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Updating Our Master Bathroom:
Beyond Builder-Grade

2014 January 21
by Becky

It’s been waaaaaaay  too long since I tackled a room in our house (I’ve yet to share pics of the playroom that’s been functioning for months now) so it was no surprise when, a few weeks ago, I decided I couldn’t stand our master bathroom. One. More. Minute.

Updating Small Master Bathroom - Before

We’ve lived in this house for almost a year (how the heck did that happen?!) and of course the master bedroom has seen no work. I’ve barely hung art on the walls.

Grand plans instantly flooded my head, ways to upgrade the builder grade looks, including but not limited to tearing out all the wall tile to replace with wainscoting, building a farmhouse style vanity from scratch, a complicated herringbone pattern on the floor, and a gleaming marble sink top, complete with vessel sink and oil-rubbed bronze faucet.

I was pumped.

But then I started putting a mood board together and price tags were piling up. Adding in some labor costs (I can’t do it all myself and Stu’s time is limited) was making things even scarier and I began to rethink things.

Here are our main problems:

Updating Small Master Bathroom - Problem Areas

This builder grade bathroom is boring. There’s also the yellowed ceiling vent (which was the first thing I took down and hosed with bright white spray paint). An easy but necessary update.

Updating Small Master Bathroom - Painting Vent

What should be simple, like removing towel bars and sink tops, is made hard by the walls full of tile. Whatever we do, we will have to replace a few tiles. Good think they are plentiful (and ridiculously cheap) at Home Depot. **Update: The tiles USED to be plentiful in September when we redid our kitchen and bathroom floor downstairs. Now I can’t find the exact dye lot. AHHHH! Any suggestions to fix this problem are appreciated…otherwise I’m opening every box on the shelf to see if I can find a slightly “gray-er” shade to match.


Why people cement these plastic towel bars on walls is beyond me. Does anyone else have these and hate them?

Updating Small Master Bathroom - Cemented Towel Racks

And, finally, the vanity base is in really rough shape. It’s chipping and showing seams and just looking all around tired.

Updating Small Master Bathroom - Chipped Cabinets

It’s a fairly small master bathroom, by any means, but to people who have never experienced an “en suite”, it’s pretty fantastic. There’s great light from the large, recessed window and a big comfy Jacuzzi tub—another first that we’ve quite enjoyed. We have another bathroom on the second floor but this is the only one we use, so it’s home to Ethan’s toys and stool and potty chair…all very important stuff.

I started with a mood board but it grew into just a collection of ideas…a “vision” board.

Updating Small Master Bathroom - Mood Board

  • I love the idea of bringing warm wood into the space with a butcher block counter (here, here, and here). There’s so much wood in our home, it seems crazy to have a complete lack of unpainted wood in here.
  • A rich gray wall paint would surely make the white trim and fixtures pop while adding a bolder feeling. Some green plans in pretty aqua pots couldn’t hurt either.
  • The counter is 68″ wide, which means two sinks are reasonable, but we just don’t need two sinks and think the space is too small. One vessel sink, preferably square, seems to fit the bill.
  • The vanity is a struggle. Something custom would be great but pricey, some more open space (open shelf? free standing piece?) would be nice but we need plenty of storage…it’s all we’ve got. No closet in here. I like a taupe color OR good ole white.
  • If painting doesn’t work, I’m looking to Ikea or a pre-made vanity…custom is just too pricey.
  • Pendant lighting will help add height to the vanity area, with such tall ceilings, wall mounted lighting would leave a vast open space. That said, large arm wall sconces are still in my head.
  • Mirrors…this will be tough. I’d love something vintage so off to the antique malls I’ll go. Could two mirrors over one sink work?  Or maybe leaning on a ledge. Or folding.

After getting all lofty with my ideas the money brought me back down to earth. This room needs some new finishes but should not be a huge expenditure, therefore I’m starting slow.

  1. Paint the walls  (I couldn’t wait! Just the paint is a huge improvement)
  2. Spray paint ceiling fan
  3. Repair, sand, prime, and paint vanity
  4. Replace vanity hardware
  5. Remove ceramic towel bars
  6. Remove bull nose at top of wall tile and add wood trim
  7. Add towel hooks to wood trim
  8. Add baseboard
  9. Replace sink top with butcher block
  10. Replace sink and faucet
  11. Replace tile floor
  12. Remove medicine cabinet and either drywall over hole or add small shelves
  13. Add plants to recessed window
  14. Replace mirror
  15. Replace lighting

Whoa. That sounds like a lot. Luckily, they are little things, most of which we can do ourselves. I’ll surely be stopping by the ReStore and checking dinged and damaged sections of the local home improvement stores in the coming weeks. Craigslist will be scoured.

One thing I just had to do to get this ball rolling…

Updating Small Master Bathroom - New Paint

Paint makes such a huge difference. I also grabbed a few hardware ideas (see below). Already, the before and after is significant. Does anyone else just dive into painting a room on a random week night? Stu has ceased being surprised to come come and find I’ve taken on a large painting job during nap time.

Updating Small Master Bathroom - Before and After New Paint

From boring to bold with just the swish of a brush. We were pleasantly surprised to find the dark color didn’t darken the room at all, but it did make the white details POP.

No doubt there will be at least 10 design changes to my plan between now and completion day.

Let the work begin! A beautiful, upgraded master bathroom is in our near future.

7 Responses
  1. January 22, 2014

    Huge improvement already. Really anxious to start a few painting projects on our little “close to the beach” house.

  2. Lauren G permalink
    January 24, 2014

    The knobs and paint do so much the room! I’ve never heard of “bull nose” before – is it the trim at the top of the tile?

    • Becky permalink*
      January 25, 2014

      Yes Lauren, it’s the “finished” edge at the top or edge of a tiled area. Otherwise things would end pretty abruptly. :)

  3. January 25, 2014

    It’s looking great so far! not sure your budget, but there are some really great deals on lighting at Restoration hardware right now!

    • Becky permalink*
      January 25, 2014

      Thanks Jen! I’ll have to check them out.

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