I think of my basement as “The Bunker,” maybe because this house was built in 1947, and I imagined the first owners thinking they’d use it to hide out from the A-bomb. I used that to infuse it with a more useful floor plan and a warmer vibe.
But before it got there, that basement needed help. Dark and depressing, with boxed up spaces, I needed it to evolve into a useful, inviting space that could also handle overflow guests. This meant multiple, incremental projects which are listed below. Please stay tuned as more below segments go live.
The main floor bathroom in this little cottage was icky. Built in 1947, it was predictable that the room would be small. Sadly, the 1970s update just made it depressing. Sure, it was all neutrals, but they were pretty beat up from years of college age renters.
Here’s what harshed my mellow:
The whole thing was small, 7.5’x5.’ This is the kind of small that makes a person enraged when they hear about “small” 8×10′ bathrooms. I’m one of those people, people.
The finishes were grotty. Laminate and fiberglass, they were on the beat up, scratched side. Faucet was limey/rusting, sink had permanent stains.
The vanity was a problem. It jutted into the room, nailing my hip more than once. Dark and small, it added little storage but seemed to suck the life out of the room. The space was so tight, you couldn’t even put a TP holder in it, adjacent to the toilet. And it was LOW. Like back-breaking-think-I’ll-skip-washing-face-again low.
I was a little in mourning. My last house had a nice, old, deep tub, and I am a bath taker. This one had a shallow, tiny tub, the opposite of inviting on a cold winter night. Or anytime.
Lighting was grim. Ancient over-sink lighting and a fluorescent light integrated into the fan. No natural light because no window. Even though the bathroom backed onto an exterior wall. Just sad. And annoying.
Time to see what could be done right away:
A shower curtain was a given. The bathroom was so grotty that it just didn’t make sense to invest in a glass enclosure when it was so obvious that this would be the first major remodel. So I put in a curved double shower rod. Love those things! Extra elbow room in the small shower. An extra rack to hang stuff on.
I also added a railway rack over the tub for in room towel storage. This would put clean towels in reach within the bathroom. With the linen closet at the other end of the hall and the undersink storage just gross, this was a high priority.
I kinda don’t get why more people don’t put these over tubs. The storage improvement is seriously great. It provides a prefect, tidy place to leave wet wash cloths or hang the occasional dripping garment. And, if you think it makes the bathroom look too closed in at say, a party, all ya gotta do put the towels back in the linen closet and the rack sort of disappears.
Next I swapped out the key-locking bathroom knob, anticipating the day a niece or nephew would accidentally lock themselves in the windowless room. This was my first little egg knob. Love it! A classic look but easier to use than a conventional round one. Prettier than the weird, crusted, keyed door knob.
Sadly, that was pretty much it. I tried, I really tried to make it work. Scrubbed till I bled. Tried to overcome that feeling of distaste that I felt every time I walked in the bathroom. Told myself that bathing under a too low shower head was OK. Pretended that a bath with only ten inches of water was still a great way to relax.
This thing needed an overhaul.
Of course, the big question was, what would that overhaul cost? I really had no idea and budget was an issue. So the first step was be to identify every single improvement I anticipated making, including finish choices. And then I would ask the contractor. And then we’d see. Maybe something could be done. Maybe nothing.
Here’s what we did on a total budget of around $5500, including the window. The contractor I used was The Pros of Idaho (firstname.lastname@example.org), who were referred to me by my realtor. Everything they did came in on budget and on time. Everything they subbed out was to a licensed, bonded contractor. When I specified something a little weird, they asked me about it, helping me to correct course or working with my preferences. During the actual work phase, they were kind of obsessed with cleaning up EVERY DAY, which I thought was refreshingly funny. Or maybe just an illustration of how low your standards can go when you live with seven animals.
If you’d like to skip the planning details and see how it all turned out, bounce over here.
Look and feel. Given resources and the style, age, and neighborhood, I just didn’t think that finishes needed to be extreme to provide a great, functional, in-keeping-with-era bathroom. I prefer older style bathrooms, ones that look crisp, light and fresh. White porcelain, clean metals. That works for me. Wall paint is how I prefer to add and subtract bathroom color, keeping the permanent stuff as classic and simple as possible. My goal was to put in a bathroom that might have been original with just a few modern tweaks.
Function. With such a small space for the primary bathroom for the whole house, basic function, storage and navigability were top issues. Pretty was secondary, though of course on the wish list. Function choices are discussed in more detail below. Another function note: this is both the main bathroom for everyone AND the guest bathroom. So it was important to make organization/storage choices that would make the bathroom easy to use and virtually always guest ready.
New window: The room needed a window. Totally ridiculous to have a exterior wall adjacent room of any kind without a window. No wonder the bathroom seemed dank. To be fair, there was no mold. Yet really, it felt like mold was invited but too busy or repulsed to come to the party. Because of where the house is, this window had to be approved by the historical society so there was not much choice about how this window would look. We ended up with a narrow, high, bottom opening casement, which works great. Light comes in. No one can see in.
The Professionals of Idaho installed the window for a very fair price, and did the rest of the bathroom as well. The window was my single biggest splurge at $625. It now also lights the hall, worth every penny.
Tub or Shower? In a small bathroom, going only shower can make a lot of sense. But this was the primary bath in the house. The other, basement bath had a shower only and was even smaller than this room. I like a good soak, feels great. Kids, who visit often, need a tub. Resale value suggests at least one functioning bathtub in a house is a smart idea. Bath tub it was. I picked the Kohler Archer 5ft. Soaking Tub for these reasons:
Depth of soak
Would fit tiny space
Glass enclosure or shower curtain? Generally I prefer glass. However, it’s more costly and in that small space, a bit unwieldy. By this time, I had fallen in love with my curved shower curtain rod so it seemed wisest to just reuse it, only this time, mount it higher.
Sink: Originally I wanted this beauty from Foremost Series 1930, with a simple integrated backsplash.
But it was out of stock when I needed it so we went with this Kohler Archer number, to match the tub. I don’t love it as much as the 30s look but it does look great and clean.
A word about pedestal sinks. Some folks don’t get them, citing lost storage space. Here’s why they’re worth considering:
Clean, classic look
With wide rim, some functional surface space is available but not enough to invite clutter
Great in small footprint bathroom, where there’s not space to go big or a vanity would darken and shrink the space (and be hard to get into)
Helpful when maneuvering wheelchair & walker using guests
Often higher than a conventional vanity
Fixtures: For most of the bath and sink fixtures, we went with Moen Banbury. It had the right cottage look to it. In brushed nickel, water stains wouldn’t show much, which is a really big deal to me. For the main towel rack, I went double to maximize storage.
Redi Niche: I got two of these Redi Niche Tile Ready inserts. They fit in between the studs and get tiled over to add extra storage. One is on the wall facing the door. The other under the railway rack. This gives me and guests plenty of storage room. These babies do come in other convenient sizes. I just liked the double shelf. For a change, I had one installed with the small shelf on top, the other as shown below.
Part of me wishes I’d gone for even more between the studs niches here just to max out storage options. In real life, the two niches are plenty for me.
Tile: I went classic with the tile. White subway for the tub enclosure and white hex for the floor. Baseboards out of white subway. Grey grout on the floor, light grout on the walls.
Medicine cabinet: There were so many straight lines already in the bathroom, I went with an oval to break things up. This beauty had the convenience of a mirror inside. And, in this small space, I love that it’s recessed.
Over toilet storage/glass shelves: I wanted to use glass shelves over the toilet. They could be used for display, add guest convenience, hold a lot of stuff when needed and disappear when not. I went with three of Delta’s Greenwich Glass Shelves in satin nickel. The look seemed like it would work OK with all the Moen Banbury fixtures AND I really wanted that spot-free satin nickel finish. The Banbury glass shelves were pretty but I disliked the mounting with it’s bump, which gave up too much shelf space. In a perfect world, I’d have shelves with a little rim around them because of my klutz issue. However, at the time of shopping, all I could find in that style were chrome, or shelves that were only 20.”
They might not be a perfect match, but I love these babies. They are serious work horses, able to hold up to 35lbs of stuff.
Main Supplies Storage: This required a lot of thought. The first thing I made my peace with was that without a vanity, cleaning supplies would need to live elsewhere. Then I found this great project article from the Family Handyman and it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
Seriously, every time I see a small bathroom solutions article, I think someone else will have done this, it is so perfect. It’s not just that it allowed me to ditch the awkward, unopenable vanity; it gave me more and more functional storage!
At this point, my DIY skills were not equal to tearing out the wall and putting this in. I’m ok with a lot of imperfections in my projects but for a heavy use bathroom, I wanted it built right. I asked the guys at the Pros of Idaho if they could do it. Waited with dread to hear the pricing and it came in at . . . about $300. Deal! The vanity could go the way of the dodo bird and I’d still get some good storage.
Once all this was priced and planned, work began in earnest. Here are some work in progress shots. If you’d like to skip on to see how it all turned out, and how it’s holding up almost two years later, go here.
The updated bath is a hard working space, more functional, and light, with touches of pretty.
And now, here’s the blow-by-blow on my choices and how they worked out.
Before we start, here’s a truth in advertising note: The bathroom got its routine weekly cleaning but it hasn’t been staged. I wanted to show how I actually live every day in this space. My 13 small bathroom storage solutions have really made it possible to keep this space tidy with almost zero effort. Sometimes I get more minimalist and stow the stuff out on the shelves but mostly not. In real life, it doesn’t feel cluttered when I’m in the space.
Paint: The colors I chose were Tahoe Snow and my standard “house white,” aka Country Cotton, both Kelly-Moore. Mostly I wanted the room to be fresh and light feeling. It’s a water room as well, so icy blue seemed like a perfect almost-neutral. Sometimes it’s dressed with pale blue and white towels. Sometimes I get all Scandinavian and use rich red towels.
I went with semi-gloss paint on the icy blue. I like the way it looks and contrasts with the shiny porcelain fixtures. That said, I can’t help feeling like a glossier paint would be more durable. Humph. In retrospect, if I had kids, the paint would need to be a durable high gloss. In reality, it’s holding up just fine.
Curtain rod & shower curtain: We raised the shower rod as high as possible and that meant needing an extra long shower curtain. I like a cotton external shower curtain and a vinyl or plastic liner. Well, like on that last part is too strong. I find the liner useful. Buying an extra long liner was pretty simple. They carry them at places like Home Depot but I got a discount version at Ross.
The shower curtain was a bigger problem. I wanted white, something classic looking and long enough to drape prettily on the outside of the tub. But, after investing in the big remodel, I just couldn’t stomach dropping $50+ on the extra long shower curtains I found. I didn’t really like any of them. I wanted something that would sort of disappear, unless you really looked at it. And then there should be a surprise.
A DIY shower curtain should not be a problem, right? If anything is easy to sew, a straight seam in some cotton should be it. Still, I also was feeling too lazy to actually sew anything.
Domestic Imperfection’s round up of DIY shower curtains got me started. Measuring, I realized that the size of fabric I needed was basically a flat, full-sized sheet, which would eliminate the sewing requirement. Holes could easily be handled with a grommet kit. And I could make it my own by using fabric ink to stamp some sea monsters along the bottom. More details in this post.
I love my sea monster border.
New window: The window was better than I hoped. Sure, it was a conventional, simple shape. Instantly it lit the whole room and cast light into the formerly dark hallway. Even at dusk, the need to turn on a hallway light is eliminated. And ventilation. Who hates that? Finally, it should be said that the window ledge is handy for storage as well. I don’t seem to need it in this space but the occasional guest appreciates it.
Shower surround inserts: These really add a lot of easy-use storage space.
Railway rack: When I have guests, I put towels on the railway rack for easy access. In everyday life, I don’t bother. But I do use the little hooks to dry wet wash cloths, and hand other miscellaneous stuff. So, so handy. And because it’s so high, it doesn’t cramp anyone’s style in the bathroom. See earlier pic.
Over-toilet storage: I went with three of these glass shelves, which are rated to hold 35lbs each. I store my prettier, everyday use things here. It might look cleaner without the decor items, but I like seeing them. I try to keep a flower in my mom’s crystal bud vase. Even flower free, I love looking at it.
Utility items: Extra TP, waste basket, plunger, cleaning supplies and more . . . These items all need a place and a plan to keep a bathroom comfortable and functional. Much of it used to be stowed in the awful vanity, which put them in the right room though the vanity was still hard to excavate in the tiny space. Now they each have a specific solution.
Three extra toilet paper rolls live in a covered canister. The cats would prefer a more open container but I am ruthless. Go for one that can hold those extra fat rolls.
The trash can is small and has a step-open feature. Extra liners are kept inside the can. Here’s something I find ever-baffling: why doesn’t everyone use covered waste cans in a bathroom? Who wants to see that waste?
I splurged on a Simple Human magnetic sleeve plunger. This keeps it clean and away from touching anything else. It lives against the wall by the toilet. And actually, the new toilet is so great it’s never been used in the almost two years since the remodel.
The hair dryer lives on a hook under the sink. It’s easy to plug in, easy to stow.
Cleaning supplies live under another sink, in their own little tub. Once a week I have to walk fifteen extra steps to retrieve the cleaning box.
Wash cloths and extra towels each have a place to live. Wash cloths sit in a silver-plated bread basket on top of the toilet, handy to the sink. Extra towels are placed on the railway rack when company is in town and back in the linen closet when they’re not needed.
The railway rack does double duty for drying clothes inside in the winter.
Outside the door storage. I’ve often thought of putting a little table in the hall corner, outside the bathroom door. I haven’t yet, because the current storage options cover my needs.
Medicine cabinet: This lovely piece is dedicated to holding tooth supplies. I like these stowed away from the rest of the germs circulating in any bathroom. In almost two years, we’ve never had an issue with the toothbrushes not drying out due to being in the cabinet. It’s also nice that the cabinet has mirrors outside and in. The one flaw is that the magnetic holder that’s supposed to help the cabinet stay closed has come unglued. Since it has no problem staying closed, I haven’t bothered to fix it.
Decor items: I think a little pretty in a small room somehow grounds it or makes me take it more seriously. And then I mess it up less. Above the towel rack, I put one of my favorite jellyfish illustrations. On another wall, I hung an antique silver mirror found at the Paris flea markets, a comb my grandmother wore, a favorite night light, and an evil eye amulet I brought home from Egypt. It makes me happy to see these things.
Lighting: This didn’t go the way I thought it would. Turns out, my ceiling is too low so, in order to have the medicine cabinet open property, the light fixture had to be flipped to point at the ceiling. It’s still plenty bright, if a little silly looking. Mostly it’s only turned on at night because there’s so much light coming in from the window.
Most wonderful cabinet in the world: Now for the cabinet that really makes this space work. As I mentioned, the recipe came from Family Handyman. For mine, there would only be room to put one cabinet in and not the double glass one Family Handyman shows. I wanted mine to have a door that closed but glass wouldn’t have that might-be-original-to-the-house look. Esvin from the Pros of Idaho (email@example.com) made it work perfectly, even adding a little egg knob to match the door knob. This shallow cabinet is great because it allows you to see everything you need without rummaging about. Shelves are adjustable. It’s plenty big to store immediately needed supplies, including all that annoying pretty girl stuff. Extras live in a bin in the linen closet and are replenished as needed. I’m so enchanted by this guy two years later that even if I weren’t remodeling the tiniest bathroom in the world, I’d put one in.
And now a smug cabinet note: a month after the bathroom was finished, I was browsing a Restoration Hardware catalog. There I saw a between-the-studs long mirrored medicine cabinet! Same size as mine. Beautiful. And $900. Guess they’re reading Family Handyman too!
Tile: As you’ll have seen, white tile was the plan. Larger subway tiles were used in the shower and hex tiles on the floor. There’s no back splash because when I originally planned the bathroom, the pedestal sink had a built in back splash. And now I’m on the fence about whether to add one. What do you think?
I wish it had been easy/feasible/affordable to add another outlet. The space is just so tiny that it didn’t seem workable. And the truth is, two outlets has always been just fine. It’s not like a bunch of people can stand around in the bathroom together. So this might be simple greed talking.
I dropped almost $100 on the special stopper/plug that goes with the Archer tub. It looked great but within a couple of months, I noticed that it just wasn’t stopping up the water. It was one of those twist down jobs that you can’t always be sure are working. Instead of getting a full tub of hot water, I got a slow-to-fill tub of lukewarm. Fiddling with it a few times got it working again, but inconsistently. Quite annoying, the opposite of how you want to feel at bath time. And not water wise! Eventually, I just unscrewed it. Now when I want to take a bath, I pull out the rubber stopper I picked up at the dollar store and it works perfectly.
And that’s about it! What do you think? Ideas for smarter choices? Would you add a back splash behind the sink? If so, made of what?
This cute little 1947 cottage has a nice-for-the-era-and-social-standing-sized master bedroom with a (same as above, can’t write it all out again) similar closet. At best, you could call it a step-in closet because at 4 1/2 x3 1/2,’ stepping in is about all you could do. Also, it was painted a dingy mushroomy color, generally insalubrious.
I kind of thought it was hopeless and not functional and then I started reading about the Konmari method of organizing things. I’d applied it to my dressers outside the closet already (not the way the book advises) to great effect and thought, why not give it a whack?
Lighting: the probably-original-to-the-house jar light was just there, flickering on in a dingy way. Couldn’t do much in the budget and with the low ceiling height, at least for now. Switched out the low energy bulb for a conventional one. Instant cheer! Not the most eco solution but since this guy is turned on for maybe 30 seconds in any given day, I’m going to indulge myself here. That only took two years to figure out.
Color:Donna Frasca’s article convinced me that most of my closets should be a light neutral. The dank mushroom color wasn’t uplifting in any way so I trekked down to the basement to see what I had on hand. (Buying paint is off limits this No Spend Spring.) I did find an unopened gallon of pretty ballet pink. I’d picked it up for $5 at the ReStore, last September. I figured if I couldn’t use the pink, I could re-tint it. Couldn’t resist the quality (Behr Premium Plus Ultra) for $5! The closet would be pink. Trim would be my standard Kelly-Moore Country Cotton.
Dresser color: I also had an old plastic dresser I’d bought whilst waiting six months to get my furniture moved here. It was supposed to go to the garage (Lowes sold it as garage storage) but it proved too useful in the closet. A dingy grey, it just needed a little refresh. I painted the drawers with two thin coats of high adhesive primer (Zissner BullsEye 1-2-3), and then my standard house white (Kelly-Moore Country Cotton). It looked okay-ish, but not especially pretty.
Sadly, this paint job was not a success. It instantly chipped (ok, I did drop a drawer). I think I’d have better luck with a spray on plastic paint primer and a spray color but this is No Spend Spring so that will have to wait.
Konmari: I’m hunting for a way to talk about this method that won’t make me sound like a groupie! Seriously, organizing my clothes this way has given me more storage and more access than I’ve had in years.
Also, I got rid of three bins of clothes I could never get to. These bins just sat up top of the closet, sort of out of sight, which means the sweaters I loved in them were out of mind. Now the keepers are integrated into my regular drawers and a couple of items have been donated. I love empty bins!
Now, in the spirit of honesty, this little closet doesn’t hold everything for me. It sure holds more than it did but I’ve got serious business clothes, out of season coats, and evening dresses in another closet. I don’t use them a lot but am not ready to part with them. Also, I keep most of my shoes by the front door. The shoes stored in this closet are rarely used. If this were a more modern closet size, I’d probably be able to get everything in.
Added storage: I wanted to add another layer of shelving over the top shelf. Stacking things high wasn’t working; it all just sort of topples. I didn’t want to buy any brackets and shelving (yup, No Spend Spring Strikes again) but I did have something that could work.
The pictured plank had been the top of a busted bookcase. I planned to re-purpose it as a shoe rack and so had added some legs from the wood pile. But my wall shoe rack project rendered it totally unnecessary so it was just sitting there. It wasn’t quite the right size for the closet — two inches short. But I decided that was okay. Two lost inches is better than that vast stretch of unused space. It also turned out to be a little wide for the shelf. I handled that by just screwing it into the wall.
So here’s what we ended up with:
So, what do you think? The space is so tiny, is it hard to see how it’s genuinely more functional now? Is art in a closet the silliest thing a person can do? What would you do differently (besides buy a house with bigger closets)?
I get kind of grouchy when I read about small bath solutions when the bathrooms used as examples aren’t actually small. Is this just me?
When I moved in, the main floor bathroom was awful. Not as awful as the other bathroom in the basement, but pretty uninviting, dark and grotty. It needed a whole redo (and got it, once the bath started leaking).
My 1947 cottage was built at a time when regular folks didn’t have master suites or spa bathrooms. I’m a fan of a lovely bathroom but it’s just not always possible to go big in a given space or on a tight budget. My main bathroom, which is used by me and all guests, is 7.5’x5′ with low (7.5′) ceilings. Not only that, the remodeled version has a pedestal sink, which limits some storage. So storage is a challenge. I used these ideas to make the space more functional and harder-working. Not all of them require a remodel to knock out:
1. No under-counter storage? Use a TP cannister: Make sure you get the kind that holds super fat rolls of tissue. Convenient for you, not embarassing for guests. Call me squeamish, but I prefer the kind that doesn’t expose unused rolls to cat hair and paws.
2. Put in a curved, double curtain rod. Go as high as you can. Besides giving you more elbow room in the shower, you can use the extra rod to hang a scrub brush or towel.
3. Put a railway rack over the bath. This gives you in-room extra towel storage, and a handy drying rack. Use the under rack for wet towels and/or pick one that has some hooks, which are useful for dripping wash cloths and the like.
4. Put multiple glass shelves over the toilet. Useful for your stuff and guests, they also keep the space light feeling if you don’t always need all the storage. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth doing three.
5. Go for double towel bars: more towels, same space
6. Mount a towel rack with hooks on the back of the door. We use the hooks for hair bands. You’ll probably find another use. If you have room, consider a double rack (above) as an alternative.
7. Hang that hair dryer on a hook on the sink wall. You don’t need to see it most of the time, just have it handy.
8. Put weekly bathroom cleaning supplies in a bucket somewhere else. Under the kitchen sink? In a utility closet? Wherever. They don’t need to crowd you in the bathroom when you only need them once a week.
9. Store extras somewhere else: I load up on certain supplies when they are cheap. Other traditional-in-the-bathroom stuff (like some first aid or OTC meds) doesn’t need to be there all the time, just accessible once a quarter when I actually need it. These items are in neatly labeled bins in the linen closet.
10. Make the most of your studs #1: Add two (or more!) inserts into the tile work in your shower.
11. Make the most of your studs #2: Family Handyman got it right. A between the studs cabinet is beyond useful.
12. Make the most of your studs #3: Install a recessed medicine cabinet/mirror. Harder than a wall-mount, but worth it for the sense of spaciousness it gives.
13. Your window needs a ledge: If you’re installing or improving a window, make sure it has a flat, wide ledge. Mine stays mostly clear, due to all the other storage but when I have guests, they appreciate having an in-shower place to stash their stuff.
Want to see how it all came together in my little bathroom? Stay tuned . . .
My sister gave me a very generous Amazon card at the holiday. While a whole counter-sink upgrade was not in the cards, a new faucet for the Interim Kitchen might be doable with the great gift card (thanks W!).
The goals were:
Add height, so pots were easier to fill
Keep a separate sprayer. My last faucet had the integrated one and while it worked, I did not love it
Brushed nickle, to minimize on annoying water spots
Something that would look pretty and right under the original curlicue sofit over the sink. This place has a cottage look and it seems silly to fight it. Also, I love that the kitchen was built in a time when folks got excited about the new technology of elaborate machine wood cutouts
A place for an integrated foaming dish soap pump. This would free the counter from both dish and hand soap bottles. Clutter redux!
This dispenser from Kitchen Classics got the best reviews on Amazon and I snagged it.
The look wasn’t perfect and curvy like the faucet but the one that matched better wasn’t a foaming dispenser. Since it was brushed nickle, hopefully it would just sort of disappear.
I strongly prefer foaming soap because I think I use less soap to get the job done, which is better for the environment and my wallet. Additionally, I wanted a dish soap that would also be good as a hand soap, removing two bottles (dish and hand) from my sink counter. Plus, foaming soap is more fun.
The soap I use is Simple Human Lemon Liquid Dish Soap. Mixed into a 1/3 soap, 2/3 water mixture and shaken (not stirred), it foams nicely and is not too drying on the hands. Also, one refill bag lasts me more than a year, which is cheaper than buying bottles of dish and hand soap.
And here’s the end result.
And there you have it! A tidier, prettier sink area for the Interim kitchen.
Opinions? What do you look for in a kitchen faucet?