Basement Bathroom: Behind the Scenes

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Last week I shared with you the Before {and} After of the Basement Bathroom. Now let’s take a look at what it really took to get there. I love how before {and} afters have such a magical quality to them. They are filled with inspiration and excitement on what can be achieved and transformed, but when you look behind the curtain the reality is revealed and you get to witness all the work and struggle it took to get from B(efore) to A(fter). So buckle your work belts and hang on, because we’re about to dive into the nasty world of bathroom renovation.

Ok, so let's begin. I woke up one morning and was in a bust things up with a hammer sort of mood. I turned on the Nerdist podcast, headed down to the basement with goggles, gloves, and a mask and began chiseling away at the shower tiles. I quickly realized that this was going to be much harder than the kitchen tiles I did earlier. There was such a ridiculous amount of mortar used to install these light little tiles that it made it not only impossible to get them off, but it was taking chunks of the wall away with it. After two hours of getting only three rows done I knew that a demo hammer was needed to finish this puppy up. Between the amount of dust that would be created and the strength you need to hold up that hammer for hours on end, I was going to have to turn the rest of the tile demo over to Matt. Two days later with shaky, sore arms and faux gray hair Matt defeated the tiles.

During this tile demo Matt created massive holes in the walls and got a peak at what was really holding this bathroom together. His discovery was not what I was expecting or wanting to hear. In disbelief I listened as he told me that the studs were crooked, just haphazardly thrown together, and even worse: rotten with water damage. The more he inspected, the more he was convinced that the whole bathroom would need to be reconstructed from the ground up. With my jaw in my hands and my mind still refusing to believe, I was realizing that my sprucing up project that I thought would take me a week or two was turning into a long-term nightmare. Visions of disaster DIY home improvement show episodes were flooding my mind, and I tried to figure out ways to get by without tearing everything down. But alas, Matt was pretty sure that due to the water damage, very little of the underlying structure could be salvaged. This is when I just took off my construction hat and gave it over to him to figure out. Even though he’d never done any of this before, he was determined to start from scratch with his trusty partner Google at his side.

In the meantime I hit the computer and started mocking up the design in Photoshop. I knew the exact look and feel I wanted to go with so that made everything flow without much struggle. Then I began the hunt for paint color, tiles, fixtures, shelving, accessories, the sink, the ceiling, the mirror, and the countertop material. Since the room is rather small I wanted to preserve as much space as possible and decided to only work with open shelving, light colors, and forgo a vanity for a minimal counter and a table top sink.

Back to the mess. As Matt tore down the walls of the old and put in all new studs, lots of fun obstacles kept arising. Number one being that nothing was square, even, or straight (a fun fact that comes with a century old house). This made everything infinitely harder. But, with a lot of patience and math skills it all got worked out. We learned pretty early on that the house was built wacky and that we would have to embrace and emphasize its flaws and character in order to not go totally insane (something this perfectionist still has a hard time with.)

While Matt was tearing down the ceiling he came across what had caused all the water damage. A steady but slow leak had been coming from the upstairs bathtub for who knows how long. The crazy part was that the last person who had torn apart the ceiling knew about the leak, but their solution for fixing it was tying a plastic grocery bag around the pipe to catch the water. Yeah, that was our reaction too. So everything was put on hold as we got the problem fixed which ended up being a good thing for we updated the original Drum Trap with a modern P-Trap.

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After all that drama subsided and the new walls went up, I came in and tiled the shower and the floor and got all patchwork and painting done. We were on our way to something that resembled a bathroom again; the last step was to build the sink counter. I was looking for a beautiful, warm hardwood which we found at my favorite lumber yard, Compton Lumber. We ended up scoring a gorgeous piece of African Mahogany that just need to be sanded and varnished (look for upcoming post on How To on building your own counter in the near future.)  After the sink was installed all that was left was the finishing touches.

Now this project probably would have gone a bit quicker if I hadn't started two other major ones in the middle, but that's just the way I roll. Patience problem? I think so. Now that it's done and will one day be a fleeting memory, I would encourage other people to take a shot at it. When I think about the tens of thousands of dollars we saved doing it ourselves it makes me as happy as a little girl who just built her first giant sandcastle. 

Check out the full Before {and} After of this basement bathroom.

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