One of the best things about my house is that it’s barely been touched renovation-wise in the 78 years since it was built. With the exception of the kitchen floor and a respectful bedroom addition that was done in the 1950s, pretty much everything is original to the house. My landlord—a lover of old houses—bought it from the original owners, and he’s really done the bare minimum in terms of updates since then. The lack of contemporary updates was the primary thing that drew me to the house, even though I was aware that I’d have to put in a fair amount of labor to get the place to really shine and look its best.
I posted a few sneak-peek photos of the full bathroom (there’s also a smaller 3/4 bath—more on that in a future post) months ago, and since then, I’ve clocked a lot of hours working in there. It’s still not done-done, but it looks a helluva lot better than it did.
The first things to go were the four sets of grab bars. Maybe someday I’ll need them, but not yet—so they’re now stored in the basement in case my landlord ever wants to reinstall them. (Somewhat horrifyingly, they hadn’t been mounted to studs! They were just screwed into plastic anchors. Yikes.) As you can see in first photo in this post, the walls were pretty messed up just from pulling those anchors out. A lot of the paint around the sink was lifting and peeling badly, too, so I did a bunch of scraping in preparation for patching and skim-coating.
According to the blueprints (which my landlord found inside the basement ceiling!), the tub surround walls were originally finished not with tile but with something called Keene’s cement. Keene’s cement (which is still available) is gypsum plaster with alum, and it dries to a super-hard finish that’s water-resistant. It’s not impenetrable, though, and if it gets damaged or isn’t properly maintained, it can fail. I’m assuming that’s what led to someone adding 4×4 tiling around the tub, and while I actually think that was probably the best choice tile-wise, they didn’t do the most professional job—note the lack of proper edging pieces, for example.
Aside from the cruddy tiles (and the peeling paint on the wall above the tiles), there’s a painted wood chair rail that runs around the perimeter of the whole bathroom, and it’s seen better days. If I owned this house, I’d most likely cut the wood out of the tub area and re-do the tile to full shower height. But I don’t, so my plan was to tune up the fixtures (which are original, with the exception of the handheld showerhead), regrout, recaulk, and of course scrape, patch, and seal up the walls as best as possible.
These photos give an idea of what I was dealing with all over the bathroom—sloppy caulking galore, and layers of paint that had shrunken to the point of separating from the corners where the walls and ceiling meet. It was a mess. But hey, check out the original color of the upper walls! That green is really…something. As much as I like historic restoration in concept, there’s a line I draw when it comes to paint colors. I just can’t get behind painting a bathroom nighttime-at-the-hospital-morgue-green, even if it was all the rage in 1939.
I feel pretty happy about this side-by-side. The built-in cabinet was seriously gross, and every day I got skeeved out putting my toiletries in there, despite having scrubbed it down with bleach. I hadn’t intended to leave the (totally nondescript) door off, but once it was repainted it looked super cute as open shelving, so…we’ll see. I like the idea of just having pretty items like perfume bottles and little plants and books on display, but the reality is that I’m a product whore and I don’t own a fancy hairbrush and I’m not going to decant my vitamins into mason jars, so I might need to put the door back at some point. If I do, I’ll make sure I get a cute knob for it, I promise.
Happily, the original towel rods with their beautiful enameled iron brackets had never been removed, but they did have a ton of paint caked on them. I was able to soak all of the paint off in hot water (à la the crockpot method) with very little effort. Unfortunately this revealed several large chips in the enamel. At first I thought I’d just leave it be and live with the imperfections, but once they were mounted on the wall they kind of just looked…well, bad, so I touched up the chips with a few coats of white nail polish, and they look excellent now. I thought I had taken pictures while I was doing that, but I guess not? Use your imagination. Or don’t bother, because it’s not that exciting.
Yes, this house still has its original electric, including horizontal Bakelite toggle switches and faceplates. Most of the faceplates have been painted white, and I’m OK with that—I find it curious that they were originally brown, since the switches themselves are ivory. I don’t know if contrasting switches/plates was a trend once upon a time, but it’s consistent throughout the house. I thought it might be nice to have a brown one in the bathroom, though, so I found one on a switch the basement that had never been painted and swapped them.
Ahhh, vintage Kohler love! I took the faucet handles apart, soaked all of the parts in vinegar, and they looked just about new again after a couple of hours. Glorious. The sink had been dripping pretty badly for who knows how long, and in preparation for fixing it I had about 40 types of washers on hand—and, of course, none of them fit. So I made my own washer, because that’s the kind of girl I am. Then I put the whole thing back together, and IT WORKS (that’s a video, in case you’re not sure what running water looks like)! But now it’s dripping again four months later, so I’m going to replace the washer again now that I have a factory-made one that’s the right size.
Regrouted! Recaulked! Repainted! Man, this shower feels a million times better now. It’s hard to tell, but I painted the area in the shower above the chair rail with glossy trim paint instead of flat wall paint. I figured that will give it at least a little bit more protection from water. So far, it’s holding up nicely.
Oh, I wrote a post a few years ago about dealing with nasty grout and caulk, if you need some tips. Recaulking bathtubs is seriously one of my favorite things to do. I even recaulked Evan’s bathtub the last time I was in Brooklyn—and if that’s not me being the best ex-wife in the world, then I don’t know what is.
I’m really happy to have a Componibili again! The one I bought years ago for $29 still lives in New York, and I’ve been missing it. Unfortunately I had to pay full price this time, but it’s worth it. They’re really perfect for bathroom storage. One section holds four rolls of toilet paper, another is for my hair dryer and straightening iron, and the third has epsom salts and various other bath sundries. I’ve never used the word “sundries” before. It sounds nice.
Speaking of baths, it’s really good to feel like I can take a bath again. I’m kind of picky about tubs, probably because I got spoiled by the clawfoot tub in Newburgh. I like cast iron tubs, and I need them to be deep. I also can’t handle looking at any mildew or other grossness while I’m soaking. I just can’t. So yes, this feels very good.
So this is where I’m at! The walls have been repaired and repainted—that’s Valspar Paramount White with Du Jour on the trim (HUGE thanks to Lowe’s for the paint!!)—there’s a new toilet seat, the plumbing is nice and tight, the window got a coat of black paint, and the whole thing is looking good and clean and fresh. The cute little trash can is from Simple Human, the fakey-vintage clock is from Infinity Instruments, and the pink towels are from H&M.
I’m still thinking about maybe putting up this gorgeous banana leaf-print removable wallpaper from Walls Need Love on the lower half of the walls, but I need to live with the white space for a while. I’ve also considered putting up some beadboard? I’m not sure. I need to get some plants and stuff in there and see. Right now I’m really enjoying how soft and serene it is, but I’m also kinda itching for some bold pattern. Maybe that should happen with the shower curtain instead? Hmmmm.