How We Got Here
This is a long account of a complicated bathroom renovation. There are links to the gallery throughout, but they only take you to the beginning of the gallery. And there are a few links just above the gallery that take you back to periodic spots in the account. I hope you enjoy reading this half as much as I love my new bathroom. Or maybe you’ll pick up some dos and don’ts from our experience.
See this gorgeous home? It was built in 1927. I bought it in January of 2009, the second owner of the house. Now I’ve lived in the house for twelve years, and the Jazzman has been living here with me for ten-and-a-half of those years. It’s a stunning home, with lots of really beautiful original features. Probably the thing I love the most is the library with built-in bookshelves. What have I loved the least, you ask. Why, the upstairs bathroom. The main bathroom. Many homes on the Northside of Youngstown, Ohio, have only one bath, especially houses of this age. I am very lucky to have two baths on the second floor, a half bath on the first floor, and a toilet in the basement. But the main bath, the one outside our bedroom, is the only one with a shower. And it’s the ugliest.
The main bath was renovated in, we think, the early 1950s. We’re basing that estimate on the 4″ yellow ceramic tiles that cover all the walls and line the shower. And the size of the shower? That, my friends, is 29″ square. Ugh. You practically have to back out of the shower to pick up the bar of soap you just dropped. And there’s no light in the shower. The only light you get comes from the ceiling light in the center of the bathroom ceiling, and the sconce next to the medicine chest over the sink. So that’s Thing One and Thing Two – the dated ugliness of the room and how cramped and dark the shower is.
Here’s the handle in the shower, dating from the early 1950s. Simple and elegant, maybe it could be called mid-century modern. The only problem was that it lost the screw holding the handle in place decades ago. So every time one would bump up against it, the handle would fall off and hit the floor with a great “clank.” And you were stuck with whatever the water temperature was until you could bend down and pick it up off the floor and put it back in place. Trust me, I’ve bent down in scalding water to grab that darned handle more times than I wish to remember. Can’t wait for the new shower.
Thing Three is a smaller issue, but it bugs me and, after all, it’s my house. If I want to fix Thing Three, I’m going to do so, despite anything anyone might say discouraging me from throwing away my money. Thing Three is that it’s a fairly large room, about 8′ along the street side, and about 13′ shared with the bedrooms on either side. That’s roughly 100 square feet. That’s a lot of space for a bathroom of this age. And my issue is that the toilet just sits along the wall, between the tub and the shower. That’s about 90 square feet that is off-limits to everyone else in the household and comprises wasted space when the primary function of the bathroom is being utilized by one person.
When single people who are around, oh, 60 years of age when they meet and decide to share their lives … well, there are certain aspects of their lives that they really don’t want to share. And most of those aspects occur in the bathroom. I’m trying to delicately say that we don’t use the toilet in front of each other. Some things need to be private, and those need to remain the most private! Where this matters to me the most is if I have an early morning appointment and need to get out of the house and he’s busy in the bathroom when I need to brush my teeth to be able to leave. Do you catch my drift? Yeah, okay, I guess I could stash an extra toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in one of the other bathrooms and save a bucket of money. But my mind is made up—it’s too late to be practical.
Wait! I missed the occurrence that started this entire thought process. The radiator that spans the south wall under the sink was sending up some amount of steam for who knows how long. One morning about twenty tiles fell off the wall and crashed onto the tile floor. That was about three years ago, and ever since then we’ve been trying to figure out what to do. And just in case you wondered, glueing one layer of tile over another, 25 years apart, will never be a good idea.
So when the contractor came for our initial consultation, I said, “I want walls, floor to ceiling, around the toilet. I want what the Europeans call a water closet.” Those weren’t my exact words, but that’s the gist. And the contractor didn’t laugh at me, so points for him. I asked if “a pipe is a pipe is a pipe.” When told “yes,” I asked if we could swap the toilet space for the shower space, and was again told “yes.” So that’s what we’re doing.
And after many emails and texts and phone calls beginning on September 29, 2020, our renovation will begin on January 20, 2021.
Just in case you wonder if I’m spending enough money on this bathroom reno: the day before we begin, Home Depot is delivering a new Samsung washer and dryer. Because sometimes hitting the spin cycle five times for one load is enough. And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the bathroom. It has to do with my frustration level.
What We Have Planned
Our contractor is Vince Riccardo of Gold Hammer. Our nextdoor neighbors told us about him after he did renovations for several friends of theirs. I’m very pleased with all my interactions with Vince, and I believe we’re going to have a beautiful bathroom when this process is complete.
There are a couple of challenges we’re facing. The 94-year-old pipes in this house, which we believe to be small in diameter, mean we don’t have great water pressure. The bathroom is on the second floor, on the east wall of the house. The water heater is in the northwest corner of the house (2500 sq. ft. house, for reference), so there’s a lot of space that has to be covered to get the hot water from the heater to the showerhead. It takes about three minutes for the water to cover that distance. That’s a whole lot of water we’re throwing away, year ’round. Vince is taking the room down to the studs. We’ll see if some pipes need to be replaced. 🤞
The next challenge is that we have steam heat. The steam that runs through our radiators—some that are 94 years old, some that are roughly 65 years old—means cabinets cannot touch the radiators. If I want to put a cabinet or vanity along that thirteen feet of baseboard radiators, it either has to have legs that are inset from the back about five inches and position the cabinet ten to twelve inches off the floor, or I’ve got to select a wall-mount vanity and cabinet. I have found, in my searching over the past several months, that most wall-mount vanities are either very expensive or very contemporary, or both. You cannot find a wall-mount vanity that’s inexpensive and well-made. And when I renovate a room in this lovely old 1927 gem of a house, as I did with my kitchen two years ago, I want the resulting new space to look like it could have been there all along. I’m not a purist. My kitchen has new Samsung appliances, but the cabinets could be original, the floor is original (one of the best surprises of the entire renovation), and the windows could be original, except that they keep out the cold Northeast Ohio winter winds. Likewise, I am not about to put a super contemporary vanity in this bathroom.
Here’s where we’re going: The toilet, which is currently just east of the existing shower, is going to trade places with the shower and have a room built around it. Let’s pretend we’re Europeans and call it the water closet (w.c.). The w.c. will have a shelf along the wall where one can place a book or an iPhone; it will have a light and a fan and a fixed window over the door to let in some natural light; it will have grab bars because, let’s face it, we’re getting older; and, best of all, it will have a door. Do you want to see me do a Happy Dance? I’m doing it, you just can’t see it. 😊
The exterior of the east wall of the w.c. will be the top (head? front?) of the shower. The controls and the showerhead will be there. The shower will be five feet long and have a bench in the east corner and a niche for soap and shampoo. And it will have this lovely bypass door. There will be matte gray subway tile along the wall and hex tiles in gray and cream on the floor. There will be about a foot between the east wall of the shower and the east wall of the room. In that empty space will be a towel bar and probably a small stool one can pull out to sit on to cut toenails or whatever. But the best thing? That will be when I reach in to turn on the shower and the sleeve of my robe isn’t soaked afterwards! And the second best thing? There will be a light! And an exhaust fan. I cannot be happier about these improvements.
After several trips to Ikea in both Pittsburgh and Columbus, and more time spent on their website, I believe I’ve gotten the perfect vanity and storage closet. Here is the page I set up so Vince could see the Ikea furniture I was considering. You might like to see the two options. The shower and w.c. will be on the north wall; the vanity and storage cabinets will be on the south wall. The Godmorgon vanity is 40″ wide. The matching high cabinet is 16″ wide and 76″ tall. And there’s a mirrored [medicine] cabinet for the wall over the vanity that is 31″ wide and 38″ tall. The south wall, where the vanity will be, will be drywalled and there will be a backsplash over the vanity. The paint will be a soft gray. There will be sconces on either side of the mirrored cabinet, and a ceiling light the lovely and brilliant Michelle Winkler, the designer Vince hooked us up with, suggested. Michelle has provided much-appreciated guidance in putting together the components of this room. (Photos in gallery, below.)
The floor will be faux wood, a “luxury vinyl plank flooring”. It’s from SMARTCORE’s Ultra collection, color 608, Norfolk Pine, available at Lowe’s, and is 100% waterproof. I looked at some faux woods where I liked the look, but the surface seemed too smooth, as if it would be too easy to slip on. I like the feel of this SMARTCORE floor. And I think all the grays we’re using will contrast nicely with it. The ceiling will be painted ceiling white; the walls will be a light gray. The hardware will all be polished chrome. The towels will be dark gray. Any rugs will be gray or white. The trim color around the windows is yet to be determined.
And the work begins …
The Final “Before” Picture
Day 1, Wednesday, January 20, 2021
While the Jazzman and I watched the life-changing events of inauguration day, the dumpster was delivered, and Josh and Jason arrived and set about demolition of the almost-seventy-year-old bathroom.
What we learned as the day continued was that, with the exception of the ceiling, all the walls and the floor were constructed of concrete. Thick concrete applied to some kind of steel mesh to hold it in place. Josh and Jason put a whole lot of elbow grease and shoulder grease into pounding and tearing that room apart. There were times during the day when the Jazzman and I thought the ceiling was going to come down on us.
Day 2, January 21, 2021
Another day of dust everywhere. Sometime during the day, the Jazzman and I noticed a large crack on the TV room wall, which shares the south wall of the bathroom. The manpower that Josh and Jason have to exert to get the concrete off the wall is very hard on this old house.
Day 3, January 22, 2021
When Josh and Jason walked in this morning, Josh said to me, “We’re tired and we ache.” Poor guys. I’m pretty sure when they started this gig on Wednesday morning, they had no idea what they were in for.
Today was finish up as far as possible and then clean up. Vince came by around 2:00, with Matt, the plumber, along to look at the room. Matt will be back on Tuesday to dig into the plumbing issues of this room. By day’s end, Josh and Jason had gone as far as they could go until Matt removes the baseboard radiators to be painted and made to look like new.
In the “before” pictures, did you notice the black hole in the wall above the tub? We had noticed about a year ago that there was some bubbling in the paint and plaster on the wall. Once the boys got all the concrete off that wall, we could see there was some water running down the “stink pipe.” At least that explained what caused the bubbling in the paint, but what caused the water? The boys trekked up to the attic and discovered that the pipe had come loose at the joint where it enters the attic. The snow that was falling that afternoon had fallen into the stink pipe, then had moved to the outside of the pipe at the loose joint. That loose pipe had been the cause of damage to that wall for months. With every rainfall and snowfall, causing damage. Gotta love old houses. (Let the record show this is my final old house!!) Anyway, another item added to the plumber’s to-do list.
And the last thing Vince did before leaving for the day—and leaving the boys to clean up the demolition refuse—was to go into my office bath and jury-rig a shower apparatus for us in the cast iron clawfoot tub. As he finished that, I started googling to find one of those oval shower curtain rods that are designed and sized for old clawfoot tubs. The rod, shower curtain, and curtain rings would arrive on Saturday and Vince would drop by Monday or Tuesday to install it. No more old, arthritic knees trying to rise from a narrow clawfoot tub. Sigh of relief.
Once the boys were gone, the Jazzman and I pulled out Murphy’s Oil Soap and rags and the vacuum cleaner and mop and set about seeing how much dust we could remove from our living space before we set out to enjoy a quiet weekend.
Meeting with the contractor and the plumber, trying to figure out some of the finer details of the design. The w.c. should be deep enough that anyone using the toilet shouldn’t feel confined or claustrophobic. I remember in the 90s, when Nordstrom first put the individual enclosed stalls in their ladies’ rooms, it felt decadent to have that privacy in a public restroom. No one could see your feet or hear what you were doing in the stall. My big house in Tucson had an enclosed toilet, and it was a wonderful space. That was a million-dollar house, and every detail of the house spoke to that valuation. When I moved from there and bought a Pulte model home in Continental Ranch, the toilet in the master bath was in a space, but with an arched opening, not a door. I had a door added to that room and loved the feel. It didn’t matter that I lived alone and probably no one would ever see that space except my grandkids; I loved having the enclosed private toilet.
Day 5, January 26, 2021
The “boys” came to finish the demo. They had three sections of concrete and tile that couldn’t be removed until the baseboard radiators were detached from the walls. That happened yesterday. Much hammering and knocking happened this morning to finish taking the walls down to the studs. In case I haven’t said it before, this is my very last old home. Period.
After cleaning up the mess in the bathroom, the boys were done with this job. They grabbed the shower curtain rod that would enable us to shower in the clawfoot tub and attached it to the wall and the ceiling, then hung the shower curtain. These are sweet, hard-working young men. It’s been fun having them around here for four days.
The plumber was here to do what plumbers do. Then the electrician and the contractor showed up, and we all met to hammer out more details. Where does this light go? Is this fan okay for the shower? Do we need any more lights? That sort of thing. And another day was done.
Day 6, January 27, 2021
<Off-Topic>Wednesday—As it turned out, a Wednesday I would never forget. I give blood to the Red Cross every two months, but had received an email from them asking if I’d be interested in being a “Power Red” donor. This donor gives two pints of blood, rather than one. The blood is run through the apheresis machine, where the centrifuge separates the red blood cells from the plasma and collects them in different containers. After the first pint is collected, the plasma is given back to the donor (by injection, silly, not by handing her the bag of plasma! 😉). Then the process begins again until the second pint is collected and the plasma returned. More patients benefit from this process than from a single-pint donation, and the donor must wait four months before giving again. There was a problem with my blood pressure when the tech was returning my plasma to me after the first pint. She decided she would not return the second pint to me as she didn’t want my blood pressure so high. After returning home, I felt severely winded whenever I climbed the stairs to check on the bathroom process and consult with the carpenter, Andy. Pretty soon, I settled into the recliner downstairs with a couple of blankets and the TV remote and didn’t move for the rest of the day.
The plumber set the pipes for the toilet and finished the pipes for the shower. Andy finished the initial framing of the w.c.
Day 7, January 28, 2021
<Off-Topic>Thursday, the day after the day that screwed up my body for a while. I got up at 3:00 to use the restroom, and passed out when I stood up after using the toilet. Whacked my head on the cast iron tub, leaving a painful goose egg. (P. S. It would take two months for that goose egg to subside!) A morning call to the Red Cross to discuss it with one of their CSRs had me spending the next eight hours in the ER at St. Elizabeth Hospital.
The electricians were here, running lines for ceiling lights, wall sconces, fans, and outlets. While waiting for the electricians to finish their work and clear out of the space, Andy put a grab bar in my office bath so we could safely get into and out of the clawfoot tub for our makeshift showers.
Day 8, January 29, 2021
<Off-Topic>Friday. Late Thursday afternoon, I was informed by the ER doctor that I would be spending the night. The staff was still concerned with my chemistries and wanted to be able to check all my numbers on Friday morning before releasing me. I was released from the hospital around 2:00 p.m.
When I arrived home, I was thrilled to see that the w.c. was now fully framed. Much insulation had been added to the exterior wall, and a small opening from the master bedroom that had given access to the plumbing in the bathroom for the past 94 years was now closed up and ready for drywall.
Day 9, January 30, 2021
Saturday. The weekend. No inhouse workmen. Blissful quietude.
Over the course of the previous two weeks, we had crystalized our vision for the furnishings in the bathroom. I had already purchased the two Hemnes vanities, a high cabinet, and two mirrored cabinets (i.e. medicine chests) all in dark gray from Ikea, along with the Rättviken counter and sink. Once the plumber came and looked closely at our radiator and heat situation, I knew this solution would not work. After significant time on the Ikea website, I decided to return the items I had purchased and instead purchase the Godmorgon (“Good Morning”) vanity, mirrored cabinet, and two high cabinets in Kasjön Light Gray. These were wall-hung cabinets and had optional telescoping feet that extended from 6″-10″ for increased security and safety. These puppies would not fall off the wall. Ikea’s generous return policy makes it easy for shoppers to take their time making up their minds.
During this pandemic, lots of people are making improvements to their homes. Ikea offers well-made furniture at reasonable prices. But this means the more popular items are frequently out of stock. When you select an item on the Ikea website, you can check various stores to see where it’s available. Sometimes, to get everything you need, you have to visit more than one store. We live an hour from the Pittsburgh store and just over two hours from the Columbus store. And Jas’s brother lives about half an hour from the Columbus store. So a trip to the Columbus store means a stopover at Hagan’s for lunch.
I had purchased the Hemnes pieces on two Ikea trips—one to Pittsburgh and one to Columbus. But what that meant was we would have to drive two cars to Pittsburgh to return them. The return took about an hour. I had ordered the Godmorgon pieces on Friday night, and by the time we finished the return, we drove the cars over to the “Click and Collect” warehouse building and loaded up the new furniture.
In the afternoon, I ran to Home Depot to pick up part of an order of towel bars, hooks, etc., then to the grocery store to fight the crowds stocking up for the impending snowstorm. Then I collapsed onto the couch and didn’t move except to go help fix dinner. I am still not myself after Plasma-gate.
Sunday. Our neighbor, Alex, is married to the Queen of Ikea. (This woman can answer any question you have about purchasing, assembling, and building a bathroom or kitchen around Ikea products.), At 10:00 a.m., Alex came over to help the Jazzman assemble the vanity. Jas spent years putting together and taking apart Norfolk-Southern trains. He doesn’t have that same level of expertise on Scandinavian furniture. Alex knelt on the floor, looked at his watch, and said, “It’s 10:03. We’ll be done with this at 10:43.” And, by god, he looked at his watch after they moved the completed frame and drawers back into the guest room staging area and said, “It’s 10:43.” Astonishing.
After Alex left, Jas and I proceeded to assemble the mirrored cabinet. I was there simply to hold hardware or cabinet pieces and read instructions for clarification. I was still not myself after the Wednesday plasma debacle. But I had a long career as a technical writer, so I know how to read instructions, even if they’re mostly graphic.
We got as far as we could on the mirrored cabinet. It had to be affixed to the wall before we could attach the doors. So it was set aside. After taking a break for lunch, we assembled one high cabinet, again taking it to the place where it had to be mounted to the wall. We had one little snafu with the middle shelf—we (I) had a hard time telling the difference between the top and the bottom of the cabinet, and accidentally installed the middle shelf upside down, making the bolts visible. But I took one look at the shelf and saw a creativity opportunity for myself. I’ve ordered some cool quilting fabric to make a mini quilt that will just fit that shelf and hide the misplaced bolts. I may even like this mini quilt so much that I’ll make one for every shelf.
The Jazzman was tired of thinking and assembling, so we put the second high cabinet aside for another day.
Day 11, February 1, 2021
And another week began. Andy arrived, thinking his first act of the day would be assembling the Ikea furniture. Oh, no! We wouldn’t force that on him! So we started the day with Jas and Andy moving the partially assembled furniture into the bathroom so we could settle on spacing. In so doing, we decided we will only use one high cabinet, and the second will be returned.
A half hour later, Andy called me upstairs to see what he had done. He had installed the front legs on the vanity and re-framed the space for the mirrored cabinet. Even typing this sentence takes my breath away. I was so happy with what he had done and the decisions we had made to make easy ingress to the room that I almost cried. Really—this bathroom is going to be stunning!!!
Around noon the boys dropped by with more insulation and drywall. Andy insulated the other bathroom walls and then started with the drywall.
Day 12, February 2, 2021
Tuesday was finish-the-drywall day. Vince stopped by during the afternoon and we put the furniture back into the bathroom to assess placement. Vince figured out how to turn the found space between the hallway wall and the w.c. wall into storage for us. He’s ordered a Wolf Classic lower cabinet and upper cabinet in Pewter to slide into that space. There will be a small marble counter on the lower cabinet, cut from the 1927 marble slab that had been the ceiling of the old shower. I’m very happy to keep some pieces of the original bathroom in this new bathroom. There will be a shelf or two between the countertop and the upper cabinets. Yea! Great space to obscure toilet cleaner and hand soap refills. And a space to put one’s clothes or jammies when getting into and out of the shower.
The ultimate goal in making the decision about the placement was to have the ingress from the hall into the bathroom be open and welcoming. One shouldn’t have to turn sideways to get into the bathroom, and we have accomplished that.
The other decision that was made today was to add an outlet on my side of the bed while we still have electricians on retainer and walls open and could drill a hole in the wall between the bathroom and the master bedroom. Another yea! No more cords and cords and more cords coiled on the floor under the headboard.
Day 13, February 3, 2021
Changing of the guard today. Yesterday all the drywall was put into place. Andy went on to another contract for a while, and Vince’s brother, Steve, and Vince’s son, Vince, Jr., arrived to tape and mud the drywall.
Another exciting happening in our bedroom concerns the small door that was placed in our bedroom wall at floor level back in 1927 or so. This gave access to the plumbing under the bathroom tub, but was long out of date. When Andy was preparing the wall for the shower, he closed up the opening, and I asked that he remove the door from our bedroom so that could be drywalled. And it happened. Happy Homeowner.
The Jazzman and I went out in the afternoon to look at Sherwin Williams paint swatches and to pick up more supplies at Home Depot. The counter guy at Sherwin Williams told us a sale was beginning on Saturday. Score! Now to find someone who will slice and polish our 1927 marble slab for the new cabinet. (P.S. It turned out that Vince had the appropriate saw to cut the marble for its new home on the lower storage cabinet.)
Day 14, February 4, 2021
A COVID vaccine day for the Jazzman and myself. A tape and mud day for our bathroom. As the radiators have been detached from the walls in the bathroom, there’s no heat in the bathroom. Our high temperature most days is 28°. On Wednesday evening, the mud didn’t dry, so Steve couldn’t sand today. He came and stayed a couple of hours, then had to call it a day. The Jazzman is pulling a heater down from the attic this evening to leave running in the bathroom so things will dry.
Day 15, February 5, 2021
Dry mud. Time for Steve to sand. We tried to cover everything in the bedroom and TV room with plastic and old sheets to keep the dust away. Because of the pounding on walls that was required to remove the old concrete walls, we have large cracks in the bedroom and TV room walls that adjoin the bathroom. Those have been repaired, and soon Jas will be painting those walls.
When I first bought the house in 2009, I had the tired old-institutional-yellow bedroom painted a rust color to go with my handcrafted Pamela Hill quilt, which is a beautiful paisley print with rust, burgundy, teal, and purple. With the crack in the wall having been repaired, that wall must be repainted. I’m tired of the rust, so Jas will repaint the entire bedroom. The rust will become a creamy gray, and the trim will be the same taupe it is now, just refreshed. The baseboards were rust, like the walls, and they’ll be taupe.
Day 16 through 26, February 6-16, 2021
On Saturday (2/6), Jas and I went to our local Sherwin Williams to purchase paint (on sale 👍) for the bathroom and the two bedrooms that would be painted over the following ten days. He humored my migraines and let me get Sherwin Williams zero-VOC “Harmony” formulation. (Writing this on 2/23, when the bathroom and master bedroom painting is basically finished, I can tell you that I will always insist on “Harmony” for future painting projects. Zero VOC = zero migraines!)
For the purpose of referring back to this information years from now, here are the paint colors we chose. All are Sherwin Williams except the master bedroom trim:
- Bathroom walls: Olympus White, which—in a few paragraphs—you will learn was not to my liking once it had been applied. Trim : “white white.”
- Master bedroom walls: Snowfall (SW 6000), which turned out to be a tad grayer than I had expected, but is actually fine. We inherited a Zinus “Lottie” Upholstered Platform Bed Frame in [a dark] gray from my son when he moved to Amarillo in late 2020 to finally cohabit with his wife of five years. I’ve ordered some pale gray fabrics plus a gorgeous rainbow of batik fabrics for a quilt to hang on the wall over the headboard. The room will be so much lighter and brighter and calming than the rust was. I’m happy. The trim stays the same color – a taupe from Valspar named Lyndhurst Timber, #2007-9C. As I stated above, the baseboard becomes the taupe.
- Second bedroom, affectionately known as the “TV room.” Painted after I bought the house in early 2009, the room already has cream walls and gray trim (to match the grout in the fireplace surround), but just needs to be freshened. The new paint colors are White Duck (SW 7010) for the walls, and Mystical Shade (SW 6276) for the trim.
2/8 and 2/9: Steve comes back and finishes up his sanding and prep.
Once Steve is done, Jas and I are on our own. Jas spends a day-and-a-half touching up little problems in the bathroom, in preparation for beginning the paint job. While waiting for something to dry in the bathroom, he moves to the bedroom to take care of problems there. Not a minute is wasted. This is the time he is the most religious about. He knows (and tells me frequently) that the more careful a painter is about preparation, the easier the actual work of painting will go.
2/10 through 2/15: The ceiling in the bathroom and the bedroom are prepped and painted. In the bedroom, wow! That ceiling has had problems for at least five years. It is now perfect! Not a piece of peeling paint anywhere in the room! The pristine new drywall in the bathroom is primed. While that dries, the bedroom gets multiple coats of primer to cover the dark rust paint. After each step—ceiling, primer, color—Jas asks me to come check the work to make sure I’m happy. On Monday, the 15th, the first coat of Olympus White on the bathroom walls is dry. When I walk into the room and look at it in daylight (and when I looked at the part that was finished the previous evening), all I see is b*l*u*e. It may be gray, but it’s a very blue gray. Over lunch, we look at the walls in the breakfast room and I confess that that’s the gray I really want, only a “click” lighter.
Back to Sherwin Williams we went, with a desire for “On the Rocks,” SW 7671. This looks like a tan, but when it’s on the wall, it’s the perfect true gray (to my quilter’s eyes). The counter guy told me he could make it lighter by just adding a little extra white to it. He put one extra ounce of white in, and this homeowner is very happy with the color.
When Jas put the coat of On the Rocks over the coat of Olympus White and I saw the finished product, I was doing a major Happy Dance! The room is perfect. With apologies to Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, who wrote “Stuck in the Middle With You,” in the picture you will see On the Rocks to the left of you and Olympus White to the right. If you’ve got the brightness turned all the way up on whatever device you’re reading this on, you should be able to clearly see the gray on the left and the blue-gray on the right. You should be able to see why I said, “No to blue. Yes to gray.” You can click on the picture to enlarge it. (P.S. As I look at the picture on my MacBook Air with the brightness all the way up, the gray really looks tan to me. But in reality, standing in the bathroom with all the lights on, it’s gray. Beautiful gray.)
The bathroom was done on the 16th, but Vince was still waiting on the custom shower pan. Until that came in, there was no work that could be done.
Jas spent the rest of the week finishing our bedroom. On Saturday, he put the Ikea Godmorgon High Cabinet that we decided we weren’t going to use into the back of his car, and we headed off to the Pittsburgh Ikea to return it.
On Sunday, I reloaded my clothes into my antique armoire and we ordered a custom made (or as they say in Europe, a bespoke) radiator cover from Fichman Furniture for the 1927 radiator in our bedroom. I’ve been lusting for a radiator cover since I bought this house and saw how difficult radiators were to paint. (Not that I’d ever tried. I just watched other people paint!) I’m very excited about how this cover will finish the bedroom. We ordered it primed, not painted, and Jas will paint it the same color as the walls.
The oddest thing happened over the weekend. We heard someone knocking on the front door, which never happens. All our friends know we only use the kitchen door on the back of the house. It was two young men, maybe in their 20s. They asked Jas if he would mind if they dug the old cast iron tub out of the dumpster. We knew it had already been cut into two pieces and was heavier than imaginable. He told them to have at it, and requested that not leave anything on the lawn. Sure enough, they dug it out, and found a few other treasures that the salvage yard would give them money for. Good for them!! I only wish I had given them my email address and asked them—just for curiosity’s sake—to tell me how much they got for it. I don’t begrudge them; I think it’s cool and wanted to cheer them on. They came back a few days later to get as much as they could of the steel mesh that the concrete was adhered to in the original construction.
On Monday, 2/22, we finished moving items back from the TV room to the bedroom. The bed is still sitting in the middle of the floor and will stay there until Vince brings us a piece of baseboard to finish the repair of the old door-to-the-tub in our bedroom.
Day 27, February 23, 2021
Back to the task at hand. Eight o’clock came early. Josh and Andy came in, with Vince following shortly thereafter. The new shower was the focus of the day. First came the waterproof drywall-like panels (showing my ignorance here—I don’t know the technical name for them), followed by the hot pink compound that gets painted over the seams to increase the waterproof-ness. Actually, I think the pan came first, but I didn’t see that step occur, so I’m trying to use my logical-thinking skills here.
The hexagonal tiles were laid out on the pan to see how they would fit together, then the edge pieces were taken outside to the tile saw. Then mastic went down on the pan and the hex tiles were fitted into place. Josh and Andy put in an hour or so of overtime to get all the tile laid in place before the end of the day.
More bits and pieces came into the house today. The cabinets that have been made for the storage nook just inside the door from the hallway are in the front hall, waiting to go upstairs. And the new solid wood door for the w.c. is inside my dining room, leaning against the wall, waiting for its moment of glory.
Day 28, February 24, 2021
Another shower day. The hex tile was grouted. Josh checked with me to see if I wanted the wall tile staggered (“running bond”) or ⅓ offset. At first I joked and said “herringbone,” but then confessed that I just wanted staggered. And now that I’m sneaking up every half hour or so to watch the shower develop, I know I made the right choice. ❤️
Shortly after lunch today, I realized I needed a doorknob for the w.c. door! And keep in mind that every other door in the house has been here since 1927 and has its original hardware. Most of them have the skeleton key hanging out of the keyhole. I started googling and browsing knobs at Rejuvenation Hardware and Restoration Hardware and the usuals—Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Menard’s. And just for good measure, I checked antiques on eBay.
But here’s the deal. Old doors use a different type of “innards” (as we say in the South) for their latches than new doors do. I wondered about taking the doorknob off some other obscure door in the house and putting new hardware on that, but Jas quickly showed me how and why that was not a solution.
After about an hour online and a phone and text conversation with my nextdoor neighbor, who has done extensive remodeling on her 1927 house, I finally found a line of reproduction hardware at Home Depot. The company is Nostalgic Warehouse. Their “New York” collection is very, very similar to the plate that’s on the inside of the bathroom door from the hallway. So I breathed a sigh of relief and ordered the knob. It will be here in six days. Whew!
Day 29-31, February 25-27, 2021
During these shower tile days, Jas is next door in the TV room, scraping, sanding, prepping and priming.
These three days are devoted to finishing the shower. Ooooh, the shower. I can’t wait for my first opportunity to close the bathroom door and step into that shower. The only unknown at this point is how much water pressure we’ll have. For twelve years we’ve been having to run around under the shower to get wet. I hope switching the placement of the toilet and the shower will resolve that problem. My fingers are crossed.
The hex tile on the floor is all in place. Josh places the beautiful matte dark gray tiles in place and Andy goes outside to cut partial tiles to complete the pattern. Bit by bit, the wall of tiles rises from the floor to the ceiling. Once the north wall is completed, it’s clear that we either don’t have a level ceiling or a level floor—I’m not sure which. But those rows of tile are all level. Josh brings his big level up to the east wall and shows me how every row is level.
Honestly, through this entire process, I’ve been so impressed with Vince’s entire crew. Every workman, every artisan we’re dealing with, is skilled and careful and produces an exquisite result.
Vince stopped by Friday afternoon and we discussed various small details, making sure everything is going as it should. At the end of the day, Josh and Andy finished cleaning up the bathroom. All the tiles were in place and Josh would come on Saturday morning to grout the shower tile.
It took, as I recall, over six hours on Saturday for Josh to meticulously apply the grout and then to clean up afterwards. Then he took the shop vac to the old tile floor. Monday morning will start with the bathroom floor installation.
After Josh left, I walked into the bathroom to take my end of day photo, and almost cried. There was that beautiful 1927 hex tile floor. Oh, how I wish the owner of the house had not applied the yellow and taupe mid-century tile on top of the original hex tile. Such vintage beauty!
Day 32, March 1, 2021
Today was the long-awaited Covid vaccine #2 for Jas and myself. While we were out, Josh and Andy started laying the floor in the bathroom. As I said above just before the section “And the work begins …”, we’re going with a luxury vinyl plank flooring that is 100% waterproof. It’s got a texture to it, so we should not slip if we step on it with wet feet.
The floor was finished around noon, except for a small mistake in the ordering process. Once Vince orders and receives one more box of flooring, then it’ll be fully done. And Josh left for the last time. It’s been fun having him here working on our bathroom. He seems to always be smiling—a joy to have around.
Andy continued the day installing new baseboards, trim around the windows, trim on the door from the hallway, and the frame for the new door.
Day 33, March 2, 2021
Tuesday began with more work on the new door. Jas and Andy and I had several conversations, trying to figure out what to do about little unfinished puzzles. The storage cabinets that will go into the nook created by the framing for the water closet were moved to the bathroom and put into place. I love them! What fun to see mental images become real.
The plumber, Mike, came and put the newly painted baseboard radiator back in place. Then he installed the shower handle. Next came the beautiful new toilet that my cleaning angel is going to love. I have one of these two-button American Standard Cadet toilets in my first floor powder room, and my cleaning lady said she thinks every house should have these toilets. They’re so easy to clean.
Unfortunately, when it was packed at the American Standard factory before being shipped to the Build dotcom warehouse in California, the “seat included” was not included. I spent half an hour on hold with customer service to explain my problem. They are shipping me a new seat in the morning.
Systematically, bit by bit, this bathroom is coming together.
Things I’m waiting on: Doorknob for new door, arriving Thursday. Toilet seat, arriving Friday.
Jas spent the day painting his closet in the TV room. It was not on his to-do list, but since he had all the painting equipment up from the basement, he might as well.
And this is where I say out loud that, with every task that’s assigned and completed, I’m thinking about how few things will have to be done when I decide to sell the house. I have no intention of staying in this house until the day I die. My knees get knobbier or more arthritic with each passing month. The day will come when I’ll be looking for someone else to love this house. But don’t tell anyone I said that about Jas’s painting.
Day 34, March 3, 2021
Mike, the plumber, arrived first thing today to finish the toilet installation and install the faucet in the sink.
Andy is installing all the little finishing touches—glass knobs and pulls on the cabinetry; towel bars, rings on the ends of the vanity for hand towels, and robe/towel hooks on either end of the shower; my magnifying mirror at eye level by the sink; door stop … all that stuff.
I did a little research online looking at bathroom pictures to figure out what gets a knob and what gets a pull. We also talked about the placement of shelves in the water closet. We want an iPhone/candle/tissue shelf to the left of the toilet, because we had it in the 1950s bathroom and are used to that convenience. I had thought it would be marble, but decided today to have it cut from a piece of 1″x6″ wood and painted to match the wall. We have two pieces of the marble from the original 1927 bathroom. One will be the counter over the lower cabinet and one will be a shelf for some decorative something-or-other above the toilet on the back wall of the water closet. That way we have an echo from 1927 in our beautiful new bathroom.
Day 35, March 4, 2021
Completion is just around the corner. The electrician showed up this morning. Moved the water closet light switch from the right side of the door to the left, to coincide with my change of mind about which way the door should open. I was finally able to see the w.c. light and fan and night light! in action. Honestly, I don’t believe I remember ever having a fan in the bathroom. The fans I’m used to are in every hotel I’ve ever stayed in. And they were l*o*u*d. This fan is like a whisper. I am so very happy. The electrician also installed light/fan over the shower, and the corresponding switch. Again, a whisper. Oh, and I now have a power outlet on my side of the bed for all my devices that get charged every night.
Andy kept busy will little to-do items. Made a shelf for the water closet, on which I can put a candle, a container of matches, and my phone. Vince purchased and delivered grab bars for the shower and the water closet. Andy went to the attic and dealt with the pipes whisking the moist air out of the exhaust fans.
I’m starting to think about artistic touches. A plant or two. New towels. Where the scale will go. Where the trash can will go. And so on. Every time I come up the stairs and get my first glance into that room, my heart soars. Every penny! That gorgeous room is worth every penny I have put into this renovation!
Four Weeks of “Something Happened Around Here, But I Can’t Remember What”
<Off-Topic>For me, I began having serious but erratic knee problems. Outrageously annoying. I ended up calling my ortho guy’s office and making an appointment to see his PA. After x-rays and some chatting, I got a steroid injection and went home to see how that worked. The answer was “okay but not good.” So they ordered Euflexxa for me and I made appointments to get three subsequent injections of gel into my knee. Post treatment report: I’m doing very well, thank you. But for those four weeks, my mind was pretty much on my left knee, not my bathroom.
One of the grab bars was installed in the shower. My cleaning lady came and said I needed to put some sealer on the floor tile in the bathroom—after a run to Home Depot, the shower floor now doesn’t retain any dirt and crud that might be on anyone’s feet.
The shower door finally arrived, and Vince realized it wouldn’t fit. He had changed the size of the shower pan after I ordered the door. He said he’d buy that door from me, as he always has a house that can use it. He started looking for a door. When he called Youngstown Glass about having a door custom made for the space, he learned it would cost about $2,000. Um, no thanks. We had a phone conversation about solving this problem, and decided he would have Andy build out a 6″ wall that would make the door opening just the right space for the door. But … when I ordered the door that had arrived previously, we were in Day 0 of the reno, and I ordered brushed chrome. What I should have ordered was polished chrome. So I re-ordered the door. And we waited on that.
The pane of glass for the “window” at the end of the shower came in and was installed. Andy built and waterproofed and tiled and grouted the wall extension.
Jas wanted to be able to use the new shower while we were waiting for the door. I was perfectly content to use the clawfoot tub/shower. Jas always wins …. I found a expandable shower curtain rod at one of the stores—Lowe’s, HD, whatever— and then got a shower curtain at Amazon, and we were in business with the new shower. We learned two things when we started using the shower: 1) the elapsed time from turning on the hot water and feeling hot water come from the showerhead was 90 seconds, as opposed to 3+ minutes in the old shower location. #WIN; 2) the water temperature was slightly higher than lukewarm. #FAIL. Discussion with Vince and visit from Andy yielded the knowledge that the faucet had been installed incorrectly. Andy fiddled with it for a while, and we finally got the hot showers we craved.
The w.c. door hardware arrived and Andy installed it as far as realizing it didn’t fit. Who knew that door hardware has sizes?! This Southern Belle now knows that, and ordered the correct size. A week or so later the hardware arrived and Andy checked to make sure it would fit.
Jas took the door to the garage, where he had set up a couple of sawhorses. He sanded and stained and polyurethaned it. (The actions in that sentence took about two weeks.) Andy came back and he and Jas hung the door and Andy installed the door hardware. But when I went into the w.c. that evening to test out the new hardware, it didn’t have a locking mechanism. The next day Vince happened to drop by and turned the hardware over so the lock pin fit the way it was supposed to.
My son came back to Youngstown to visit his teenagers and stayed in my guest room for a week. The shower door arrived and was installed, and of course I pulled my son in to check the operation of the door. (He’s taller than Jas and I are, so sees all things from a different perspective.) 😏
And that’s pretty much the end of the story.
My Thoughts After This Complex Renovation
We’ll start at the door from the hall and walk clockwise around the room.
I love the Wolf cabinets. The drawer had to be trimmed on one end to be able to open without hitting the door jamb, and the end that was cut still needs to be painted, but I know where the painter lives, so that will happen after I nag him often enough.
I love the marble counter, but it was never polished. I got some good marble polish and I scrub it every week or so. Before I move out of this house, it will be smooth. I also love the glass shelf that Vince had made for the space between the counter and the upper cabinet. I placed three pieces of pottery that I made and raku-fired when I lived in Tucson twenty years ago. This is the first time they’ve been on display in twelve years, and seeing them there each time I walk into the bathroom makes me happy.
I’m in love with the night light on the light/fan in the w.c. I wish I had had a glass shelf made for the w.c., but the wood shelf is okay. To make a wider glass shelf work, the toilet would—ideally—have been placed off-center in the space so the sitter’s elbow wouldn’t hit the shelf. Really, that’s the least of my worries. It works fine as is. The wannabe transom window above the door isn’t quite what I expected. Someday I might have it remade, or maybe I’ll get over myself.
The shower. I’m glad we put the window in there, because it gives us maximum light in the space. It looks funky, and any guests who happen to take a shower my wonder WTH it’s doing there. They can ask, if they’re curious enough. One thing I wish I had done in the shower was to have a “spigot” installed about a foot up from the floor. I got rid of the tub, in which I frequently soaked my migraineur’s cold feet. To soak my feet now, I have to fill a small tub with hot water from the sink and then place it in the shower in front of the shower bench. The arrangement is okay, but the water doesn’t stay hot enough to heat my feet. I’ll put that on my list for future showers in non-tub bathrooms. Honestly, after twelve years of showers in a 29″ square dark shower, I am thrilled with this new shower.
Something I love*love*love is the shower floor. Random tiles, every two or three tiles apart, have little bumps on them. The bumps aren’t big enough to hurt your feet. They’re just big enough to give you purchase on the tile floor, to ensure you won’t slip and break something. Love! I didn’t even notice that feature when I was selecting the tile. My cleaning angel had to point it out to me. Love it!!
I am so glad I thought at the last minute about having a full-length mirror between the shower and the windows. I use that mirror daily.
The heater. OMG. How wonderful to have a supplemental heater built into the wall for cold mornings.
Love the tall cabinet and the amount of storage it gives us. The same for the mirrored [medicine chest] cabinet. Great storage. And the vanity. Just love it. I’m so pleased with all those purchases. If you love that soap dispenser as much as I do and want one for your beautiful old house, I bought it on Etsy from the shop “Rail19.” The name of the item is Hobnail Vintage Glass Soap Dispenser.
I love the lighting, each and every fixture. And the fans. I love that engineers nowadays have figured out how to make fans quieter, and specify the quietude measurement in the description of the fan.
What do I love the most—the very most? The glass doorknobs on the furniture. I ❤️ those glass handles!
Back to …
How We Got Here
What We Have Planned
The Work Begins
Finishing things up
Note: When you jump back up in the body of the page, the cursor ends up a line or two below the location I sent you to. So you’re not going to end up on the heading of that section. You’re going to end up in the section. I’m sure there are many smarter ways to program this functionality, but I’ve already spent countless hours on this page, and I’d rather get back to sewing than sit here trying to figure out that best way to let you navigate this long composition. Sorry not sorry (written as kindly as possible). 😉