The Bathroom Renovation That Would Never End (but obviously did!)
The downstairs bathroom wasn't pretty, or practical actually! It hadn't been touched for the best part of 50 years and was filled with huge bathroom fittings that meant you had to turn sideways to get past anything, and you could sit on the toilet and the bidet simultaneously. It had a bath but no shower, and the bath was less a bath than a big enamel barrel you could fill up just enough to sit upright in and the water cover half your bum. It was a lovely shade of beige all over (maybe a light yucky brown) and tiled all over from floor to ceiling.
So the first step in tackling this bathroom was gutting it - this project mostly took months to do because of the amount of time we spent standing in said bathroom staring at it trying to figure out what the hell to do. The gutting revealed various problems (of course), the main one being the piping under the bath sticking up out of the floor by a good 6 inches!
So my design inspiration for this room came from a little Tinga Tinga painting we bought on honeymoon in Tanzania - I wanted dark wood, black and white, rich burnt colours, brass and my fabulous bowl sink :)
I really wanted a fabulous mosaic tile floor in this bathroom, but not being a mosaic artist, or having a million £s, I went for a patterned tile instead that give me the same black and white feel I wanted. We bought our tiles from a local DIY store in Italy (Leroy Merlin) which were quite dramatic, but I think if you're going to go for a bold tile pattern and you're a bit nervous then a small bathroom space is the place to start.
So to remove the old tiles, out came the wonderful SDS drill with paddle attachment for removing tiles - it makes short work of getting tiles off the floors and walls and makes a huge mess! Gloves, goggles, mask and ear protection are a must when using this. I was a bit afraid of this tool when I first used it as it is heavy, very noisy and is basically a mini jack hammer when used to remove tiles, but the time it takes to remove tiles by hand versus this encouraged me to 'woman up' and get on with it! We went around the room with a big bucket and broom handy (periodic cleaning up of tiles is recommended so the task isn't so huge and awful at the end - from experience!) removing all the tiles. You want to just go in at an angle almost horizontal with the tile or wall, teasing the tiles up at the edges. Mostly they come off easily in chunks, but it largely depends on how much and what adhesive the previous tilers used - sometimes you really have to work at it to get the residue adhesive off. You need a smooth surface to tile over again so crusts of adhesive need to come off and any pits where the floor has come away need to be filled in with cement.
I started tiling at the door - I know this sounds dumb as I'll end up tiling myself into a corner, but otherwise it's easy to end up with half a cut tile in your door frame as it's highly unlikely your room will fit whole tiles across the room perfectly. I start tiling where it is most important to me to have the best finish - in this room it was the door way and along the shower base - it's easy to cut tiles and hide the rough edges along walls and under skirting so that's where you want the messy bits to be. I usually manage to get out of the room because tiling takes a long time (well it does me anyway!), so I rarely (um never) would finish a room in one day - so there's always some dry tiles from the day before to hop or leap over to! I randomly laid the tiles as there were 6 different patterns and some plain black and white tiles being careful that I used each pattern equally and no two patterns were adjacent to one another. The floor tiles were grouted using a dark grey and a dark wooden skirting finished it off which is just glued to the wall with 'no more nails' or somesuch.
I should mention I plastered the walls before laying the new tile floor, saves worrying about errant blobs of plaster ruining the lovely new tiling, and I needed to plaster down as close to the floor as I could so the new skirting had a decent even surface to adhere to.
The walls needed plastering because I only wanted to tile where the shower was going to be, and the walls behind the old tiles were in quite a state. So after some research (YouTube-ing) I had all the knowledge I needed to give it a go - this was the first room I attempted to plaster, I say attempted, I did actually do it so I'm selling myself short there! Anyway, I like plastering as it does my favourite thing and covers up the ugly! Once you get the hang of the technique, or a technique that works for you anyway, it's not terribly hard to get a decent finish. Now I'm not fast or perfect, but you'd have be looking pretty hard to find the flaws in my plastering, and in my experience people don't tend to be inspecting your walls that closely when using your bathroom, after all no-one wants to linger too long in a bathroom for fear of everyone else wondering what on earth you're doing in there for so long!
The photo here shows the newly plastered wall and the unplastered smoothed wall where the shower tiles will go. I should mention my poor husband here who ground down the left over adhesive where the new shower tiles were going to get a nice smooth surface - it took him ages and afterwards he was cleaning off dust from places one should never get dust!
I was using finishing plaster as these walls were already plastered, just in a mess. Mixing the plaster is a bit of a pain, add the plaster to water and not the other way round, and definitely used a cement mixer tool on your drill to mix it in a bucket to save your arms, and wear a dust mask! You should follow the instructions but bear in mind the weather when you're doing it. The general rule is a 50:50 mix of plaster to water. I did a lot of tiling and plastering in the height of summer in Italy which meant that all that stuff dries out pretty fast in that kind of heat. So sometimes I found the consistency too stiff to smooth over the walls easily and I'd make it a little thinner. You want the plaster so that it just heaps onto your trowl without running off - you could try drawing a line in your plaster and it should slowly smooth out, not stay sharp or immediately begin to almost disappear. Anyway there's loads of tutorials for mixing plaster but you do just get an idea of what you want after you've mixed a few.
I used a water spray to wet the walls regularly, and used a trowel and a finishing trowel - scooped up some plaster, put it on my finishing trowel and smoothed it upwards in a big sweep, then went back over it to spread it out more and smooth edges. I did two coats - once the plaster was nearly dry, I sort of 'buffed' it with the finishing trowel as I could press pretty hard to really smooth out any marks by then and add more plaster to fill holes I couldn't smooth out. Keep your tools clean so dried on plaster doesn't stop you getting a smooth finish and don't wash it down the sink!!
I simply painted the walls and ceiling white once the plaster was dry - there was a lot going on in this bathroom so I went for plain and simple for the walls!
We wanted just a shower downstairs because we had a bath upstairs (I do like a bubble bath) and because it simply didn't fit, but then neither did a standard shower base. The space between the door frame and the wall where the shower could go was only 60cm (you can see the width of the space in the photo below which is left un-tiled). I spent some time wedged between the wall and a wall of cardboard pretending to wash my hair to check that really was enough space (it is, i've done it for real many times since then, perhaps just have to keep the shower karaoke to a minimum!)! We chose to have a walk in shower with just a glass wall because it was a small space, so although it is 60cm wide it is 100cm long.
Now the shower base was a joint effort between my husband, my father in law and me - it's made of wood, cement, PVA sealant, tiles and grout. We had to figure out what to do about the sticky out pipes - there was no moving them as they were actually a giant bunch of radiator pipes going off round the house (I knew there was a reason for that weird bath!). You can just see them to the right of this picture. So now not only do we have a thin shower but it's going to have to be raised above the plumbing, sob! We also had to move a radiator that was on the wall between the door and the shower wall so in effect it would have been in the shower (we got a plumber in to do that).
Onwards! We built a wooden frame with a lip and sealed the wood - then filled the base with concrete that was angled toward the drain (which all had to be installed as the wooden frame was built). Obviously we wanted the shower base to angle gently toward the drain so the water actually flowed away, and I used a stick of wood as a tool to do this to make sure that the slope was even. We then painted this all with a few coats of PVA sealer.
I used sheets of mosaic (I snuck some in!) for tile the based of the shower and used a metal edging to finish. We used a tile and grout sealer to further help keep the shower base and walls water resistant - 2 years later it's still all good!).
Another minor issue was the location of the shower taps which were at the wrong end so to speak - they were where you got in the shower, rather than nestled nicely deep in the shower cubicle. So we had to pick a shower unit that extended it's shower head a fair way from the taps so the water actually stayed in the shower and down the drain (we do still have problems with this!!)
The walls were tiled with plain white square tiles and dark grey grout - I should mention that the sticky out pipe fiasco extended to the walls as well, so a similar frame needed to be built for the pipes sticking out of the lower wall in the shower! I tiled over this and it makes a convenient shampoo shelf now!
At some point (we've been saying since we installed the main shower glass) we'll add another piece of glass on hinges to this shower to create a mini door so that whoever is using it doesn't have to worry about splashing water on the floor. It's not a huge problem for us but it would make this shower more perfectly functional.
The bowl sink was bought long before we even started gutting the bathroom - it fitted exactly the style I wanted so the sink unit was designed around it. I bought an old grey console table, it was fine as it was, it just didn't fit the colour scheme I had in mind. So I painted the lower part black and stripped to top back to it's natural wood, stained it and sealed it to help protect it from inevitable water spills.
I used a hole saw to create a hole in the top for the plumbing for the sink drain to fit (I bought a brass pop up one to match the tap and shower) - the small drawer needed to be modified to half it's depth so that the plumbing could bypass it and the drawer could still open, albeit a smaller drawer (see the picture below - excuse all my lipsticks!). I also create a hole for the tap plumbing which was simply screwed in place using the fittings that came with the tap which is a brass colour as well and needed to have enough height and reach to work with the bowl sink.
The sink is siliconed in place, and the whole unit itself is screwed to the wall to avoid any plumbing being ripped from the wall if the unit every got knocked. I tiled a small splash back behind the sink unit using the same tiles as the shower walls.
We removed the bidet from the bathroom but kept the plumbing in place in case anyone wants to install one in the future (in Italy you MUST have a bidet in the bathroom!); I built a small wooden box to cover this plumbing and provide a little bit of storage for cleaning stuff and toilet rolls, the kinds of things that do not add to the visual appeal of my bathroom!
I made the towel hooks from some hooks I picked up at a DIY store and screwed to a piece of stained wood which makes more of a feature of them and ties them in with the rest of the decor than screwing them directly to the wall. I also did a similar thing with the shelves which are simply some black metal shelf brackets and stained wood on which I used the router to finish with a fancy edge.
The light fitting comes from Venice and is Murano glass and I LOVE the colour it creates when it is turned on - it fills the bathroom ceiling with lovely burnt oranges. We wired it with a black light fitting and it looks great off as well! Our cute Tinga Tinga painting, the rug, the glass trinkets and bottles, and matching coloured towels add warmth and clutter to the room - which I love :)
This bathroom was a huge transformation and soooo much hard work, but it feels like I wanted it to feel :) For a small space and one that was quite frankly a pain in the a**s, I am so proud of what we achieved!!