full bathroom renovation — DIY mode

If you’re new here, I’m sharing how we renovated a beach house and then rented it on Airbnb. Some of the rooms in this house needed only a facelift — new paint and new furniture — but we decided to completely renovate one of the bathrooms. This process took SO long . . . it’s hard to believe how much work went into it and how many delays we experienced.

Here’s what the bathroom looked like when we bought the house.

The vanity and toilet were fine, and we could’ve just painted the vanity and given it a facelift like we did in the upstairs bathroom. But the whirlpool tub was disgusting — the jets were filled with mold!

And from a design standpoint, the tub was odd. The walls surrounding the tub were decorated with three different types of vinyl and tile, and the previous owners used an old shower curtain that was too short for the space.

For all of these reasons, we decided to put most of our reno dollars into this room. We planned to replace the floors with LVT (as we did everywhere else in the house), paint the walls, replace the vanity and toilet, and switch out the tub for a walk-in shower.

As it turned out, one of our new neighbors was a contractor, so we hired him to remove the tub and build the new shower. He took out the walls with a sledgehammer and carted the old tub away.

Then he built the shower and waterproofed it using Schluter-Kerdi materials. We’ve used this brand in several other renovations, and I’ve been very pleased with their materials. Their products block not only water but also water vapor from seeping into the walls of the house — key for avoiding mold and long-term problems!

We bought small hex tile from Floor & Decor with the intention of writing the house name in the shower floor. (We did the same thing in our cabin a few years ago, and I think it adds an element of fun to a rental.)

First I set out the tile on the shower floor (with no mortar) and made sure the sheets of tile were oriented the right direction and flowed together. (Can you tell that the sheets of tile aren’t oriented properly in the first picture below?) Then I used blue tiles to spell the letters.

After it was all planned, I removed the sheets of tile one by one, added mortar, and attached them to the bottom of the shower.

When the mortar was dry, I added subway tile to the walls. And, boy, did that take a long time! The shower is surprisingly big, so it required a ton of tile. And it took me many tries to cut the tile for the top corners and around the faucet and handle. (Our contractor neighbor graciously let us use his wet saw, which was fantastic, but those saws can’t be used inside because they spray water and tile pieces everywhere. I spent many nights this past winter running down the stairs to cut tile in the driveway, running back up the stairs to fit the tile into empty spaces in the shower, and then running back downstairs to make small adjustments to the tile piece on the wet saw.) Plus, parts of the walls were uneven or had dried globs of adhesive from the shower construction. As a result, some of the tiles wouldn’t sit flat on the wall.

To make things even worse, while I was tiling I started to feel unwell. I eventually left everything where it was and went to bed — turns out I had COVID. But, unfortunately for me, I didn’t wash all the mortar off the tiles before I crashed, and by the time I felt better, the mortar was completely dry and hard. We ended up using some heavy-duty chemicals and intense elbow grease to remove most of the excess mortar, but some of it refused to budge.

Then the most ridiculous thing happened. I’d been using water in the 5-gallon bucket pictured above to rinse the noxious chemicals off the tiles. After using this process for hours, we realized water was running down the exterior of the house below the bathroom. I called the contractor in a panic and learned that he hadn’t yet connected the shower drain to the pipes, so the water I’d poured down the drain had nowhere to go. It was a moment of true despair.

Finally, I decided to throw in the towel and move on to the grout phase. Was the tile perfect? Absolutely not! Did I have a meltdown or two about it? Absolutely, I did! But I also knew that white grout would smooth over some of the rough edges and that our guests wouldn’t be inspecting the tile like I was.

And after the grout was applied and the shower door was installed, the mistakes weren’t nearly as noticeable.

Meanwhile, we also worked on the rest of the room. I painted the walls and ceiling Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore. It took multiple coats of paint, and the final result is a little odd because the walls are so textured. But, again, our guests aren’t staring at the imperfections (at least, that’s my hope).

My adorable assistant crawled into the built-in shelves to paint them for me.

Along the way, our neighbor/contractor removed the old vanity and replaced the almond-colored toilet with a new, white one.

I scored a beautiful vanity from West Elm on a major sale. But replacing the vanity became a much bigger project than we’d expected. When we first unwrapped the vanity, the porcelain sink bowl was cracked. We called West Elm, and they kindly agreed to send a replacement. But they sent a replacement marble top instead of a replacement sink bowl. We called again, and once again they sent a marble top instead of a sink bowl. On the third try, we finally got the replacement bowl, but all of these repeated deliveries aded months to our timeline.

I gotta say, though, I love the final result. And the gold faucet is fantastic!

I also tiled two walls of the bathroom, including the wall behind the sink and toilet. This was the easiest area to tile, partly because I used premixed mastic instead of the temperamental mortar required for wet areas like showers, and partly because I was losing patience with the project and wasn’t as focused on making it perfect. I slapped tile mastic on the wall, popped on sheets of tile, smoothed them down, and kept on going!

Before I show the lovely “after” pics, I need to share a few more of the many, many problems we encountered with this renovation. This is probably the seventh or eighth bathroom I’ve remodeled, and it was by FAR the most difficult. I think it’s important to share the whole truth, not just the pretty pictures — maybe I can help you avoid these mistakes. DIY can be a bear!

  • When I tiled around the pipe where the shower faucet would be installed, I left a bigger hole than necessary in the tile. So I had to buy a new circular metal piece to go between the shower faucet and the tile. I ordered several online before I found one that was the right size and the right shade of gold.
  • We had the flooring replaced early on in the process, before the old vanity was removed. And when the vanity was removed, we realized the new flooring didn’t extend under the old vanity, and the floor would be visible under the new vanity. We paid the flooring guys to come back out and add new flooring under the vanity.
  • The electrician hung the light fixture upside down (with the sconces pointing up). We paid him to come back to the house and flip the fixture.
  • The mirror was missing a piece needed to attach it to the wall. The company that sold the mirror couldn’t help me, so I had to track down the manufacturer to get a replacement.

Finally, after all those crazy moments, we finished this bathroom!

For the final touches, we hung a picture taken by Nesting With Grace and added a hand towel and a glass soap dispenser.

Over the toilet, I installed my favorite shelves and filled them with extra toilet paper, black makeup towels, a candle with matches, and a first aid kit. We tucked a few extra towels into a basket and stored it in the built-in shelves.

All in all, I love the way this bathroom looks now. And I hope our guests find it welcoming and luxurious.

Do you have any horror stories from bathroom renovations? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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