DIY Home

A DIY Tiny Bathroom Renovation: Before, "Almost-After" & Tips

September  7, 2016

When I bought my house almost three years ago, here is what our tiny master bathroom looked like:

Don't run away yet! Photo by Liz Johnson

I hope I never meet the person who thought a bulky built-in sink vanity and chunky faux-terracotta tiles (on every. single. surface.) was a good idea in such a small space. I was laughing manically through most of the demolition. And now I get to enjoy this instead:

Photo by Liz Johnson

We renovated this bathroom ourselves, and here’s what I learned along the way:

You don't have to special-order anything!

I mean, you can if you want. There are some super-sexy tile and fixture options out there. But you can still achieve a stylish look without going custom or spending a ton. Our tile, sink, and fixtures were all in-store stock from Lowe's and Home Depot. We kept everything black and white, and paired a small hex pattern floor tile with large matte square wall tiles—I love how it feels classic and modern at the same time. Plus, the busy floor tile adds interest, while the larger simpler shower tile keeps the space feeling open.

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Black grout is the worst to handle during installation, but the graphic crispness it adds is so worth it.

Structural flaws are just design opportunities

We discovered along the way that the sink plumbing is not actually centered on its wall. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of moving the pipes, so I got creative with accessories. A single mirror would have highlighted the off-centered-ness, so instead I clustered five round mirrors to offset it.

Photo by Liz Johnson

You don't have to do it all (at once)

I call this an “almost-after” because while we have completed the bulk of the renovation, there are still things to do, like re-paint the walls and trim (again, black grout is a beast) and smooth over a few rough spots from tearing out the vanity (cleverly hidden behind that snake plant right now).

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Top Comment:
“I have always read that smaller tiles make a space look smaller, use larger, which you did in the tub surround. I agree the hex tiles add interest, and they don't appear to make it look smaller. Is that because they're so tiny they are the exception to the rule? By the way, I think the sink is centered, but between the side wall and the commode, which makes it off with the window. I think your idea of clustered mirrors is astonishing. Our bathroom like this is in the basement, so no window. We're thinking of putting mirror across that whole space to open it up even more.”
— enthous
Comment

We also had to de-prioritize some things, so we could afford to finish the big ticket items. For example, the shower fixtures and plumbing were just out-of-date enough that we couldn’t easily find new black or oil-rubbed bronze replacement fixtures to match the rest of the room’s hardware. So we removed all the existing fixtures, carefully cleaned them—and then used some heavy-duty industrial spray paint to update them for now. (You’ll notice we couldn’t remove the overflow fixture, so it’s still silver. You do what you can.) They’ve held up amazingly.

Similarly, that hanging cabinet came with the house, and while I don’t love it, we haven’t been able to replace it yet. So I painted it the same color as the walls, styled it up, and called it a day… for now.

Photo by Liz Johnson

Plants make everything look better

We’re lucky to have a window in our bathroom, so I’ve filled it with low-light, moisture-loving plants (two snake plants and two fern varieties, though air plants would work well too). The green brings some vibrance to all the black and white, and the regular shower-steamings they get make them pretty low maintenance. Plants (or cut flowers) always make a space feel more finished, more grown-up, more polished—and I’ve definitely used that to my advantage in this almost-but-never-quite-finished room.

When in doubt, add plants.


Sources:

  • Sink and fixtures: Lowe’s
  • Floor tile: Lowe’s
  • Shower tile: Home Depot
  • Corner shelves: IKEA
  • Shower rod shelving: Amazon
  • Towel rods & hangers: Target
  • Round mirrors: Target
  • Trash can: Target

Have you ever renovated a tiny space on a budget? Share your tips in the comments.

33 Comments

Barbara P. July 13, 2018
love the sink, could you tell me what it is called ?<br /><br />
 
robyn_kent January 7, 2018
This reno is fabulous! What you did with that space is incredible and I love that shower caddy! Did you spray paint it or did it come from Amazon with that finish? I'd love the link if you happen to have it, or even the name of the product.
 
Sara D. March 28, 2017
This reno looks lovely and I'm always in awe of people who can actually pull it together to better their surroundings (not one of my strong suits). However, any time I see a reno like this, I wonder the same thing--can that tiny cabinet really house all your stuff? Where's your toothpaste, medicine, face cream, cleaning stuff, extra shampoo because your shampoo went on sale, etc etc etc.??
 
Barb March 24, 2017
Seriously, I never knew Food52 had a home improvement section, but this is such a good job that I wouldn't complain even if this was the only off-topic post mixed in with incredible meals and nifty hacks. That mirror trick is genius, and I love the black grout. You've also inspired me to find a tension rod for the corner of my own shower, just because that fern sitting there looks so stinkin' cute.
 
Author Comment
Liz J. March 29, 2017
I'm glad you appreciated it so much! I think the Home & Design section is slowly growing, so keep an eye out for more.
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx March 16, 2017
How long did it take to complete the big stuff?
 
Author Comment
Liz J. March 17, 2017
It took about four days to demo the old vanity, pull up the old tile, put in the new vanity, and retile the floor. Then we tackled the shower tile a few months later for some reason (I can't remember why now), and I think that took about three days.
 
Carla L. January 9, 2017
That demo couldn't of been easy. Your hard work paid off. It looks great! Thanks for sharing.
 
Laura January 6, 2017
Hi Liz, where did the cabinet come from?
 
Author Comment
Liz J. January 6, 2017
Unfortunately, I don't know - it came with the house.
 
Sameshirt January 5, 2017
When I look at the uneven gap around the doors of the wall-hung storage cabinet, I cringe! Seems to me Food 52 is all about well-crafted items, handmade or small batch if possible. I think a better choice would have been a Wood Essentials medicine cabinet, made by my husband Jerry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
 
Author Comment
Liz J. January 6, 2017
As I wrote in the article, "Similarly, that hanging cabinet came with the house, and while I don’t love it, we haven’t been able to replace it yet." Sometimes making do with what we have is... all we have! It sounds like you've got access to finely-crafted cabinetry, though - so kudos.
 
Betsey W. January 8, 2017
Well why don't you give her one sameshirt? That way she can advertise for you without your snooty comments.
 
Whiteantlers January 9, 2017
Snark much, smartshirt? These folks did an incredible renovation. Kudos to them. Piss on you.
 
SKK September 11, 2016
Food52 Does Bathrooms? When did this happen? Kind of crazy.
 
Oui, C. September 15, 2016
Yes i agree. They are into home design too. Crazy. I came for the recipes. They are very talented.
 
Kenzi W. September 9, 2016
Liz, can I ask what the fern variety is that's IN the shower? I love that so much. Must copy. (Ahem, borrow.)
 
Author Comment
Liz J. September 9, 2016
It's a bird nest fern! So sculptural and fun. Borrow away.
 
enthous September 9, 2016
This is exactly the layout of our basement bathroom, except the vanity is even smaller!. I have always read that smaller tiles make a space look smaller, use larger, which you did in the tub surround. I agree the hex tiles add interest, and they don't appear to make it look smaller. Is that because they're so tiny they are the exception to the rule? By the way, I think the sink is centered, but between the side wall and the commode, which makes it off with the window. I think your idea of clustered mirrors is astonishing. Our bathroom like this is in the basement, so no window. We're thinking of putting mirror across that whole space to open it up even more.
 
Author Comment
Liz J. September 9, 2016
You're so right about the sink actually being centered! And yet, as it sounds like you're very aware from your own bathroom, it still feels/felt weird. It can be so validating to see a space like your own - I'm so glad you're able to pull some inspiration from this space. <br /><br />(I also think the small tiles don't make this room look smaller, because they are on the floor. Like, if they were on the wall, they might be too busy, and make the space feel claustrophobic. But since they're not literally surrounding you - only beneath your feet - they're okay?)<br /><br />And finally, yes to mirrors! Mirrors everywhere!
 
Victoria M. September 8, 2016
Looks great! I love the floor tile.
 
Author Comment
Liz J. September 8, 2016
Thanks! That was my "crazy" design element, ha! (I'm usually a little more minimal. But since those hex tiles have a historic feel, it didn't feel SO crazy.)
 
Michele September 8, 2016
Oh god you are going off topic, and wandering. Please stop, stay with food.<br />
 
Author Comment
Liz J. September 8, 2016
Apologies if you saw this on the main page and got confused, but this article is under the (long-standing) Home & Design portion of Food52, where I think it fits in quite nicely.
 
Oui, C. September 8, 2016
Come on bathroom renovations? I thought you were about food, not Houzz.
 
Author Comment
Liz J. September 8, 2016
Apologies if you saw this on the main page and got confused, but this article is under the (long-standing) Home & Design portion of Food52, where I think it fits in quite nicely.
 
Oui, C. September 9, 2016
Liz, <br />No i owe you an apology. Thank you for letting me in on this information of Home&Design. I only came for the recipes. Learn something everyday. The "wings" on the sink are of a clever design. I dont know how one comes to food52 and not know this stuff.
 
ktr September 7, 2016
Great job! I have dreams of renovating our bathroom. Did you replace the vanity yourselves or have a professional install it?
 
Smaug September 7, 2016
The picture on my computer doesn't include a vanity, but there's not much to installing them if the floor is reasonably flat and level. Hooking up the plumbing can be a hassle, though- there's usually not much room to work with. It's often well worth calling out a plumber to do the final hookups in a thing like this, even if you know how- they'll be much faster, probably neater and less likely to have to run back and forth to the hardware store. And it shouldn't cost very much if you've done the prep properly.
 
Author Comment
Liz J. September 8, 2016
We had big help from my parents installing the pedestal sink (and removing and then putting back the toilet after tiling). They're home renovation gurus and I'm so thankful for them. I also second everything Smaug said above! ^^^
 
ktr September 8, 2016
That's a good point Smaug. I hadn't thought of just getting the plumber to come out to do the final hook up.
 
Smaug September 8, 2016
ktr It can save a lot of agony- by that point in the project, you'll probably have had more than enough of inanimate objects that refuse to do what you're told; plumbing can sense your frustration, and is apt to go on the attack.
 
Smaug September 8, 2016
Or what they're told, or something like that.