Category Archives: Projects

Getting in the mood

Our bathroom remodel has incrementally gone from a minor makeover, to a major job, and I haven’t even started it yet. It’s almost like our bathroom heard about all the work I did in the upstairs bathroom, and wanted to get in on the action.

At least the upstairs bathroom had the decency to wait until I was underway before it started throwing curved balls at me. Like a sibling who feels s/he has been shortchanged, the downstairs bathroom is being downright pushy and demanding in comparison.

The first step beyond the quick fix I planned was when we discovered the leaking tile problem in the shower.

Then we decided to replace the stupid tiny shallow bath with a shower enclosure.

And then this week, the beloved managed to drop the tank lid of the toilet and break it. Oops.

How did he manage to do that? Well the filler part of the toilet sometimes sticks, and you have to take the tank lid off and give it a bit of a tug to get it filling again. And …

So now, instead of replacing the guts of the toilet tank, we are in the market for a new toilet as well.

And what did I do when the beloved rather sheepishly confessed he had broken the toilet? I kissed him. Then danced a little happy dance. New toilet! YAY!!!

I had been planning to put down some laminate click lock flooring over the blah vinyl we have in there as a quick and temporary cover-over, but now the bath is coming out, and the toilet is coming out, it is the perfect opportunity to tile the floor at the same time.

Existing vinyl floor. Could be worse, I suppose …

So, we seem to have added floor tile to the list of things happening in our bathroom. Replace toilet, replace bath, new backerboard and tile on the walls, new tile on the floor. Seems like our bathroom is up for a major renovation.

I have been collecting things for our bathroom makeover for a while now. A few months ago I came across a beautiful black marble vessel sink on Craigslist for $50. Bargain. The same place also had faucets/taps incredibly cheap, so I got one of those, too.

Then I found a place that sold off-cuts of marble, quartz etc for countertops at bargain prices, and had a piece of white quartz cut down and edged to fit the top of our existing vanity cabinet. Suddenly we had a modern black and white vibe going on, which immediately suggested an art deco-style bathroom.

My challenge is how to use the tile to bring it all together. There are so many options, and so many possibilities. As we are trying to do this on the lowest budget possible, I am now scouring Craiglist, the salvage yards and any tile sales I come across in an attempt to find the cheapest, and best, tile possible.

It’s great to find something cheap, but it also has to fit with what I have already collected. So, every time come across something that might work, I set up a mood board to see how it might work.

Here are some that I have already put together:

The first one was inspired by some ‘salt and pepper’ granite tiles that I found at the salvage yard. They have a lot of them, so there would be enough to do the shower surround and the floor.

Option 1

The problem with this is that I think the speckle of the granite and the speckle of the quatz countertop will compete with each other and seem busy. I would prefer a more tranquil feel in our bathroom.

Plus they are salvaged tile, which will need the grout scraping off, and not all of them are in great condition. They clearly weren’t removed as gently as the white carerra marble tile I used in our upstairs bathroom.

My second option was to use some white subway tile from a large hardware chain store, then liven them up a little with mosaic accents on the wall and floor.

Option 2

Then I found some glass mosaic tiles that were on sale. I quite like these small tiles, and would pair them with grey marble tile on the floor (also on sale). I tried two options with this. The first has a plain feature wall.

Option 3

And a striped wall. Which I love the idea of, but might be too busy with this tile.

Hmmm … I like all of these options, and they are all perfectly do-able. None of them are really getting me excited enough to get going with them. What do you think?

In the meantime, my latest craigslist crawl has turned up some white glass subway tile on close-out special. Looks like another mood board might be in order.

Kidding around

Ah, summer vacation time in the States. It goes on and on. And on. And. On.

What to do with your pre-teen girl (PTG) and teen boy (TB) for those 11 l-o-n-g weeks? Park them in front of the computer/wii/tv? Listen to them whine about how bored they are? Send them to camp? NO!!!

Why not get them into some demolition at home? Oooohhh YEAH!

Exercise, entertainment, team bonding and DIY all rolled into one. P-e-r-f-e-c-t.

It all started a couple of months ago when I began to suspect that the oak floors in our living room and hallway continued underneath the particle board and vinyl tile in the space between the kitchen and the dining area.

I’ve never been really sure what to call that space, it is a dead in-between zone, hovering pointlessly between the hall, kitchen and living area. It’s like a kind of entry area, except that it is in the middle of the house. Weird.

When we bought the house this space was covered with same brick patterned stick on vinyl tile that was in the kitchen.

fake brick … well it could have been worse

The previous owner’s solution to every flooring dilemma: cover it with stick on vinyl tile (SOVT). In an attempt to make it look a bit better, as a temporary solution, I painted over these tiles with epoxy floor paint before we moved in, with some success.

post painting

But my curiosity about the height difference between the tiled area and the hardwood was piqued at about the same time as I investigated underneath the SOVT in the bathroom. The height difference there was not caused by covered over 1950s mosaics like I hoped, but rather by no less than 3 successive layers of SOVT.

My experience in the bathroom discouraged me somewhat: removing the SOVT there led to a epic saga of rotting floors, removing and replacing toilets, tiling and various other bathroomly adventures.

Suffice to say I was a little floor-shy after that. For a while.

But DIY is kind of like childbirth. You either do it once and never ever do it again, or you simply forget how bad it is until you are in the middle of the next herculean battle.

The way the boards seemed to continue straight under the raised floor called to me like a siren song, and soon enough I succumbed and pulled away the trim around the edge. Which confirmed my suspicions: the previous owners had, in fact, laid particle board and SOVT over the top of their beautiful hardwood floors. Really.

I was all for pulling the whole lot out then and there, but the beloved balked. The hall painting had been put off for too long, and I had a paying furniture-stripping job that I needed to get started on.

So I put it on the ‘to do one day’ list and tried to forget about it.

Which I successfully did until I was pondering things I could do with the kids during the vacation. We’ve been to The Exploratorium, and hiked at Montara Beach with the dog. We’ve done jigsaws, and they’ve read a ton of books. We’ve had friends for sleepovers and been on karate camp.

And now here we are in the hump weeks of the vacation. The excitement of no school has long faded, and the beginning of the new school year is still too far away to add that sad frisson of activity that comes as the vacation draws to an end. The kids were listless and too bored to actually know what they wanted to do. Which is the perfect moment for a parent to come up with something that keeps them busy, and distracts them from endlessly baiting one another in an attempt to amuse themselves.

I pondered several possibilities that involved duct tape and trees, but reminded myself firmly that such acts are most likely indictable. Finally I had a light bulb moment: I remembered the floor and figured that they would probably be capable of demolishing it. In fact, chances were it was destructive enough for them actually to enjoy it.

I must admit they weren’t really sold on the idea at the start. I had to issue a parental decree (involving bribery and loss of computer privileges) to stop them complaining and get them started.

Our plan was to remove all the SOVT and particle board back as far as the peninsula bench in the kitchen.

Furniture out and ready to start

First we had to remove all the furniture from the area, which involved unpacking several cabinets and stacking the contents around the living and dining area. This had a whine factor of about 95%. I started to wonder about the wisdom of my decision to involve them.

But once we had started on the demolition, they actually began to enjoy it. After a little instruction on technique, and in spite of wishing that demolition in real life was as easy as it is in MineCraft, TB wielded the crow bar and hammer like a pro, and PTG collected pieces of particle board and SOVT and relayed them down to the rubbish pile under the deck.

About an hour and half in we were making good progress:

Look at those boards! Why would you cover them up?

The boards did indeed continue under the floor, and in spite of a ‘tan line’ between the newly refinished boards and the old ones under the particle board, things were looking exciting.

tan line between newly refinished boards and old hidden boards

And then the phone rang. It was the beloved calling to let me know that a business colleague who was visiting from Australia was coming to dinner that night. He would be arriving home with the beloved in approximately 1.5 hour’s time.

Oh.

Given his earlier edict about NOT pulling the floor up in the dead zone to see if there was hardwood underneath, I had kind-of-not-mentioned to the beloved that it was what I was planning to do with the kids that day.

We thought we would get it done and surprise him with it.

‘What are we going to do?’ the kids gasped.

‘We’ll be fine. The only thing we really can do is keep going.’ I replied.

And then quietly muttered under my breath, ‘And hope that it is all done by the time he arrives’.

By this stage both kids were well and truly invested in the task, and we all redoubled our efforts. Cheers rang out once all the particle board was gone, and then we set to work cleaning the floor and pulling out all the left-over nails.

Board and SOVT gone, now for the nails

Then we gave it a final sweep, and washed it. And Roxy gave it the ball test.

Floor passes the ball test

We were hot, grubby, tired and sweaty, but we couldn’t stop quite yet. First we had to replace the furniture that was stacked everywhere, and return everything to rights as if nothing had happened.

Finally we were done, and we staggered off to shower and freshen up. I was just returning upstairs after my shower when I heard the beloved walk in the door, swiftly followed by a loud ‘Wow!’ Mission accomplished.

And it does look pretty wow. And will look even more wow when I refinish the boards at some point.

The one disappointment? The boards stopped short of the kitchen, so now we have a strange ply patch that I will need to rectify. Luckily our local salvage yard has recently obtained a quantity of the same top-nailed oak boards from a house they demolished. So I suspect it will involve a few of them.

Are we going to continue them into the kitchen? Not for now. As the kitchen will be completely replaced at some point, possibly relocated and definitely rearranged, it makes more sense to leave it as it is, and not expend effort needlessly.

As for the kids, I am extremely proud of them. I might make remodelers out of them yet.

So, I can heartily recommend DIY as a summer vacation activity for your kids. Cheaper than camp with the added bonus of something crossed off your to-do list. Plus they actually enjoyed it.

Best of all, though, is seeing their sense of achievement. That satisfaction of knowing they pushed through and got it done.

That, as they say, is priceless.

Entranced

Our hall is dark and narrow. As an introduction to our home, it is less than inspiring. At a touch over 3 feet wide, it is definitely a one-person space.

One person and maybe the dog, if she is feeling pushy.

So when people come over, it becomes an elegant dance, sashaying back down the hallway, to allow them to enter our home single file.

The hall when we first bought the house

What to do with a small dark space is an eternal design dilemma. Conventional wisdom says that if you paint a small space a light color, then it will seem larger, but I beg to differ. Painting a space as narrow and dark as our entry hall something pale and dull does nothing for it.

In fact, it only acts to emphasize exactly how small and dark it is. Small. Dark. And dull.

The previous owners attempted to get around this problem by coating the hall with wallpaper and mirrored wall tile. Remember?

Delicious mirror tile (not)

And equally delicious wallpaper (equally not)

Which were the first things to go when we got the keys to the house.

Stripping wallpaper

And removing mirror tile

My solution is somewhat different. The hall will never be anything but dark and narrow, so why not go with that and paint it a lovely luminous rich color? This will not ‘shrink’ the space, but rather gives it personality and presence.

Consequently, this last week I have been painting the hall the lovely rich blue that is on our lounge accent wall, and also on the kitchen cabinets. Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue.

I started out by cutting in.

Which was fine until I got around to the space above the stairwell. I couldn’t reach this from any ladder we had, so I at first attempted to use the paint edger I had used for the high spots in the garage.

Because the ceiling is so heavily textured, though, getting a straight line was impossible. It resulted in a wibbly wobbly line that looked like it had been painted by someone crazed AND drunk. I didn’t take any photos, mainly because I found it altogether too depressing.

There are also no photos because it took all of 5 seconds before I panicked at how dreadful it looked and concluded the only possible solution was to paint the ceiling the same color.

Which I promptly did.

Hall with dark ceiling

Ugh. I hate dark ceilings. Unless your ceilings are gloriously high, they just feel oppressive.

I lived with those ceilings for a whole 3 days before I started to paint them light again.

The solution? I placed 2 sturdy planks of wood across the balustrades above the stairwell. And climbed up on them, so I could reach the top.

Putting 2 planks across the balustrade at the top of the stairs

Which worked fabulously if you discount the fact that I have an abject fear of heights.

Just dont look down

Actually, my terror of heights was the reason it took me 3 days to begin re-paint the ceiling. It was not a paint dilemma at all, as soon as I had painted it dark, I knew I had to change it back. And pretty soon after that I had worked out the plank solution.

No, the 3 day break was how long it took for me to pluck up the courage to actually stand on those planks and do the cutting in. For a time, it was a toss up as to which would win: my offended color sensibilities or my fear.

In the end the paint issue won out. And I put my big girl pants on, climbed up there and did the deed.

All the while chanting to myself don’t look down, don’t look down. The things I do in the name of remodelling.

I was also debating what color to paint it. I always remember the most fabulous house we visited here in the Bay Area, which had a silver-leafed ceiling. It was spectacular.

No I didn’t silver leaf it, but I decided mix some of the silver glaze I found for cheap on the mis-tint stand at the paint store with some other paint to come up with a subtle silver ceiling. The three candidates for mixing were: the original ceiling paint (the painters had left some behind from the pre-sale painting of the house); Benjamin Moore Glass Slipper (our main living room color) and Benjamin Moore White Dove (the white I used in the studio).

Which mix to use?

I went with the Glass Slipper/Silver glaze combo. It is the most beautiful subtle silvery blue. Exquisite.

So once the ceiling was painted I was ready to hang some art.

The other solution to the dark and narrow hallway dilemma is to hang art that has a lot of fine detail. You will be up close and personal with these works, so use that to your advantage, and hang work accordingly.

Great big abstracts are not appropriate here, rather small things, with lots of fine brushwork.

One of the paintings the beloved brought to our combined collection, this painting of the Standing Stones by British painter G Hillier was perfect.

G Hillier ‘Standing Stones’ 1984

You can see that he has carefully painted each strand of grass, and the texture on the stones is superb.

And my dear friend and fellow artist, Helen Earl’s beautiful sea spoons.

Helen Earl ‘Sea Spoon’ and ‘Coral Spoon’

Helen Earl ‘Coral Spoon’ detail

If you are lucky enough to live in Sydney, you can find Helen’s work at Gaffa Gallery.

Plus this little print, with its gold detailing that we picked up at a gallery at some point. And I am ashamed to admit I cant remember who the artist was. It’s perfect in the hall, though.

The painting I made for Peter not long after we met, with its text and gold detailing.

One of my earlier paintings

And this collage of mine, with its gold accents worked perfectly in the space.

Are you starting to notice the common thread here?

Gold.

Yes gold. Not a color that I have used much in interiors before, being more likely to gag and pretend to vomit at the thought. Gold taps ‘blech’ gold fixtures and fittings ‘blech, blech and BLECH!!!’

But here I am introducing gold into our hall.

Why? Well because of our glorious original door bell.

Original door bell before

Door bell after

Which makes a beautiful, classic ‘ding dong’ noise. I love it.

And when I was at the salvage yard the other day I found a light fitting to replace the ugly one in the hall.

Hall light before

Hall light after. Salvage yard find light fitting.

And it was … gold. I brought it home intending to spray paint it a much more tasteful silver/chrome color, but as soon as I put it next to the door bell, I knew it was going to stay exactly as it was.

The beloved worked his electrical magic, and now it looks wonderful.

New light fixture with door bell.

Plus gold looks so darned fantastic up against that dark mystical blue.

Check out our wonderful original light switches. Dont they look fantastic now?

Light switch before

Light switch after

At the end of the hall, to draw your eye away from its smallness and narrowness, I hung the moody seascape I painted after watching a tropical storm scoot our way over the ocean while in far north Queensland.

And swapped the horrid light fitting, for an ‘in the meantime’ Ikea one. I am planning to make something sculptural for this space.

Going down the stairs, another drawing of mine on one side.

For the other side I made and hung some picture shelves, for photos of our lovely family. They are amazingly easy to make, even with zero carpentry skills. The picture shelves I mean, not the family. Although I guess they took zero carpentry skills to make, too.

I’ll show you how to make the picture shelves next post.

This isn’t the final picture layout, I actually have better, more cohesive frames. The beloved and I have to sit down and go through our photo selection, and decide which ones we will feature, before we get the final plan implemented.

And there you have it, our hallway is done. And here are some before and afters for you:

Before

After

Before

After (with Treadwell)

After

After (with Roxy)

And with the hall and stairs done, the upstairs is done for the meantime. Kind of. Done enough for now.

Coming up soon: how to make those picture shelves, plus some house tour shots of the upstairs, because I recently realized that you haven’t seen the living room yet. Or the Dear Daughter’s bedroom.

Then the downstairs awaits …

Throwing in the towel

What do you do with a towel rail that keeps throwing in the towel?

One of the two towel rails we had in the upstairs bathroom was a collapso-maniac. You just had to walk past it for it to fall off the wall. You didn’t even need to touch it for it to let go and succumb to gravity. Sometimes it just spontaneously fell, because it felt like it, in an ongoing mini re-enactment of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.*

Yves Klein. ‘Leap into the Void’ 1960. Image source.

My days were filled with a constant round of put it back up/hear it clatter down/back up/clatter down up down up down up down AARRRRRGH

Plus, I always found it slightly disturbing that other rail was right next to the toilet. The towel on it hung directly over the toilet paper/bath tissue, so that you had to move it out the way when you needed to.

Old rail directly next to the toilet. Errrk.

I am so far away from being a germ-o-phobe normally. If you are ever in need of an immune system boost I recommend a visit to our house while I am in the middle of a big project, but I found the position of that towel rail really eeeeewwww.

You can imagine I was pretty keen to figure something out that solved both of these irritations.

I have always liked the idea of using a ladder to hang towels in the bathroom.

West Elm ladder as towel rail. Image source.

There is something satisfying about re-using things in unexpected places (even though the ladder to towel rail idea is far from new), I like the mental jolt it gives, a sort of wake-up tonic for the brain. They are also very practical: you can hang multiple towels in one place, which would be ideal for our space-challenged bathroom.

At first I thought of finding a metal ladder and somehow attaching it to the wall, but there were none on Craigslist, or at my local salvage yard and the new ones were prohibitively expensive.

I would love one of those heated metal ones.

Beautiful heated ladder-style towel rail. Image source.

But, that would need wiring, and besides we cant afford one on our current budget. One day …

A ladder is a pretty simple shape to make, you just need some wood for the rails, a hole saw or spade bit attachment for your drill, and some sort of round tube shape (like dowel or pipe) to make the rungs.

I have been spending quite a lot of my time in the plumbing aisle at the hardware store lately, and I soon thought of the lengths of galvanized pipe and fittings that I saw last time I was there. They come in various different diameters and lengths, and they have threaded ends so you can attach various fittings.

Galv. pipe and pipe ends. Lovely.

With end caps screwed on, they would make the p-e-r-f-e-c-t industrial-esque rungs.

Off I hurried to the hardware store and returned home with a piece of 24 x 48 inch ply (to act as a backing), five 24 inch pipes (rungs), 10 end caps and a couple of bits of wood (side rails).

I was ready to get to work.

First of all I cut my two bits of wood to length.

The ply was already the exact size I wanted, so that was easy.

Then I laid everything out and played with how wide apart to put the rails, and the spacing of the rungs; figuring out how much room I wanted to leave at the top and the bottom.

playing with the spacing

Then it was time to drill the holes in the bits of wood. I carefully measured and marked the location of the holes on one plank, and then lined the other one up next to it, and transferred the measurements across.

Measuring and matching the hole locations

I did this, rather than measuring the second bit of wood because a) it saves time, b) I have a measuring impediment and it made it less likely that I would make a mistake, and c) I would be sure that my holes were lined up on both boards when I came to attach them to the ply backing board.

Next up, I added a spade bit to my drill. Before you start drilling, a word of warning. The diameter of pipe is an INTERNAL measurement. If you have ½ inch pipe (like I did), do not use a ½ inch spade bit. Your hole will be too big. Then your rungs will be loose, and will slip and slide about as you hang your towels. We can all imagine how annoying that would be.

Luckily, I experimented with a couple of different bits on a scrap bit of wood until I found a good snug fit for the pipe. For my ½ inch pipe I used a 22mm bit (one I brought with me from Australia, clearly). This is about 7/8 of an inch.

I drilled my holes.

hole making in progress

Next I needed to attach the rails to the backing board. First I measured and marked the location of the rails on the back of the ply sheet.

Drilling guide for screws on the back of the ply sheet

Then, I glued the rails.

Wood glue on

And then clamped the glued bits of wood to the ply. After this I flipped the whole thing over and screwed them into place from the back, using my marks as a guide for the screws.

clamping and screwing

I waited for the glue to dry and then got ready to stain the whole thing a nice dark blue-grey.

I decided to go with a stain, rather than metal panels and rivets, like I did on the vanity and my wall boxes, because I thought it would be a bit over the top to have yet another metallic element in there.

I used fabric dye to get the color I wanted. Yes you can use fabric dye to stain wood. Any color you want.

Using fabric dye to color wood

Simply mix the dye with boiling water in a container (you never want to use this for food afterwards, so use something that doesn’t matter).

And then apply with a brush.

Post dyeing

I waited for it to dry, then gave it 3 coats of matt spray polyurethane.

Now I was ready to attach my rails to the wall.

I measured out where my screw holes were going to be. And used my trusty stud solvers to attach the frame to the wall. There was no way that this baby was going to throw itself off the wall.

Then it was simply a matter of inserting the rods, and screwing in the ends.

One pipe in

5 pipes in

Love those pipe ends

Excitedly I hung the new towels that I got at Ross: Dress for Less (which is a clearance store here in the States).

hanging the towels

They are a mismatched bunch of high-end designer towels, and would have cost me 4 times as much as I paid for them, if I bought them at a regular store. I think mixing and matching is way more interesting visually, rather than having everything immaculately matchy matchy. And gentler on the budget, too.

I stuck with grey and white, so even though they are not exactly the same, they are all in the same color family.

Then my industrial-style towel rail was done.

I love it so much, and I am know it will never throw in the towel.

*In case you are disturbed by this image, Klein didn’t really throw himself off a building for this shot, it is a photomontage. Looks effective, though …

Think outside the box

You do not need to live large, you just need to live clever. Living clever, means thinking outside the box. And thinking about ‘living clever’ is what drove the idea for the wall boxes I made as part of our bathroom update, and a solution for its almost total lack of storage space.

What is it about boxes? You put something in a box and it immediately becomes more interesting. There is something about the promise of contained objects, which beckons, like a gift.

When I think of putting things in boxes, particularly an arrangement of boxes, I am always reminded of the way sculptor Louise Nevelson’s compelling sculptures operate: the box, used in a grid, was a recurring motif in her practice, a way of imposing order on chaos.

Louise Nevelson ‘Untitled’ 1964. Image source

Nevelson used the wood detritus she found on the streets of New York (balustrades, old bits of wood, parts of demolished buildings) and arranged them, contained in boxes. The grid provides a structure for the accumulation of objects within the boxes, as does her use of color, or lack thereof. She invariably spray painted her work black, white or gold, unifying what otherwise would have been an amorphous mess into one iconic work.

Nevelson’s work deals with the way the past becomes fractured and incorporated into the present, it is large scale and its presence is powerful, iconic. So, it is probably a little cheeky to take lessons in how to make effective storage away from looking at her sculpture.

But that is how my brain works.

The use of a grid of boxes, and monochromatic color bring order to a collection of stuff. Hmmm, sounds like a solution to our bathroom storage needs to me.

While Nevelson was an influence, there is another factor that led me to think of wall boxes. They are in keeping with the age of the house. Our house was built in 1955, and it has mid-century modern bones, which were hidden under late 60s/early 70s décor. The major driving force behind all my remodeling efforts is to bring out the mid-century pedigree of the house.

So it seemed pretty logical that new shelving in the bathroom should make reference to a classic 1950s design feature: the shadow box.

The shadow box. Image source

The shadow box was used to display all your groovy modern nick-nacks, as you can see in the photo below.

1950s interior with shadow box in use. Image source

Clearly I wanted something a little more practical than this, something I could use as display, but also that was deep enough to be functional shelving.

This bathroom does double service: it is the kid’s (and guest’s) bathroom, as well as being the only toilet on the main floor of the house. Whatever went in there had to be both practical, and aesthetically pleasing. So, my idea was to provide 3 wall boxes that were attractive and served as shelving for the bathroom.

Once I had done a steam punk number on the vanity, it seemed pretty obvious that this was something I could do with my wall boxes: clad them in flashing and use upholstery nails as rivets. It was just a matter of finding some boxes.

Yes, I could have made them myself, but I remembered that Ikea used to do some simple ply storage boxes that I could modify very easily.

So off I went to Ikea. That store is so exhausting, it feels like you wander around it for days, and that you will never escape. After taking a long meandering path around everything I didn’t actually want, I eventually found these Pränt storage boxes. Even better, they had metal edging on the corners, which was p-e-r-f-e-c-t.

Prant storage boxes from Ikea. Image source

They aren’t meant to be hung on the wall, they are supposed to sit on shelves, but we can’t let what Ikea thinks things should be used for get in the way of what we want to do with them. Just try googling the words ‘Ikea hack’ and you will soon find whole sites dedicated to just this.

You can find them on the Ikea site here (and no, Ikea did not sponsor this post, nor do I endorse their products, they just happened to have what I wanted). By the way, if you decide you want some of these, you had better hurry as they are on ‘final sale’, which in Ikea terms means they are going out, never to return. I’m thinking of going back for more, myself.

So, I arrived home, pale with exhaustion having survived the Ikea endurance test, and began unpacking my Pränt boxes. Of course they were flat packed and needed assembling.

Almost everything at Ikea is flat packed and needs assembling. These were actually easy to assemble.

Before I assembled them, though, I took them outside and spray-painted the interior sides the same flat black as I used on the vanity cabinet doors and drawers (thanks Louise Nevelson).

Next, I assembled the boxes.

Assembly in progress

Done!

Then it was a simple matter of cutting the metal pieces to size, and attaching them to the boxes using construction adhesive.

One problem I had was that the boxes were too thin to nail my rivet/upholstery nails into. The spikes of the nails would have come through the other side. And I thought being stabbed by sticking out upholstery nails might be something of a disincentive to actually using them.

So I cut the ends off the nails, leaving a short stub.

Shortened nails

I measured and marked where I wanted the nails to be positioned, and I pre-punched a hole using a nail to mark the spot.

I applied a dab of construction adhesive to each spot, and then used the stub of the nail to correctly position the upholstery nail heads in the pre-punched hole.

Gluing in the nails

I did two sides, and then waited for the adhesive to dry before doing the other two. This way I didn’t dislodge any of the nail heads.

Once it was all glued and everything was dry I was ready to install them on the bathroom wall.

The Pränt boxes come in 4 different sizes, 3 of them with lids (like the photo above) and one without. I bought one medium size, one large and one lidless. The lidded boxes are the same depth, but the lidless ones are shallower.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I wanted to use different depths to create more visual interest. Also, if all the boxes I used were deep, then they were going to crowd the space in this tiny bathroom.  Using different heights adds to the illusion of space, particularly if the lower one is closer to the bathroom occupant.

I measured the size of the space I wanted to hang them in.

The space waiting for my boxes

And then played with the boxes on the floor to figure out a pleasing layout.

The perfect arrangement

Then it was merely a matter of transferring this to the wall.

Before I show you the process, let me introduce you to a good friend of mine: the stud solver.

The stud solver (these come in metal or plastic)

With this little gem you can attach up to 50lbs securely to drywall (or gyprock as we call it in Australia), without needing a stud behind it.

You drill them directly into your drywall.

And screwed into the wall

They act exactly like masonry plugs, you put them in the wall and then screw into them. Voila, things stay where you want them. Magic.

I marked where I wanted the top corners of the boxes to be, checked that they were level, and then screwed each one into the wall.

Marking the corners of the boxes on the wall

Screwing boxes into the wall

One box up

Two boxes up

Three boxes up

I deliberately chose to use the shallower box closest to the bathroom entry. The deeper boxes are behind and above it, giving an illusion of depth.

Now for the fun part. Decorating the boxes.

After

These glass jars were also from Ikea. I found them as I was wandering around trying to escape from the maze. I thought the frosted glass exterior, and chrome lids had a nice ‘science lab’ sort of vibe, with fitted with my industrial/steam punk effect. Strangely, they weren’t flat packed.

They also lighten up the black interiors of the boxes.

After

The second shelf holds spare towels. I am not convinced of the practicality of storing towels in a steamy bathroom, but if you saw our linen cupboard (which is all of 8 inches wide, and better suited to dolls house bed linen and towels) you would understand why they are there.

Besides, I think they look pretty.

After

The third shelf stores spare rolls of bath tissue (or toilet paper as we call it in Australia), so now there is NO EXCUSE for anyone not to change it over when they use it up. (And this means YOU).

So there you have it, how to make yourself some wall box storage for your bathroom. Not everyone will cover theirs in metal, of course, but you could use wallpaper inside or outside, or simply paint them.

It is simply a matter of thinking outside the box.

Absolutely floorless

Well almost. Down to the bare boards: that’s where I was last time I wrote.

blank slate

I had wrestled out three layers of vinyl tile, then a layer of rotten plywood underfloor. After much thought and conscience wrangling, I removed the vanity, and finally the toilet. Which left me with a nice blank slate to build from.

In Australia, at this point, you would pour a concrete sub floor, and in it you would include a floor drain, called a Palazzi trap. You would grade the bathroom floor towards the Palazzi trap, so if the bathroom ever flooded, the water goes down the drain, instead of ruining the rest of the floor and the house. Then you tile on top.

They don’t do that here. Here they put down a waterproof membrane, a layer of plywood, a layer of backer board, and then a layer of tile. So if the bathroom floods or the pipes leak, you have to pull it all up again, replace the damaged bits, and start over. Which seems a little crazy to me, but that’s cultural differences for you.

Here pouring a concrete subfloor is considered old fashioned and not to code. And no one has heard of a Palazzi trap. When in America, do as the Americans.

So, down went the waterproof membrane.

A layer of waterproof membrane underneath everything

And down went the ply sub floor. This involved careful measuring, and cutting around the curved-edge bath, and the sewer pipe.

First piece of ply down

This looks challenging, doesn’t it?  It is actually quite straightforward. Lay down an over-lapping layer of masking or painter’s tape, that goes over the edges of the area you want to cut out.

Tape the area you need to cut

Use a craft knife to cut around the edges, carefully peel it away, and then you have a pattern.

Then cut out your pattern

Lay this on top of the ply sheet, and cut around it using a jigsaw.

Place pattern piece on ply, then cut with a jigsaw

See, fiddly, but not difficult. Imagine if I had to cut around the toilet and the vanity. Now THAT would have been fiddly AND tricky. Now do you see why I pulled them both out?

Eventually the ply sub floor was down.

I used the same process with the backerboard, but it needed a layer of thinset (a kind of mortar) underneath.  This ensures a smooth level surface to tile onto.

Backer board down

While I was waiting for the thinset under the backerboard to dry, I set to work on getting the tile ready to lay.

As you may remember, I found enough marble tile at our local salvage yard to do the upstairs bathroom for a grand total of $30.

Marble tile from the salvage yard

The down side of this tile was that some of it had been laid previously. So it had a layer of thinset on the back.

the disadvantage of pre-used tile

Before I could lay the tile this had to be scraped off. And it had to be done carefully so as not to break any, because when I say there was enough to do the upstairs bathroom, there was Just. Enough. To. Do. The. Upstairs. Bathroom. Eeesh.

No pressure or anything. I had about two tiles to spare, so I had to clean and make any cuts I needed to make without really breaking any. At. All. Anyone who has done any tiling knows how tricky this is.

Just as well I like a challenge.

Cleaning the tiles involved soaking them in a bucket for 24 hours to soften the mortar, then using a scraper to scrape them clean.

Soak that thinset!

It wasn’t quick or easy. Wet and repetitive. Luckily I had some assistance in the form of the two children with this process.

I would love to report that they did this happily and willingly, but actually I issued them with a 5 clean tile punishment for every misdemeanor.  Astonishingly, their behavior rapidly became angelic. They were polite to one another, and to us, helpful and cheery. They cleaned up without being asked. Their rooms were spotless, and their homework was done the second they got home.

It was quite strange. Here I was prowling around waiting to pounce on the slightest thing, and there they were frantically being as good as gold.

I think I am going to buy some more tiles from the salvage yard. I am sure I can find some other things to tile.

I know, I’ll turn the backyard into a mini version of Antoni Gaudi’s Guell Park:

Antoni Gaudi: Guell Park. image source

That should keep them out of mischief until they go to college.

I digress. Eventually the tile was all clean and ready to lay. Then I played with a few layouts, and cut all the tiles that needed to be cut to fit around sewer pipes, curvy baths and the asymmetric room itself. I was finally ready to put those tiles down.

Starting to tile

It’s at this stage you start to get excited

And very gratifying it was. After they were laid, I waited overnight and then grouted them.  Then waited over night and cleaned off the last of the grout, and then sealed the whole thing.

In the meantime, as the toilet was out already, we decided we may as well take advantage of our local City’s generous toilet rebate scheme and buy a new low flow toilet. They give you $100 if you replace your old water-waster toilet with a new Watersense accredited one. Our existing toilet used the equivalent of Niagara Falls each time we flushed, and with the rebate – and reduced water bill – as incentive, it made sense to replace it.

Cue several days of internet and Craiglist research. Eventually we settled on a toilet, and I answered a question that had been niggling at the back of my mind ever since I took the toilet out. I had successfully removed a toilet, but could I install one?

The answer to that is yes. Yes I can. And I have the photo to prove it. But as that photo also shows the tiled floor in a finished state, let me first remind you of what the floor looked like originally.

Before

Vinyl tile before

And here it is now.

After

After

After with our shiny new low flow toilet

Isn’t that better?

So the bathroom is getting ever closer to completion.

Best of all, while tiling, I finally figured out what I wanted to do with the vanity cabinet. First it was going to be pink like the walls, and then I tried the same blue as on our kitchen cabinets.

After the first coat of blue

But that wasn’t doing it for me either.

Eventually, my steam-punk upcycle of the vanity lights provided me with inspiration.

Lights post steam-punking

I decided to steam-punk the vanity cabinet. Which is exactly what I am in the process of doing. But you are going to have to wait until it is finished before I show it to you. And that will be part of the big bathroom reveal, coming next time. Stay tuned.

And in case you are wondering happened to the old toilet? I put it on Craigslist for free, of course. And someone wanted it. Really.

He came yesterday and took it away. He was from Tonga, and was going to ship it back to his village at home. I gave him the $20 white vanity top we didn’t use in the upstairs bathroom as well. He said he would take anything we had, and to call him whenever I pulled anything out, he would come and pick it up. Tongan interiors: 1. Landfill: 0.

P-e-r-f-e-c-t.

Crossing the line

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young(ish) woman embarking on a minor remodelling project, must suddenly find herself in the midst of a major one.*

It starts simply enough.  Oh, you think to yourself, I could easily make [insert room here] look so much better if I [insert small project here]. A couple of days work and it will all be lovely.

Occasionally it works out that way. Frequently, though, you uncover something else minor that needs fixing while you are at it, which leads to something else, and before you know it your whole project has avalanched into something huge.

Which has been my experience this week. And, as a result, I crossed a line that I drew for myself only last week. Never say never.

After the kitchen sink distraction, I settled in and started work on the upstairs bathroom. I thought it would take me a few days. A week, tops. So, here we all are, a week later, and … well you will see soon enough.

In truth it would have taken that long but for one thing. You will remember a few weeks ago when I was writing about my plans for the upstairs bathroom, I discussed how, egged on by my beloved, I pulled up a corner of the vinyl stick-on tile in the bathroom. In case there were mosaic tiles underneath.

Given the height of the floor, and the age of the bathroom, it was not an unreasonable assumption. It transpired, however, that not only were there no funky 1950s mosaics hiding under there, there were no less than 3 layers of stick-on vinyl tile, all laid one on top of the other, in an archeological strata of decoration fads from the last 60 years.

After pulling up a corner of vinyl tile

Great. Pulling up one layer of stick-on tile is bad enough, but three? Eeeesh. I affixed my ‘Pfft! I can do that blinkers’ firmly on my face, decided I would do just that, and then paint the plywood subfloor as a temporary improvement until we replace the dead-enamel bath, and water-guzzling toilet. Then we could finally lay the beautiful marble tile waiting under the house for just this occasion.

Because, when you put floor coverings in a bathroom, you really should remove everything first, and tile (or whatever) underneath. Taking your floor covering up to, and around vanity cabinets, toilets and baths is lazy, shoddy and asking for trouble.

You see, if one of your bathroom fixtures (or fittings as we would call them in Australia) leaks, as they do, the water gets under your floor covering and plays havoc. And if you do want to replace your bath, toilet or vanity cabinet at a later date, and it is a different shape to what was there before, you have to do another bodgy fix job to make it work, or totally replace the entire floor.

Plus anyone who has ever laid a floor and had to cut around things knows that it is tricky, and it is actually a whole lot less trouble to remove the fixtures and have a blank slate to work from.

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, it is pertinent to what happened in the upstairs bathroom this week, and is the reason that the whole thing ballooned from being a prettification to a major upgrade.

Things got off to an auspicious start. My first task was to do something with the dreadful vanity light. I was inspired by a project I clocked on pinterest a month ago in which Kristine at The Painted Hive upcycled an ugly dated wall sconce into an industrial-chic wall light.

Kristine at The Painted Hive’s wall sconce upcycle

A huge thank you to Kristine for allowing me to use her image. You can check out her blog here. I knew when I saw it that I would use this idea some day, giving it my own twist.

Here is a reminder of what the light looked like before:

Before: outdated dark bronze vanity light

The first stage of this project involved taking off the back panel so I could spray paint over the aged bronze finish. I took out the globes.

And unscrewed the screws, pulled out the bronze globe surrounds, and ran a craft knife around the edge to break the paint seal, then I tugged. Pulled, levered the edge with a screw driver (carefully because I didn’t want to destroy it). Could I get it off? No.

So I decided to spray paint it in situ. I masked off the area, and covered everything with drop sheets (spray paint has a remarkable ability to drift everywhere).

Ready to paint

I sanded and deglossed the back panel.

Sanded and deglossed

I opened the window as wide as possible, fixed my fume respirator firmly to my face, and primed it.

primed and ready for top coat

Then followed it up with two coats of pale blue metallic spray paint in hammered metal finish.

Rustoleum hammered pale blue spray paint

After spraying. A little bleeding here and there, but the wall is about to be painted …

Looks better already. I left it to cure for a good 48 hours, and set to work on the wall.

If you remember from my bathroom planning post, I had decided to paint the walls and the vanity cabinet hot shocking electric pink, which I thought would work beautifully with the existing blue and white damask-look wallpaper, and blue and pink tiles. After replacing the vanity top with the marble one I found in the salvage yard, I changed my mind about painting the vanity cabinet pink, and decided to go with blue instead. More on the vanity cabinet next week.

The pink I chose was Benjamin Moore Cactus Flower in their Advance formula (which is supposed to be extra tough) in full gloss. That wall was going to be hot pink and shiny as all get out.

Exciting. But first I sanded, deglossed and primed the wall. Why did I do this? The wall was already painted with an off-white gloss paint. Paint does not like sticking to gloss surfaces, so I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t going to have any adhesion issues.

Primed and ready for top coat

Then on went the first coat. Even though the Advance paint is a water-based acrylic, it takes 16 hours to dry, so while I was waiting, I started work on the floor.

Pulling up the vinyl tile

Those stick-on tiles had to go, not the least because I now had an ugly corner of the room where I had pulled them up.

going, going …

6 hours of sheer grunt labor later and I finally was down to the ply sub-floor.

after pulling up all that vinyl tile

Which is where things began to get interesting.

It was clear that at some point the toilet had a major leak. As a result a large area of the ply sub-floor around the toilet was rotten.

water damaged floor

ply rotting and de-laminating around the toilet

That, right there, is the problem with using stick-on tile in a bathroom. You can never seal it, because there are gaps between the tiles, and water will inevitably find it’s way to the lowest level. In the case of our bathroom, this was the sub-floor, where it was trapped by the layers of vinyl tile above, and had its way with our sub-floor.

Ugh, ugh, triple ugh.

So, you can just cut out the bit of floor that has rotten, and replace it, but given that this represented a third of the floor space in our tiny upstairs bathroom I decided (after getting a second opinion from the beloved) to rip out the lot. And then paint the floorboards that we knew were underneath.

Cue another six hours of sheer grunt labor. It involved cutting a section out with my lovely Bosch Multi-X (I love it more every time I use it), getting under the edge with a pry-bar and slowly prying up it up, releasing nails as I went.

While some of the floor came up in gratifyingly large bits, even this was not easy to get up. Where it had been wet, the ply disintegrated into little splintery flaky bits and it was long slow demoralizing work.

The whole time I was worried that the rot would have spread to the floorboards, and we really would be in a total pickle. The upstairs bathroom is directly above the man-cave, so I knew they looked ok from underneath. As it turned out, luckily they had put a water-proof membrane over the boards, so they were fine, but as soon as I pulled up the membrane I knew painting those boards was not going to work.

There were massive gaps between the boards. Sigh. I thought I could fill them, but then it was starting to become a major project in its own right, and if I was going to have to take the time to fill and sand, it was no longer a quick fix, and I may as well do something a bit more realistic for a bathroom.

The beloved said: ‘Why don’t you just lay those beautiful marble tiles?’ So, I explained all the reasons why laying tiles at this stage was not a great idea.

Which left me a little stumped as to what to do with the floor. Some quick and easy floor covering? Anything as long as it wasn’t stick-on vinyl tile. Shudder. Some other tile? A thought I quickly dismissed as I would have to jack hammer them up when I went to lay the marble. Sheet vinyl? Hardwood floors?

We have a budget of nothing at the moment, so buying anything temporary seemed insane and extravagant. I spent a couple of hours on Craiglist, looking for cheap fixes, but my mind I kept coming back to those lovely marble tiles in our undercroft. We already had them, and they were what I wanted on the floor in the long term.

I did what I usually do when facing a dilemma. I took the dog for a walk, cleaned the kitchen, put through several loads of laundry, made 2 batches of muffins, and paid attention to the children.

And I put the second coat of pink on the walls. Which looked spectacular.

First a reminder of before:

Wall before

And here is what it looks like now:

After

I think the 13 year old’s reaction summed it up perfectly. After he got home from school, he walked into the bathroom, closed the door, and a very loud shocked ‘Wow!’ emanated from inside. Mission accomplished with the pink.

Eventually I decided I was going to lay those tiles. I would suck it up and tile up to and around the vanity, bath and toilet. And keep back enough tile to replace them when we replaced those items.

Then I took the dog for another walk, ran some errands, poked around on the internet, spent way too much time on facebook, and beat myself up for procrastinating when I should be getting on with it. Until I realized what the problem actually was: I really, really, really didn’t like the idea of not doing it properly.

I kept thinking about the tile cuts I would have to make to get around the toilet and vanity, and I just couldn’t bring myself to start. Once I decided that it would be relatively easy to take the vanity out and tile under it, I felt massively relieved. So I removed the vanity.

And pulled up the subfloor under it. Which was also rotten, so I felt instantly justified for doing it. My tiling job just got a whole lot easier.

Which left the toilet. I couldn’t pull that out, could I? I mean, I stated on this blog only last week ‘I will get down and dirty with the plumbing (although I draw the line at anything to do with toilets)’. Toilets are eeewww. Super phenomenal eeewww. It’s bad enough cleaning one, imagine how disgusting it is to take one out.

I spent a restless night, filled with dreams of floods of water and rotting surfaces the children tumbled through. And I got up the next morning, and crossed the line. I removed the toilet.

toilet gone

Yes, it was as revolting as I feared. Apart from that, it actually wasn’t hard. Way easier than the kitchen sink.

Best yet, it left me with a beautiful blank slate for tiling. Which is what will happen next.

Before I did that, though, I decided to finished the vanity light. After a couple of days the lovely hammered blue was cured, and I could set to work on putting the new shades on. I found these work lights with wonderful metal cage covers in the hardware store and thought they would make perfect steam-punk-esque light shades on the vanity light.

The metal cages on these work lights were perfect

You see with everything pink and blue and flowery in there, I felt it needed something to shake it up a little. I have said before that I am a total sucker for anything vaguely industrial, and these were p-e-r-f-e-c-t for what I wanted to do.

The only problem was the little yellow rubber thingys on the end. A simple wave or two of spray paint fixed them.

fixing the yellow bits

I was ready to install them. When I bought them I noticed that metal cage part I wanted to use was attached to the work light with a nut and bolt.

simply a matter of undoing this nut and bolt and removing them

So it was simply a matter of unscrewing this, removing them, then attaching them to the globe holders on the vanity light.

Cool.

While at the hardware store, I also came across these great light globes. I thought they would look perfect in there.

faceted light globes.

Getting them into the metal cages is easy, as they open up so you can change the globe.

cages open making globe changing easy

I screwed in the bulbs, and it was done. Here was the vanity light before:

Before

And here it is now:

After

Might have to do something about the existing ceiling light now

So there you have it, this week’s progress on the upstairs bathroom. Now I need to get the floor layers and tile down as soon as possible. Because living with a teen and a pre-teen and only one toilet – the one in our ensuite – is no fun. No fun at all.

*(Massive apologies to Jane Austin. I stole, and perverted, her sentence only because I love what she wrote so very much.).