This is a post from the past about our first major project inside the house. It got finished over Labor Day weekend 2005, though we’d started 3.5 years earlier. We’re a project-juggling house, you see, and we tend to start things and then start other things, and then it’s summer and the tomatoes and the grill and the dart board are very demanding …
I’d been looking forward to having my way with this bathroom ever since meeting the house. The bathroom was functional, but just barely. And it was supposed to have been redone before I bought the house, as evidenced by the tiles filling the bathtub and the new toilet and medicine cabinet stacked in one corner when we came for the showing.
Our second view of the room, after the tiles were removed from the tub for the inspection. How did the guy living here shower with tiles in the tub? He didn’t; the hot water was on his tab and he chose to go without.
A wider angle, after we moved in, and what we lived with while deciding what to do with the room.
Why is the toilet tank lid missing? Because the toilet wouldn’t flush without an arm of intervention.
But the guy who was supposed to redo the room before the house was sold had gotten sick and postponed the work. I promptly said stop—do not do anything more! I wanted it the way it was. You see, the materials they were going to use were just contemporary versions of the cheap 70s sink and vanity already disgracing the room. Underfoot was a crude subfloor coated in ancient goo. Ick—I’m now recalling the smell of it when it got wet. Ack!
Having carte blanche with a bathroom space can be marvelous, but it’s also challenging. There were money, labor and practicality constraints. And I wanted to install something that wasn’t outlandish when considered in context with the rest of the house (even though I had this weird desire to install a black toilet, which was thankfully banished when I rented a vacation place that had one). So I decided to cut certain corners and reuse as much as possible to allow splurging on things I really wanted, like old-style hexagon tile and the assurance that this bathroom would function very well for a very long time.
First there was my clawfootlust to contend with. Ever since my parents hauled our clawfoot tub to the curb when I was a kid, I’ve wanted it back. Then I thought hard about what that means to me as a homeowner and do-it-yourselfer. Unless we were going move the plumbing and walls, we didn’t have space for a soaking-good clawfoot. So I skeptically gave the original tub a chance, and I found out it’s really quite nice. Not as deep as the deepest clawfoot I’ve been in, but mighty respectable and sturdy (enameled cast iron) and in good, though not perfect, shape. The clincher was that not getting rid of it meant not moving it out (I thought) and another one in.
After putting off the project and living with the bathroom I’d bought for some time, I found I loved the lip on the old toilet-tank lid. It makes the space another shelf. But the toilet bowl was cracked. So I resolved to keep the tank and find a bowl. However, I did not succeed on that score—my fabulous friends did. The new old toilet is lovely and curvey and cost $2—allowing more to be spent on other things!
Things like a pegleg sink! I learned about this variation on the pedestal sink from the book Bungalow Bathrooms by Jane Powell.
I was instantly obsessed. You know how something comes into your life and instantly hits all your buttons? That was what the pegleg sink did for me. So piratey! I looked all over the Web and local outlets searching for my very own pegleg. Even took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Indianapolis on the tip that there were some there. But there was always something holding me back from committing to the few I found. And there were several that sounded good but didn’t pan out. Then I came upon some more on the Web. After much interrogation, I sent for my pegleg, and it came in this huge crate. Weighed 300 pounds, according to the truck service guy. When I was asking about the sink, the supplier said the maker was unknown, but within 10 minutes of uncrating it I found writing on the underside and etching on the overflow grate that proved it was a product of the J.L. Mott Iron Works, a company with a reputation for making some of the finest porcelain sinks ever. For some time, the bowl rested on my kitchen floor, and the pegleg was cuddled into an easy chair in my living room.
Below are some shots of the early stages of the bathroom project. We tore down almost all the walls because we wanted to do ceramic tile halfway up. The existing plaster was in various states of disrepair and would have prohibited the tile approach (or any other treatment that called for relative flatness). And we found more problems than we had anticipated. For one thing, it turns out the room we have now was originally two separate rooms, and to unite the spaces there was a glopping on with gusto of what seemed like cement.
The stud to the left of center is set into the room more than the one to the right.
We did leave the ceiling, which swoops down on the north and south sides to follow the roof line and meet the walls. The slopey ceiling is charming and solid, though it had (and still has) seasonal cracks, and I learned how to preserve it and blend it into the new walls. The floor had to go to allow for new plumbing and installation of a solid and level subfloor for the tile. And, uh, yeah, we ended up having to move the tub. Out of the room. Me and the handyman alone. We are puny, yet we rock! Levers, my friend, it’s all in the levers—and wheeled devices and much strategizing.
So the tub became a tenant of the back bedroom for a while. It’s a Kohler. Not sure of the year, although I later found that new, $6,000 tubs are fashioned on my old beast.
And then there was the plumbing odyssey fueling the sink and toilet:
After the plumbing wizard redid everything and fortified the perimeter, it looked like this:
We found old gas pipes that once fueled a water heater in the corner across from the tub:
Below: The radiator before our destruction began. Someone had sawed off the left side of the bottom casing for unclear reasons. We reconstructed the missing bit, and it doesn’t show at all since the whole window is painted (see second-to-last pic to compare).
Below: A shot from when we were tearing the walls down. The radiator goes in the corner left of the window. It went back in after much stragezing related to how we had lifted the floor by tiling it. We got an estimate on repiping to deal with this, and it was so expensive and klugey (repipe in a loop that would look hideous, then cover the pipes with a box) that the man of the house was inspired to figure it out himself.)
Below is what the handyman discovered when he was tearing out the floor by the window—newspaper from July 31, 1929.
So, at long last, here is the latest 12×5 bathroom at this house
The original top panel of this little door had been removed and replaced hastily, so I decided it wanted art glass in a crocodile pattern
Why the fat marble threshold? It seems the bathroom had a hardwood floor, because it still existed in that spot—but only that spot, running in from the next room. It seemed wrong to rip it out but odd to leave it bare there, so …
When being weighed by the Detecto, you can be between 250 and 250!
TP-size built-in over the window
The floor tile is set in epoxy grout on cement backer board. We found that being novices actually helped us in working with the epoxy grout because we were mindlessly ballsy enough not to be scared of it. There are lots of pros who won’t do epoxy because it’s like working with bubble gum, it’s toxic and requires special gear, and it sets up in a short period of time, after which there is no going back. But once installed it’s tougher than nails and never needs sealing, and that’s what we wanted in a floor.
Bowl of the pegleg, with the first set of faucets—which started leaking in less than a year!
The pegleg benefited from the attention of our professional installation team, and I don’t remember why the door is standing against that wall at this time
Looking in from the second entrance (and the pegleg with its second faucet, which functions very well, though the finish is chrome, while the rest of the sink’s metal was refinished in nickel). The 30s medicine cabinet cost $13 at a rural thrift shop.
Having two entrances gave me the opportunity to do two different entryway designs! I did these by punching out different shapes in the tiles and relaying them together with tape. We found out in laying this floor that you should not expect factory-made tiles to be all of a uniform size. We thought we were having optical illusions at first, but no, some are smaller than others; we had to punch those out and replace them with a more average size.
The modern thermostat tips you off that this room and the back bedroom are their own zone; we figure people don’t want to be chilly in the bathroom, and it’s clear the radiators on the top floor of this house were a not-very-well-planned retrofit
Kept the original light fixture but painted it copper to match the door handles, switchplates, window hardware and chalk fish
I adore that sponge holder (which came with an antique sponge) in the corner—$20 on eBay, re-nickel-plated at Al Bar-Wilmette
We did all the tilework ourselves and, both being children of engineers, had some consternation over the best way to keep the tiles running straight. There was the caliper approach and the spacer approach and the eyeing-it approach. We used them all and all in combo. The wall tile above we put up parts of, ripped down and redid more than once. I smile every day when I look at this tile because it reminds me how well we work together at times.
At some point I became enthralled with labeling things—see the toilet handle below, and the switchplate has a label for the fan
I’m quite amused that Restoration Hardware started featuring the same tilework a year after we finished this bathroom:
Anyway, here’s the last shot of mine: