Gutting a vintage pastel bathroom for smaller, cooler,

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio – We currently have one full bathroom in our century farmhouse. (Hence, why we’re finishing the attic as a bed-and-bath suite.) When we moved in six years ago, the room was massive – and awful.

Square tiles in bubblegum pink and black. Black flecked linoleum. One inoperable window, frosted, cracked and coated in mold and mildew, conveniently located in the shower. A grimy tub shower with two sides exposed. And a door to a second-story porch, just in case you wanted to walk outside in your towel.

There was no storage, nowhere to put your toothbrush or store a hairdryer, so I hauled in a vintage dresser for the corner.

From its size, we surmised the bathroom had once been a bedroom, transformed when the owners finally got indoor plumbing.

Bathroom renovation

We don’t know when this bathroom was installed in our 109-year-old farmhouse, but we guess it used to be a bedroom.

I know some people embrace retro pastel bathrooms, the blue tubs and yellow toilets. We never changed the yellow-and-black tile bathroom in our old house. But this bathroom had no kitschy appeal.

I thought I could throw a few thousand dollars at the room for a cosmetic makeover: replace the floor with tiny hexagonal tiles, hire one of those shower-recoating companies that sets up at every home improvement show. We could live with it.

I quickly realized the impracticality of my plan.

The tub leaked. Every time we showered, the toilet paper got soaked. To say nothing of the moldy window. I didn’t want to spend money on a temporary fix. So for three years, we saved while I saved photos of light, bright spaces, coastal colors and crisp white vanities.

I had a vision. I planned to one day to start the project we’re working on now. I didn’t want to have to undo anything later.

So I wanted to add a wall, create a hallway with the outside door and make the bathroom smaller but more functional. We would add a half wall of wainscoting, topped with pegs for hanging towels. To save space, we designed a barn door, by cutting down our original bathroom door. We’d have two sinks, tons of undersink storage and three big drawers, in a custom vanity with rope pulls. I wanted round mirrors and aqua subway tile and chrome hardware. I bought teal and navy towels from Pottery Barn Teen and hooks shaped like mermaids and turtles. I picked out library lights and my first-ever wallpaper for the hallway.

It would be a family bathroom, and I wanted it to feel fun.

We hired contractors to rip out everything and start fresh. For six weeks in August and September 2019, we showered in an old stall in our basement, brushed our teeth in the tiny half-bath off the kitchen (added in the 1990s in place of a stairwell) and wondered if we were making a mistake.

Who makes their bathroom smaller? Would it be worth it? We could take six weeklong Disney World vacations for the same amount of money!

Bathroom renovation

We made the bathroom footprint smaller by adding a hallway that with this current renovation will lead to a second-story laundry room.

The construction felt endless. The crew gutted the room down to the studs. They moved the doorway to fit the tub on the outside wall. But very little went wrong. We couldn’t reuse an original door I had been counting on, so I bought an aqua-colored French door from Home Depot. The crew replaced the window, special-ordered siding and refinished the wood hallway floor.

By October, we had the nicest bathroom I’d ever lived with. It was nicer than the bathroom at the Disney hotel we stayed six months later.

And it’s plenty big. We can fit all four of us inside, plus the 80-pound dog, who likes to lie on the rope rug and soak up shower steam.

I’ve never regretted a penny spent on our bathroom. It makes me happy every time I stand in the space — even when I’m wiping my kids’ toothpaste spit off the walls. I hope I can say the same about this new one.

Bathroom renovation

We lived three years with this bathroom.

Content director Laura Johnston writes occasionally about modern life, usually with kids. She is chronicling her home renovation every other week. Check out past columns here.