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The Bathroom Renovation that Tested my DIY Skills and my Marriage

Taking on a bathroom renovation is not for the faint of heart. My husband tried to warn me how much time and money it would require, but did I listen? Nope. Instead I pinned every rustic, yet Mediterranean-inspired bathroom design that tickled my fancy. I watched at least a dozen YouTube videos on how to grout tile and frame a wall, so I was as close to an expert as we could afford. I even broke out the graph paper to “draw up” plans.

How hard could it be to renovate a space that is only 8 feet by 6 feet?

bathroom renovation before

the before photo

A little bit of background about this bathroom: it’s not in our house. It is my grandmother’s bathroom, in a log house that was built by my grandfather, aunts, and uncle, in 1974. Up until the point of this bathroom renovation, there was no shower, only a bathtub. The bathtub was an old-fashioned claw foot tub that my Gram was so attached to that she cried at the thought of having it replaced. When I took Gram to bathroom showrooms, the first thing she would tell the salesperson was, “They are taking away my cast iron claw foot tub!” They would exchange looks of horror while I rolled my eyes. “She’s also having a total knee replacement,” I’d reply and each salesperson then agreed a walk-in shower was a smart investment. Her surgery was scheduled for the end of May, so by April, my husband and I decided we better start ordering the parts.

bathroom renovation demolition tiles

bathroom demolition

I went back to Pinterest for inspiration and validation on the overall theme I had working in my mind. Then, I started to shop, which became a part-time job. I wanted to find high-quality items for the bathroom without blowing through our entire budget right off the bat. This took some researching; comparing prices on retailers’ websites and reading lots of reviews. I was still so excited about the bathroom renovation that I was staying up hours after I put the kids to bed to read about tile and sink faucets (which are surprisingly expensive!)

 

With my Gram so emotional about her bathroom getting torn up and the tub taken out, we decided it best to start the demolition while she was away visiting my sister. Our good friend, who built the vanity using plans I found online, met us at Gram’s house in Jericho on a Friday afternoon. He and my husband worked three solid 10 hour days in a row to tear down the old sheet rock, rewire for electrical, and re-plumb for a shower. Meanwhile, I was entertaining our kids, arranging our lovely Mexican tile that arrived just in time, and waiting to step in for the design piece. Kind of like Jojo on “Fixer Upper.”

bathroom renovation tiles

tiles galore

During the week, my husband and I returned to Jericho twice, to continue moving the project ahead bit-by-bit. Then we spent the entire next weekend laying tile and new backer board for a shower. We were making progress, but knew there were many more days of work ahead. I felt fortunate that the boys loved to visit our Gram’s country home, with lots of area to roam, because if they started to complain or bicker we may have reached our breaking point sooner than we did.

Yes, you read that correctly, we started to fade each day that we worked on this bathroom renovation.

Towards the end, each step had to be staggered. You can’t grout tile until the mortar has time to dry. If I put a sealant on the tile, we can’t walk on it for 24 hours. When I mudded the wall, I had to wait to sand before painting… We kept coming back to the bathroom as often as we could, but it was getting to be exhausting, on top of our full-time jobs and caring for our young kids. I’m proud of my husband for staying so calm and supportive. Until the third weekend.

bathroom renovation small space

working in a small space

I’m not sure if it was the 100th trip to the hardware store or the second toilet we had to buy (pin hole in the bottom of the first) that broke the camel’s back. When we returned to the bathroom on that final weekend, we barely spoke. We hung glass doors in the shower without a single smile at one another, and we held our breath as we tested the water in the sink, shower, and toilet. We breathed a deep sigh of relief when we hammered in the last nail and vacuumed up the construction remnants. Then we left the bathroom in stony silence.

This bathroom renovation project taught me many things.

First, I am so glad my husband has the know-how to fix a house. I’ll add it to the many reasons I’m glad I picked him as a life partner. I also realized he was way more realistic about the extent of the project than I was, and I should’ve listened to him. During the renovation there were many things I couldn’t do, like the electrical work; but, there were many ways I could help, and working on this project built up the confidence in my DIY abilities. If there is a will (and a flexible budget) there’s a way! I learned that taking care of aging family members is not easy. We powered through on this renovation because my Gram is nearly 80 years old. Her new knee may heal well, and a tub would’ve sufficed, but what about 5 years from now? As hard as it can be to think about the ones we love losing independence, it’s important to plan for the not-so-distant future. In the end, Gram loved her new bathroom. In true Grammy fashion she even wrote me a Thank You card!

bathroom renovation complete

The finished product

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2 Responses to The Bathroom Renovation that Tested my DIY Skills and my Marriage

  1. What a beautiful gift to give your Grandmother! I love your new design and the adapted vanity is perfect for the space. Those vanity plans have seen a lot of firsts, it was my first build too and several others as well. Funny your post shows up now, as I’m headed to Ludlow VT in a few days and tackling a bath renovation. I fell in love with VT last year and we found a place that needed lot of work which is perfect for the blog. Your bath looks great, kudos on a job well done!

    • Emily Houston August 7, 2017 at 8:59 am #

      Thank you Wendi! I loved your vanity plans, because the finished project was beautiful and it seemed like something even a novice could do. We were very fortunate to have a friend (more skilled than I) adapt the plans to fit the small space. The open design was exactly what I was looking for.
      How funny that you are working on a project in VT now! What a small world. I hope you do blog about it, so that I can see some more of your incredible work.

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