Big Challenges in a Little Bathroom

I’ve often suspected that the house I live in (built in the 1970s?) was made from “found materials.”

We have ceiling beams of different thicknesses, various kinds of siding and window sizes that make no sense other than that’s what someone found cheap or free.

But what I’m happy the original builders found was a whole bunch of tongue-and-groove cedar boards, which they used liberally inside the house, including this bathroom, the home’s main bathroom.

(A second bathroom was added about 20 years ago in the basement area, and it’s an awful, cobbled-together mess. More on that later. Much later.)

This bathroom is a bare 5 1/2 feet wide and 6 1/2 feet deep. Unless something major happens in that downstairs bathroom, this will be the size of my bathroom for many long years to come, maybe through the end of my days. There’s just no way to make this bathroom bigger, as the bedrooms on either side of it are not large enough to borrow space from.

And so I think we’ll adopt the “not-so-big-house” philosophy here and enjoy this modest space. For me, as long as I have a bathtub, I’m happy and healthy.

You can see the challenges:

1. Horrible stainless-steel mirror-light combination.
2. Bad, cheap tile on the wall.
3. Molded sink-countertop with peeling paint (yes, it’s been painted), rust and mineral stains.
4. Cheap, style-free vanity.
5. Ten-dollar sink fixture that failed about five years ago.
6. Molded shower-tub surround topped with a cover that blocks most natural light.
7. Shower and bath fixtures have failed.
8. No natural air flow (high window is fixed glass) and the exhaust fan has failed. Unless you leave the door ajar during a bath, you will be frantic for oxygen in about three minutes.
9. Cheap vinyl floor that’s worn and torn.

And, oh yeah, there’s probably some water damage behind the shower surround on account of the broken fixtures. On the positive side, the toilet seems to be fine.

So, isn’t this a dandy challenge? I’ve been ashamed of this bathroom for years and cringed when Bill invited people to come and stay. But now that we’re fixing up the house, I’m happy to expose my misery.

What do you think? Any ideas that don’t involve dynamite or a moving van?

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5 Comments on Big Challenges in a Little Bathroom

  1. Kathy Price-Robinson

    Wow, a wet room! I never would have thought of that. It’s an intriguing idea. Such a tiny space would make a good-sized shower! However, I mentioned it to Bill and he kind of snorted. I said one of these people recommending it is a certified kitchen designer. He wasn’t impressed. But I was! You know how contractors seem to know everything? Well, it’s the same with former contractors. Bill said do the commenters realize this is on the second floor? Apparently that makes it more challenging and more likely to fail. I don’t know that much about it. If anyone has a wet room, I’d like to hear about it.
    I do love the idea of a super good exhaust fan, powerful and quiet. Because once this bathroom gets done I’m sure my therapeutic baths will get even longer and there will be more humidity to deal with!

  2. Peggy Deras, CKD, CID

    I like the idea of getting rid of the tub and making the room a wet room with a curbless shower.
    This works best with a trough drain running all across the back wall.
    Email me and I can send you an image.
    The floor needs to slope 1/4″ per foot to the drain, so the floor joists would need to be planed down, to create the slope, and doubled up for strength.
    Why not put in a new operable window? An awning type is nice, and you can even leave it open when it rains.
    The other thing to consider is a wall-hung toilet like a Geberit Tessera:
    How about a wall-hung sink:
    Does the door swing in or is it a pocket door?
    Anyway, the wall where the door swings when it stands open (if it does) is an ideal spot (usually) for a floor to door-top cabinet between the studs.
    Mirror the door if you like, if not a glass insert to match your tile would be nice. Glass can be back-painted to gain a certain color.
    The room should have glass tile, if you can afford the expense, floor to ceiling, and a mosaic tile on the floor for slip resistance. If you can’t afford the glass tile get very shiny ceramic tile.
    A light tile in glass green would be wonderful…Kind of underwater paradise feel. In any case all the tile should be the same light color to maximize the apparent size of the room.
    A shower rod and curtain will contain the splashing from the shower.
    Good luck!
    I so enjoy your blog.

  3. sheila

    i love lil gaucha’s idea! i saw something similar with a hot tub with a teak platform that rolled over it…
    anyhow, assuming you can make sure you do a fantastic job of marine-varnishing all that gorgeous wood, i would turn it into a “wet room,” a completely water-proof room with a drain in the floor (which is slightly sloped) and which is prepared to be splashed, soaked and doused from a rain-type shower head on the ceiling (yay!), climbing out of a tub, hosing it down to clean it, etc. if you hang the shower head over the tub, and don’t mind a lot of wet bathmats and/or some mopping up, you don’t need a floor drain.
    you don’t have to use a wet room to it’s maximum capacity for splashing, but normally all surfaces (floor and walls) will be covered in the same tile, providing a uniformity which might make it seem bigger, as well as give it a fun spa feel. i would probably create some calming simple shapes with the tile (as in, entire walls or half-walls), rather than the mish-mashed zig-zag you will see when you pull everything outta there, so you may have to cover (!) or move a little of the wood… it’s hard to tell colors on the web, but a very pale sea-green glass tile would probably look great with the wood?
    you could even tile a drop-in tub surround to keep the simple, uniform color scheme consistent, which will carry the eye all the way from doorway to tub without breaking the line of color/texture…
    linens would be kept in a linen closet (outside the bathroom), but you can find storage ideas that are reasonably water-tight and/or ok with getting splashed if you look around — ikea has lots of things that would work, but don’t limit yourself to their bathroom section. i am not a big fan of lots of junk in the bathroom, so i like the pedestal or wall-mounted sinks. hint — if you go with this idea, and decide to really splash, use one of those TP holders with a little curved flap over the top to keep it a little drier!
    No matter what, you need to either swap out that window for one that opens, install a powerful exhaust vent (don’t skimp! get a quiet one!) or both, so you don’t have to deal with mildew!! make it super easy to clean, because once the novelty wears off, you will resent any tedious cleaning processes!
    best of luck, whatever you decide. should be fun!

  4. Kathy Price-Robinson

    Hey, Lil Gaucha! I love the idea of the recessed cabinet. I actually wrote about that in a book review, but kept thinking of coves recessed in hallways, not in bathrooms. So this expanded my thinking. Maybe not above the sink, but on the wall behind the door, where there is no plumbing or vents.
    As for the sunken tub and walk-in shower over a hinged wooden grate, that is a great idea. It would work best on a ground floor with a raised foundation. This bathroom is directly above the downstairs bathroom, which already has questionable headroom.
    Actually, we’re thinking of taking out the shower/bath surround and replacing it with a clawfoot or pedestal tub. I only need shower function for occasional guest. We actually need a window on that wall, so the surround has to go. I hate to add to the landfill, but I’m sure a Sawzall will be involved to get it out of there.
    Thanks for the thoughts!

  5. lil_gaucha

    I always seem to have the weird ideas, but I think that I’ve got a good one for you this time.
    I saw in a magazine (who knows which one??) a while back bathroom remodel where the tub was sunk into the floor and a ceder plank slatted flooring built above it so it could be used both as a walk-in shower and a tub. The flooring on top of the tub was attached to giant hinges and could be lifted up somehow to give access to the tub. And the same slatted ceder planks were used for the shower doors — giving it a spa like look.
    it really opened up the space in the picture.
    Can you do recessed cabinets in your bathroom walls and then have a pedestal sink? That would open up some space.
    No idea what to do about the window issue. It looks pretty insane.
    good luck!