When my wife, Aimee, and I bought our house in Birmingham a year or so ago, I was most excited to finally have a garage. At last, our cars would be protected from the elements--or maybe not. After living in the house for several months, we began to notice water on the car that was parked beneath the master bath. The water wasn't there all the time; it appeared only after someone took a shower. I tried everything to fix the problem: from caulking the tub to checking drain connections and tearing some tile from the wall. Finally, exasperated and tired of trying to patch the phantom problem, Aimee and I decided to go ahead and update our uninspired, dreary bath completely. Moving up the original time frame for a renovation, however, meant we had to get creative with the budget. Careful planning and wise spending got us the pretty, sophisticated look we wanted in the bath. Here's how we did it.
We set a $5,000 budget and researched all the available options to keep the project within that number. Because neither of us soaks in the tub very often, we decided to keep the old 5-foot-long tub/shower and reuse the faucet and showerhead. Decorative light fixtures would have also blown the budget, and they would be difficult to wire into the existing walls, so we opted for recessed can lights in the ceiling.
Aimee and I studied books, magazines, and piles of catalogs to refine the look we wanted and to find options within our budget. Then we visited several plumbing-supply showrooms and home-improvement stores to view products and prices. The Internet allowed us to research and even purchase some products at a large discount.
Selecting the vanity was a major decision. A custom-built one, including the countertop, sinks, and medicine cabinets, would have used almost our entire budget. We considered a stock vanity that came with a marble top and sinks from a catalog. That would have been easier on the budget, but tile, faucets, medicine cabinets, and lighting still would have run up the cost. So, after doing a little more research, we decided on a pair of pedestal sinks and then splurged on the oversize medicine cabinets and faucets.
Because Aimee selected sinks and faucets with a vintage look, we wanted tile in a compatible style. For the floor, we special-ordered 1-inch hexagonal tile from The Home Depot. The walls reinforce the retro look with 3- x 5-inch subway tiles, which were in stock. To give the white tile more impact and hide dirt, we used gray grout.
While the square footage didn't change, the bath sure did. It's fresher, brighter, and more efficient. In the end, the whole project came in a bit under budget, and we have a leak-free bath that fits our style.
Four Lessons Learned
- Always include extra money in the budget to hire someone for part of the project. If we hadn't hired a tile installer, this makeover could have cost 20% less, but it would never have been accomplished in four weekends. It's also a great feeling to come home from work and have part of the project done.
- Keep an open mind during the process. The initial plan for this bath was to put the new pedestal sinks on the same wall as the old sink. It would have been much easier, but after placing them there to make sure they fit, they looked cramped on that wall. Moving them opened up the space.
- Don't be afraid to tackle something you've never done before. With patience, persistence, and a little research, almost any task can be learned. I had never rerouted plumbing but was able to tackle it one step at a time and save what it would have cost to pay a plumber.
- Purchase everything before you begin. Not having something when you need it causes you to lose time, spend more money, and compromise on choices.