Before & After: How My Family’s Boring Beige Bathroom Got the Dramatic, Once-in-a-Decade Makeover of My Dreams
This past year I got to do something I’ve been dreaming of for over 10 years: Tear out a very bad, very beige, very ill-constructed 70-square-foot family bathroom that was literally crumbling beneath our feet, and in its place remodel it into a dream bathroom that I hope will serve us and my two little girls well for many years to come. Want to see the dramatic before and after?
The Old Bathroom and Its Problems
When we moved into our house over 10 years ago, there was only one bathroom: this one, at seven feet wide and 10 feet long. We added a master bathroom in our initial home renovation and so we didn’t touch this one at the time. It was functionally OK, but very, very beige, with low-quality fixtures and shoddy workmanship. It was clear that the previous owners had either DIYed it themselves to sell the house, or hired an amateur handyman to slap it in.
I couldn’t justify ripping out the bathroom for its beige-ness alone, but I did start saving for a renovation that I was sure would be necessary down the road. And sure enough, over those 10 years the cosmetic issues with the bathroom receded in the face of much larger problems: the plumbing under the floor leaked into our living room below, necessitating a costly ceiling repair. The shower and tub hardware were failing, and the floor tile cracked away in large pieces (it wasn’t grouted properly at all).
I had been saving up for years for our dream bathroom, and finally it was time!
What I Wanted from a Dream Bathroom
The goal of this bathroom was to create our dream family bathroom to grow with our two children. My girls are 5 and 7, and they share a bedroom next to the bathroom. While I’ve done very budget-savvy renovations in the past (you can see our ultra-budget master bathroom here), this remodel was a bit different in that I saved for years and planned it out for a long time. We plan on staying in this house for the long run, so I was designing this bathroom for us — not for future owners.
My biggest desire for the bathroom was to get both a tub and a separate shower in a modest space (7×10 feet), as well as a generous vanity with plenty of storage.
This is the only bathroom in the house with a bathtub, so I was fixated on having the biggest tub we could possibly fit. We pulled it off, going wall-to-wall with a 6-foot-long soaking tub. I also managed to squeeze in a built-in bench next to the tub, which is the single best thing I can recommend for a family bathroom.
The other thing I wanted for this bathroom was a vivid dose of color. The one window faces west and it glows like firelight in the evening — I knew it could be the most enchanting place to take a bath!
My Dream Bathroom Tile: Handmade Custom Tile from Smink Studio
In searching for the right color and design for this bathroom, in all my Pinterest boards and saved Instagram posts, there was one tile I came back to over and over again: those made by Smink Studio, created by Dutch designer Marianne Smink, and produced in Portugal. Her tiles are handmade and screen printed in custom layouts for each installation. I was thrilled they were able to work with me! Together I worked with her team on a completely custom design using their colorful tiles in shades of cream, peach, lilac, and pink. It was a splurge I’ll never regret, as the tile is so gorgeous and memorable, and it makes me happy every single day.
To complement that handmade tile from Smink, I chose matte porcelain penny tiles for the floor, which are in keeping with the 1920s age of our home, plus matte subway tile for the walls (same). I looked for off-white colors in the tile to complement Smink’s soft white base color.
What We Did in Renovating This Bathroom
This bathroom was a complete gut reno. I will always remember Dan Lewis, our general contractor (a terrific local contractor who lives on our street — we had the best experience with him!) finally really getting the fact that no plumbing fixture was staying in its original location! Everything moved around — including the bathroom door!
We slid the bathroom doorway over to create depth on one wall for the vanity. We kept the original solid wood door, however, and had it resquared, repainted, and rehung as a pocket door to save space. We also had to close off a small closet in the process, and changed it to open into my girls’ room instead.
I’m a huge fan of wet room-style bathrooms, where the tub sits inside an open shower area and nearly the entire bathroom can get wet. It’s a very efficient way of using a small space, and it’s great for families, as the kids can splash to their hearts’ content inside (and out) of the tub.
We set a huge tub into the back of the bathroom, undermounted beneath white quartz. The quartz was expensive but has been incredibly stain-resistant and kid-friendly; those Lush bath bombs just wipe right off. The wet room layout is an unusual choice for our area, but I’m so happy we chose it; the kids splash about, but the water never gets close to the vanity.
The Best Decisions I Made in Renovating a Family Bathroom
The project was lengthy and we lived without a family bathroom and tub for over six months. It was at the tail end of the pandemic, with skyrocketing demand for renovation, and the complexity of the bathroom changes meant long waits for some materials and subcontractor time. But it was worth it, and I’m so glad we held out for exactly what we wanted.
Here are some of the decisions I felt most strongly about (and that have proven to be good ones).
- Hiring a designer to help with the technical details: To get all this in took a lot of planning, hours of tweaking designs, and ultimately some professional help. I hired Angela Bonfante, a local kitchen and bath designer, for the final mile of this project and I’m so glad I did. Her fees were about $3000, and her expertise was immensely valuable. She helped me fine-tune the layout and did renderings for me to visualize the space. She helped with shopping for fixtures, and coordinated the quartz purchase and install. I don’t think that every project needs a designer, but in a dream project with a lot of technical details like a bathroom, where every inch matters, it’s practically necessary to make sure you avoid costly mistakes.
- Thinking about how growing children will use the space for a long time: My kids are still little and often need bath supervision, and I wanted to make it easy and fun to hang out bath-side. I built a bench into the shower space, and I’ve already spent hours sitting there, hanging out with them at bathtime, glass of wine in hand. Looking into the future: The vanity I chose has enough storage and counter space to accommodate two girls doing their hair and makeup at once.
- Heating the floor! I will go on the record as saying every bathroom remodel should get an electric heated floor. This sounds incredibly luxurious, but an electric floor mat only costs at most a few hundred dollars (small by comparison to other bathroom remodel costs!) and is the nicest luxury in the cold months. We had to remove a huge radiator in this bathroom, but thanks to better home insulation, an electric heated floor has provided all the heat needed for the bathroom.
- Giving myself a design that makes me happy: Every bathroom renovation is a costly endeavor, even if you don’t gut it to the studs the way that we did! If you are renovating a bathroom, give yourself design elements that bring you joy. The bathroom is also the place where caregivers and parents spend a lot of time. I decided not to play it safe or think of future resale when I chose our playful, gorgeous tiles — and I’m so happy every single time I walk into that room. I love perching in there and hanging out with my children; I look forward to it every day, and that’s the delight of good and fun design — it can make even the most mundane family moments a little more enjoyable.
Shopping & Resources
Plumbing & Fixtures
- Tub: Kohler Underscore 72”x36” Bathtub from Amazon
- Tub Fixtures: Hansgrohe Talis E 4-Hole Modern Shower Set from Amazon
- Shower Fixtures: Hansgrohe Ecostat Modern Pressure Balanced Valve in Brushed Bronze and Hansgrohe Raindance Showerhead from Amazon
- Sink Fixtures: Grohe Essence Faucet in Brushed Cool Sunrise from Amazon
Hardware & Lighting
- Towel Hooks: A8309CE Bathroom Wall Mounted Towel Hook in Brushed Gold from Wayfair
- Folding Towel Bar: Brizo Kintsu 8″ Mini Pivoting Towel Bar in Luxe Gold from Perigold
- Vanity Pulls: Solid Brass Demi Lune Pulls and Verge Edge Pulls from Inspire Hardware
- Sconces: Modern Milky Globe Bath Sconce from Shades of Light
- Mirror / Medicine Cabinet: Vintage Rounded Rectangular Recessed Medicine Cabinet, 21×34″ in Brass from Pottery Barn
- Built by an Amish craftsman that my interior designer works with
- Wall Paint: Sherwin-Williams Romance, at 75% saturation
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