12 July 2013

The Main Bathroom, or How We Knew We Were on the Right Track

Narrow, ugly, not functional. 
A very cold day in January we found ourselves in our new-to-us house with friends, sledgehammers, buckets, pry bars, and masks. We we going to begin the process of ripping out the yellow and blue tiled cave of a bathroom. We thought it would take a weekend to gut. We thought it would be dirty, but mostly easy work. After all, we have burly male friends who love to blow things up! How hard could it be?

That phrase -- "How hard could it be?" is every first time homeowner/DIY's first, and unlikely last, mistake. 

The house itself was built around 1902. It's a lovely, simple prairie box/four square design. Sears & Roebuck sold these houses back in its hay day for a few hundred dollars. It was an immediate success being that it was simple, easy to customize and modernize, and could look luxurious for a pittance of what the old Victorian houses cost. 

The haze of debris does not deter
Because our house was in such a bad state (read as uninhabitable), we needed to get a special loan (203k for those of you who are home-loan savvy) which meant we needed to have contractors lined up to do a lot of the major repairs as most banks do not really want your random homeowner doing the work for a lot of good and weird reasons. To save money on the loan, we worked it out with our contractors that we would do the demolition - get everything in the bathroom torn out down to the studs and cleaned up so that they could come in and redo all of the plumbing, the electrical, the wallboard, the new bathtub, and the tile. We were responsible for the hauling away of all the old materials and purchasing the fixtures. 

But before they could do their work, we had to do ours. There was plaster, horsehair, and lathe. Old cast iron pipes. And before we could even get to that we needed to get through the mortar and tile. At first, the guys thought this was AWESOME. I mean, here we were saying please, put holes in our walls.

Three hours later it was much, much less awesome.

By the following weekend, there was talk of setting explosives.

Three hours in and barely a dent. A lot of mess, but not a dent. 
Three inches of mortar on top of peaked joists. Hitting the walls with sledges barely cracked it. The overhead storage that made the bathroom such a cave did.not.want.to.come.down. We had men hanging from the rafters, we had men bracing themselves in bathtubs while trying to pull off the metal lathe, we had men throwing the 1930's cast iron built in (not claw footed) tub off my bedroom balcony into the yard below on Super Bowl Sunday.

In short, we had absolute chaos. And pizza.

Dear Clark, I'm going steady with Jim. Love, Pat 
In the midst all of this, we started to find clues to the personality of the people who lived there before us. An old playing card tucked in the wall. Newspapers from 1937 when a years subscription cost $9.00 used as filler for the ceramic soap dish. Our favorite, the literal Dear John letter that must have been stored in the attic and fallen into the bathroom ceiling - a letter from a woman who had decided to become an airline stewardess and date another man, dated 1958 in envious, looping script.
Binghamton Press, 1937.

While all this was going on, I was also scouring the craigslist ads for fixtures. We knew we wanted to keep the history of the house in mind when we added new details so I convinced (begged/pleaded) the boyfriend to purchase a gorgeous double ended claw foot bathtub, brand new. I found a pedestal sink, also new, for cheap on craigslist,and we got the faucet on sale. The light fixtures might be another story altogether but sufficed to say I do have a crystal chandelier in my bathroom and I do not regret it for a moment. Even if I have been mocked mercilessly by my loving peanut gallery.

The tile though, that proved to be a sticking point. When I thought about the bathroom, I wanted my baths to remind me of being in the warm waters in Corfu. The tile had to be just right -- matching my desire for a mini vacation and the history of the house -- white hex tile then. And we found it, not cheap, but from a small, local shop that had done work for my parents marble bathroom.

Horrible picture plus cat! 
Of course, once we had ordered it and paid the deposit I got cold feet which my boyfriend pointed out was quite possibly the worst time to feel like I had made a mistake as the money had been paid and there were emphatically no refunds. I fussed about it for a few days and finally gave up, telling myself it was floor tile and my life was not going to be made or broken by the size and color of my flooring.

That was the day the guys found that same exact tile in between the floor joists from the first version of the bathroom, small white hex tile perfectly matched to what we had purchased. I knew then that we were getting somewhere.

Even though the bathroom took the better part of a year to complete even after the contractors had done their job, I can safely say it was worth it. All the swearing with the measuring of the board and batten, my paint splatter that I had to scrub off later, my bitter disappointment with shower curtains and the complete lack of anyone understanding my vision and you know, having it on sale, all of it came together into a room that I love. There are still things that need touch-ups or finishing: the octopus stencil on the dresser, finding the right prints for the frames, a small shelf behind the shower for our soaps and things. All that being said, baths have never been quite this delicious.

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