Undoing the Ugly

You know how it is, you start to tear things apart and suddenly remember you never took the "before" photos. These are the best BEFORE photos I have.

a "marble-esque" plastic sink
two faux-chrome plastic sconces with creepy, blue-swirl shades
thick dripping strands of caulk slathered into cracks like a 7-year-old globbing icing onto a cake
a press-board sink cabinet so cheap it's not even worth calling it "pressed"
a sheet vinyl floor whose edges have curled and chipped, like an old woman's untrimmed toe-nails; yellowed by nicotine and stuffed with dust and crud around the edges

This was the powder room we inherited.

I know many of you faced this uglienss, too. We lived with it for as long as we could but knew that bleach can only do so much.

It was in 1952 that the Harris family ripped out the back stair case (on blustery, stormy nights I can still hear the stairs scream as they are dragged through the hall to awaiting garbage cans) and installed a half-bath for Mrs. Harris' mother, Diddie, a seamstress who was unable to climb the stairs to the second floor bathroom.

So you don't have to wait too long to see it ... Here's the AFTER ...

I debated, albeit for only 10 minutes, to reinstall the stairs and get rid of this room. 

The mirror is great. I left the medicine cabinet in place and simply added a new, square mirror and frame. Of course I saved the old early 1950's arched-top mirror. Ill find a place for it one day.

The plan was to install some kind of "vintage-y" bathroom: Something that would fit in with the more formal first floor space and not embarrass us in front of our guests. The house is, or will be, very colorful: A rich green dining room, vibrant terra cotta center hall, glowing gold and deep peacock blue parlor. It seemed that a gentle-colored bathroom would be a great respite. It also would be in keeping with the history of the house, since the turn-of-the-century, known as the "sanitary period" since cleaning was a high priority, promoted bathrooms that used white tile and porcelain and could easily be cleaned.

Just another view of the horrific sink. I bet it couldn't have cost more than $18.50 when new.

I chose two different pale grey paint colors for wall and trim, and planned to use painted Anaglypta wallpaper below a high dado rail, which would be a continuation of the windowsill about the rest of the room. White marble floors and sink, a white porcelain "Victorian-inspired" toilet that didn't require 8 gallons of water per flush, brushed nickel fixtures and antique oil lamps should round out the room.

Antique (about 1880-1900) nickel-plated rod holders. These were universally used for towels and curtains. I will use them for the toilet paper roll. Something to think about ... until nearly 1920 toilet paper was usually fashioned at home from old paper, such as newspaper or left overs from school.

Yes, that's the original 1952 baseboard sitting in a pile by the door. It will not be missed.

Armed with only a short pry bar, a hammer and a small paint scraper I attacked the room one morning. I don't even think I had had my morning coffee.

Removing the baseboard revealed the unfinished plaster board that was used to line the walls (the hole is through the plaster board.) This is an earlier version of drywall which actually was made of plaster. The edges would have been filled and smoothed with a thin layer, a skim coat if you will, of white finish plaster. The wood framing is original to the house. This is a view of an outside wall that would have been under the first part of the back stairs.

The baseboards were easy -- they were attached with short finishing nails. Reaching into the sink cabinet I turned off the water and disconnected the faucet hoses. I unscrewed the "p" trap and disconnected the drain assembly so I could remove the sink and cabinet.

I carefully ran the paint scraper all around the edges of the cabinet and sink back, feeling for nails, or glue, or screws, or anything that would need to be removed to pull out the cabinet.

Nothing ...

I looked at, and then jiggled, the cabinet and sink assembly ... let me correct that ... I EASILY jiggled the sink and cabinet ... and in the process lifted it right off the ground. Ahh, thanks to some less-than-handy PO's that did nothing to actually attach it ... good job guys ... I saved a few minutes of work.

I don't shock easily in this place, anymore. Most of the time when I uncover something I grit my teeth and stomp into the basement to get another tool or drive out to Lowes to get more stuff, to undo the stupidity of the PO's. But you just gotta love the groovy Marsha Brady rug I found under the sink cabinet. "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha."

Photo and close-up, above, of the carpeting found under the sink cabinet. There were 2 layers of flooring under this. The carpet did not extend into the rest of the room, and the cream-colored vinyl was only installed up to the edge of the sink cabinet. I also found out that this room had been 4 shades of blue, the original color was that mint green you can see above.

OK, sink out, baseboards out, toilet waiting for the plumber to remove. On to the floor.

Cement board going in to lay the tile. The black glue remnant is from what I suppose is the original linoleum floor tiles. The wood is just plywood layed over the basement ceiling joists.

I took a stab at it and it was not too hard. There was vinyl over vinyl over what I think was probably linoleum over wood. I don't think any of it dated to 1908 when the house was built. Maybe, I don't know. It looks old from the basement side, but remember, this was a staircase till 1952, so if this is original wood, it was more of a basement ceiling than a floor. No matter, we got marble tile to lay over it.

The toilet came out without incident and the tile floor went in fairly well. I didn't do either since I HATE plumbing and "someone" thinks I can't lay tile ... (grumble)

Sparkling white. The new honed marble floor makes the room look better, even if nothing else is ever done.

So let me pick up after the new toilet, a model I found completely unobjectionable while checking out new toilets at Lowes, went in.

That toilet from Lowes. I do love the antique-looking oval tank and the vintage flared foot under the bowl.

Static for almost 2 months, the bathroom awaits a sink, clad in cardboard and old towels to keep the floor from scratching while I worked.

I have a beautiful white marble sink top, circa 1880-1890. It's great. It just needs a bowl. It has a few stains, a great patina, beautiful finish, soft and aged, just the way I like it. In fact, the marble floor was special ordered to match the sink. I found a "old-timey" plumber to even repair the old faucets for it. I processed how to install this sink for months. I had the wall-hung brackets and a plan, BUT, the risk of someone leaning on the front edge of the wall-hung sink, which has no legs to support the free front edge, and it falling to the ground breaking plumbing, causing a broken hip, was all too great. So after some online research, I begrudgingly ordered the pedestal sink that matched the quite acceptable toilet from Lowes (special order, 4 week wait, no problem ...).

After 2 weeks I called to see how the order was going. They tracked the sink back to the warehouse in China. It was one of 23 sinks they had in stock and it was being shipped out that week. It should only be a week or so till we had it. One week short of the month estimate.

3 weeks later ... still no sink. We called a few times in between and were told the sink was on its way. Got a little angry and called some more: no sink. Got angrier still and called and, well, here's where it gets interesting. The manufacturer no longer makes the sink. It no longer makes the sink that the warehouse had 23 of a few weeks before and was shippign one to us the next day and .... No longer makes the sink still listed on several websites for sale.

Lowes offered us an alternative, as if they had choices ... choose any sink at the same price. Hmm ...

That sink was $119. American Standard makes a nearly matching sink, albeit, considerably larger, but nearly identical in design. (I tend to think the one we originally ordered was the low-end rip off of the American Standard). American Standard's sink is about $400. Really, what would YOU do?

mmmmm ... sink ... see that the oval top matches the toilet tank and they share the same flared foot. I LOVE THIS SINK.

When we picked up the sink we got a new faucet, American Standard brushed nickel and again, kind of vintage looking. It also repeated the shape of the sink's pedestal.

Again, the AFTER shot. The brass cup holder will be replated in nickel as soon as I save all my pennies.

Meanwhile, back in the bathroom ... I was busy hanging the Anaglypta, painting the walls, ceiling and wallpaper. I applied a wash of grey paint over the textured Anaglypta, which you need to paint since it's uncoated paper, and wiped it off so it stayed only in the recesses of the wallpaper.

Anaglypta paper hung and painted. It;s very forgiving if you have less than perfect wall surfaces. It must be painted, though, and offers alot of opportunity for decorative effect. Anaglypta has been in continuous production since the 1890's and was originally developed as a less expensive alternative to embossed leather and Lincrusta, a linoleum-like wall covering developed in the 1870's.

I also had to mill all the wood trim for the room since none of the trim in the house is still manufactured. Thank god dad sent out his old Porter Cable router. I came up with baseboard, dado cap and window and door trim that I found easy enough to make, but also complimented the other woodwork in the house. The baseboard was the trickiest, but it is similar to the original baseboard of the stairs in the house. I could not find, or afford ($200), a one-inch reverse-ogee router bit, which is what I needed to match the top of the original baseboard. I came up with something similar by overhanging a 1/2 inch round over bit so it rounded off the sharp top edge while it cut a groove just below. I may like it more than the original baseboards.

A turn-of-the-last-century cup and toothbrush holder I have had for years. It is brass and had been nickel plated. I also found it for sale in the 1897 Sears Catalog.

The light fixtures are old oil lamp brackets that I wired and hung on the electric boxes using custom drilled metal box cover plates. They were tough to hang since they are really heavy.

Antique (1880) Bradley and Hubbard cast iron oil lamps. The milk-glass shades are also period and I think original to the lamps. I stay up at night worrying that they will break. I ordered the electric "burners" from Antique Lamp Supply. I just wish they were nickel, or at least a silver-ish color.

Finally, the first floor half-bath looks like it belongs in the house. I am very pleased with its timeless design and lack of color (although I have already cleaned the white floor about a million times ...).


  1. I really like what you did. There is a small toilet only in the house I hope to buy, but I don't like the entrance... and might copy some of your look, if you don't mind.

  2. Nice job. I like the tiling and the sink.

    Where did you find the bin?

    Exterior Wall Coatings UK

  3. Love it!! Any chance you can tell me the brand of the toilet and sink? I'm redoing a bungalow to period and this would be perfect for the powder room!!