York because they're no longer code.)

Everything is highly customizable. The various designs come in every finish imaginable. You also have a dizzying choice of handle trim. Mine are Stratford 321 in pewter. When I didn't like the white-tipped middle piece (that opens and closes the drain) for the sink, I was able to order a solid pewter version for about $20.

Bathroomshower SHOWER DOORS. After a month of painful experimentation, we hired ABC Shower and Glass to build and install custom glass shower doors. For $2,000, this was a lot more expensive than using a pre-made shower kit, our original plan. But those shower kits just don't work in old houses: the two we tried were poorly designed (one didn't have a lip) and were likely to cause water damage. Also, the walls in our bathroom are, like most old house walls, slightly skewed so that standard-cut glass won't fit right. We were very happy with ABC. Their customer service is excellent and the job comes with a lifetime guarantee for parts and labor. They did make a mistake on the install: the door didn't stay shut. I called and they promptly came out and fixed it. I called several other shower door places and ABC is priced competitively.

TOILET: American Standard "Champion." We chose this one because it topped Consumer Reports' list for flushability, easy cleaning, and efficiency. It's not the most beautiful toilet in the world but, hey, it's a toilet.  I'll never understand why so many yuppies buy Kohler. Surely any gain in aesthetics is lost when your poop won't stay down.

HARDWARE. I ordered Emtek bronze towel bars and a toilet paper holder online. They look amazing and were only a few dollars more than the crap they have at big box stores. The caveat: Emtek seems to have changed manufacturers since I ordered the bath hardware... because, the lightswitch plates and door handles I ordered recently look different (uglier) than the other pieces in the same finish. So instead of going with Emtek sight unseen, I'd recommend visiting Dyke's Lumber and looking at the various finishes on cabinet hardware there, then ordering bathroom hardware by the maker/finish you like.

Bathroomvanity VANITY: After an obsessive search for the right vanity, we bought a nightstand at Jay East for about $320 and had our contractor cut it to fix the sink fixtures. I found the sink online via Old House Web for another $350. We get a million compliments on the set... but this really won't work for a bathroom that gets a lot of traffic: the nightstand isn't as water-resistant or easy to clean as a real vanity. Our parlor floor bathroom is a glorified powder room.

If money wasn't an issue, we would have gone with this vanity from Silver Light Editions. The vanity alone is $1360, so with a sink, you're talking upwards of $1660... but they're gorgeous and would fit perfectly with old woodwork. (Privy Pine also has some nice, handmade vanities; cheaper too.)

LIGHTING: Hampton Bay (Home Despot house brand) 3-light vanity with iron oxide finish. About $130. Replacing the halogen bulbs is a PITA, though. We haven't been able to find the right bulbs and had to substitute slightly different ones. Still, a nice-looking fixture for the price.

DOOR. Stripped the brown paint off and stained to roughly match the vanity.

Meat_youre_right DECOR. A work in progress. I'm going for a fire-engine red thing to sex up the sage walls. Our much-loved "meat" print, purchased via Plan59, is the "focal point"( as they say on those home improvement shows.)

Total cost of the renovation was about $9,400.  Considering we had to redo everything and that it should last for a lifetime, that's not too terrible. On the downside, we had a bathroom without walls for almost a year while we saved up money to do it right. We get so many compliments on this room now, though, it's almost embarrassing. Almost.



Thanks for this information. I just moved into a house that was built in 1950. One day I plan to do what you have done with your bathroom. For now I've had to settle for replacing the shower head which was rusted out. It's amazing what a new shower head can do to the look of a bathtub. I had a contractor come out to look at my bathtub and he said he would charge me $3,000 just to renovate the bathtub. I told him to let me think about it and went out and bought some cleaning materials for a lot cheaper to liven the place up. You've done a great job!


Nice pictures for the result of your renovation. I bet am glad that you have chosen a wonderful and skilled contractors. I am sure you are very proud of the kitchen and toiled that you have after the improvement.

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