Sourcing Tile, A Vanity, & Other Bathroom Accessories

As John mentioned on Monday, our full bathroom is in need of the full monty. Sure it’s great from afar…

… but up close it’s a bit more, um, not great. Sadly, after over fifty years of use, the once wonderful black and white basketweave floor tiles are cracked, stained, and worn down beyond repair…

… and the white tiled walls are in pretty scary shape (shattered in some areas and dingy and worn almost everywhere else).

We’re all about saving what you can and working with whatcha got, but in this case we’re sorry to say that after a pretty serious cleaning and recaulking effort a few years back- which certainly tided us over for a while- the time has come to bring the bathroom up to speed. But of course that doesn’t mean that we’ll be bringing in materials and colors that feel all futuristic and out of place in our half-decade-old brick rancher. Our plan is to walk the line between classic and current while choosing tiles and accessories that should fit right in with our 50’s home without feeling “so 2009” in a decade or so (since we hope to enjoy this new bathroom for at least as long as the old one lasted, which happened to be half a century).

And since we know you guys love the play by play when it comes to our actual planning process, this post is all about the brainstorming and beginning legwork that we put into the bathroom waaay before we even picked up a hammer and got to the smash-em-up demo part. As many of you know, one of our favorite first steps to any makeover is to hunt for inspiration images in magazines and online. We get tons of emails each week from people who just don’t know where to start and we always suggest what works for us: look for rooms that you love and let them be your starting point.

And not just one. It helps to hunt down at least five or so. Sure they might all be a bit out of your price range, but you’ll notice patterns start to emerge as you add more images to your inspiration folder (ex: you’re drawn to white cabinets for example, or you seem to like mosaic tile) and you might even find the “jackpot room” that you can literally follow to the letter if you’d like (grabbing a paint color that matches, choosing similar tile, snagging nearly identical window treatments, etc). And of course you can duplicate the look for less thanks to lots of stores like Target, Z Gallerie, Ikea, TJ Maxx and HomeGoods which carry high-end-esque items that don’t break the bank.

So since we knew a bathroom makeover was in our future for the past six months or so, we slowly but surely built up a little folder of inspiration and recently sifted through it when the time came to settle on tile choices and a color scheme. Here’s the single most inspiring image from our hunt (found on Canadian House & Home’s eye-candy riddled site).

Now at first glance you may laugh because this luxe and spacious floor plan is nothing like our own, but the reason we were so drawn to this room were the mocha floors paired with lots of airy light colors everywhere else. Because our entire house has dark hardwoods (even our half bathroom, laundry nook and kitchen) we loved the idea of carrying the deep mocha tone into the bathroom for a more seamless feeling. No more stepping into a little box of light tile after roaming around a whole house full of mocha flooring. And the bathroom above showed us that you can mix light tile with dark floors for a stunning and open effect. Yes, part of the reason it looks open is because this bathroom is about as big as our entire house, but we’ve learned over the years that contrary to the “lighter’s always looks bigger” rumor, keeping flooring cohesive in a small house makes things flow more easily, breaks things up less, and- you guessed it- can actually make rooms appear more expansive and open because there’s not a hard and fast boundary when you step from one space to another. Plus dark floor tile means dark grout which is a dream to keep clean compared to the white stuff.

So it was settled: we were gung ho about a dark mocha floor. But we didn’t want hardwood in our home’s only full bathroom (tile is notoriously better when it comes to moisture & water- and because it’s the only shower/tub that we have, it definitely gets a lot of use). So we set out to Home Depot and Lowe’s to scope our floor tile options in the dark mocha family. Of course we had no intention of coming home with anything… we were just doing a bit of legwork before possibly checking things out online or hitting up a specialty tile shop. Home Depot had a few basic porcelain and ceramic options in brown-ish tones, but they all sort of mimicked the look of travertine (which is a bit more new-traditional than the classic meets modern effect that we’re leaning towards).

So off to Lowe’s we went. Which is where we literally struck gold. Ok, we did not literally come into a small fortune thanks to discovering gold bars in the tile aisle, but we did find gorgeous mocha tiles (marble ones to be exact!) that were normally over $10 per square foot marked down to $2.50 each in the clearance section. It was love at first sight. And we did save a fortune so we might as well have actually struck gold. Since our bathroom only calls for about 30 square feet of tile for the floor (there are some perks to a small bathroom!) the cost to retile the entire room came in at around $75 (of course we’ll have some other flooring materials to add to that price, but because we’re doing all the work ourselves – well, with the help of John’s dad- we’ll definitely make out like bandits).

But did we just buy 30 square feet of the clearance floor tile? Heck no. We actually employed an old trick from my house-renovation-loving mom and step dad and purchased twice as much tile as we needed. Home Depot and Lowe’s are great about taking back full boxes of tile that have been opened as long as they’re undamaged and not missing any tiles, so my mom her husband always purchase twice as much as necessary when it comes to tile with irregular patterns (like veiny inconsistent marble) because there are always tiles that you love mixed in with oddly spotted or colored ones that you’re less crazy about. And when you have twice as many tiles to choose from, you can hand select the ones you like best and return all the rest to the store unharmed in their original boxes for a full refund. Not a bad system, eh? And it’s totally above board! In fact we’ve heard of many a contractor who does the same thing (and even chats about their approach with store employees as they return half of the tile). As long as it’s undamaged and back in the original box it’s a great way to ensure a floor that you love instead of having to hide a few tiles that you’re less crazy about behind the toilet. Note: buying at least 10% more tile than you need is always a good bet because you might have breakages during installation and will also want to keep a few spare tiles on hand for replacement down the road.

But what about the rest of the room? Well from the beginning we’ve been sold on classic white subway tile for the shower surround (it’ll go all the way up to the ceiling for added height which makes a room feel taller and less broken up). The perks of subway tile are nearly endless. It’s affordable and timeless and perfectly appropriate in a 50’s ranch (in fact the white tile that we’ll be replacing is pretty similar except that it’s square instead of rectangular). And you can’t beat the price. It’s just 21 cents a tile at Home Depot (compared to a few cents more per tile at Lowe’s- yup every penny counts!). And when it comes to the tile you see around the rest of our bathroom (behind the toilet and the sink) we’ll be demoing that out and replacing it with drywall for a less broken up effect so we can paint those walls floor to ceiling in the same tone for a streamlined and open look that’s still totally workable in a bathroom (who needs tile behind a toilet anyway?). Using semi-gloss paint will keep it just as wipe-able as our half bathroom walls (the toilet and sink in there get tons of use and the semi-gloss wall paint is super durable and perfect for the job).

But onto the vanity. From pretty early on we decided that we wanted to make our own using a sturdy piece of furniture like a cabinet or an end table and retrofitting it with a sink and faucet (just like my mom did in her bathroom over ten years ago).

We love the classic lines of a dark wood cabinet paired with a crisp and current clean-lined  sink. And after a full day of driving our bums all over town (we literally visited three thrift stores followed by TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, HomeGoods, World Market, two Pier 1 locations, West Elm, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel over the course of about five hours) we finally discovered the perfect base for our DIY bathroom vanity. So for anyone at home who wonders how we find what we do, there’s usually a bit of old fashioned legwork involved (and we like to do it all at once in one chunk of weekend time so all of our options are fresh in our minds and we don’t have to spend ten evenings in a row ducking out for a half-hour each night).

But back to the vanity we found after some pretty decent store hopping. We were looking for a very specific size (around 18″ deep , 23″ wide, and 30″ high) so it wasn’t all that easy to find. And of course it had to be sturdy enough to support the weight of a sink full of water and adaptable enough to accommodate the pipes that will need to be integrated into the base. So when we stumbled upon the perfectly sized night table at Crate & Barrel we were both thanking our lucky stars. Plus with a 15% off coupon that we happened to have in the car (tip: keep coupons in the car so they’re most likely always with you- and they don’t clutter up your purse) we snagged it for just $165! Not bad when you consider that many of the wood vanity bases sold at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s are around $500 (which don’t include the above counter sink and faucet, btw) like this one and this one. Heck even this tiny one is $199, so we’re feeling pretty good about our lucky Crate & Barrel find.

And once we add a discount sink that we tracked down (hundreds cheaper than this one from Home Depot) and an affordable ebay faucet, we’ll have a totally customized classic-meets-modern vanity for around $380. Which is cheaper than most of the vanity bases (not including the sink and faucet) sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s! And it’s even more of a deal when you compare it to similar pieces sold for around $1500 at stores like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. Crazy, huh?

But enough jibber jabber. Here’s our little mood board of sorts for the bathroom so you can start to see how it’ll all (hopefully!) come together…

1. We plan to bring in soft gray-blues and light taupey-green tones in the accessories and the wall color while the floor is that delectable rich mocha tone and the shower/tub tile (along with the shower curtain) are crisp white for an open and airy feeling. Status: no specific paint colors or accessories have been selected as of yet- we plan to get the tile up before crossing that bridge.

2. Here are our tile choices together (the cheap 21 cent subway tile for the shower walls will hail from Home Depot and the clearance $2.50/square foot mocha marble from Lowe’s will go on the floor). Status: all the tile has been purchased- and our wallet hardly felt it!

3. We searched high and low to find a clean-lined white sink that’s hundreds cheaper than most of the others we hunted down, and when it’s paired with an affordable ebay faucet the savings will really start to add up (without sacrificing an ounce of style). Status: we already received the sink and LOVE IT, and as for the faucet we ended up snagging a similar but less bamboo-ish version right here.

4. Here’s the night table that we’ll be turning into a vanity sink base thanks to the perfect size and sturdy construction (and also thanks to a 15% off coupon that helped us snag it for $165 total). Status: it’s here in a box just waiting to be assembled.

5. We already have an extra long white floor-to-ceiling waffle curtain that we’ll stick with for the new bathroom remodel (you can read about how it came to be right here). And adding some softly patterned towels in taupey-green and gray-blue along with a few accessories, a bit of art, and other finishing touches will really tie everything together. Status: as mentioned we already have the curtain so we just have to grab towels along with accessories after the tiling is completed.

So that’s the plan for the big bathroom overhaul of 2009- and of course we’ll include a big budget breakdown when we actually take things from mood board to reality. We can’t wait to get started and share every detail with you guys along the way. And since we’re all about bathroom steals and deals, we’d love to know what cheap-o projects you’ve completed yourselves. Or what sorts of discounted items and accessories you’ve found that have resulted in a so-fresh upgrade without emptying your piggy bank. Do tell.


  1. Amy in Lake Tahoe says

    Wow. I love what you have planned! I can’t wait to see how it comes along, although I am sad to see your vintage floor tile go away. I loved it!

  2. Victoria says

    Oh my God! We are in the final phases of a do it yourself bathroom project in our 50’s ranch too. Our bathroom is only 5×8 although our bedroom is bigger than most modern living rooms. Sadly, we don’t have the budget right now to make the footprint of the bathroom bigger, but we will probably expand it in the next 5 years or so, but still be able to keep our new tub, tile, and toilet. We also went with dark floors, white subway tile, and waffle curtain. But your plan already looks more complete than ours because I am terrible at selecting paint and accessories, which is your gift. Good luck to you guys and I know it will turn out beautiful! Don’t forget the waterproofing membrane behind your tile. If you need tile help, the guys at The John Bridge Tile Forum are awesome professionals who know their tile stuff up and down, inside-out.

    • says

      Thanks so much Victoria! We’re definitely relying heavily on the advice of experts like John’s tile-slinging dad and a few contractor friends of ours! And that tile forum sounds like a great resource as well. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Amelia says

    bah! me again (things are quite quiet here at work so i have tons of time to read your blog and post comments!).
    Anways – love it! love the airy feel your new washroom will have with those rich floors. Love that steals you’re finding and can’t wait to see how it goes turning that bedside table into a vanity! Just wondering – any window coverings for your window? i noticed there isn’t one in the current bathroom photo either. May i suggest, if you don’t want the fussyness of curtains, blinds, roller shades, etc. that you consider a frosted film?? YOu can purchase, as i’m sure you’re aware, at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-mart and they are pretty inexpensive. It’ll allow you to have that clean, simple look and offer you some privacy as well (you can only see shadows). Just an idea…

    • says

      Hey Amelia,

      We love frosted film (stay tuned for our basement update)! And we actually put some in this very bathroom once we moved in, but after we replaced all the windows in the house we realized that we didn’t need it because the window looked out on our private backyard and is too high/angled for anyone in the backyard to see anything other than the ceiling when they looked up. So for that reason we like to let the light stream in and leave the windows blissfully naked. It is a bathroom after all…


  4. Christine says

    Great mood board with such a classic, clean look. My one bathroom is in need of the full monty as well, but in the meantime I needed more usable storage. It is very small and had one small wall cabinet over the toilet. I purchased two of these from Ikea(, which I think is actually a magazine rack, and put two of them on the wall in place of the one small cabinet. Perfect for all the packages of cottonballs and things, bottles of hair stuff and lotion, and extra rolls of toilet paper. The fabric parts come off and can be laundered. It works perfectly until I can gut the place and start over :o)

  5. says

    Oh. Em. Gee. I love it all! I love the look of subway tile (I did it in my bathroom). Will you be doing light or dark grout with it?

    Also, in my experience, Lowe’s and Home Depot will also take back individual tiles- you don’t necessarily have to have a whole box to return it.

    • says

      That’s great to know about returning tile to HD and Lowe’s Amanda! Thanks for the tip. As for the subway tile grout, we’re going white and sealing the heck out of it to keep it relatively low maintenance. Hope it helps!


  6. Kate says

    This is an unbelieveably timely post for me. My husband and I are re-doing the master bath in our 1950’s ranch. The tiling is already done (subway tile in the shower and white hex tiles on the floor), the new high efficiency toilet is installed, but we’re stuck on the vanity. I found the perfect vanity, but for $600 (not including sink and faucet) my husband is pretty hesitant.

    Retro-fitting a piece of furniture is an excellent idea! I think I know what we’ll be doing this weekend now :) As always, thanks for the inspiration.

  7. says

    When renovating our downstairs half bath, we went with hardwoods since there was no shower in the room… we bought extra hardwoods when we installed them in our foyer/dining room which we found at a THD clearance center … so when we tackled the bathroom, we already had them to match the other hardwood perfectly! We also found our vanity/sick combo on craig’s list! It was still in the box and $50 less than buying it new at THD!

  8. says

    Wow! That’s gonna look GREAT! I know how it is to have only one full bathroom — actually, that’s all we have, no half either. So, updating it will definitely be worth it. I can’t believe those deals you’ve been getting! We haven’t been to Home Depot in a while, but I might need to go browse the clearance sections for one of our own projects we’re working on.

    And that bathroom that is your inspiration! That’s the size of the bottom level of our house, I think. Wouldn’t THAT be nice?

    Can’t wait to see your progress and, of course, the finished result.


  9. Cassie says

    Sherry and John, you plan really looks fantastic! I absolutely love the floor tiles! I’m very inspired by your ability to create beautiful rooms without breaking the bank. Thank you so much for what you do and the inspiration you bring to all of us. I am wondering how long this bathroom project might take? Do you two usually make a timetable to follow? Sometimes projects can linger on forever, or you can get into a rut. I’d like to know how your projects always seem to get finished so quickly. Good luck with the bathroom (and the nursery!!!).

    • says

      Hey Cassie,

      Well we did all of our demo this past weekend (a grueling 20+ hours of it) and John has actually taken off work on Friday and Monday and his expert-tiling dad is coming down for a long weekend to help us (hopefully!) bang out the majority of the project. Our goal is to have it all put together by Christmas but that might not include every last accessory. So early January is probably a more reasonable timeline for sharing the completely finished after photos (painted trim, perfectly fluffed towels, etc). In short: the goal is to be back showering in there in a few weeks and the rest of the finishing touches will hopefully follow. Of course it can always go faster (or muuuch slower) than we have planned so I guess time will tell…


  10. Chloe says

    I cannot wait to see all the bathroom fixes you guys have in store! Our townhouse has 2.5 baths, but they’re all builder’s grade 1980s style! I’ve been keeping up an inspiration file and I’d like to do the same things–convert a small piece of furniture into a vanity and use vessel sinks, to accomplish huge style in small bathrooms on a smaller budget! Plus I can show this to my husband as proof that I’m not the only one to pick up awesome stuff from clearance sections well before starting a project! Looks like another awesome change on a dime you guys!

  11. says

    I am getting ready to redo my shower in my 60’s ranch. I am planning on using the subway tile but am having a hard time finding a reasonable, quality shower head and faucet. What have you guys found for that?

    • says

      Hey Teresa,

      Good question! We actually ordered this set from We have yet to try it out but it’s a total steal compared to many other options at Lowe’s and Home Depot and we needed something that had three knobs to avoid reconfiguring the existing shower/bath piping. Definitely try places like ebay and (even for deals, but read the reviews and check the return policy too, just in case they don’t meet your standards! Hope it helps!


  12. says

    I am not sure if someone let you know about this, but I laso know how every penny counts, and I know a few tricks to stretching them even further. For example, if Home Depot Subway tiles are 21 cents a tile (I think that is what you said), then you need to buy them at Lowes. Because both stores have a meet and beat policy. Lowes will meet the Home Depot price of 21 cents and offer you 10% off that price. Check it out, I am pretty sure it is a nationwide policy!

    I can’t wait to see the transformation.

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