Chicago bathroom remodel

Quick and easy bathroom update

Mike was out of town a few weeks back and I'll be the first to admit that the house projects blew up while he was gone. Am I the only one who does this? I mean evenings get lonely, right? Nothing kills time like home improvement projects. I wasn't messing around. I painted our dining room door to the garage, changed out door handles to the front door and main floor, had recessed lighting installed in the living room, bought some things at Ikea (that I've already forgotten about), and last but not least gave our spare bathroom a little makeover. As much as I love an evening on the couch with Mike, I'm in my element when I'm (pardon my French) getting s*** done. 

This bathroom of ours has been on m' list for a while. I believe it was recently remodeled but that really means nothing to me when it comes to interiors. Unless I built a house myself or just gutted an old one and got to select every. single. accessory. – nothing would really be how I want it to be. I think everyone feels this way, right? If you've read my blog posts of yore, you'll know that our house was covered in either tan or a dijony paint. Slowly, I've been covering it all room by room in an effort to make it feel more like us and to brighten the space. This is one of the last rooms to be covered. Here's where we started...

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We decided that we'd rather put our kid through college than pay for another full bathroom remodel right now so I took it easy on this one. Paint, mirror, fixtures, art, vase. These are the only things I bought for this space. We kept the vanity, lighting, the tile on the floor and the shower insert. Yeah, it's beige-y yellow (and a shower insert!) but I rolled with it. I started by painting the ceiling and replacing the vent covers that were rusty and yellowed from time. That alone was truly a transformation. When you DIY, the little things really make you happy, don't they? 

Next, I took the cabinet off the wall as well as the builder grade mirror above the vanity. One way to give your bathroom a whole lot of character is to get yourself a pretty mirror that doesn't match your vanity. Trust me – it will be OK. 

Once I removed those few things along with the toilet paper roll and towel rack, I got to spackling. While that stuff was drying, I painted all the trim a basic white in semi-gloss (same stuff I've used everywhere else in the house because yes, I have painted all of our trim... it's a terrible job but I can't stomach what it would cost to pay someone to do it.)


For the walls, I tried to think of a way to tie in the floor tile but that meant going down the tan/beige route again. Not for me. I went with Owl Gray because I had a little surplus of it from the spare bedroom and also because I wanted this bathroom to flow nicely with the look of that room. Owl Gray (Benjamin Moore) is just too pretty to go to waste and I figured baskets and such would tie it all together somehow. Fingers crossed emoji (which finally exists! hooray!)

Once the paint was up and looking pretty, I got to work on decor. Originally I thought I'd do shelving behind the toilet but I wasn't loving any of my affordable options and since it's a spare bathroom it's not as though it really needs storage. And let's be real, I would have just put a bunch of tchotchkes on them anyway. Instead, I put up one of these baskets from an ever growing collection and then quickly jumped to more is more (but three is PLENTY). They certainly add some texture to the space and what do you know? They pull in the yellow/brown from the floor tile, too. Sold.

The rug is not new. I bought one from Anthropologie but decided this more subtle approach was working better with the floor tile and the baskets than something with more color. Saving money all day. 

I bought this vase as a Christmas gift to no one in particular but then decided it's a gift to my guests! They can enjoy it when they visit (wink, wink). The print is from Target and it's so pretty. I love the color it adds to the space and Henry says he can see a train in it so also it's apparently one of those trick images that if you stare at it long enough you see things. 

The mirror (West Elm) was just what I was looking for – something more fresh to fit the space. Since I was sticking with original chrome fixtures, the campaign hardware in polished nickel was perfect. See?! Non-matchy mirror/vanity. It works. Just because you go builder grade doesn't mean you have to overdo it and get all of the things to match. 

Lastly, I put in a new towel rack and toilet paper holder from Ikea. The freestanding guy is cute, right?  

Another easy fix was the lighting. I had a new fixture in my shopping cart but then discovered you can just buy new shades at Home Depot. It's not my dream lighting but they're a little more fitting for the space than the traditional frosted ones from before. Also they were $4 so I couldn't resist. 

Voilà! Christmas is saved! Our kind of dreary guest bath is now a brighter, happier version of itself and just in time for Christmas visitors. All in I spent just under $300. Yes, I wish we could start over and tile it something pretty but sixteen months into this old fixer upper and we broke. Ok, not broke but ready to stop spending for a minute and ENJOY what we've accomplished so far. Ima need a lot of pep talks (side eyes) from Mike to stop myself from yet another project. Luckily, I have lovely people like you to help out, too ;)

On meeting lifelong friends in bars and a budget bathroom update - kids edition

A friend and I were recently talking about how hard it was to meet guys in a bar when we were single. A conversation that is totally irrelevant these days but still – it was. When writing this post tonight, it dawned on me that's how I met her. It was probably our second week in the suburbs and Mike, Henry and I biked to the local brewery (our first of many trips). When we sat down we noticed a couple with a little girl about Henry's age. My heart leapt! She's a mom, I'm a mom. She likes beer, I like beer. She seems normal, I am mostly normal. An hour or so later we were exchanging numbers. Our wingmen (husbands) giving air fives (head nods). It was just like how I thought I'd meet someone at a bar but way better. This could be the start of a friendship and that was just what I needed. 

This friend (though she may not know, er, she will now) is one big reasons that I stepped out this year to start doing what I love. Mike gave me the real push I needed but I also think it helped to have someone else (that didn't have to love me unconditionally) to validate that I was pretty ok at my passion (there has got to be a better word for that). I am really thankful for this friend. She and her hubby are always game for a casual Saturday hang and have helped us in already countless situations. They are good, fun people and we are lucky to know them....and this WAS their bathroom.

Now what was going on in the 80's? I wish I could get in a time machine and ask some questions. This, the era of neon and mesh shirts. Was this really the best we could do? Apparently so because it's everywhere. Anyhow, my challenge was to transform it into a bright and cheery kids bathroom in a budget-friendly way. Gender neutral for their daughter and baby boy on the way. They had already updated the countertops with a nice granite and installed an undermount sink...easily a giant improvement. With this gray flecked counter in mind I got to work designing – I'll share sources at the end. 

We knew the only way to brighten the space would be to change the color of the cabinets. I chose Baltic Gray by Benjamin Moore and a nice light greish for the walls - Balboa Mist. With the gigantor mirror down I picked a pretty big round mirror for it's place – lights on either side. I gave a few tile options and did a little happy dance when they chose the octagon. I thought it would pair well with the pink tile in the shower that they weren't planning to remove anytime soon. Oil rubbed bronze fixtures and hardware because I have a real crush on it and I like the contrast.  

For decor, I started with that killer rug. The room needed some color and those tones didn't lean too far boy or girl. I was loving the Pillowfort stuff from Target and those oars were too darned cute. All of the sudden we sort of had an outdoorsy theme so I went with the owl and fox prints. As for the shower curtain, I chose a fun but not too kiddo geometric print. The bathroom will be for guests, too so I didn't want to pick Ninja Turtles...not that I would. Ever. Sorry, Henry. 

There was some consideration around refacing the cabinets but in the end painting them seemed like a perfectly good solution. My jaw dropped when I saw them for the first time. The entire room was lighter. The paint I chose for the walls ended up looking too close to the cabinet color so we quickly picked a different shade of white - Cloud Cover by Benjamin Moore. 

The tile turned out awesome (my Birkenstock tan line, not so much) it's so fresh and pretty and the light gray grout just gives it a little more definition. 

They chose to place the lights over the mirror rather than one on each side. I love how it turned out.

The shower and eh hem, commode, are separate from the powder room. Considering it only has artificial light, the space feels tons brighter. I love the playfulness of the prints and the shower curtain and that pink on gray reminds me of my 10-speed when I was twelve in all the right ways. Pink and gray are back as far as I'm concerned.  

So there you have it – a bathroom update done on the moderately cheap. It helps when you have a handy husband for sure but still wouldn't have been crazy hiring it all out. It went from a boring 80's bathroom to a fun and cheery kids bathroom for roughly $2700. Baby boy is here (tiny and sweet) and I can already see shoving matches in front of the sink with big sister. That's love.

In closing, say hi to strangers. I mean don't be weird but be open. You never know what could come from it. You might just meet a really good friend and your next design project ;)

Sources: Tile / Faucet / Mirror / Lighting / Cabinet Paint / Wall Paint / Knobs / Shower Curtain / Prints / Oars / Rug

Out with the old – our bathroom update

It's finally finished! Our main bathroom that never looked clean is brand new again! And my word this project was so simple and small but still managed to be agonizing and uncomfortable. Wouldn't it be better if all contractors just overestimated the timing of a project so that you were pleasantly surprised when it was done before then? Meh, you would probably never renovate. Except of course if you're me and you can't stop renovating. I've been so excited to show it off and then that excitement slowly wore off as it sat mostly done for weeks. Imagine my agony of not being able to decorate it! Will you? Imagine.

Let me remind you where we began. Yup. Outdated, crusty and zero storage. It's not like we have a master bath here, guys. We have two bathrooms but this is our MAIN bath where most of our stuff lives. I remind Mike often of how little "stuff" I have compared to most women but still, this bathroom. Come on pedestal sink, you're cute but you're not very smart. 


It's amazing how quickly a room can go from this to this. It took one day to gut and what felt like a lifetime to build back up. Here's the breakdown... 

Boring things: To start, we had some plumbing taken care of in addition to a new fan/light combo. This house has very little overhead lighting which is downright maddening. So, although it's not that interesting, Mike and I were super impressed with this new feature...not to mention a fan that actually fans. The contractor then found an old bees nest in the wall and little to no insulation (explains the frozen pipes this winter). Not a great surprise but we were glad to have it all taken care of for the low, low price of not worth talking about. 

Flooring: My favorite and less boring part of the bathroom is the floor tile. I originally wanted a 4" hexagon slate tile but the one I wanted was a fortune to ship so I went with a 2" hex travertine that I could get locally. The color variation makes the space more interesting and the black tile on black grout (which actually looks gray) is masculine in a good way. I love it.

Wall tile: Since we did a subway tile in our kitchen I wanted to carry over that style here somewhat. I chose a 6 x 6 inch white ceramic tile in a brick pattern. I don't think it's necessary AT ALL for your kitchen and baths to match but I like the cohesion these similar elements provide. And here's where the hold up began. I still don't know how or what happened but for some reason the white grout was not consistently white. Some areas were perfect, others sort of darker and others sort of yellow. Bad grout is what I think it was but we still don't know for sure. Either way no one was happy about it. Particularly the contractor who had to dig it all out and start over. We used new grout and distilled water to eliminate the possibility of our water being the factor. Finally, after two tries (ugh) we got a consistent white. That shower niche and new window make me way, way happy. Update: the shower niche grout is still not right so Ima 'bout to lose my mind trying to figure out how to fix it. I'll share if I ever figure it out. 

Vanity: This was also drama. Here's where ordering large items online can really bite you in the butt. I knew I wanted a floating vanity to show off the floor tile and to make the space feel more open. I found one that met my requirements. It was cute and smart...i.e. looked good and had storage. It was shipped from LA and sat in our garage for about three weeks. I looked at it every day and I just knew it wasn't right. It was too modern. Too sleek. Our house is vintage modern, not new modern. It just didn't fit. Although I said I would never buy another Ikea vanity, I contradicted myself...for a few reasons. 1. I was desperate. I waited until our guy had the vanity brackets on the wall before I told him I made a fatal shopping mistake and hated it. I needed a replacement fast and Ikea is a twenty minute drive from us. 2. It's a new product line. I am scouring at least weekly for affordable options for us and clients but I had completely missed this one. It's so pretty, gets great reviews, and not to make up more reasons, it really does seem sturdier than our old one. Crisis averted. Moral of the story...buying online is a gamble (big or small) check the return policy and abide by the timing of it or suffer the consequences, like paying to ship a 120 pound vanity back to LA (not cheap). Whatever you do, don't settle when it comes to a more permanent piece. If you feel unsure now just think how you'll feel in five years. 

Medicine cabinet & lighting : While being super roomy and useful, the medicine cabinet is my least favorite feature. It's just sort of there. It does have mirrors in and out and one of those magnifying mirrors inside. This piece is just smart but I'm ok with it. I wanted something pretty and non-medicine cabinety but Mike insisted on having his stuff right there in front of him. He usually lets me do my design thing and trusts it will turn out ok so I let him have this one. I switched out the old lighting that surrounds the cabinet for some white ceramic ones...clean and fresh and pretty. 

Hardware: I spent way, way more than I should have here. I am frugal and thoughtful about most purchases but nothing I found compared to these. They help to balance some of the more modern stuff and provide a nice contrast on the walls. I originally bought the matching toilet paper holder but it had to attach to the vanity because we had no other place for it. I envisioned Henry hanging from it, leaving us with two giant holes in the vanity. Instead I bought a free standing guy (oil rubbed bronze) from Target and called it a day.

Fixtures: For the sink and shower, I chose fairly modern fixtures. Always walking that line of modern/vintage/boho, I think they balance with everything quite well and the shower head is ah-mazing.

Styling: As much as I wanted a new bathroom, I think I wanted to style a new bathroom even more. I chose a natural linen shower curtain to add warmth to all that black and white. The rug is our old one from Anthropologie which still works very well in the space. I'm a huge fan of a non-traditional rug in the bathroom and this one provides color and texture that an average bath mat probably wouldn't (although dang, Target, you have some nice bath mats). The little wall shelf fit my wood tone and black hardware checklist and what room would be complete without a basket and some sort of plant life? I'm not sure how plants will do in there but I'm hoping the light from the new window will help them to thrive. Or I'll just keep replacing them ;)

Lots of details for such a little space. More storage than I really know what to do with (seriously, I need more stuff) and contrary to what you might think, it feels roomier than ever. Something to think about if you're considering switching out your vanity for a pedestal sink. You'll be left without storage and maybe a space that doesn't feel that much bigger afterall. Consider the tile you choose and the paint color. Going from a drab gray wall tile to white made all the difference here and the floating vanity also helped over something too boxy and to the floor. 

So, what started as a tiny window replacement project grew just a hair (insert teeth-gritting emoji here) but it was worth it for a space that is now cute and smart. Of course there are still dreams of bumping out the back of the house for a master bedroom/ensuite situation but for now our shared space feels like a place we want to be, not just a place we have to be.