HOUSE: New Mexico #2

Progress in the bathroom.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Side note: If you’re the curious type, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article about Richard Wynn Keene, better known as Dykwynkyn, the inventor of Keene’s cement. Fascinating stuff.

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

Vintage Bathroom Restoration -

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.

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  • Reply Cathy M. April 17, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Wow! What a transformation! I love the idea of the removable wallpaper – it would look fantastic in there…

  • Reply Leslie Burka April 17, 2017 at 8:01 am

    First thing I looked at on the computer this A.M. What a happy surprise to see this post. Now we see what
    you’ve been up to all this time. It was sure worth the wait! A fabulous job. Congratulations on the product of all your hard work.

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 8:43 am

      Thanks, Leslie! 🙂

  • Reply Laura April 17, 2017 at 8:38 am

    Your landlord must love you! (That’s sincerity, not sarcasm.)

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 8:43 am

      I think he’s a little freaked out because he’s used to tenants destroying his houses, not fixing them up! In New Mexico it’s NOT the norm for renters to make improvements, and there aren’t many guidelines for landlords like there are in New York City—they don’t paint between tenants, for example. He LOVES what I’ve done, though, and even though it might not seem like it, he’s a pretty great landlord. Very nice guy, very fair, and SUPER responsive whenever there are any issues (like when my fridge died last summer—not only did he replace it, but he gave me $50 to go out to dinner). I’m pretty sure he’ll never raise my rent, either. 😉

    • Anna T May 6, 2017 at 2:36 pm

      You keep saying “if I owned this house, I would…” I think maybe you need to make a list of those things and show it to your landlord. If he loves old houses, he might love the suggestions to make his old house even better! Maybe he would even cover supplies and pay you a wage for labor if he didn’t have to do anything thinking besides saying “yes”. Of course for you it would be like a 3rd job? But it’s oneyou are almost doing anyway?

    • Anna @ D16 May 6, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      That’s not really something I WANT to do in a house I don’t own—it’s not about him not OK’ing it. There’s not really anything in it for him, anyway, unless he decides to sell the house—which obviously isn’t something I want to have happen!

  • Reply Nikki April 17, 2017 at 8:41 am

    This post was a great start to my Monday morning!
    I really love what you’ve done with the space, it’s especially refreshing to see what a renter can do to transform something. That green tile is so gorgeous, you have me feeling very envious of it!

  • Reply susan April 17, 2017 at 8:42 am

    I have such bathroom envy right now. You’ve done a marvelous job.

  • Reply Beth April 17, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Looks so good, Anna! I love it! And as a landlord, I’d be pretty thrilled if my residents put this much time and care into their temporary homes. 🙂

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      That’s nice to hear, Beth, thank you!

  • Reply Emma April 17, 2017 at 10:03 am

    I’m so happy that you’re back to blogging for now, Anna. Seeing that you’ve posted something new is like finding a VegNews in the mailbox…always fun to read! The bathroom looks so, so great (your office does, too!) Can’t wait to see other areas of your house as you improve them.

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      Thanks, Emma. 🙂

  • Reply lisaane April 17, 2017 at 11:15 am

    (I’m not screaming at you but)

  • Reply Sarah V. April 17, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Your bathroom looks great!
    I like this shower curtain:

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm

      Ooooh, I really like that, Sarah! Thank you for linking to it!

    • Annabelle April 17, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      Ahhh I ordered that for my own 1930s bathroom thinking it was perfect and… not. Still on the hunt for the perfect jungle bath curtain. May it work for you!

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Oh no! What’s wrong with it, if you don’t mind me asking?

    • lisaane April 17, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      these PJs are outta my price range – but a girl can dream can’t she?

  • Reply GregM April 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Does the bathroom window open to another room (the 1950’s addition, maybe) or is that a reflection?

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      It opens to a small mudroom between the kitchen and the back porch (it’s the area behind the glass kitchen door in this post), so it still gets a bit of natural light via the kitchen. If I owned the house, I’d replace the solid back door (which was added at some point, probably for the sake of insulation—the kitchen door used to open directly to the outside) with a glass door to increase the natural light in the bathroom.

      It’s a little confusing, I know! I’ll share a floor plan at some point. 🙂

  • Reply Judi April 17, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Wow, Anna. This is amazing! I hope you’ve had a good long soak with wine and candles already. You deserve it.

    Have you used removable wallpaper around fixtures in bathrooms before? I am seriously tempted to put some up on the back wall of our approx. 5′ x 5′ powder room, but the sink (IKEA Ånn) and toilet are both on that wall, which means lots of plumbing cutouts, and I’m nervous. I can’t figure out whether it’s easier or harder to deal with than traditional wallpaper (which I’ve also not worked with).

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 5:35 pm

      Judi, I’ve never used removable wallpaper at all! I’ve used traditional wallpaper many times, but even when put it up in a bathroom, it was only on the top half of the wall (above the fixtures, etc.). That said, I imagine making a paper template first would make things MUCH easier. However…MaryMargaret’s comment below is giving me pause. Scroll down and see what she has to say!

  • Reply Jen April 17, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    Oh my god, what a difference! I moved into my rental about 5 years ago, and the bathroom was a nightmare. The window was totally dilapidated and there were large gaps in the casings where you could see straight to the outside. Everything was cracked and peeling, the cast iron sink was pulling away from the wall, the shelves in the medicine cabinet were falling down, and so on. The light fixture was a halogen monstrosity literally attached to a raw 2×4 screwed into the wall! Your’e the one who inspired me to try to fix it up. I used tons of wood putty and caulk to plug up the gaps in the windows, sealed cracks in the walls and ceiling, and painted everything. And we got a new sink, medicine cabinet and light (which are landlord did pay for). It’s the first time I’d ever done work like that, and admittedly my results were not even remotely as nice as yours. But it’s better! If not for you sharing your rental updates (in your Brooklyn apartments), I wouldn’t have dreamed of undertaking the work, and would still be living with a total hellhole bathroom, instead of a mildly distressing one. That makes a difference to my everyday sense of well-being, so thank you for the inspiration!

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 5:37 pm

      Ah, Jen, it makes me SUPER HAPPY to know that I had a hand in inspiring you to make your home more livable! Nobody should feel like they can’t make improvements within their budget even if they’re a renter—and it’s extra great that your landlord was willing to get on board, too.

  • Reply Jen April 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    OMG, “our,” landlord not “are” landlord. Embarrassing typo of the day 🙁

  • Reply MaryMargaret April 17, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Gorgeous. I would get a crazy shower curtain and skip the temporary wallpaper (or go with the real paste-on deal). The temporary wallpaper we put up in a powder room is already peeling at the seams (resulting in some add-on adhesive from us, thus defeating the temporary nature…). It looks fantastic, but unfortunately is requiring upkeep that I did not anticipate AND it’s not even in a room with a shower. Plus, it gets a ding from my installer, who did a fantastic job, but complained that it was harder to work with than the paste-on variety as it could not be “scootched” over while wet for a perfect alignment. Any mistakes with the temporary paper had to be entirely peeled off, then reapplied. Your mileage may vary, of course. Love the green floor and hooray for a perfect soaking tub with no surrounding ick. Truly lovely! Fantastic job — your landlord must be head over heels in love with a renter like you.

    • Anna @ D16 April 17, 2017 at 5:39 pm

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience with removable wallpaper!! To be honest I’m kind of worried about putting any non-waterproof wallpaper on the lower half of the wall, because I do tend to splash a lot when I’m washing my face. I hadn’t even considered the added difficultly of using adhesive paper, but your installer makes a great point. A lot to think about before I invest time/money. Thanks!!

  • Reply Taste of France April 17, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    1. I keep hearing the theme song from “Amélie” and wondering when a tile will pop off to reveal a hidden stash.
    2. Your landlord is undoubtedly thanking his lucky stars that he got you. Seriously. He’s at the local café with his buddies, and they are all complaining about their awful tenants, who don’t pay on time and who trash the place, and then he says, “my tenant just renovated the bathroom.” It’s like winning the lottery for him.

  • Reply Alex April 17, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Ahhh! This post is everything I love about your blog! And yes, best ex-wife ever….

  • Reply Jaime April 17, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    I love this so much…One of the things that pains me the most to read on design blogs is posts where lovely vintage/original bathrooms in older houses get completely torn out and replaced.

  • Reply 'col April 17, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    Wow, Anna! That looks so great. (Also I thinking making your own washer deserves some sort of hero cookie.) It’s always satisfying to see you take something kinda janky and restore it to its rightful gorgeousness. And such a pleasure to see your posts.

  • Reply Lynn April 18, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    I am so happy to see you back! I was so excited when you moved into this place. I currently own a 1938 Spanish bungalow and was dying to see what you’d do with it. But funny enough on timing, we’re selling next month. But, my question! I’d love to know if you were able to tackle the rust on the sink, and if so, how. We replaced the fixtures on our sink, and the footprint of the new knob is smaller, and the rust rings are horrible. thanks!

  • Reply doorot April 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Good to read you again Anna. This looks great!

  • Reply Sarah K April 19, 2017 at 10:13 am

    Fantastic job on the bathroom redo. But what I really want to know is – what do you listen to while doing all that work?

    • Anna @ D16 April 19, 2017 at 10:19 am

      Usually whatever’s on WNYC, but sometimes I’ll use the time to catch up on episodes of shows I’ve missed (The Moth, This American Life, Here’s The Thing, etc.). I’ve also been trying out audiobooks lately.

  • Reply Joanna April 21, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Gorgeous update as always. I’m curious what you think of the H&M towels, after being very disappointed in the quality and texture of Nate Berkus for Target towels I am weary of trying other inexpensive brands, by I love the look of those!

    • Anna @ D16 April 21, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Joanna, yes, I love the towels. They’re very plush and kinda luxurious-feeling, like hotel towels. I’ve had mine since November or December, and I wash them weekly—so far, no loose threads or fading. I’m definitely planning to get another set in a different color for my other bathroom!

  • Reply Southern gal April 22, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    Wow what a great job. Have missed your posts so glad you are back. Agree with the others – your landlord must be ectastic. Is he at least reimbursing you for materials since you are doing the labor? Hope so.

    • Anna @ D16 April 22, 2017 at 10:23 pm

      No, the things I’m doing are all my own choice. I don’t think it’s right to ask a landlord for reimbursement unless it’s a condition of the lease.

  • Reply Zoey Heyer-Gray April 26, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Anna!
    I was so happy to see the picture of your bathroom wall! Our bathroom is in a similar state–layers of flaking paint, holes that need to be patched–and your post was just what I needed to get to work on it again. And since you asked, I would definitely appreciate a caulking post. And a HOW TO SKIM COAT post. Do you use the “magic squeegee”? (Yes, I’ve been watching “how to skim coat” videos. It is a little daunting!)
    Thanks! And it’s so good to see these new posts, though I totally understand the need for a break, too.

    • Anna @ D16 April 28, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      Zoey, I SUCK at skim coating. I mean, I can do it if I really have to, but it takes me forever and there are often tears involved. I’ve never tried the magic squeegee, but I’ve heard good things—maybe I should invest. 😉

  • Reply Erin April 28, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Love the work in here! Where did you get the tissue holder?

    • Anna @ D16 April 28, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      Thanks, Erin! I got the tissue holder on Amazon, and as cute as it is, I don’t recommend it—the wooden top lifts off every time I pull out a tissue. I wound up moving it to my bedroom (where I don’t blow my nose as often) and replacing it with this:

      Not as cute, but WAY more functional. And it beats looking at an ugly tissue box. 😉 If you’re still interested in the other one (hey, I won’t judge), this is it:

  • Reply Bridget Wall April 28, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    I’m amazed. Well done, you.

  • Reply Karin April 29, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Anna, I have the same green wall and shower tiles and I love them, and I love this post for how you have brought the green out and highlighted it. So pretty.
    The former owners of my house put down a terrible brown floor instead of the great one you have, so I have a poop brown tile floor, which I am trying to figure out what to do with…. oh and that wallpaper got me excited!!!! but I worry about peeling and humidity…. This is providing such good inspiration – thank you. Any thoughts about a good modern floor choice to go with the green (which is in fantastci shape)?? I really want to replace the brown, and get a better look like the tile you have or something that really makes things pop. If you were replacing that floor what would you go with?

  • Reply tara April 30, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    I’m seriously considering putting bead board up in our bathroom, but I’m not too crazy about that panelling stuff with pretend grooves. Is there a better option? We live in a two horse town with limited selection, but I go into town regularly enough.
    Your bathroom is dreamy. xo

    • Anna @ D16 April 30, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Tara, do you have access to Lowe’s or Home Depot? They both carry real tongue-and-groove beadboard planks. Most lumber yards should have it, too.

  • Reply Sara May 1, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    YOU are amazing! I’m so glad I checked out your blog today and found you’ve started posting again.
    Such a lucky landlord to have you!

  • Reply LaTiesha Caston May 5, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    I, at 29, read your posts about upgrading your bathroom with the same enthusiasm as I, at 15, would read a brand new Harry Potter book.

  • Reply Booth Kittson November 4, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Love that original flooring, it looks like it’s in very good shape.

    I restored a ’42 house in San Diego and struggled with those painted-with-a-zillion-layers heater vent covers. I took them out, sent them to a professional paint stripper and then spray painted on my own. I wound up being pretty cheap considering I did not have to deal with nasty chemicals. If you do this, be prepared to repaint immediately – they start rusting quickly. I also had the same dilemma with the paint color – my tiles were purple. I wound up using a contrasting color, in my case lime green and lots of white.

    Your landlord is a very lucky guy and you are awesome working on this old place with respect.

    • Anna @ D16 November 4, 2017 at 11:46 am

      FYI, a great way to deal with vent covers like these is to have them sandblasted and powder coated. If you’re doing a bunch at once, it’s pretty cheap!

  • Reply Rob September 9, 2018 at 3:07 am

    Love those wall mounted faucets
    I just wondered if you managed to find a towel dryer to compliment them ?
    If so, from where ?

  • Reply Mileidy Camargo December 14, 2020 at 5:54 am

    Anna!! This is SOOOO INSPIRING! We just bought a place in NM & have a very similar situation in the bathroom. I had never seen a tile baseboard in a bath without a matching tile wall to complete it & was like “Ok, where do we go from here?” LOVE that you said “if I owned this house..” Of course!!! A bold wallpaper is exactly the direction we need to go! THANK YOU ANNA!!

    • Anna Dorfman December 14, 2020 at 9:00 am

      Good luck, Mileidy!

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