The Last Big Project

In the ten years I have lived in my squat little postwar ranch, “remodel the bathroom” has been on my do list.  I did what I could when I moved in; new paint,  flooring and sink but I couldn’t afford to replace the aging tub and yellowing plastic tub surround under a cave-like soffit.  It was the most hated room in my house and it took a visit by relatives (whose bathroom is perfect to the last detail) to finally make me realize that something had to be done. Now.

Since this is a project that has been mentally in the works for years, a large number of the pieces had been picked out and I knew what changes I wanted to make to the configuration of the room.  The tub needed to be removed which was a decision I wrestled with for several months; my brother the contractor said it would negatively affect the value of the house but in the end I opted to forgo the tub in favor of a large shower stall.  Removing the tub and shortening the adjacent hall closet gave me a roomy and convenient closet accessible from inside the bathroom; no longer would I have to leave the bathroom to fetch a bar of soap or roll of toilet paper!

The ceiling was the first area of attack.  For some reason it was covered with plywood and then painted; my guess is that they had a mold problem at one time and covered it with lauan to keep the mold from coming through . The removal of the soffit revealed plywood all the way across, which made the perfect foundation for the tongue and groove red cedar I planned for the ceiling.  Cedar is mold, mildew and rot resistant and emits a lovely smell when the steam from the shower comes in contact with it. The installation of a new bath fan and light to replace the old noisy one completed the ceiling.

The next big job was the removal of the 600 pound cast iron tub which was probably original to the house.  Removing the plumbing wall helped us get it tipped forward onto a couple of furniture dollies, then wheeled it through the house and out the front door.  Leveraging a fresh fall of snow, we were able to get the tub out to the side of the road by sliding it along; the tub disappeared a couple of days later as things seem to do around here.

Having an empty hole where our tub once was really drove home the necessity of having to get going on a replacement, and I felt a little panicky knowing that I was going to have to drive to my shower for the next few days.  Fortunately Ken felt the same way, and he began framing up the new shower area the same day.  The next day while I was at work he put in the plumbing and the cement board.  Tiling was not far away!

Being a self proclaimed rock hound,  I chose 2 x 2 slate mosaic tile to surround the shower in shades of gold, gray, charcoal and tan with the occasional plum or orange tinged slate which has a sort of organic and Zen-like feel.  It went in fairly easily and I was glad I had done a preliminary sealing of the tiles in our basement fume tent before installation because it really helped to get the medium gray grout sponged off the uneven slates.

While I was busy tiling, Ken was completing the drywall in the closet and putting up wainscoting around the lower half of the bathroom.  He was also getting the plumbing ready for the new pedestal sink which was replacing the old vanity.  The wainscoting was painted a creamy ironstone white to brighten things up a bit and Ken lobbied for a rich gold for the area above the wainscoting.   Gold was not a color I had considered, but a few days later he commented on my sister’s gold dining room and I had to agree that it looked nice.  She happened to have some left over paint I could try and when I put the sample on the wall I was sold.

After five days without a shower we were finally ready to test drive the shower for the first time; that was a glorious day indeed!  I had the honor of going first while Ken examined the plumbing for any leaks; he pronounced it good and we had a shower once again.

It was good to have a functioning shower again, but finding a cork floor to bring the project closer to completion was proving to be frustrating. It may seem like an odd floor to want in a bathroom, but it’s organic, warm and cushiony on the feet, antimicrobial and extremely durable.  Most of the cork I was finding locally was bonded to a substrate which you definitely don’t want in a bathroom; finding the thin cork tiles was a lot more difficult.  I finally had to settle for my second pattern choice, but it actually looks great down and feels fantastic under bare feet.

The final design element was the tempered glass shower door and trying to decide between clear glass and patterned glass was a challenge; it was a decision I waited to make until the tile was up.  Once I saw how fantastic the tile looked, I knew there was no way I was going to hide it behind frosted glass.  The clear glass means that using a squeegee after you shower is a must but the effect is worth it.  We nailed a set of antique tobacco hooks above the shower to hang items within easy reach, created towel bars from iron plumbing parts spray painted wrought iron black and purchased fluffy new towels.

The whole thing took six weeks and was totally worth all the mess and nuisance; I still do the occasional double take when I walk past the bathroom. And it’s nice to have the last big project behind me!

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