When stay-at-home orders were enforced at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, my husband and I suddenly found ourselves at home 24/7 with two young children — and a totally demolished bathroom.
You see, at the end of February, we’d decided to redo our outdated, almost entirely pink 1960s bathroom. But what at first seemed like a daunting task paired with terrible timing ended up being a source of solace.
I had the opportunity to create a space for self-care at a time when that space became more important than ever. I took on the creative design process and my husband, who has professional construction training, gutted the bathroom and did the heavy lifting (well, most — Mama’s got some serious kid-carrying strength).
The project not only reinforced the importance of our family working as a team to build something together (even our 2- and 5-year-olds pitched in with a paintbrush) but also became a simple area for for peace and alone time (if you’re a parent, you know what trying to go “potty” with little ones is like).
So whether you strive for a serious DIY room overhaul or just want to update your space with a few affordable tweaks, here are several simple tips we learned while transforming our eyesore of a bathroom.
1. Create a vision board
Rather than randomly selecting items I liked online in the hope that they’d come together, I made a “vision board” to provide a sense of structure for designing the space without hiring a professional.
This doesn’t have to be arts and crafts assignment, either. I made mine on the computer. Without the ability to touch and feel my way around a home goods store, I found it helpful to scroll through Pinterest, Instagram and home decor sites to save images in a “Bathroom Renovation” file on my desktop.
The finished result was a mix of “look-and-feel” photos (like a creamy painted bathroom and a splash of textured wood I wanted to incorporate somewhere in the interior) and photos of specific items I knew I wanted to purchase, like a black and white marble vanity, honeycomb black tiles and a red-hued rug).
2. Choose what to purchase
While I gutted my bathroom completely, there are affordable ways to help refresh an outdated bathroom for anyone on a budget.
“Painting is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to update your space. For a spa-like bathroom, I gravitate towards a cool and calming palette of cream, white, pale green or sea blue,” Ariel Kaye, Parachute founder and author of “How to Make a House a Home,” told TMRW. “Another simple update is swapping out the hardware. Investing in a more modern faucet, cabinet pulls and lighting can make a huge difference in a smaller space.”
To ensure I had all matching hardware that would flow through a modern, black-and-white bathroom, I ordered hardware in the same finish (oil rubbed bronze from Wayfair’s Koehler collection) for everything throughout the bathroom and white appliances. I opted for a considerably more affordable, white Minnetrista Double Bathroom Vanity Set by Andover Mills (also found on Wayfair) and just replaced the silver hardware with cheap matte black knobs I had leftover from another project.
I selected modern, black Valrie 2-Light Vanity Light and used yellow-hued Edison light bulbs to create a warm glow above two contemporary, black accent mirrors. And for the floors, I got Langston Hexagon Porcelain Field Tile, which may just be my favorite part of the bathroom contrasted against the milky walls and vibrant rug.
3. Prepare before hammer time
If you’re doing the construction work yourself (whether it’s replacing the tile or gutting everything), be sure to thoroughly research how-tos and brush up on construction basics before getting too hammer happy.
If you’re gutting, don’t hide previous damage: Especially with outdated bathrooms, look at what’s underneath the surface of what you normally see to make sure it’s stable enough to hold whatever you’re installing (like tile, new walls, toilet, vanity or other materials). If there are signs of rot, soft wood or water damage, it has to be fixed and you may need to call in reinforcements.
Get up to code: Make sure that whatever you’re replacing, from lights to new faucets and toilets, is up to current standard energy code, which will help lower your utility bills, save on money in the long run and help with your house resale value, if that’s relevant. You can search for standard energy codes are online. Also, products described as “high efficiency” or “energy-saving” should be up to snuff.
Don’t overstep your abilities: While many renovation projects like replacing tile, repainting or replacing hardware and faucets are ideal for DIY-ers, leave electric and plumbing to the professionals. Electric mistakes can cause fires and a plumbing leak could cause catastrophic damage to your house.
4. Add personal touches to make it your space
“I think small luxuries go a long way in maintaining a relaxing bathroom space. I love to add some greenery to the bathroom with a plant or two,” Kaye told TMRW. “These natural elements add ambiance and are for the most part easy to take care of! Scent is another great way to create a sense of calm.” For example, Kaye loves hanging eucalyptus in the shower to help her unwind.
My husband and I revamped our bathroom from prehistoric pink to timeless black and white which offered plenty of versatility for the rest of the decor.Being that I’m the kind of person who writes poetry in the bath and celebrates how the walls echo my singing while the kids are taking their baths, I chose pops of color and natural textures to evoke my inner-bohemian. From natural wood shelving and an orange patterned rug to a day-glow Graham Nash album, black candles and red, yellow and purple flowers (both dried and fresh), the space has become my own and, when I’m in it, an oasis for gentle self-reflection.
All that’s left to do is light the candles, dim the lights, read a book in the tub and soak up all your hard work.