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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Hot and Steamy

You remember how I couldn’t stop looking at the kitchen sink after I installed it? How I kept going back and back every 5 minutes and gazing admiringly at it? Well I am doing it again. Only this time it’s the upstairs bathroom.

When you finally finish a project you cant help but keep reminding yourself that it is over, and that you no longer have to sweat blood and lay awake at night worrying about it. It’s like you have to keep checking that it really is done.

The bathroom is done. The. Bathroom. Is. Done. THE BATHROOM IS DONE. Happy dance!

Last time I wrote about the bathroom as a whole (as opposed to just the vanity cabinet) I had just finished laying the marble tile, and had reinstalled the toilet.

Originally there had been a plastic skirting board that ran around the base of the bathroom wall.

Mmmm … plastic edging. Tasteful. Not.

I enjoyed pulling that out, sooooo much. And throwing it the trash even more. This left me with a rather ugly gap between the wall tile and the floor tile.

A rather ugly gap. Better cover it up.

Taking my cue from the light and vanity industrial/steam punk vibe, I decided to cover this gap with aluminium flashing. I measured it out.

Measuring up

Cut it, then glued it to the wall using construction adhesive.


That’s better!

And then I re-installed the steam punked vanity:

Installing the upcycled vanity

After that things got really exciting. I was on a roll with the whole industrial steam punk idea, and began tinkering around making things in the studio. Some things were made from scratch and others involved reworking existing objects.

While doing so, I kept thinking about what furniture maker and interior designer Charles de Lisle said in a recent report in Dwell magazine. He suggested that creating interesting rooms isn’t just about going for a certain style, or buying the right stuff, it is about being playful, and trying things out until you find what works.

He said: “It’s not about specific objects; it’s about the process – adding and subtracting things and experimenting with crazy ideas … I look at how pieces talk together and create a narrative. There has to be a story.” (‘Furniture Counsel’ Dwell, Vol 12, No.7, June 2012 p. 52).

The idea of creating a narrative or story in a room, one that emerges by being open to possibilities and ideas, however wild they might seem at the time, has some resonance for me with the upstairs bathroom makeover. I didn’t start out on this bathroom journey thinking that I would work with an industrial or steam punk theme; back when this whole thing started the wildest thing I was planning was to paint the walls a glossy loud pink.

In the beginning there were pink walls to come

But as the bathroom evolved, and different problems cropped up and had to be resolved, this is exactly what emerged. The upcycle of the vanity light:

led to the steam punking of the vanity:

Which in turn suggested other things for the room.  Things like: a planter to sit on the toilet tank (created from a Home Depot wooden window box):

Bathroom planter filled with pink calla lilies (and yes they are real). I wanted some plants to soften the room a little.

And some wall boxes for storage (made out of Ikea wooden boxes):

Steam-punked Ikea boxes became wall shelves

And an industrial style towel rail (made from scratch by me):

My industrial style towel rail

And a hand towel rail (which is actually an Ikea curtain hanger):

Ikea curtain hanger repurposed as a hand towel rail

Rather than bombard you with images of how I made these things, I will deal with each of them separately in posts to come. They all came about from being open and flexible, going with the flow, and taking the ideas where they will.

Which is a pretty unconventional way of approaching interior design. And impossible to do if you are working with contractors: the only reason I could do it this way, was because I was doing it myself.

Now, the moment you have all been waiting for. Now it is time for the big bathroom reveal. I have dropped in a few befores, just to remind us of where it all started.







And the perfect place to put my Liz Stops vessels

So beautiful

I think it turned out rather well. Don’t you?

Full Metal Jacket

Or: How To Steam Punk Your Vanity Cabinet.

Last week I promised that this post would be the big upstairs bathroom reveal, but I am not quite there yet. Those little finishing off jobs take forever.

In the meantime, I thought I would share with you what I did to the very drab and outdated vanity cabinet we had in there. Here is what it looked like when we bought our place:

Original vanity

It clearly needed something doing to it. I am so excited with how it turned out, and it shows how with a few materials, and a little bit of ingenuity you can really have some fun.

The vanity has been through a number of potential manifestations. Initially, I thought I would paint it hot glossy pink like the walls. This would have worked with the white replacement vanity top I found on Craigslist, but then that got upgraded for the marble one I found for $25 at the salvage yard. I quickly realized that the top wasn’t really going to work with pink, so then I thought I would paint it blue.

Vanity with one coat of blue paint

That didn’t really do it for me either. It just looked sort of … nothing.

Then the whole floor saga happened, and I ended up laying the marble floor tile that was also a salvage yard find.

Marble tile laid

And then What To Do With The Vanity started really really bugging me. Because the vanity top is cream/off-white marble and the floor tiles are bright white and grey Carerra marble. I knew the snow white of the floor would make the vanity top look dirty. White and cream do not go together. At. All.

I thought the beloved would probably divorce me if I bought yet another vanity top (and who would blame him?), so the What To Do With The Vanity dilemma took on epic proportions. Whatever I did needed to ease the transition between the white floor and cream top. To work, it would have to be something that would distract the eye from comparing the two, but at the same time fit with both. Piece of cake, really.

It was the steam punk makeover of the vanity light that gave me the idea.

Upcycled vanity light

I could give the vanity cabinet a steam punk/industrial feel.

So what is steam punk, I hear you ask?

Steam punk is a design genre that emerged in the late 1980s and 90s. It spans literature, film, fashion, furniture, architecture and art, and incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Steam punk proposes a kind of alternate history. Imagine if the technology of today was married to the aesthetic of the Victorian age industrial innovations. Vast cast iron railway bridges and steam engines morphed into futuristic, but analogue, machines. My Fair Lady meets Barbarella.

This mouse is a great example:

Steam punk computer mouse. Image source

You get the picture.

My steam punk vanity would be clad in metal, and … and …

And have rivets.

Rivets. I love rivets.

I remember saying that to the guy that ran the metal and wood shop at Uni and he looked at me like I was deranged. And you know you have said something particularly weird, when someone who works at an Art School looks at you like that.

Seriously though, rivets are fabulous. Think of the Golden Gate Bridge, for example:

Golden Gate Bridge rivets

See? Aren’t they pretty? It’s the repetition, and making your method of joining part of the surface decoration, celebrating the join. You show how it was made, so you can marvel in the miracle of what was then modern technology.

My obsession with rivets probably really fully flowered when I lived in Sydney, and regularly traveled the Sydney Harbour Bridge, though:

detail of the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge rivets. Image source.

I drove over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to my studio every day for 3 years, and it never got old. Was I looking at the spectacular view of the beautiful Harbour? No, I was checking out those wonderful rivets. Every. Single. Day.

There is something about rivets that evokes the spirit of those late 19th Century engineering marvels, when nothing was too wide to be spanned with some lengths of cast iron rivetted together. Both the Golden Gate Bridge and The Sydney Harbour Bridge have this air about them, even though they were built the 1920s and 30s.

Nothing says ‘steam punk’ like a few rivets.

It goes without saying that my vanity had to have rivets, or something like them.  I wanted to do something different with the drawers and door, though.

Door before

There I would need something to cover over that outdated moulding, and the hinges, handle and pulls would need changing, too.

Drawers before

What to do with them, though?

The previous owners had a pegboard wall in the garage, which I had pulled out while I was converting the garage into my studio. I kept the pegboard because I had toyed with the idea of painting it, and making one of those tool walls with the outlines of the tools on it.

Left over pegboard

This was revised, though, when I realized that the repetition of the holes would be a perfect counterpoint to the pattern of the rivets. I had found what I needed to cover that moulding.

Because the pegboard had holes, I spray painted the doors black first, so that the wood would not show through once the pegboard was attached.

I cut the pegboard to size, and then attached it.

Attaching the peg board

Then I spray-painted the door and drawers matt black.

Spray painted black

After that I turned my attention to the cabinet.

I love the way my brain works sometimes. You remember the aluminium flashing I used to line my card index drawers? I realized this would make the perfect metal covering for my vanity. Easy to cut and nice and shiny.

Shiny flashing

I also remembered the decorative upholstery nails that I bought to use on my rocking chair, but decided they were too shiny and used black ones instead. They would make p-e-r-f-e-c-t faux rivets.

decorative upholstery nails

I set to work attaching the metal, and adding the nails/rivets around the edges of the metal panels.

Attaching the flashing and ‘rivets’

Once that was done I added new stainless steel hardware to the door and drawers.

First the hinges.

Adding hinges

And attaching the door

And then the pulls.

Handles ready to be attached

And on …

Then it was simply a matter of reinstalling the vanity, which only took about half an hour. One advantage of spending days installing the new top and faucet initially. All the hard work was done, and I just needed to hook it up.

So, here is a reminder of what the vanity looked like originally:


And here it is now.









Quite a difference, huh?

The steam-punking of the vanity cabinet sparked off some other great ideas for the space. And until those things are finished, and installed in the upstairs bathroom, you are just going to have to wait to see it complete. Suffice to say that I have spent a very happy and very productive week in the studio tinkering around making stuff.

So expect some more posts over the next few days, and get ready for the big bathroom reveal.

Just as soon as I can get it done …

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.


Vinyl tile before

And here it is now.



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.


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:


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.


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:


And here it is now:


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.).

That sinking feeling

Sometimes a sinking feeling can be a good thing. I still get a thrill every time I see our new sink and faucet/tap and get to use it. But a sinking feeling can also be bad. Which is what happened every time I looked at the old sink, and wondered what on earth I was going to do with it, now we had removed it.

We are so delighted with our new sink and faucet. Even our 13 year old had to concede I had done a great job. He actually said ‘Oh wow. Mum, that’s awesome.’ Imagine.

Much to everyone’s relief I have stopped turning the tap on and off and saying ‘look it works, look at it, it works, it works. Look! Look! Look!’ with a h-u-g-e grin on my face every five minutes. I am down to about twice a day now.

Every time I did, though, there was a tiny little thought that kept niggling away at me, taking away from the pleasure of our new sink: what to do with the old one? The one that took my neighbor and me to lift it?

It lurked there, where we dumped in our front yard:

Even sitting there it irritated me. Our next rubbish clean up day is months away, and I hated the idea of it sitting there until then.

I knew our local salvage yard wouldn’t take it as it was, but it was a good solid sink, built to last, except for the enamel. Who would want it, in it’s awful stained condition? Maybe I should just take it to the dump?

Having saved one sink from landfill, however, I was reluctant to commit another to the rubbish mountain.

And then I had one of my moments of brilliance. I posted it in the Free section on Craigslist, thinking that, however unlikely it may seem, maybe, just maybe, someone might like it for their garage or studio or workshop or something …

And much to my astonishment about 20 people wanted it for exactly that reason.

Yesterday, one of them came and collected it.

So now it is gone, and I can bask in the glory of my new sink, while polishing my green halo.

Because last week I saved two sinks from landfill. And that is the best sinking feeling, ever.

Everything and the kitchen sink.

Plumbing is a bit like childbirth. It is pretty horrific while you are going through it, but once it is over you forget how bad it was. You bask in the glory of your new sink and faucet, with a profound sense of satisfaction, love and delight. You forget how challenging the process was to get it there until right before you are about to do it again, and then you remember. By that time it is too late, you are in it, and there is only one way out.

This week started well, I began work on my transformation of the upstairs bathroom, and I picked up the new counter top for our bathroom downstairs. It was while I was collecting said counter top that I noticed a stainless steel kitchen sink leaning up against a skip/dumpster outside the counter top place.

 Exciting!  You see our existing kitchen sink was disgusting.

The enamel was gone on the bottom, and no amount of scrubbing would get it clean again. When the beloved cooked a curry with a liberal amount of tumeric the other week, the bottom became a tasty shade of yellow. It was fluorescent at first, but settled into this nasty brown stain after a considerable amount of elbow action on my part. Maybe I should have stuck with the yellow.


 Which brings me to the faucet.

Existing faucet. Not exactly pretty.

It leaked like a sieve out of its side.

Not exactly functional either

Oh dear. Every time I used it, I lived in fear of a catastrophic faucet failure, plus we couldn’t keep anything that minded getting wet in the cabinet underneath.

Clearly things needed to change in the kitchen sink department.

I have mentioned our 50 cent remodelling budget before, and so I have been scanning Craigslist for weeks looking for a replacement sink. There are any amount of white enamel sinks on Craigslist, but there was no way on the planet I would replace our existing sink with another white one. They are such a pain to keep clean, and the enamel goes on them and … well why would you do that to yourself?

I know America has a love affair with white enamel sinks, I guess it is for their old timey feel. Personally, though, give me stainless steel every time. Its shiny, it cleans up beautifully and it will take anything you can throw at it. One of my beloved’s fabulous curries included.

Given the number of white enamel sinks on Craigslist, clearly America is waking up to their drawbacks as well. The stainless steel sinks on Craigslist sell in the blink of an eye, the white ones sit there for weeks before they disappear.

Having missed out on several sinks by not being obsessive and quick enough, you can imagine my delight when I found this one sitting there waiting for me.

I immediately whipped my trusty tape measure out of my bag and determined that the sink would fit in our existing sink space, gave the sink a once over to check there were no dents or anything nasty, and then hot-tailed it inside to ask the guy if he minded if I took it.

Because dumpster diving etiquette demands that you ask first. I’ve never known anyone to say no, but it is simply good manners to make the request.

The guy was happy for me to take it. He said ‘You have got a real bargain there’.

Umm, yeah, it was FREE! You can’t get a better bargain than that. Seriously.

Here it is after I got it home:

sink in my studio

Not only was it a bargain, even better it was a deep one-bowl sink. One of the other things I hated about our existing sink was the garbage disposal was attached to the really shallow small sink, which just doesn’t make sense to me. If you are rinsing crusty stuff off baking pans then surely it is better to have the garbage disposal in the big sink.

We had a wonderful weekend the other week staying with our friends W and J at Lake Tahoe, and I developed an extreme case of sink envy. They had a deep one-bowl sink, with the garbage disposal in the bottom, soap dispensers, and fabulous faucets and everything.

I came home after that weekend, refreshed and relaxed, and looked at our revolting stupid sink and garbage disposal attached to the wrong side, and its leaky faucet and sighed.

But sometimes the universe gives you what you wish for. And as an extra-added bonus occasionally it is something you are actually glad you requested.

I brought my free sink home, gained the beloved’s approval (he liked it for itself and not just because it was free), and stowed it carefully in my studio.

Now all I needed was a faucet.  On a budget of almost nothing. Back to Craigslist.

My dream faucet was one of those high arc ones; a simple contemporary design, that evoked a cool laboratory-esque style. Unfortunately these were w-a-y out of my price range. A long way out of my price range. They may as well have been on Mars.

The kind of faucet I lusted after. Image from National Builder Supply

Or so I thought. And here is a bargain tip for you. When manufacturers update their designs, and decide to stop making a particular style, they sell their leftover discontinued stock very cheaply.

And so it was that I came to be the proud owner of my dream high arc faucet, with pull out spray and all its attachments for $50. For a seriously high end German Hansgrohe faucet that a year ago would have cost me $400.  Cray-zeee. Sometimes you can play consumerism to your advantage.

I had my faucet, and I had my sink. And as with the vanity sink the other week, they sat there in my studio singing their siren installation song.

 Oh, I thought. I learned so much from installing the vanity. Putting this sink in should be a snap! Besides, I said to myself, our kitchen faucet could go at any moment. I really should get it out before it does.

You know what happens next. The plumbing equation is applied. The plumbing equation tells you the amount of time it will actually take to do a plumbing job.

 It works like this: Let (a) be the amount of time you think the job will take.  (a) x 10 = the real life time it will take.  So I thought it would take me maybe a couple of hours, and it ended up taking me 20.

I stopped taking photos really early on. Because it was that bad, and when the going gets tough, the camera stays in the camera bag.

Suffice to say it involved 20 hours of my life, about 4 hours of my neighbor’s life, a lot of swearing and ewwy drain water, lying on my back in a cupboard, plumber’s putty, caulk, teflon tape, adaptor fittings, internet troubleshooting research and trips to the hardware store.

 The 4 hours of my neighbor’s life came about because the old sink was so heavy I couldn’t lift it by myself, so I ducked over to ask if he could help me get it out. He spontaneously stayed and assited me to cut through the tile on my counter top when it became clear that the new sink wouldn’t fit in the old sink’s hole. Fantastic, awesome, and I owe him major neighborly favors as a result. I am hoping some of my plum muffins will act as a small token of my profound appreciation.

I am sure sometimes replacing sinks and faucets is as easy as they make it look on the DIY network. And if you are in a relatively new house with standard fittings it probably is. But when you are dealing with 60 year old plumbing, and ancient stop valves that are different sizes, well, shall we just say things can get more than a little interesting.

Plumbing is my idea of hell. And having done a couple of jobs around the house, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for how much plumbers charge. They deserve every cent. And when I am rich and famous, I will gladly pay them to do my plumbing for me.

In the meantime I just have to suck it up and get on with it.

Anyway, after a Herculanean plumbing ordeal, the new kitchen sink and faucet are now in. And they look beautiful, plus they work perfectly.

I think the sense of satisfaction I feel when I look at this is partly because of how much better it looks, and partly reflects the difficulty of the installation battle.

The new sink and faucet also sit beautifully with a DIY project undertaken by the beloved. Anyone who knows him will by now be gasping with incredulity.

To them I hold up my hand and say ‘enough’!  And admit I nearly fainted in shock at the time. The beloved is famous for his utter lack of anything that might remotely be known as DIY skills.

Mind you, it was electrical work. I will get down and dirty with the plumbing (although I draw the line at anything to do with toilets), but electrical stuff, no way. Terrifies me. The beloved, though, has an affinity with electronics and electrical stuff in general.

And it was him who installed new lighting in the kitchen not long after we moved in; directly after I moved the kitchen cabinets he was bumping his head on.

Here is what was there before:

Lighting before

Pretty diabolical in terms of trying to see what he was doing in the kitchen. And this is what he replaced it with:

new kitchen lights

New sink with new lights. Perfect match!

Cool, huh? Now anything electrical is his department.

So after I put the sink in, I was standing there admiring how great they looked, and feeling deeply relieved to have scraped through another plumbing task unscathed when I my eyes fell on the dreadful venetian blind we have in the kitchen.

Venetian blinds in the kitchen

One of the very few things I dislike about the house is the fact that the kitchen looks straight out onto our street.

view out kitchen window

Our street has little traffic in terms of cars, but because it is quiet, a lot of people walk along it. And as much as I don’t like looking directly out onto our cars and the street, I also don’t like passing pedestrians to have a window on our life.

So we keep the venetians mostly closed most of the time. Which cuts down on light, and makes what is a tiny weeny space seem even smaller. And I loathe venetian blinds. Especially cheap nasty damaged ones.

Ever since before we moved in I have wanted to put some privacy film on the window, but balked at the extreme cost. And then, on one of my favorite websites, Design*Sponge, I discovered this very clever trick:

DIY window project from Design*Sponge

You can use regular everyday contact – the stuff you used to cover your school books – to create an etched-glass effect. It is cheap, easy to apply and peels off readily, with no lasting damage. Great if you are renting, or want a temporary fix like I did.

It just so happened I had some clear contact knocking around, so this fix cost me a total of nothing.

Now, I debated doing something fancy with this like cutting it into cool patterns, but the kitchen is small and crammed with enough stuff without adding another layer of things to look at. So, in the end I went with something simple.

First I took down the venetions:

Removing venetians

 Oh, that is better already.

Then I had to remove some leftover wallpaper that was underneath.

Remember this? Seems like eons ago since it covered the entire kitchen:

I measured and cut out the rectangular pieces of contact:

Cleaned the window thoroughly:


And applied the contact rectangles to the window. First peel off a small amount at the top:

Peel off a small amount of backing paper and apply to the window

Rub back and forth with a cloth as you peel away the backing, it mostly goes on easily and without bubbles:

Rub back and forth with a cloth as you slowly and evenly peel off the rest of the backing paper

 Any bubbles you do get can be gently removed with rubbing. If they are really persistent, you can pierce them with a pin, and then rub them.

repeat for each window panel

And there you have it! Now I can show you the new kitchen sink and faucet in all its glory.

But first a little reminder of what the kitchen looked like originally:

The kitchen in its original state

And here it is now.

 This week our kitchen took a quantum leap. And is so much the better for it.

And now it is back to the upstairs bathroom for me. Unless something else comes along to distract me …