It’s hard to put into words just how awful our bathroom was. We had been talking about renovating it more or less since we moved in two summers ago, but we kept putting it off for a number of reasons until winter came rolling around again and the prospect of making the two-storey trek to the basement for showers was too much for me to bear.
As with many houses in Montreal, especially ones that were built 60, 70, 80 years ago, there aren’t very many bathroom options. There’s usually one bathroom in the upstairs, and if you’re lucky and your place got renovated some time in the past 20-30 years, there might be a second bathroom in the basement.
Well, our upstairs bathroom was kind of a mess. It was a pale beige-y yellow with a purple ceiling and pansy wallpaper trim. Yeah. I have nothing against bright and colourful rooms, on the contrary, I think paint can do wonders for rooms where decor is minimal. It essentially acts as the decor. But not all colours and wallpaper are created equal. Even if they had chosen a canary yellow with white trim in the form of crown moulding or something, well, that would have been scores more attractive.
The vanity and storage cupboard was all laminate off-white while the floor was a lumpy black tile with white splotches. Good for hiding stains, I guess. The sink glugged and drained slowly, the window frame was just some pieces of wood nailed around the opening and the best part? The tub wasn’t a bathtub. It was a whirlpool tub. With no shower attachment, no way to affix a shower attachment, mirrors instead of tiles or some kind of protective enclosure on the surround walls….And the cold water didn’t work. Needless to say, it was less than ideal.
The design process was a huge headache. The first problem was that our bathroom has a rather strange layout. In my research, I found that most modern, small-to-medium-sized bathrooms will have the door on one of the shorter walls so that the fixture layout ends up being a kind of “L” shape. This leaves plenty of room for very practical things like towel bars near the tub and toilet paper holders to be affixed to the wall or the side of the vanity, neither of which were possible in our bathroom.
The door is on one of the longer walls and the other long wall has space taken up by a window on one side and a mysterious box on the other side. We always assumed it was for pipes, and thus necessary, but you just never know…
Kyler even made a 3D model of the bathroom so we could rearrange the fixtures and use a VR headset to walk into the room to try it out. All this to say, we tried coming up with more pleasing layouts, you know, ones where the toilet wasn’t directly in front of the door, but alas, moving the plumbing would’ve added thousands more dollars to the project and there really was no other way to fit a double-sink vanity, toilet and tub in what is essentially a medium-sized bathroom.
To be honest with you, I don’t think a bathroom this size was meant to house a double-sink vanity, but since there is only one bathroom between the whole upstairs and ground floor, I kind of considered it a must.
Work began around the beginning of December and I was very happy we could hire our good friend, Eric Jaudin, as our contractor. We ran into a few unforeseen issues during the project, but it was nothing that couldn’t be solved to our satisfaction. With a two week break for Christmas, the bathroom was completed around mid-January, totalling about 5 weeks of actual work put in.
The whole decision-making process for designing the new bathroom was one of the reasons why it took us so long to get the ball rolling with the renovation. It was so difficult to design. The layout problem took a while to solve (which was really just going around in a big circle just to end up back to where we started) and then the actual bathroom design part took forever as well.
You may think I’m being crazy when I say this, but when given the opportunity to decide everything about how a room looks (not just what furniture will go where and what colour to paint it), my design mind goes kind of crazy with the possibilities. But there’s a balance that needs to be struck, lest in 20 years, we become that which we ridicule every day ie. the “crazy old sellers of the weirdly designed house whose decisions make no sense.”
I’m sure most people can just go to Home Depot and pick a vanity, tub, toilet, tile, the works, and call it a day, but I don’t work like that. For some reason, I need to make things really complicated. While others may amble peacefully down the sidewalk to get where they are going, I insist on taking a tight-rope down the street. One wrong move that’s not perfectly thought out and equal parts complimentary and contrasting, and the results could be disastrous.
Don’t get me wrong. I reined myself in on more than one occasion and you know what? I’m proud of myself. For a hot minute, I wanted to find a mismatching mirror for the vanity and then I said to myself, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jackie, back this truck up. That’s crazy. Just get the vanity with the matching mirror. A bathroom is not where you want EVERYTHING to mismatch.” Bathrooms and kitchens are the hardest rooms to change and there’s a lot to be said of having traditional elements that stand the test of time. Just ask the pansy wallpaper.
For the record, I still snuck in some signature Jackie mismatching. I used mixed metals for the hardware throughout the room. But, as a general rule (bathroom or not), if you do this, try to have at least two elements that are similar in order for it to not look too chaotic or disorganized, and the overall design concept should should still consist of pieces that are complimentary to each other.
For instance, I did chrome with swooping necks for the sink and bath fixtures and antique bronze in the vanity hardware and the towel bars. Adding little decor items also does the trick just as well. It’s all about making a complete scene that’s balanced. You’ll find it much more pleasing to the eye without losing the interest that unique elements can bring.
And this. This is where it all began. This is the starting point from where my design grew.
I knew, before I knew anything else, that I wanted these 3-piece vintage-inspired faucets for the sinks. They are so elegant and interesting. Next, came the tile, then the vanity, the lighting and all the little touches. I love the look of the vanity. It’s made of real wood and although I was hoping there would be a bit more warmth and richness to the tone, it’s still lovely. The little vintage-inspired details (the feet, the hardware, etc.) compliment the faucets beautifully and it came with a matching mirror and a Carrara marble countertop.
Marble is so trendy in design right now, which actually made me a little hesitant. Often what is trendy now could end up looking quite dated in 10 years. But unlike shag carpeting, marble is classy AF and looks good with so many different design styles.
It’s also extremely porous, and although it is sealed and perfectly fine to use as a countertop, I was/am concerned about how difficult it may be to take care of, in order to keep it looking pristine and beautiful. To clarify, I am used to never having to do anything to my countertops besides wiping them every once in a while. Despite my hesitation, I don’t think you could ever go wrong with marble in a bathroom and I think it will stand the test of time, at least until we end up selling our house.
We had pot-lights put into the ceiling, but I knew I wanted some sconces too. Not only would it provide additional lighting, but light fixtures are really one of the most important features of a room to me. Having only pot-lights would be like doing a full face of makeup without applying mascara. Of course you can rock that if you want, but for me, that little detail actually pulls the whole concept together. The look just doesn’t seem as complete or impactful without it.
The sconces I chose are probably the element in the room that is the most out of place. Not only is the brass a stark contrast to mostly chrome and bronze tones, but the style leans much more modern minimalist than anything else in the room. But I think mixing a little modern in with vintage can actually help it to not look too “on-the-nose.” Carefully mixing design styles can really add so much personality to a space.
I had a really hard time picking the tile for the floor and tub walls. To be honest, the tile we ended up going for was not my first choice, but I could not for the life of me, find any tiles that were exactly what I wanted. For the tub, I imagined having a multi-toned turquoise glass subway tile, which I could not find anywhere (online or in person). If I had been able to find that, I would have gone with a simpler tile for the floor instead of the vintage-inspired Portuguese/French tile that we ended up going with.
Once I gave up on the turquoise tile, I focused on making the floor the real statement piece of the room. Even then, the tile we ended up choosing wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned but again, really interesting, colourful tile is really difficult to find and also really expensive. I scoured the internet and we even went to those giant stores that only sell tile. Like three of them. In the end, the tile I selected turned out beautifully, actually better than what I was expecting when I picked it. We also took this opportunity to install a heated floor, which is a real luxury in the winter.
Since we spent a pretty penny on the flooring, and it was such a strong statement, I went with a simple glossy white subway tile for the tub so it wouldn’t compete. And I really like white in a bathroom. It really helps to make a small, closed space feel bigger, brighter and cleaner. I think part of my problem with the old bathroom is it felt so drab and dingy with the dull, splotchy black tile and beige-y yellow walls. No life or character at all.
Besides getting a functional bathroom, I think my goal throughout this entire process was to create a space that reflected my eclectic/colourful/vintage aesthetic without veering too far outside the traditional. Unique, but toned down a few notches. I also think it’s important to keep the design styles of the various rooms in your house more or less consistent, so they all make sense together as a whole. At the end of the day, I want my bathroom be very “me,” but also a calm and soothing place that future perspective homebuyers could still find attractive. Not a boring cookie-cutter bathroom, but not inaccessible or overly-stylized either. A thoughtfully designed space.
This ideal extends even to the tub and toilet we ended up picking. This is where Kyler really stepped it up a notch and let his natural design sense guide us into what ended up really pulling the whole room together. I was not too concerned with the tub or toilet choice at all. I initially considered them all to be more or less the same, but you’d be surprised what slightly straighter lines on a tub or toilet can do to make the most practical (and sometimes ugly) features of a bathroom seem somewhat elegant and attractive. They fit everything else in the room to a tee, in a way that more standard fixtures just wouldn’t have done.
To be honest with you, the whole design took me probably a year to come up with. Having too much choice is often a problem for me. It wouldn’t be so bad if I also didn’t have a kind of need to “design” so badly. It’s like I’m creating a puzzle for myself when really, the picture could already be complete if I wanted it to be. I got so frustrated at one point, I put the bathroom project aside for several months before attempting to go back to it. In the end, I was just making decisions because I didn’t want to think about it anymore. But luckily, not only did Kyler put complete trust and faith in my vision, but it turned out better than I could have imagined, and we’re both so happy with it!
Visit Eric’s site here if you’re in the Montreal area and want some work done on your place! I’m super satisfied with the results and the whole process, and I would highly recommend him to anyone.
So what do you think about our complete bathroom remodel? Someday, if we move to a house with a bigger bathroom, I might get the opportunity to design my “dream bathroom.” I’m talking clawfoot tub, fireplace, rococo mirrors galore….Until then, this upgrade is not too shabby at all.