Home Improvement

The Bathroom Blues

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, guys. We’re back with a fully finished bathroom paint & trim project (we mentioned our plan here last week, and you saw a sneak half-done peek of it in the house tour video on Friday). So here’s what it’s looking like now:

Which is a pretty stark contrast to what we started with. You might remember that we removed the glass shower doors pretty early on, but then we didn’t touch the room again until recently waging war on the wallpaper.

It’s a tough room to photograph due to all the doorways and nooks – especially when trying to get the ceiling and the floor in one shot. So forgive all of the super vertical crops and choppy shots. We hope they at least give you a sense of what the room looks like now.

As we mentioned in last week’s post, the thought behind the blue ceiling was to balance the floor. We’re actually charmed by the blue hex flooring, but we thought some up-high interest would be a nice counterpart. Heather’s bathroom below (and this similarly blue-floored inspiration image) helped to guide our vision – especially the part about adding some simple architecture to create a transition between the colors.

The first step was taping a horizontal border around the room where we wanted our blue color to start. We landed on about 8″ down from the ceiling, since it meant the border wouldn’t be interrupted by door or window trim but would still be substantial enough to look purposeful. I just held up my level and drew a pencil line along the wall… which then acted as my guide to apply painters tape. I wasn’t super meticulous at keeping my tape lines perfectly level since ultimately the paint edge would be hidden under the trim (so as long as it wasn’t majorly crooked, the trim would hide any small wavers or dips).

The next challenge was picking a paint color. We started off by doing some test swatches of colors we had on hand, like Nelson Blue (from our kitchen), Sylvan Mist (leftover from book projects), and Spirit In The Sky (a losing test pot from when we picked a front door color). Normally we’d go for subdued blues with a good amount of gray in them for the walls (like the two on the left) but with the low bathroom lighting and the primary blue tiles on the floor, the grayed-out tones actually looked more gray than blue in here. Spirit In The Sky was exciting in a small swatch because it was bold and very obviously blue, but we worried that once it went around the whole room – and covered the entire ceiling – it would be too intense for us (paint tends to magnify itself from a small test swatch and looks a lot bolder when it’s all over the walls or ceiling). So you see how Sherry’s holding up another swatch?

That’s Spring Mint (in an eggshell finish). Since nothing we had on hand was working, we decided to spring for a quart of a new color that was further from the blue-gray category, and more in the “pure blue” arena. Something like Spirit In The Sky, but a bit lighter and more subdued in intensity.

It took us two coats, but by that evening we had the blue border and ceiling that we were going for. As we peeled off the tape, we both wondered if we should leave it as is (i.e. forget adding molding). We decided it was definitely an option (especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have the time/money/tools to add it) but we wanted to take ours a step further. Mostly because we’re a little too in love with our nail-gun, and lattice strips are nice and inexpensive.

Speaking of lattice, we used the same pre-primed strips that we used for our last hallway’s board & batten. They’re super thin, light weight, and just 77¢ per foot from Home Depot. Sherry measured and cut the strips using our miter saw, and we taped them into place as she brought them up, just to keep track of how it looked and what walls were still incomplete. Despite all of the nooks and crannies in this bathroom, it took us under an hour to get everything cut and taped up… though it did involve about two dozen trips up and down the stairs between the two of us. Go quads!

As we took them down to paint them, we labeled each one on the back so we knew exactly where they went when it was time to nail them into place. Many of the walls are similar in size, so we figured it would save us the frustration of putting the puzzle back together by trial-and-error.

In addition to putting a coat of white (Simply White by Benjamin Moore) on the pre-primed slats, we also painted the walls the same color. Once that dried, we could finally attach the trim. This is one of those easier-with-two-people projects, so Sherry was with me holding things (the nail gun, the other end of the lattice strip, the level, etc) which made it go faster. We started with me nailing one end of our first strip with the nail gun (it was loaded with 1.25″ brad nails). Note the ear plugs, since in such a small space the sound of the gun was crazy loud.


Then I held my level across it to make sure it was straight before handing the nail gun to Sherry so she could nail in the other end. This is a rigged photo since Sherry had to hop down to take this picture, but in real life it was a lot easier for her to hold the other end of the lattice up, and I’d check things with the level, say “good!”, and she’d fire a nail into her end. Then we could just continue around the room, making sure each piece lined up with the one before it.


Once we had all of the lattice hung, I went around the whole bottom edge with a bit of caulk, since our walls weren’t flat enough for them to looks seamless. I also used caulk to fill the tiny nail holes that we fired into the lattice on each end as we hung it. When the caulk dried, Sherry went over the trim with one more coat of paint – just on the front and under the bottom edge – to make sure it looked as crisp as the freshly painted wall.


There are still lots of little tweaks that we’d like to do to this room for Phase 1 (see that light fixture above?) but so far we’re really happy with this slice of personality that we brought back into the space (you know, after ridding it of its wild wallpapered persona).

And I don’t want to ignore the power of the white paint in all of this too. Here’s the difference between our post-wallpaper-removal “gas station bathroom” look, and the post-paint after that we have going on now.

We also hung some art on the wall behind the toilet. These are prints we had from our last house (the top one is a page ripped from Real Simple magazine that hung in our guest bathroom, and the bottom one is a print by Sally at sadlyharmless.com that was given to us during one of our book tour stops last year and used to hang in our sunroom).

When we held them up together we initially worried they were a little too similar to be so close to each other, but decided just to work with what we have for now. The gradient of blues (the top print is a little lighter) actually seem to connect the lighter blue ceiling to the deeper blue floor in a nice subtle way.

At the end of the day, our entire master bathroom update so far clocks in at a little over 50 bucks. Here’s the breakdown:

* If you don’t have a shower curtain, wall & trim paint, and art on hand, you might spend around $100 grabbing those.

We still have a few more inexpensive updates in mind for this room, but it’s already a lot nicer to walk into than the dark blue wallpapered space that we started with. What did you guys do this weekend? Any bathroom or trim projects in the works?

Psst- Last week we woke up to some surprise snow, and Clara really got into it.



Wallpaper Zero, Fixing Flawed Walls & Paint Plans

Strike up the band. Fire the cannons. Attempt to twerk… okay maybe not that last one. But whatever the appropriate celebratory action is, bust it out because our once very wallpapered house is officially wallpaper-less! And since we thought one last wallpaper removal post might be boring on its own, we saved that info and bulked it up with some other bathroom progress for you guys – namely…

But let’s soak up the whole “wallpaper free” thing for a second. Considering that we’ve spent over 45 hours of our lives removing it in five different rooms over the course of the last six months we’re relieved. Very, very relieved. In fact, it was actually one of Sherry’s “before the baby comes” goals - so to hit it with a few months to spare means that we can dive into some more fun master bathroom stuff before baby. But more on that in a second.

First we’ll just remind you what this room looked like every time we walked into it for the last half of a year. The walls are just primed in the picture above, but it’s already a vaaaast improvement.

Although it was just completed last week, the peeling process actually started a little while ago. One morning Sherry was showering and I heard her yell “hey, come take a picture!” Intrigued, I hurried into the bathroom… only to find that she had stripped off several panels of wallpaper whilst showering.

A bunch of corners in there were curled up from the effect of the shower steam over the years, so it took virtually zero effort (and apparently zero clothes) to get most of the shower free of wallpaper.

Since the shower steam had worked so well for that area, we figured a little extra help from my sister’s clothes steamer would do the trick everywhere else (it had been slightly faster than the other methods we tried when we used it in the foyer). Especially if I added a new step beforehand that we heard could really help loosen things up: spraying it down with fabric softener before steaming it (I used a spray bottle with 50% warm water and 50% Seventh Generation fabric softener in it). Because it’s such a small room, I decided to tackle it early one morning on a whim, assuming it’d be so speedy that I didn’t even bother to put my contacts in or hide my bedhead under a hat.

Fast forward several hours later and I had made little progress and my demeanor was quite different. John was not amused.

Okay, so there wasn’t really several hours between those two photos, but the project did end up taking me an entire day (meanwhile Sherry was doing this). Despite using the steamer, most walls came off in small strips and flakes rather than the big sheets that we were able to get in the foyer. But by sunset, the paper was all gone.

The bad news is that the walls were in rougher shape than any other room that we had de-papered. We started to wonder if they used a special treatment or glue in here, knowing that years of showering might be too powerful for a normal adhesive. Either way, it left us with a look that I lovingly call “gas station bathroom.”

So unlike those other rooms, we had to do some pretty in-depth prepping. First we removed the last vestiges of wallpaper glue with a light scrubbing of warm water & vinegar (that’s usually our last “prep step” before painting). But this time we moved on to sanding all of the walls with a sanding block to help file down any rough spots.

There were still lots of dimples and low points, so we also decided to fill things in with a coating of spackle. You can see that my coverage was super thin (I was scraping it nice and firmly against the wall) but it did the trick for filling in those slightly recessed peeled-looking spots.

This was not a fast process, as you can see from this shot of all the spackle spots. The same smooth outcome probably could’ve been accomplished with a full-wall skim coat, but that would have taken longer and resulted in a ton of sanding dust, so we opted just to go with some small pats of spackle wherever we needed them.

The spacke job still did require sanding, which is always a fun messy task. I can’t imagine how much dustier the bathroom would have been with a full skim coat going on.

Once all the sanding dust was brushed off the walls and swept/wiped up, you can see how the spackle helped to level out any areas where the wallpaper had torn off a bit too much of the drywall.

Next up was primer. See how yellow the walls were on the left, compared to the fresher look of primer on that wall on the right? It was possibly my favorite priming project ever, since it evened out the spotty wall and made the whole room so much brighter.

You’ll notice that the floor is taped off too. That’s because Sherry decided to seize the day and paint all of the cream trim white while we were at it. Not only had the trim been cream, the quarter-round was actually wood, so it was definitely one of those time-sucking tasks (the window panes are always a pain) but it was well worth it in the end just to have it done. Sherry used two coats of primer (Kilz no-VOC stuff) and two coats of Simply White (the same semi-gloss trim paint that we’ve used everywhere else). It was sort of a triple “ahh” because the trim is now a crisp white color, there’s no more wooden quarter-round, and ding dong the wallpaper is dead.

Now that the boring-but-it-had-to-be-done prep work is out of the way, we’re really excited about a paint treatment that we’re planning to try in here. After wracking our brains about the best way to work with the existing blue tile for now, while drawing the eye up and making the room feel taller and less squat (which tends to be the issue when all the focus is on the floors) we decided to bring some more blue back into the room. Just in a smaller (and lighter) dose than the wallpaper… and in a nice high place.

Heather’s amazing bathroom (more on that here) will give you a nice idea where we’re headed:

Yup, we want to make a simple wood border around the top part of the wall and carry a soft-but-complementary blue color up that part of the wall and onto the ceiling. This room also has a similar effect while having a blue floor like ours, so it might help you picture how some softer blue up top can balance out a somewhat demanding floor like ours.

So next up, we’re going to paint those primed walls and add some wood trim around the top of the room along with an accent color up there. Hopefully when the tall white shower curtain is rehung and we add some art we’ll completely forget the old room that we started with.

But before I go, here’s a quick wallpaper removal recap since a bunch of you have asked for a summary of what worked best, and what we’d never try again:

In summary, the way that wallpaper is adhered along with how well your walls are prepped beforehand seems to have a lot to do with how easy (or how impossible) it is to remove the wallpaper. Nothing we tried was super fast and amazing, but most methods actually worked over the course of 8-ish hours if you kept at them. So hopefully taking those five techniques for a spin and outlining them as we went was somewhat helpful for others who are staring at a bunch of wallpapered walls and wondering what to try next.

Are any of you guys diving into a bathroom update or planning any wood-border-plus-paint projects? Have you been de-wallpapering, spackling, priming, trim-painting, or sanding? Feel free to toss out tips for anyone else who’s battling those beasts.

Psst- Sherry’s over on Young House Life chatting about her maternity clothing M.O.