Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

September 4, 2014

Townhouse Bathroom Reno Do-Over - Candid Thoughts on a Bathroom Reno

I've really enjoyed being able to share the lakehouse transformation with you since Day One - actually, since before Day One, when this place was still just a twinkle in our eyes.  Part of my excitement stems from missed opportunities in the townhouse.  I knew next to nothing about DIY/design blogs when we were elbows deep in stinky carpet and splattered paint.  It wasn't until after the dust had settled on our more major renovations that I actually had the time to read blogs and thought, "oh crap, these would have been useful to read before we started renovations," followed by, "oh hey, blogging looks like fuuuuuun!"  Although I've since shared a bevy of projects, I rarely talked about the townhouse bathroom renovation (except for this post on installing linoleum, our simple DIY medicine cabinet door, and adding some yellow accents - which I did).  With another bathroom reno on the horizon, I've been thinking a lot about what we liked about the townhouse bathroom reno, what we hated about it, and things we learned.  So here's a timely blast from the past: a long over-due peek into the renovation process, with a list of pros and cons for everything from our bathtub choice and tile surround to our marble counters - all brought to you by the magic of hindsight.

Here's what the townhouse main bathroom looked like when we moved out of the townhouse:  


It was quite horrifying when we first toured the property.  The beige-ish pink fixtures were old and perma-dirty, the toilet didn't work, the cabinetry reeked (I shudder to think of what).  We knew right away that we would renovate it before we even moved in.  It was kind of a shame that it was in such poor condition, because I could have rocked that pink.  Maybe.


Okay, maybe not.

Having never tackled a bathroom reno before, Handy Hubby and I hired out the replacement of the bathtub and tile surround.  We knew everything else would be manageable, but I pictured the two of us sending a bathtub crashing down the stairs.  We didn't know if we'd recognize water damage, if there was any.  We also didn't trust that we could tell if the subfloor was strong enough to hold the extra weight of our deep soaker tub.  I've since seen some truly heinous DIY tub installs around blogland, so we've always been happy with the decision to hire that part out.  Basically we bought the tub, tile and installation as a package deal from an Ottawa-based bathroom and kitchen company and they contracted out the actual work.  We liked the team who did the work, but we had issues with the sales team who made mistakes, blamed me, charged me, and then fell off the face of the earth when I complained.

We overhauled the rest of the bathroom ourselves and made sure we removed the vanity and toilet before the tub was due for demolition, just to make things a little easier.  We were lucky because family was visiting and helping with the renos (a "renocation," as my Dad calls it), so we were able to shower at their hotel each night, but we slept at the empty house with nothing but an air mattress and many bags of Doritos.

I found some photos (from almost five years ago!!) of the tub installation process. 


The speed with which they worked definitely gave us totally unreasonable expectations about how fast our own tiling would go in the kitchen, when we replaced the counter and backsplash the following spring.

The Bathtub + Tile Surround:

PROS:

Ultimately we were really happy with hiring out some of the work.  The tub install was done well - and very quickly (just a few days).  The salesperson upsold us on a deep, super comfy, soaker tub and it was such a fabulous purchase.  Water was included in condo fees in the townhouse and now that we're on a well and conserving water, I'll always think fondly about those water-wasting days and long, relaxing soaks.  The removable shower head was on my must-have list and I definitely want one of those again because I shower at night and wash my hair in the morning (otherwise it's toque-flat, no matter the season).  We also bathe Szuka in the tub and it's handy for that as well.

As an added bonus, the woman on the reno team was once married to a pretty famous Canadian actor!  Like a jerk, I Googled him immediately and, sure enough, saw photos of them on red carpets. 

CONS:

I picked the least imaginative tile for the tub surround.  I don't know what I was thinking.  The tub was a "package deal" and this tile came with it.  I had the option to swap out something else and pay the difference but it was overwhelming.  We were in Ottawa, flipping through a million tile samples but running out of time before we had to drive back to Kingston and then on to Thunder Bay.  We were making snap decisions and I just opted for the white tile in the package.  I regretted not choosing a classic white subway tile (which I ultimately chose for the townhouse kitchen).  I asked them to install it like subway tile but the salesperson scoffed at my "ridiculous idea".  I still think it would have looked cute.  While we lived in the townhouse,  I had to remind myself daily: "it's new, it's clean, it's better" because I just hated the tile so much - that's why this is the first time you're actually seeing it!  This time around I'm considering my tiling options more thoroughly.  Maybe a little too thoroughly.




Aggravatingly, there was nowhere to put shampoo or soap - I wish we'd been upsold on some kind of cubby or tiled nook because this particular tub had no ledge!  We stuck on a suction soap dispenser, which I glared at every morning and night for four years.  A tiled cubby like this is now high on my list of must-haves.

After the tub was done, my poor Papa volunteered to scrape away the old linoleum flooring.  We had started before the crew showed up but it was super sticky so we waited until they left to resume.  Then Hubby installed the vinyl flooring, which we talked about in this old post.


Vinyl Flooring:

PROS:

Vinyl flooring gets a really bad rap for looking and feeling cheap.  Certainly there are a lot of cheap and ugly options out there, but I loved our vinyl flooring.  It took me awhile to find it (it's from Home Depot) but literally everyone who visited complimented it - some people got down on their hands and knees for a feel because they didn't believe it was vinyl.  (Luckily, it was easy to keep clean!)  It was a snap to install and incredibly affordable, plus it wasn't slippery with wet feet.  After four years it looked brand new.

CONS: 

For resale, "vinyl flooring" isn't the sexist thing to add to an MLS write-up but no potential buyer ever complained once they saw how nice it looked.  But still, "ceramic tile" or "stone tile" has more caché. Vinyl also precludes in-floor heating, but that wasn't something we considered anyway.

For the vanity we chose a now-discontinued model from Home Depot.  It was a nightmare ordering it and we had multiple delays as we struggled to get the correct pieces.  We eventually gave up and just kept what we received.  This vanity was a great choice because the middle section fit perfectly in the half bathroom and for the main bathroom it was a perfect size when flanked by two sets of drawers.  I liked that both townhouse bathrooms on the second story, even though they were different sizes, had the same vanity (and counter, sink, fixtures, toilet, and flooring) for a cohesive look.


We topped both vanities with a marble counter and under mount sink offered with the modular cabinetry, which was pretty inexpensive.  The faucet was from Canadian Tire.  The vanity came with brushed hardware but for the tub install we'd picked chrome.  We chose chrome for the sink faucet but I'm not one for mixing metals, so this is another example of why I should have paid more attention to the finishes.


Vanity + Marble Counter

PROS:

The modular aspect of the vanity was great and so was the value.  The ease of everything together (vanity, hardware, sink, and counter) was great for first-time renovators, like us.  The white finish was a classic look, as was the shake-style door - although I grew tired of it immediately.  I tried to pick traditional/modern updates to suit the house and not turn off any future homeowners.  I would have chosen more modern things for myself, but knew that potential buyers may not have the same taste.

The marble counter felt fancy at first, even though I disliked the profile of the counter.  It was a selling point for resale and helped brighten the small, window-less bathroom.  It was certainly the star of the bathroom and added a small touch of luxury to any otherwise budget-friendly home.  I also liked not having any tile around the vanity because I thought it was a really clean, modern look.  I'd consider something similar again.

CONS:

The melamine cabinetry was, sadly, not the best quality and was starting to show wear after only a few years.  I'd never go with cheap melamine for a humid area again.  This vanity had the option of adding the toe-kick or leaving it off for a leggy look.  I liked that it looked kind of like a re-purposed dresser - until the first time I had to lie on my tummy and shimmy my arm and a rag under the vanity to clean.  Now I'd like a floating one because it combines my two loves: a more modern look, plus I can easily run a mop (or a Roomba) under there with minimal effort.

The marble was also nightmare to keep clean.  In the beginning I thought it was the best thing ever and decided every surface I ever own should be marble from that point on, but I quickly learned that marble was not my friend.  It stained easily - even from the water - and needed lots of care and cleaning.  There was a huge variety in the quality of marble cleaners, and I spent way too much time researching cleaning and then putting my research to good use.  It's a wonder I got any work done on my dissertation.  The counter discoloured when I even looked at it wrong.  I absolutely hate marble now; although I love the look I'd never choose it for any surface that sees a lot of use.  An end table? Sure. A kitchen counter? Nope, not for me.



Shower Rod + Curtain

PROS:

I loved our Marimekko shower curtain, which wasn't cheap but looked brand new four years later - and cleaned up in the washing machine so easily.  I'm always relieved when paying a bit more for something actually means getting better quality.

CONS:

I just never loved the look of the shower rod so low.  I really like the ceiling-height ones I've seen, with extra-long shower curtains, but I had no clue they existed at the time.  I really miss a shower curtain (cleaning the glass on our portal is no fun) and I'd like to go back to this option instead of the glass encased shower I thought I'd prefer.  Living with the portal helped me realize this, so I'm really happy we didn't decide to renovate right away.  This time around, though, let's get that curtain up high!



Towel Bar:

PROS:

You might lose respect for me if you knew how long I searched for a double towel bar.  It's the best and when we replaced the towel bar in the lakehouse, I opted for a more modern version of the double.  It's perfect for drying two towels at once in a small space.  Because our lakehouse bathroom is a smidge larger I'd really love a towel warmer because it will feel so indulgent to be ensconced in a toasty towel.  


I definitely learned a lot and I hope that the next bathroom we overhaul will be perfect.  I'm going to be really honest and admit that I'm petrified of making mistakes again - of spending a whack of money and still not being happy.  In the townhouse we always knew we'd be moving soon-ish and I knew that we'd recoup the cost of the reno (we did), but we've hunkered down in the lakehouse for an indefinite amount of time.  Things need to be perfect.

At least now I know that:
  • It's smart to hire out if doing the job seems too daunting
  • Marble is not my friend
  • A ceiling height shower curtain and removable shower head are my must-haves
  • A vanity on legs makes cleaning a chore
  • Sometimes the salesperson is right (miss you, soaker tub)
  • Sometimes the salesperson is negligent (where does the soap go, huh?)
  • When in doubt, choose white subway tile

Most importantly:
  • Carelessly picking things = a room I don't love
  • Picking things I think other people will like = a room I don't love
  • A room with hardly any aqua = a room I don't love


Do you have any bathroom renovation hits or misses of your own? I'd love to hear your own experiences (please feel free to include a link in the comments if you have a blog post you'd like to share).
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13 comments

  1. Wow talk about an opinionated salesperson! It's not like she was going to be living there so what does it matter what she thinks of your tile ideas haha. We have a marble kitchen counter and I've never noticed any staining (not that I look closely), but I'm guessing that's because it's not white. Hopefully you can get your perfect bathroom this time round!!

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    1. The salesperson was very opinionated about some things, but then about other things we got absolutely no guidance whatsoever. I don't think we were spending enough money for him to really care.

      This time we're going to be better prepared and do more research before we even set foot in store!

      I'm happy to hear your marble looks great! I'm sure ours wasn't awesome quality and likely wasn't sealed properly to begin with. You're probably more careful with yours too. I was a bit careless in the beginning - I need something really low maintenance. It's a beautiful look so I'm so glad it's working out for you.

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  2. Ok, now i think we need to know which actor she was married to!!

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    1. In the first draft of this post I named him, but then I realized that wasn't very respectful of her (or his) privacy so I left it out. I know I'm being the biggest tease ever!! I'm sorry :) Maybe if you guessed....?

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  3. When our sewer line gave out several years ago, when ended up renovating both of our bathrooms at the same time. What a nightmare that was. We had to ask to shower in our neighbor's house and had to work on our bathrooms all day for 2 weeks! We installed the tub, tile, sink and counter tops ourselves and boy did that suck. Spending money that we didn't have and taking days off of work to finish the job, all because the city sewer line gave out.

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    1. Oh wow - that sounds terribly stressful!! A forced renovation sounds like no fun at all, and I imagine it was difficult to find everything you needed/wanted on such short notice. Your neighbours sound really fabulous, though - I can't imagine asking mine to use their shower! Are you at least happy with the end result?

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  4. "A room with hardly any aqua = a room I don't love" <<too funny!

    The room still looks good and I'm glad you learned some valuable lessons from the renovation. We're house hunting right now and hope to find something that needs a little love. Posts like this are so helpful in making us feel a little more confident about tackling some of these things and learning from other people's mistakes. So thank you in advance!

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    1. Happy house hunting! I'm happy you found this helpful. I think the biggest thing is seeing how different a space can look with a little love. A home in need of TLC is perfect because you aren't paying for renos that aren't your style, so that's a great thing to look for in a home. I hope you find the perfect place! I think maybe the best advice is to go with your gut and do your research.

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  5. So helpful to know that the open-base vanity isn't necessarily the best choice. I thought I wanted one for our new bath, was crushed not to find one the right size... and now feel better! (We had a very narrow space and ended up getting a nice little setup from Ikea with washbasin, which we put on top of a toe-kick box. All is well.) I entirely agree with you about vinyl, now that there are good designs to choose from. Speaking of which, have you looked at marmoleum as a possible surface for your whole house floor redo with Szuka in mind? Marmoleum was used in the lecture halls in the graduate school I used to work at. It's made of linseed oil, I think (anyhow, it's natural) and there is at least one pattern that looks like a polished concrete floor. It would certainly be warmer than concrete, and wouldn't shatter anything that falls on it, while being very durable... Just a thought!

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  6. I think the white tile in the shower is fine, plain always works better for resale. I think tile flooring is over rated.... it's cold, slippery, hard and if you drop something breakable, it's toast......not to mention 2 horrible, horrible words.......cleaning. grout. I like that vinyl flooring, it looks like wooden tiles....it's really interesting looking....I'd take it over the tiles in my bathroom any day.

    I have only ever lived with a shower curtain for about a 18 months of my entire life and I hated it. lol. I always found the curtain would stick to me and get in the way, made it dark in the shower and got grungy pretty quick. Cleaning glass and all the nooks and crannies of rails for sliding glass doors is not much better, but at least it doesn't stick to me like a leech every time I turn around lol.

    I had my tiny bathroom redone about 5 years ago and the guy who did it was such a bad contractor. He would make excuses for not coming out all the time and did a crappy job on some of the things...the grout on the floor tiles is crumbling and was never all the same color. I had tile taken down from the shower and a vinyl surround was put in on top of new backer board....which he sloppily put in and got spackle all over the ceiling and didn't even try to blend it in. He couldn't even put the corner piece, the piece that hold the shampoo and what not, in the corner of shower in straight.....never mind the glass walls to the shower in square. smh. The job shouldn't have taken more than a week but I think it took like 3. Did I mention that is my only bathroom? So I had to use the shower upstairs, in what was my brothers place at the time, for that whole 3 weeks. I still have unpainted spackle on my walls from the reno..my brother who owns the house never finished the rest.....and I hate painting..blah! lol

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  7. Tanya, If you should want to go with stone in your bathrooms or indeed your kitchen, we just remodelled both. We used Cambria stone. It is a quartz composite surface. It is 93% pure quartz and the rest is resin. Before you say no, check out their website. They are a very ethical and green company and we love it.

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    1. I've been very interested in quartz composite materials. I've heard they can be repaired, because of the resin. I actually like the idea very much!! I love the look of stone, but the convenient of man made materials, so this sounds like a perfect marriage of the two. I am going to check out the brand you recommend - it's always nice to hear a positive review.

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    2. I'll be excited to see what you choose. Looking forward to the posts, in the future!

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