We’d been looking for our California dream house in competitive, overpriced coastal San Diego County for many years, and were determined not to settle. But settle we did. We had to. Our realtor warned that prices would only continue to rise, and our mortgage broker urged us to lock in before interest rates climbed much higher. So feeling under pressure, we looked at homes for sale in our target neighborhood with new eyes. We figured if Fixer Upper’s Joanna and Chip Gaines could transform an ugly duckling into a real estate swan, my husband and I could surely tackle a few problem areas in a house that, at first glance, appeared to be in decent shape.
So despite outdated, builder-grade baths in dire need of an update and other problems, including distressed, dark porcelain tile flooring and baseboards throughout every square inch of the house–upstairs and down—originally installed by the previous owner for potty training German Shepherd puppies to become police force K9s (yes, I’m serious), we bought the house. We would clean it (we’re still working on that) and pretty it up, we reasoned. After all, we had just broken into the Southern California real estate market; we won, right? There was so much potential—the location was primo, just a fifteen-minute drive to the beach, and it was practically sitting on a beautiful walking trail. Plus there were a lot of butterflies and hummingbirds flying around the property. That had to be a good sign. And if the Gainses could turn around those Fixer Upper nightmares, our little project should be a cinch.
For the design of the remodeled guest bath, we consulted with Patricia Gaylor of Patricia Gaylor Interior Design, who’d basically recommended demoing the entire bath. We hated the bath, and gladly took her advice. The only thing we left intact was the distressed porcelain tile flooring, which we learned was on trend, but we ripped out everything else—the cheap plastic tub/shower enclosure; the old and disgusting builder-grade toilet; the worn frameless mirrors, the cheap satin nickel light fixtures and the biggest eyesore of all – two vintage 2002 builder-grade bath vanities.
For our desperately needed bathroom furniture, Hardware Resources came to the rescue with two Adler bath vanities from Elements. In a sleek, white finish, they brought a breezy beach-inspired look with an open shelf for stylishly displaying guest bath towels. And by swapping out the satin nickel-finish hardware, the vanities came with for gorgeous oil rubbed bronze Hadly knobs, also from Hardware Resources, the total effect harmonized with the Napa-style Gaylor specified for the rest of the house.
We ordered the Adler vanities in two sizes – 48-inch and 31½-inch width – to work for the space, and since both came with a preassembled 2cm top including backsplash and 17” x 14” bowl, installation would be quick and easy. But the benefit wasn’t just for ease – the beautiful Carrera white marble tops were the ideal accompaniments to the vanity style. And since a vanity isn’t complete without a faucet, we dressed up our Adler vanities with transitional faucets in oil rubbed bronze finish, and then we stood back and admired our “styling” vanities.
While the Hardware Resources vanity duo played the star role, we had more work to do… (Don’t forget we “gutted” the original bath). We, of course, needed a mirror above each vanity, and chose affordable coastal-style mirrors in a greyish blue-wash finish, but then we realized one of the mirrors was too small, though Gaylor quickly came up with a solution. She suggested balancing out the look with towel rings on either side of the mirror, which lent an equestrian look that worked, and she further enhanced the effect by replacing the lackluster lighting with 3-way light fixtures in complementary oil rubbed bronze above each mirror. Thanks to our designer, no detail was overlooked; in addition to the hand towel rings, we installed a single as well as a double bath towel bar, a toilet paper holder, and a shower rod with rings, all in matching oil rubbed bronze.
As for the large fixtures, we added a touch of luxury with an upgraded toilet in cotton white, and, of course, Gaylor had us swap out the polished chrome tank lever for one with matching finish. We also kept our contractor busy with the installation of a brand new bathtub in the same white, which Gaylor suggested enhancing with white subway tile with contrasting grey-toned grout, complementing the subtle grey-toned paint we chose for the walls.
The result was gorgeous, but if it sounds like everything went according to plan, the remodel was not without headaches, and this is where our “hard-knocks lessons” come in. If you’re planning to embark on a bath remodel, take note so you don’t have to learn the hard way like we did. Here we go:
- Don’t choose a vanity without taking exposed plumbing into consideration (especially if your designer is helping you via FaceTime like ours). We did, and though we “love, love, love” our open-shelf vanity look, we could have saved money on moving the plumbing had we chosen a closed-front vanity like the Chatham Shaker. It turns out the plumbing in the guest bath of our fixer-upper was not to code and visible too low on the wall. If we hadn’t moved it, in addition to our beautiful fluffy towels displayed on the open-shelf Adler, we’d be looking at pipes.
- Don’t go into it without at least a preliminary budget (and I’d suggest padding it 10%-25%, if it’s an older home, for unexpected expenses – hey, stuff happens). We did, kind of, and what we thought would be a relatively inexpensive bath remodel ended up costing us way more than we imagined.
- If something unexpected happens, above all, try to be flexible, and stay open to solutions. For example, instead of ditching the matching vanity mirrors we loved because one of them was in a less-than-ideal size, we hung equestrian-style towel rings on either side to balance out the space.
- Make sure your tub drain is on the correct side. We never even knew there was a difference, until we ordered the wrong one. Luckily our designer caught the mistake before we had the tub delivered and carried up the stairs.
- Do keep a log/schedule on when the product is expected to arrive so your contractor can book full days dedicated to your project and not have to do the job piecemeal. This will save you $$.
- Do double-check your deliveries “the moment they arrive.” Don’t wait like we did until your contractor is ready to install it only to discover they’d sent the wrong product or something is missing. This will interrupt the momentum of your project and result in that domino effect I’d mentioned.
- Don’t forget the little things like a soap dish for the tub/shower wall and a toilet paper holder in the same finish as the rest of the bath’s hardware for a cohesive look.