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I Hate My Bathroom - Part I

 I want to talk about bathrooms – specifically, bathrooms that are affectionately referred to by realtors, designers and remodelers as “vintage” or “mid-century.” We all know that “mid-century” can be loosely translated to mean a sickening shade of mustard yellow, avocado or salmon pink, with tile everywhere – and I don’t mean cool subway tile or the currently trendy thin rectangular-shaped tiles.

This is the kind of bathroom that I’ve been living with for the last four years.

Ugly green walls with a "follow the yellow brick tile" to break things up!
I know it didn’t always look this way. My cozy little home is nearly 140 years old, and I’m sure my predecessors were thrilled about remodeling and turning the loo into a cutting-edge model of modern decorating chic – back in the 1960’s, that is.

As you can see, the entire bathroom was green – more specifically, it was various shades of green. I can only surmise that there were clearance sales at the tile store and the home appliance store at the same time. The tub and sink were an interesting sort of seafoam green, while the floor tiles were closer to Kelly green on the color wheel.

The tiles that were used on every square inch of wall space – in itself, not the worst thing – are somewhere between seafoam and pond-scum green – oh, right – with a few pale yellow tiles thrown in to create a random pattern on the walls – go figure.

To make matters even worse, the hard water had taken its toll on the sink and tub, forcing me to use pumice stones to scrub away at the iron buildup as part of my regular cleaning routine.

There were so many other things wrong with the bathroom, besides the color palette. The medicine cabinet was a bare-bones “triptych” of mirrors, with no sleek lines or clever frame to make it more attractive. Of course, its interior was early tin and rusting from age and exposure to water.

Ugh - the dreaded GREEN MONSTER of a tub

The half wall that served a dual purpose of holding up the sink and providing a “privacy” nook for the seafoam green commode quickly became the bane of my existence. My cats decided that it made the perfect perch. From there, they could pounce on the top of the toilet tank or knock over whatever clever little toiletry holders or candles that I would display there in a feeble effort to make it look as if I’d embraced my little green monster of a bathroom.

Of course it didn’t help at all that, prior to my dismal divorce and difficult financial aftermath, I lived in a lovely home, with several bathrooms all done in various, tasteful marbles – each bathroom a different shade and style. But that, alas, is fodder for another blog post…

Suffice it to say that, in my reduced financial circumstances, I found myself unable to hire one of those instant bathroom remodeling companies. You know the ads: “In one day, have the bath of your dreams!”

I fondly indulged myself in fantasies of lolling in a sleek, shiny new tub filled with bubbles, with custom doors and glorious little nooks to hold loofahs, perfumed soaps and fragrant body scrubs.

But I was jolted back to my harsh reality when, after having a salesman over to give me an estimate, I was crushed to discover that the $1,000 “come-on” advertisement was bogus and the cost of re-doing just the tub/shower ranged from $4,000 to $8,000!

Not to be daunted by mere money, I decided I’d already waited too long to tackle the toilet task on my own. How difficult could it be, right? After weighing my options – (A) I could take a sledge hammer and go to town on the walls, sink, tub and tiles, tearing everything down to the studs, or (B) I could work with what I had – I opted for option B.

I did some research and discovered that it’s entirely possible to paint tiles and transform the look of the bathroom. I also decided to remove the sink, toilet and the “privacy” wall. That meant my urge to wield a crowbar would be satisfied.

After nearly four years of green, I craved a pristine white bathroom. I decided I could live with the tiny green and white tiles on the floor and I would use tasteful towels in complimentary colors that I could live with to tie the whole look together.

I decided to start with one wall as a test case. The most important part of the process of painting tiles is making sure they are as clean and scum-free as possible. It’s amazing how much things like hairspray or aerosol deodorants end up on the walls. Most instructional videos call for three different washings: first, using a bleach based cleaner; next, a Tilex or mildew-removal product; and, finally, a de-natured alcohol will help to make the tiles squeaky clean.

I found that I didn’t need to use the third step on the bathroom walls themselves. Of course, the scummier mildew-y tiles in the actual shower/tub would be a different story.

While many of the videos I watched beforehand specifically said to only use an epoxy paint, it was impossible to find a white epoxy paint in Lowe’s, Home Depot or the local Ace Hardware store. I had, of course, made friends with the guys and gals at both Lowes’ and Ace, and I learned that there is a great Benjamin Moore product called Advance – an oil-based high-gloss latex paint that works quite well on ceramic tiles and doesn’t have anywhere near the odor and toxicity of epoxy paints. Plus, unlike other oil-based paints, you can clean spills and drips with soap and water.

After cleaning, drying thoroughly and applying a light sandpaper on the walls, I first applied a primer coat of Valspar latex bonding primer and sealer, which  allows the paint to adhere to the tiles.

Once that was done, I started painting. I used a lint-free roller and those cheap spongy brushes to smooth out any streaks and get into the spaces between the tiles. Here’s the first wall, with just one coat of paint – so far, so good.
I ended up using three coats of the Advance paint on the wall, with a light sanding in between coats. I was thrilled by the high gloss and the way that it covered the ugly green. I fell in love with my tiles and couldn’t wait to complete the job.

Now that the test wall was done, it was time to tackle taking down the privacy wall and the horrid little sink.


It was easy to remove the tiles from the half wall. In fact, I was still burning with annoyance over the fact that, four years earlier and exactly one week after closing on the house, I was sitting on the bathroom floor, trying in vain to insert a more modern-looking door on the pathetic storage space beneath the sink, when I heard a loud crash behind me. I turned in surprise, only to find that the tiles on the front of the wall had fallen in a heap to the ground. Most of the grout between the tiles had crumbled and loosened over the years, and I basically removed them using only my fingers and the occasional sharp knife edge.

In no time, I moved on to the crowbar – the fun part.

It was a little harder removing the framing, some of which was secured to the wall and floor with six-inch bolts.

Even after the half wall itself was removed, I still had these bolts sticking out of the wall and floor. I briefly flirted with the idea of getting out my trusty little hacksaw, but quickly tossed that idea aside. I’d be sawing into next year with such a rudimentary tool.
It was back to the helpful hardware guys at Ace. I showed them photos of the bolts and they quickly pointed me to the most amazing little power tool – a Sawzall - a small but powerful little saw with removable blades that can cut through wood, metal and other construction materials, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread – in fact, you probably could even slice bread with it!

Check out the pictures below – that’s my son, Seamus, who also discovered the unexpected satisfaction of using a crowbar and the Sawzall.

Be sure to stop back to read my next installment of "I Hate My Bathroom" and see the transformational photos!


  1. I think I can't wait to read the next installment. But your post got me to thinking about bathrooms in general. When I lived in Manhattan, my bathroom was small. For five people we had only one bathroom but it was a typical NYC bathroom. Old and "out of date" and very small.
    But you know what? It served it's purpose--and that's to eliminate bodily waste and wash and bathe.
    When did bathrooms turn into luxury and overpriced rooms? Bathrooms are like cars to me--you need them but I'm not looking for top of the line. Think about it. As long as the toilet flushes, you're good to go. As long as the car moves, you're good to go!! LOL!!
    Fun post!!!!!

  2. Haha, true - I just want to be able to bathe in a tub that doesn't make my skin crawl! Thanks for posting a comment!!


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