Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Throne Room: breaking the rules in modern bathroom design

Allow me to introduce you to a little shabby room that has come a long way.  The photo below was taken during the very first week of our DIY restoration.  I vaguely remember taking the picture--though it seems that I've already forgotten the old paint, dust, and cobwebs.  Staring at this photo now, I can barely believe that it's the same room.

When we began this restoration, Shaun and I knew without question that we would need a bathroom.  But imagine what it would be like to walk through a dust-covered, abandoned home and choose your future bathroom from the empty rooms.  Hubby was completely overwhelmed.  Should the downstairs bathroom, or bathrooms, be near the bedrooms?  And which rooms should be our bedrooms?  Where should we put the kitchen?  Should we knock out walls and have an open space for the kitchen and living room, or should the two rooms be completely separate?  The questions were endless.  But to be honest with you, I knew from day one that THIS room would be absolute perfect for our future bathroom in the moment that I saw it.  I could immediately envision a claw-foot tub in front of the historic nine-over-nine window.  I could imagine double sinks, a bathroom cabinet in the form of a repurposed antique, and a modern toilet hidden away behind the bathroom door--but the decision wasn't mine to make alone.  

It took months for both Shaun and I to agree on the location of our future bathroom.  We had plenty of time to hash things out though, because we were busy restoring the Master Bedroom a few doors down.  But when we would leave the dog-trot at the end of every weekend and return to our home in historic Minden, I would submerge myself in a sea of magazine photos, design books and pins on Pinterest, until at last the bathroom had completely taken form inside of my head.  But how does one get the bathroom out of her head and into a room like this one?  The answer is simple--you work like a dawg.  

A little more than a year later, the former bedroom turned dream bath is nestled in the front of the home, with a door opening to the dog-trot hallway and two enormous windows taking in views of the grassy field beside THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK.  I can't even tell you how many hours it took us to bring the dream to reality.  The walls, ceilings, and floors of the former bedroom are all original and wooden.  Just as in the master bedroom and laundry room, I had to remove old nails, fill the nail holes with wood putty, sand, and scrub.  And just when my arms were beginning to show hints of muscle tone, the hard work began.  I started painting.  And painting.  And painting, and painting, and painting.  I painted the floor.  I painted the ceiling.  I painted the walls, the trim, and then I painted the ceiling again.  (HINT: In the end, we learned that it was important to use a paint and primer mixture that we purchased at Ace Hardware as opposed to normal paint.)  

The last step of the painting process involved covering the floor in several layers of polyurethane.  I lost approximately three pounds in the process, and my arms began to change shape; my reflection was changing almost as quickly as the house surrounding it.  

Here's a photo of hubby working to install the plumbing through the "new" bathroom floor just after I finished painting the bathroom.  At the time the picture was taken, we were only a few weeks away from moving into the house, and we were working at breakneck speed.  Our goal was to finish the bathroom before our move-in date, and we almost succeeded.

So there we were--we had finished painting the bathroom and hubby was installing the toilet when a dear friend mentioned that her mother had one of the original claw-foot tubs from the MINDEN FEMALE COLLEGE in historic downtown Minden, Louisiana!  My friend's mother had realized that the bathtub was going to be trashed when the historic MINDEN FEMALE COLLEGE was being demolished, so Mrs. Carolyn had it moved to her basement where it has been safe and sound for forty years.  The following photo features the Alumni of the 1875 Class of the Minden Female College at their 20-year reunion.  (Courtesy of Webster Parish Historian John Agan.)  The MINDEN FEMALE COLLEGE is in the background.

I can't really explain how I felt when Mrs. Carolyn said that we could have the bathtub from the historic school if we'd simply take it out of her basement.  I was beyond ecstatic, because my great-great-great grandmother was a student at the MINDEN FEMALE COLLEGE until she eloped with my great-great-grandfather and began a new life for herself.  (Her family wasn't happy--they were wealthy Californians, and my grandmother's choice for a husband wasn't what they expected.)  As you can imagine, I was floored by the opportunity to restore an original bathtub from my gr-gr-gr-grandmother's Alma Matter.  The tub wasn't there in her day, of course, but it's still an exciting prospect nonetheless.  

Here is a photo of the bathtub on the day we moved it to Sugar Creek.  My husband was more than skeptical and had turned the tub restoration over to me completely.  He wanted to buy a full-sized shower from a home improvement store (gasp!!!) and I was terrified that if my project failed, Shaun might get his way.  So what's a southern gal to do when she needs to perform a miracle?  Yep--you guessed it.  She turns to YouTube and Pinterest for advice.

The first step of the restoration was to clean the tub, and amazingly enough my hubby felt sorry for me and decided to help with the process.  Shaun and I cleaned the outer surface with a special chemical (purchased at Home Depot) and a set of wire brushes.  (Warning: this process required a ventilator to protect us from the harmful fumes.)  My Dad helped with the broken legs by reforming them and welding them in place.  Two legs had been completely broken off, and one was missing... but fortunately, Mrs. Carolyn had picked up a similar leg years ago and gave it to us with the tub.  It's a teeny bit shorter, so my Dad had to work some magic for me.  

Here are the markings I found on the bottom of the old tub after we cleaned it and Dad finished welding the legs in place.  

Next we sprayed the exterior surface of the tub with a paint designed for metal tubs.  When the painted surface was dry, we began working on the porcelain.  It was in fairly good shape, though it was far from being beautiful.  We bought a porcelain tub refinishing kit from Home Depot and I spent an entire week mixing the epoxy kit, spraying it evenly over the surface, and touching up any bobbles I made during the process.  It took almost a week to cure, and then we were ready to install our new faucet.  Don't get me wrong--the restoration was an enormous pain in the butt.  It took an entire week of my time.  Yes, an ENTIRE week.  It wasn't a difficult project, but it wasn't what I'd call easy.  On a difficulty scale of one to ten, I'd give this project a seven because of the weight of the tub and the time it took to turn it over FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES during the painting and refinishing process.  Ugg.  On the last few days of working on the tub, I decided that it would have been worth paying someone else the fourteen hundred dollars required to have a professional refinish the tub for us.  But in the instant that the tub was finished, I changed my mind.  The following photo is the tub after the first step of our porcelain restoration kit.  Talk about a difference!

The tub had to cure for a week after the final coat, so I busied myself with finding a new faucet.  I was in for quite a shock, too.  OH MY LAWD those things are expensive!  Never in a million years would I have imagined that a wall-mount faucet would be in the two thousand dollar range.  And neither hubby, nor I, were going to blow that kind of money on a flipping FAUCET.  We had been given a wonderful claw-foot tub, we had restored it ourselves, and suddenly we realized that the FAUCET was going to be the deal breaker?  I couldn't accept it.  I was not going to have a stupid plastic shower in my dream bathroom.  But if I couldn't find an affordable faucet, Shaun was going to pull the plug on my claw-foot tub project.  

My left eye started twitching that week.

Let me just say that buying a faucet for a historic clawfoot tub is one of the most horrifying experiences we've gone through in this restoration.  We restored the tub ourselves, saving a whopping $1300 in the process, and brought the tub back to life for only one hundred dollars.  But afterward, it took me THREE WEEKS to find an affordable faucet.  Thank heavens for Ebay.  I bought our new faucet (and the pretty drainpipes needed for the plumbing) for less than three hundred dollars.  If you're looking to restore a historic tub yourself, don't dare go to a home improvement store for the faucet and the plumbing parts.  Save yourself a lot of money (and the headache of walking aimlessly down the long aisles) by using Ebay.  It may take longer, but you'll save an enormous amount of money.

Here is our tub during the installation of the faucet.  We had to grind a little on the original faucet holes to install our new faucet, and it made quite a mess in my newly restored tub.  I was not a happy camper until we cleaned the iron shavings and I saw, with certainty, that the tub had not been scratched during the installation of the faucet.  

The next step involved really making my husband angry.  Not only did I want to move the heavy bathtub inside, but I also wanted to play house for a little while.  For nearly an hour, we moved the refinished tub to every single corner of the room.  I tried placing it in front of the windows, alongside a wooden wall, behind the bathroom door, and every possible combination imaginable.  

Hubby was patient for a good twenty minutes, but then he lost his cool.  "It's just a bathtub, Jackie.  Come on."

I wasn't happy.  "It's not just a bathtub, Shaun.  It's THE bathtub.  And it's going to sit in the same spot for the rest of our lives.  This is important!"

It was about that time that my hubby's eye started twitching.  We had come full circle.

Here's a photo of the bathtub during the evening of "location scouting" that involved moving not just the tub, but every other piece of furniture around the room to see how things would work together.  It was not a pleasant night.

When the final location had been chosen, hubby started smiling again.  He installed the plumbing and our new faucet, which is the most amazing faucet that I've ever seen in my entire life.  I don't know how I lived without one of those handy little hand-shower thingies that looks like the handle to an old telephone.  It's the greatest invention ever made, y'all--I ain't kidding.  I can wash a dog in two minutes flat now.  I don't even have to yell down the hall when I'm washing Montana and beg for someone to bring me a cup from the kitchen cabinet.  This faucet was worth every penny!  

Next we installed the matching pedestal sinks.  I wanted his and hers sinks to flank a piece of antique furniture that would serve as our bathroom cabinets.  The cabinets I initially chose did not quite give me the effect that I had in mind, but that problem was easily solved by taking an enormous primitive piece out of my office and using it for display shelving.  Isn't it gorgeous!

Open shelving in a bathroom is asking for trouble, I suppose.  I couldn't very well have all of my extra shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and body wash bottles there in the open.  I don't care how cute the rest of the bathroom looks, if you've got a dozen bottles of Irish Spring cluttering up your open shelves it's going to look tacky.  So I thought for a while and came up with this solution... Mason jars!

Hubby and I poured all of our excess shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and body washes into these handly little Mason jars and then ordered Mason Jar lid pumps.  I have to admit that I love this idea so much that I can't imagine using a normal bottle of soap ever again.  Look how cute my soaps and shampoos are in their little cubby holes!

My friend Vicki gave me two hand towels embroidered with THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK for my birthday, and they're absolutely adorable in our "new" bathroom.  We're still not completely finished--we need electrical outlets, new windows, and we need to install quarter round around the baseboards and put crown moulding around the ceiling.  But the vast majority of work in the downstairs bathroom has been finished, and we're delighted with the outcome.  We have effectively mixed antiques with other antiques to create a space that is both functional and inviting.  What do you think about my crazy mustard-colored walls?  I love them with all of my heart.  

Here are a few additional photos of the finishing touches.  I absolutely adore my "new" bathroom!  Believe it or not, the total cost for the bathroom renovation was less than a thousand dollars.  The lovely wash stand beside the bathtub (also bought at auction) was only $40.  I did some work on it to make it come to life again, but it was in fairly good shape when we bought it.  The bathtub was free, plus the hundred dollars to restore it, plus the cost of plumbing and the faucet.  The sinks were less than a hundred dollars apiece, bought at the Home Depot, and were very simple and basic.  The faucets were very inexpensive as well--around thirty-five dollars per sink.  Paint and rollers, brushes and tape came up to a whopping $200.  (Like I said--buy paint with the primer IN it and your life will be much easier.)  The primitive cabinet didn't cost us a dime because we already owned it.  The curtains were on clearance for around $10 per panel.  The rug was given to us by our neighbors, but we will replace it after the construction is over.  It's already covered in sawdust from the living room/kitchen project we're working on now.  The chairs were only $5 each, and I already owned all artwork.  The quote transfer sheet (below) was around $15.

It IS possible to renovate a historic home and have magazine-quality results without spending a mint.  You can absolutely do what we've done--you just need to think outside of the box.  Stop worrying about what other bathrooms are like and start imagining what YOUR dream bathroom looks like.  Create it inside of your head and then go make it happen--and when you're finished, send me a picture of what you've accomplished.  We really do hope to inspire others to tackle projects that they're afraid to begin.  Just remember: if we can do it, so can you!  Happy renovating!

These two historic chairs we bought for $5 each at a local auction--ironically enough, they belonged to the Robinson family.  (The Robinsons bought THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK from the Taylor Family in 1902.)

Quote from a transfer sheet that I adore.  I found it at ROSS, but it was one of my favorites long before I transferred the letters to our bathroom wall.

These curtains from JC Penney are just the right length.  If you have windows that are more than 84" tall, visit their website to find affordable curtains in your desired length.  It's the ONLY place I've found on the internet that sells the 110" panels that we need for this old dog-trot house.


  1. oh my heck. I just want to take a nap after reading about all the work you did on the tub! but the numbers justified the personal touch you put on it ;) And I think you are lucky that the only that started twitching was your eyeball!HAHAHA! I LOVE LOVE LOVE the faucet and I almost had a cow when I read how much you thought you were gonna have to spend. I am SO incredibly impressed with all of your work!

  2. Thanks, Christine! We really worked our butts off on the bathroom. But there was an added bonus--when I took my first bath in the tub, I realized that it was extra long. I can lay down COMPLETELY and be submerged... feet and all... it's absolute heaven. It was worth every ounce of work. :)

  3. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?


  4. This is so amazing! I wish I could find a historic house to restore.