Remodels are never as easy as they seem. And designing your own space when there are limitless options is tough. So with the build of #SabrinasBathroom underway, I thought I’d share a huge post chronicling all of the decisions I made, why I made them and how my heart ache can help you.
Although I’m keeping every fixture and all of the plumbing in the same spot in my bathroom, there’s no such thing as a quick gut and replace. And if you’re like me and obsess over the details and never tire until you’ve scrolled through every single page on every lighting, tile, fixture etc. site, then you know how hard it is to make final calls. And how changing one item can affect another.
This bathroom remodel stubbornly followed suit, so I’m sharing all of the pains in the butt/choices I ran into and how I’ve fixed/settled on them. (And big shout out to my contractors at Elite Signature Homes for helping me through the build. Yes, I chose to not DIY this one and instead hired a crew to tackle the build of my design. More on that choice in a later post).
Overall, my design follows suit with the existing layout I had, save for a few minor tweaks. Above is the quick sketch I gave Elite to drive home my plan including some measurements for heights etc. And while it looks silly and we had a laugh about it, every bit of communication (from where you want switches and outlets to how high you want your shower fixtures and floating vanity) helps you avoid adding time and money to any project.
Depending on each stage of the demo and build, that are critical bits of info that the build team needs to know as it can potentially affect framing, plumbing and electrical to name a few. For example: anything you want recessed (in my case I drew the mirrors, TP holder and cabinet) needs to be communicated before drywall goes up. It seems obvious, but you’re not nagging or overbearing by being present and literally spelling out what you want to avoid later setbacks.
So with the layout and logistics down, on came the design dilemmas:
The balancing act that is vanity lighting, cabinets and mirrors.
Here’s a million dollar question: what light(s ) do you choose when your vanity mirrors span wider than your vanity?
The vanity I’m installing is 24″ wide. And to the right of it, the porcelain throne will sit. Until now, one mirror sat above the vanity (both the same width at 20″), so one light fixtures centered atop made sense. Now that I’m doubling the mirror width to span to the right over the toilet as well, what light’s a girl to use? Do you center one fixture over the vanity? Do you center it to the mirrors? Do you install two (one over toilet, one over vanity)?
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me unbox this pretty glass retro vanity light (US link). I had every intention of installing it centered over the vanity sink, but a few days ago I sent it back in its little brown box to be returned. Why? Because as I started to visualize it sitting above the vanity, and then pictured the mirrors trailing off to the right, and it felt very unbalanced.
So, why not center it over the mirrors? At 24″ versus the 48″ vanity, it’d look dwarfed and look unbalanced. So I had two options:
- Buy a second light and throw it over the right mirror, above the toilet.
- Buy a wider light and center it over both mirrors.
My aim with this bathroom is to keep it simple and clean and minimal, so one fixture it was, which left me with two choices: go for the wider version (33″) of the light I ordered, or really pare back and find a linear, LED bar light that spans the full 48″?
At first, I confidently chose the bar light, but after realizing I had more space above the mirrors than I thought, and after considering that a 48″ wide light would hit the wall on the right, and be close to the shower glass on the left—not to mention, my home’s age and vibe—I decided to choose the former and ordered the Mod 4-light 33″ version of the light (US link) I had initially got. While I pined for a minimal bar, I think the retro globes will add some visual interest in an otherwise minimal space and throw back to the bathroom’s history—not to mention the significant price difference! Any bar lights I liked were $600-800, and this guy is just over $200. And they’re also the perfect height for the space—not too squished, and not too roomy.
And as an added tip, unless you’re going for a bar light, make sure the vanity light you get is anywhere from 60-90% of the width of the mirrors. I find if it’s just as wide as the vanity and/or mirrors beneath, it looks top-heavy. In most cases, if it’s narrower than the sides of the mirrors by a bit, it looks more proportional.
(see the space I’m working with below in all its orange Kerdi-board glory, which is an amazing drywall alternative for damp spaces).
Consideration 1: Hanging wall art/decor without making holes in the tile.
I’m going floor to ceiling, wall to wall with the elongated subways tile which is going to look so amazing. But along with things like the toilet paper holder and robe hooks, I want to hang art, mirrors etc (like in the photo below). Thing is, I’m not alone in being terrified of drilling into tile and creating permanent holes to hang art. I know myself and I’ll likely want to change the art up every so often. Not to mention, it’s not a fun thought when you consider re-sale or renting.
Let’s face the music: Command Strip hooks don’t work. I’ve tried using them multiple times to hang even light art (the tiny clear ones, the chunky classics) and they’ve fallen 100% of the time.
Photo: OOTD Magazine
That’s when I came up with the solution of installing a low-profile, mission/shaker-style picture rail along the top of the wall. I described the look I wanted to my contractor and he agreed it was doable. But after feeling like a hero for a few days, the feeling quickly subsided.
Here I wanted a very clean, modern bathroom, and I was going to add molding to the ceiling border? And worse yet, there was the issue of where to install it. Should it border the whole bathroom, or just one wall? Would wood molding be strange in the shower area (answer: yes)? So it was back to the drawing board.
That’s when I looked up (arguably figuratively and literally) “gallery art picture rail hanging ceiling.” Next to using industrial velcro strips (which we used on-set Save My Reno for all the artwork hung in homeowner’s spaces – which yes, actually works), the only solution I conjured was ceiling-mounted non-wood picture rails. Like a gallery has. It took a bit of searching, but I finally found this track system which anchors to the ceiling and has sliding cables. Close, but still not as clean as I wanted.
I then dug and found this less intense version on Amazon that forgoes the bulky rail (and, with it, the ability to slide the art) and features a simple, small chrome piece that gets screwed directly into the ceiling. The upside is that it’s better looking. The downside is you can’t adjust the art left or right once it’s installed. But I’m taking my chances and just hit order on this ceiling mount gallery kit.
As for the placement of said art wall, I’m looking at the wall on the left:
Consideration 2: Getting the built-in look without spending my life savings.
Before I even settled on tiles, I knew I wanted some pale, blonde wood in the space. And before I ever fathomed this remodel, I knew I wanted to blow out the bulky wall in the entry (AKA my front closet) and steal room to have built-in shelving in lieu of a linen closet.
To commission a small, solid wood vanity and matching shelves would have run me $2,000. Sure, it would look amazing, but spending that on just 1 and a half items in this tiny bathroom felt like a sin, so I opted to use IKEA’s GODMORGON vanity in light washed oak and recess their matching GODMORGON high cabinet into the wall to act as the “built-in” storage, coming in at under $500 versus $2,000.
And to elevate the look of them, rather than rest the high cabinet on the floor, I paid the small framing cost associated with floating the cabinet vertically inside the wall nook. Just imagine the photo above if that wall bump-out didn’t exist and the wood cabinet was just resting on the floor where you could see the top and sides. Doesn’t look as intentional and expensively, eh?
Consideration 3: To freestand or not to freestand a tub?
I hummed and hawed over the choice to get a freestanding tub or a built-in tub, or something in between (like this beauty which is flush along the back wall and shower fixture wall). Why freestanding? Because a) they’re beautiful b) they allow you to see more floor and wall tile, which c) makes a space look larger as you can clearly see it continues beyond the tub. In the end, I said bye-bye to my dream for a few very realistic reasons:
- It would require either a ceiling mounted shower curtain or tempered sheet glass that reached the floor which is way more expensive than a sheet to hit the top of a tub ledge.
- Not only would cost come into play, but maintenance and functionality would too. However pretty, in a main bathroom that gets use daily, more glass equals more cleaning. And freestanding tubs mean dust and dirt not only collecting along one edge on the floor, but all four. And because my tub would be mere inches from the walls, it’d be hard to get at it.
- Water would splash onto the floors which would mean more measures would have to be taken to make the entire bathroom water-tight to the nines which also would require some sloping and a linear drain of some sort.
But hey, while it sounds like I’m bashing freestanding tubs, I still would love one some day. In a space where it’s not a tub-shower combo, and where there’s more breathing room around said tub, it’s great. But in my space, and for what I need? Not gonna happen.
Consideration 4: Returns, transitions and edges.
Something you don’t initially think about when remodeling a space with a lot of tile is how you’ll treat the tile as you approach a window, a corner, a ledge, door casing and existing flooring. Do you use decorative trim pieces, chrome edges with tile returns, etc.
When it came to my space, I’m having all the subway tile installed in a grid-stack pattern rather than typical brick and I’m after a clean look, so I decided to forgo decorative trim or a change in tile pattern around things like a window (such as turning the tile vertical to border something).
Instead, I’m making sure anywhere it butts up to something (the door casing, recessed linen cabinet and mirror cabinets) I’m installing those cabinets and casings forward a 1/4″ so the tile can return into them a hair back from their fronts, leaving a bit of room for the cabinets/casing to pop out a tad so the edge where they meet looks clean and grout-free (and to allow for a bead of clear silicone).
Photo: Katie Martinez (treating my niche and doorway casing how she did)
Another decision I made that ended up costing me more was the choice to use slabs of quartz to case my window and shower niche (like the above) rather than having these ledges tiled and grouted. a) It’ll look neater not having grout lines, and b) it’ll hold up better as when water pools on ledges, it won’t get sucked up in the grout lines between tiles. I’m going with Caesarstone’s Vivid White (to match the look of the subway tiles).
Consideration 5: Maximizing space.
In a small bathroom, it really is a game of inches. Every little gain counts in the long-run which is why I made a few small changes for big impact:
1. I widened the entryway by 5″. It may sound like a big hassle to re-frame a wall just to gain 5″, but it allowed me to install my light/fan switch beside the door versus having it a few steps into the bathroom around a corner (meaning every new person using the bathroom would have to search for it rather than it being intuitive, and you’d be in the dark for the first few steps into the space).
And this 5″ will look more like 17″ once the cabinet is installed as I’m not putting a door on it, so you’ll see into it’s 12″ depth.
And sure, this meant stealing from from my front closet, but the benefits of a larger bathroom outweighed having a smaller closet. This also means that my high cabinet will have more breathing room and you won’t be as pinned in when grabbing a towel, etc.
2. I recessed my mirror cabinets into the wall (like in the photo below). If you’re gutting a space to the studs, this is such as easy thing to do and will make any bathroom feel bigger. And to do it, I didn’t even have to steal space from another room. I simply used the hollow space between studs and had my contractors build a frame to hold the mirrors.
And because that entire wall is mostly cabinets, my bathroom will feel 5-6″ wider than if I installed them ontop of the drywall (as they’re 5″ deep). It also means not having to see the metal, unfinished left side of the cabinet from within the shower. Overall, it’ll look more seamless and expensive, when in reality, again, it’s inexpensive IKEA cabinets and the cost of 2 hours of labour and a bit of lumber.
I could go on forever, but I’ll leave it here for now! If you have any Qs, let me know and join the conversation and see more updates on Instagram!