How To Hide Old Cracked Tile With A Built-in Shelf

Aw yeah, it’s hall bathroom time, baby. We have about five phases of updates that we plan to share as we go, so here’s phase one. We’ve been hiding something in our hall bathroom. What? You thought that giant empty frame was just there because it looked good? Nah.

To better understand this skeleton in the closet atop the toilet, might I refer you to this 20-month old post by Sherry entitled “Sometimes I Go Crazy.” It’s about how Sherry got a wild hair and busted out one of several extraneous towel bars that were un-centered/overkill/everywhere in our hall bathroom.

Thankfully we were able to cover up the resulting tile scab with some new trim, so we considered it a success.

Not quite so successful? Sherry’s attempt to bust out a weird soap dish above the toilet. So we’ve been living with this craggy eyesore for nearly two years, shrugging it off as “oh, we’ll just dremel out a tile or two and replace them someday” (like we did here).

But then we came up with a better idea – something that would be functional and decorative – and cover that lumpy mess. A chunky floating shelf (to rest art, cute toiletries, etc). See, form + function + ugliness shroud = awesome.

Note: we somehow accidentally deleted a few of the early photos of this project, so bear with me as I try to explain this somewhat logically. I know, I know. Deleted photos? That’s like a class 1 blogging misdemeanor. Tell it to the judge.

Anyways, covering up the existing damage involved making some more. This time in the form of pilot holes to help us hang our homemade shelf.

We decided to create a chunky, shallow shelf that was built following a plan similar to what Ana White shared on our blog for recreating the floating shelves in our old dining room. It involved building a “sleeve” over which a box (aka, the shelf) can rest and therefore appear to float on the wall. Since our shelf wasn’t going to hold much weight, I made mine much less heavy duty than Ana’s plans called for.

Here’s the shelf itself. It was made from some simple craft pine from Home Depot. It was eight bucks total for the wood (the top was a thin piece of wood that was leftover from Clara’s dollhouse). But you can see that I just used the Kreg Jig to make a flat plank with wood pieces shooting out as the “sleeve” (which I drilled into the tile and secured using a masonry bit) and the box was just made like you’d make a box (again with the jig). As for the measurements, it’s 6″ tall, 21″ long, and 3″ deep.

I didn’t put a bottom on it since you’d never see that side of it… unless you were actually inside of the toilet tank. And if that’s your view, you’ve got far worse problems than seeing the underside of our shelf.

So here you can see how it the shelf box fits nicely over the “sleeve” AND completely covers up the ugly, busted up tile. Plus, this $30 fish print that Sherry snagged from Joss & Main is a nice shot of color too. Thank goodness it now has a spot to rest! It’s actually a great height with the mirror, so it looks nice and balanced – like Bubbles (that’s the fish’s name) was meant to be.

We went back and forth about whether to paint or stain the shelf and, if so, what color to pick. Not knowing yet what color the walls would be we didn’t want to go too bold (we have big plans for a pretty bright window shade along with other colorful accessories like the fish art). So Sherry concocted a plan to whitewash it by dampening the whole piece with water first (just so the paint would glide on better) and then wiping some liiight gray paint over it with a paper towel (the color was Collingwood by Benjamin Moore – we had a test pot leftover from this project). She just smeared it around until it was her desired lightness and all pretty much the same tone (not blotchy or darker in some areas).

Here’s the result. We liked that it still had some of that wood grain texture, but wasn’t as orange as it was originally (the orange tones looked weird in our black and white bathroom- didn’t want to go Halloween with it, ya know?).

So here’s the whitewashed shelf back in place, with the fish painting still acting as our touch of color in the room. But not for long. We have plans to cover the walls with a pretty bold color along with bringing in a bold patterned fabric for the shade and framing out the window and adding bright hardware to the vanity. In the words of $herdog, we got plans, yo. So this is just step one of a dozen. As usual. So it looks kinda bland right now, but we think it’ll all make sense after a few more upgrades…

Happily, this little homemade shelf is much better solution for us – especially since it is far more functional than the soapdish was to us (have you ever noticed that toothbrushes of today don’t even fit in them?).

And after having done this, I think it’s the push we need to finally put some paint on those walls (spoiler alert, we’ve already started!). And I promise to keep better tabs on the photos. Promise. And if the old shelf ones turn up I’ll add them into this post retroactively! Until then, it’s just a fish on a shelf hiding some broken old tile. Haha. Just a normal day at our house.

What did you guys do this weekend? Any cover ups going on?

Psst- Being in NY, CT, and NJ for the past few days, we witnessed the damage of Sandy firsthand – it’s bad up there guys! Sherry’s grandma still doesn’t have heat or power, there’s hardly any gas to be had, and most people along the coast were hit the hardest (her brother lives in Jersey City and the first floor of his apartment flooded). We’re sending lots of love to everyone up there and will definitely be sharing more when we post a tour update at the end of this week.


  1. says

    How is it that our projects line up? And when did you have time to do this with your 16 hours of driving this weekend?

    We are in the process of covering up…basically our entire bathroom. Walls, vanity, floor, everything. Wagner Bathroom Lipstick Project 2012. Whatwhatttt!

  2. Jenn says

    You guys are so clever! The shelf looks like it was meant to be there. The whitewash is a great call by Sherry. It really ties the whole thing together. Another job well done!

  3. says

    Nice coverup! We have two of those above our sink – one soap dish holder and one toothbrush holder (which, you’re right – doesn’t even fit our toothbrushes!). Our bathroom really isn’t savable though with little projects like this – it needs a full overhaul… BUT it’s our only bathroom and I’m a little afraid to take it on since we need the toilet and shower to be fully functional during that project! Any tips on how to take that on? :^)

    • says

      I would just try to do things one phase at a time. Instead of removing the toilet and shower all at once, try removing the toilet, redoing the floor, and if possible installing the toilet again asap. Then you can move on to the shower area. Might be hard though (we were without a shower for a while so we showered at John’s sister’s house and the gym).


  4. says

    What a great idea! I have some of that same tile in our ranch house’s bathroom. What’s up with their fascination of putting those holders in there? They are useless now. This may just change all of that now! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Nicole says

    Totally unrelated to the bathroom shelf….your book was shipped to me on Saturday!! I put the baby down for a nap that acternoon & read the entire thing in one sitting :) great job! Loved it! It was just the nudge i needed to get geared up to tackle the kitchen this winter!

  6. Danielle says

    Your book should arrive at my house today! I.AM.SO.EXCITED!!!
    I am also planning to go to Chicago on Saturday for your book signing at West Elm. I am from Grand Rapids, MI which is about 3-4 hours (depending on traffic) away from Chicago. Any tips on what time I should get there to get in line? I know the event starts at 1, but how early have people started lining up at your previous events?
    Thanks! Can’t wait to meet you both!

    • says

      I would get there a little early if you can, come with a full belly wearing something warm in case you’re outside for part of the line, and not bring any kiddos that can’t handle a wait (a tween with a Gameboy might fare better than a restless toddler- Clara could never had made the long wait). Oh and carpooling if you can (or taking mass transit helps) since parking might be hard at certain places. Hope it helps! Generally everyone has lots of fun in line and makes friends and it’s a huge lovefest!! Wahoo. Best readers ever.


    • Linda says

      FWIW, I called West Elm-Chicago this morning – they seemed very eager to try and help as much as possible. That said….they advised getting there as early as possible. The store will open at 10:00 am Central and she said people have already told her they’re planning on hanging out in the parking lot prior to opening. It sounded to me as though they’re hoping to snake people around the store as much as possible, to keep everyone out of the elements. I’m planning on taking the 7:00 am train from Glen Ellyn, cab from Olgivie and hopefully be at West Elm around 8:00 or 8:15 am. Good news is that the extended forecast says it may be around 60 on Saturday (which beats the 20 this morning).

      The manager did say the event has been far more popular than they anticipated, and they’re still working on plans to make it work for as many people as possible. I got the feeling that it may be a book signing only, just due to the number of potential participants (which is still neat, but I would have loved to have heard the talk – but I think they’d have to move you to the Chicago Theater at the very least to accommodate the crowds). And, pretty much a first come, first served event.

      If you’re worried about buying a book on site, she did actually take my name to put a book aside (I just got my Amazon copy, but wanted to support West Elm as well).

      Oh, she said they still have plans for hot drinks and cookies! The manager really did sound very very nice – and really trying hard to make the event work.

      And, definitely, if you can – mass transit is the way to go in that neigborhood. IIRC, it’s near the North and Clybourn stop on the Red line.

    • says

      Aw, that sounds so nice! I’m so glad they’re being so friendly and working so hard to make it work. They have been amazing! We’re so happy they’re supporting us on our tour!


    • Cara says

      We are going to west elm in Chicago too. They said it was first come first serve when my friend called the store and to get there early. They closed the RSVPs because there were so many responses!

    • Danielle says

      Will you be ending at 3:00 if people are still in line? Or will you try to stay as long as it takes to get people thru? Just wondering what to expect.

      Thanks everyone for the advice. I am totally unfamiliar with the area. When we go to Chicago we usually stay near the Michigan ave/Millenium Park area. How far would it be to park in that part of town and take a cab to West Elm?


    • says

      Oh yes, we have been known to skip meals and stay hours late whenever we can! We don’t have our flight schedule, but as long as we don’t miss our flight home we can stay as late as possible! We can’t wait to meet you all. As for your questions about the area, does anyone local have info for Danielle?


    • Linda says

      Danielle, I’d think a cab would be about $20 or so from Millenium Park…but if you’re at a hotel, ask the doorman or concierge for an estimate. You’re going to North and Sheffield (1000 West North Avenue) – pretty much the DePaul area (and not that horribly far from Steppenwolf if you’ve been there). You could do the Red Line and get off at North and Clybourn and walk a few blocks (at least that’s what the West Elm website says) but I know I’m going to treat myself and take a cab from Randolph and Clinton.

      Hopefully someone from the DePaul/Lincoln Park area will chime in. It’s a nice area, lots of fun shopping is what I’ve been told. What can I say – I’m one of the oldie 3% who’s more familiar with the Oak Brook location.

    • Bernadette says

      Danielle – your best bet to get to West Elm is to just take the Red Line subway from downtown to the North & Clybourn stop. If you take a cab, it will cost at least $20 because traffic is a nightmare in that area on the weekends. Cheapest parking downtown is in the South Loop (Harrison & State, across from the Red Line stop would run you about $8-12 for the whole day of parking).

      From the North & Clybourn stop, you just go out, make a left to walk west on North Avenue and WestElm will be in a shopping center about two blocks away on your right. It’s a 3-5 minute walk.

  7. Theresa says

    Sandy did horrible damage. We donated to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and in honor of our dog, the Humane Society over the weekend. I encourage all the faithful readers of this awesome blog to do the same. We are so lucky to have our homes intact. Thank you.

    • N Shirley says

      A good reminder Theresa. We are on the shore in CT. Not the damage of NJ and NY but it sure was a scary and destructive storm. Sure puts things in perspective doesn’t it?

  8. says

    Cute! I’ve been wondering what was going in your hall bath (so stalker-y) since…your day in the life post? Something like that.

    I like floating little shelves much better than big, hulking over the toilet shelving “systems.”

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