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. Amanda says

    Will you be putting anything on the top of the beside table to waterproof it and make it easier to clean around the sink?

    • says

      Hey Amanda,

      Good question. We’re planning to apply about ten thin coats of polyurethane so the tabletop is protected with an easily wipe-able waterproof shell. Stay tuned for those details later when we put our little vanity together and share the play by play. Hope it helps!


  2. Val says

    It’s going to be so awesome! I love the choices and can’t wait to see it all put together. The bathrooms in our 40 year-old split level both need redoing, but I told my husband we should just wait and see how your remodel goes. You guys always break the process down so clearly.

    Just one question: how are you dealing with the no shower for a while thing?

    • says

      Hey Val,

      As for the no shower question, John is using the one at his gym every morning on the way to work and I’m borrowing my sister-in-law’s (we’re lucky that she lives so close) in the evening since I’m the night showerer of the group. So far so good. And we can see the light at the end of the tunnel so it makes it bearable, at least for now…


  3. Patti says

    love love love, especially the flooring, so rich and inviting! when it comes to decorating, you guys definitely have “it”.
    The best deal I got was a GE Profile fridge for $900 from an online appliance store that sold dinged up new applicances. It has a ginormous dent on the back right hand side but since it sits in a recessed cab in my kitchen I knew it would work for me.

  4. priscilla says

    Last August, the husband and I renovated our bathroom. This was our first project and boy were we in for a treat! Our plan was to just tear off the floor tiles due to a water leak. But, it looked like there was more damage than we anticipated so we had to tear it down to the studs. We replaced the vintage tiles like yours with 12X12 ceramic tiles we found at HD for $1/sq ft, purchased new sink/shower/light fixtures, and gave it a coat of paint all for less than $400. At the time, we didn’t think a new vanity was a must-have. Now, I’m ready for a new one and you’ve definitely inspired me with yours! I hope you guys do a how-to make your own vanity tutorial so I can follow along! Thanks for all your inspiration! =)

    • says

      Hey Priscilla,

      We’re definitely planning to share all the step by step details of our vanity making project so that’s in the hopper for the next few weeks.


  5. Megan says

    Love it! But then again – I would. A bathroom remodel was among the first projects we did in our 1965 ranch (and it was our only bathroom as well). We went with dark gray and brown tile for the floor, white subway tile for the tub surround, dark wood vanity with a bright white sink (both from Ikea for a total of under $400 with the matching cabinet – and we get TONS of compliments on them). No tiles on the rest of the walls – just a glossy paint, and stuck with grays and spa-like greens for our accent colors. Sound familiar? We had a friend who just started his own company do the work for us though – we are not nearly that handy yet. Good luck! Can’t wait to see the end result!

  6. Jason says

    You know I’ve been waiting to see it! Fabulous!!! In keeping my yellow/black tile I think I’m going to go with a black vanity with super simple white sink to tie to the other fixtures and I have to say I’ve seen my Mom make a dresser a vanity, but I hadn’t considered it for my small bathroom, but this deal you pulled together will be beautiful!!!

    Did you guys think about heated floors?

    DE – J

    • says

      Hey Jason,

      We did think about heated floors but unfortunately our limited budget and super tight timeline have us ruling them out this time around. Thanks for the suggestion though- and maybe someday we’ll have luxuriously amazing heated floors (under our whole house while we’re at it- since we’re fantasizing, why not go big here?!).


  7. AW says

    My hubby and I just purchased a house with wall tiles in the bathroom. We’ve got to get rid of them– they are awful colors. So, any tips on getting the tiles off the walls?

    • says

      Hey AW,

      Our next post is all about demo-ing (including step by step photos and instructions about what worked for us) so stick around for that info soon.


  8. says

    The colors you’ve picked are just gorgeous…the same colors I’m hoping to use through out my new place. I hadn’t thought of dark tile though, now seeing it in your mood board, I’m sold!!

  9. Sara says

    Love your choices, I would have never thought to use a dark marble on the floors but I really like it.

    You’re inspiring me! We’re using a contractor but buying our own materials, so it’s great to see there are deals out there!

    Our 1950’s ranch actually does have heated floors! We have an original randiant heat system and the original 1952 boiler, which is still running strong after some intense maintenance this year. Now all we need are more efficient windows to keep the heat in the house!

  10. Jen says

    I went on the same exact search for a small-table-to-use-as-bath-vanity a few months ago, I wish I had seen the one you found at Crate and Barrel! I would have definitely used it. I came up emtpy handed, and got my dad to build a simple wooden frame with a shelf for a small sink I found at IKEA. I am looking forward to the rest of your renovation, I’ll be doing mine over the next month also. I am merging existing 1920’s subway tiles (off-white) with new cobalt penny tiles (home depot).

  11. says

    I’m currently looking at floor tiles to replace the tiles in my small bathroom as well. Nothing has really grabbed my attention yet though so I’m still searching.

    Love the nightstand-turned-vanity!

  12. Jessica says

    I had to laugh about your “Who needs tile behind the toilet?” comment. That’s one you’ll regret saying if you have a boy :) We have 3 (and one on the way) and I would LOVE to have tile behind the toilet! LOL!

  13. Jason says

    Well – I hear you there and I can’t do it – since I am not putting in new floors but!!! do you have insulation under your house?

    Here’s my idea – by way of background – I had to take out my insulation wet and moldy fiberglass – uber gross. So I was going to do rigid foam board in it’s place since it doesn’t absorb water and I ended up finding some on craigslist that is actually for roofing, so by putting it together that way I end up at $12/sheet for 4×8′ of 2″ insulation way cheap look at it at Lowes! You screw this right to the joists not between them. Then you can put a vapor barrier under it to seal the deal!

    If your Heat/AC trunk line runs under the house as mine does and you have forced hot air heat you can actually run a duct under your floor split between joists and then insulate under that duct with foam board making a little heated room right under your bathroom – it heats up the floor – in the summer you can turn it off via damper as ac isn’t necessary.

    It sounds complicated maybe but it isn’t and heat rises you know – to your tiles!

    DE – J

    • says

      Hey Jason,

      That does sound quite elaborate! We actually have oil heat without any ducts that run under the floor of the bathroom (they’re all directed up through the walls to wall vents) but it’s definitely an interesting idea! Good luck with your bathroom!


  14. Kerri says

    Gorgeous! I can’t wait to see it. One tip to share:(from our two down-to-the-studs bathroom remodels) I highly recommend painting before the wall tile goes up. As you probably know, the wall needs to be paint free where tile is going to go, but you can paint everywhere else ahead of time. I learned the hard way that getting a nice clean line next to caulked tile can drive a person mad! And paintable caulk doesn’t always take the paint either. On our second bathroom and our kitchen, I painted everything except the areas where tile would go (just measure it out and make a pencil or chalk line so you know where to stop. And it’s ok if you’ve got a bit of paint moving into the tiled area so you ensure there’s not a gap later on.) Saves tons of time and sanity! Good luck!

  15. Kristin says

    I love the idea of a diy nightstand– but isn’t it a little short? most night stands I’ve seen are only definitely not waist high!

    • says

      Hey Kristin,

      Height was definitely an issue with most nightstands but this one from Crate & Barrel was made for higher beds so it’s actually 30″ tall, so with the above counter sink of top of it (which is actually 5″ deep) it’s the perfect height- almost exactly the same as our kitchen counters. Hope it helps!