In 2016, interior designer Mandi Gubler and her husband Court were planning the custom home of their dreams in Santa Clara, UT when one of their friends, a real estate agent, showed Gubler around a 100-year-old mercantile store—and unintentionally threw their plans for a loop. “The agent said it would make for a cool vintage store, a coffee shop, or a restaurant,” Gubler recalls, but the designer had other plans. “It was old and awesome. I loved the giant shop windows and high ceilings. This was my house.”
It took her husband a bit longer to come around to the idea, but Gubler eventually won him over, and they’ve spent the last several years teaching the old shop—which they’ve affectionately nicknamed “The Merc”—some new tricks by unhurriedly renovating it bit by bit. Their most-recent project? A cheery laundry room glow-up that favored thoughtfulness over speed and took three years (yes, you read that right) to complete.
Before Gubler could weave her design web, she and her husband spent a year focusing on structural interventions around the entire property, laundry room included. She explains: “Two bathrooms sat where we wanted the new laundry room to go, so we had to take down walls and reroute the plumbing. We also turned a window into a door.” Gubler then animated the room by installing white cabinetry, visually-quiet penny round tile, and a laundry sorter dressed as a filing cabinet.
The space sat dormant in this low-key, “clean slate phase” for the next two years because Gubler couldn’t seem to land on the best way to pack on the personality. Many of us would have opened up Pinterest the second we hit a wall like this—not Gubler. “I actually avoid it,” the designer says. “It diminishes my creativity and makes me feel like all the great projects are already done.” Instead, she focused on flexing her design muscles elsewhere in The Merc in order to give her mind some time to wander, a tactic she says helped mitigate the stress she felt over the unfinished room.
Inspiration finally hit this past March when the designer happened upon just the right made-ya-look moment for the laundry room: a polychromatic backsplash from Lili Tile. But there was a catch. The manufacturer couldn’t guarantee how many of each color would arrive on her doorstep, so the designer had to leave the layout to chance. “This was a good exercise for me in how to deal with the unknown,” she adds. To get the tile arrangement just right, Gubler stood on a ladder and took aerial photos of six configurations. In the end, it was the brown tiles that made all the difference; they broke up the kaleidoscope of hues and grounded the installation.
With the laundry room renovation in her rearview, Gubler can confidently say she wouldn’t have tackled the three-year rehab any other way. Taking her time kept her from making rash decisions in order to check the room off her to-do list and resulted in a space that she truly loves. She was also able to better manage the financial side of the project given its longer timeline. “We like to pay for things as we go, so redoing the room bit by bit kept us from racking up a bunch of debt and putting ourselves in a precarious financial situation for the sake of finishing it,” she explains.
Unsurprisingly, the designer is already thinking of what area to tackle next. “A plant loft!” she says excitedly of the little room above the living area where her greenery will soon thrive. If the laundry renovation is any indication, the loft won’t be finished up anytime soon, and that’s a-ok with Gubler: “People undervalue the creative process. I say ‘Enjoy it.’”
When it comes to renos, are you a sprinter, or a marathoner? Tell us in the comments below!