• Chris’ black and white bathroom remodel — amazing attention to detail — and all DIY!

    Can you believe Chris did this all himself?
    He shares his complete Resource List!
    Vintage Bath Remodel before and after

    chris-working-on-bathroom

    Chris in action.

    Reader Chris caught Pam’s attention right away when he posted a few photos of his recent bathroom remodel on the Retro Renovation Facebook page. When Pam asked me to write up Chris’ bathroom story, I too was blown away (holy tile work!), especially when I found out Chris did all of the work himself –  from demo to tiling to building his own custom vanity. What’s also awesome about Chris’ bathroom is that much of the material he used for the renovation was salvaged — he has some great hunting and gathering skills.

    Chris’ awesome bathroom remodel is inspiring –  but he was also inspired by Pam’s bathroom series on Retro Renovation.

    Chris says:

    Your blog has been a great source for inspiration and materials.  Your bathroom videos were so helpful, and you’ll notice some elements that are familiar from Pam’s own renovation.

    black-white-bathroom

    Chris’ remodel was a huge project — with lots to ask about. Chris was a super-helpful with the Q&A:

    Kate: Can you provide us with some back story about your house?

    Chris: The house was built starting in 1948, but the occupancy permit wasn’t issued until 1950. The city directory lists the house as owner-built, and also lists the owner variously as a carpenter, bricklayer and handyman depending on the year.  Having had the pleasure of re-working much of his work, I’m not sure he was overly skilled at any of those.

    The major components of the house are built from recycled materials (the walls are solid brick from the 1880s or so, the joists are 3×10” nominal beams with marks from square nails and lath, and the floor boards are 5/4 tongue and groove pine with square iron nails still sticking out of the bottom from when they had previously been installed elsewhere.  My guess is that the material is from an old factory that was demolished. There are also decorative granite rocks that look very much like they were taken from the river at the end of the street, and the mortar is made using what appears to be sand from the “beach” along the river as well.

    The house is basically a 1940s Cape Cod that’s infused with elements of 50s ranch and 30s deco. The upper floor appears to have been one large attic initially, then divided into rooms — as wallpapers and shag carpeting run under the walls. In the 80s the house became a student rental, then just a rental until the city came and condemned it prior to my purchasing it.

    To say it was in rough shape would be an understatement.

    Kate: What made you decide to renovate it?

    bathroom-before remodelChris: The second floor bath is the principle bath as the bedrooms are upstairs. The original bath was adjacent to the larger bedroom and was 54” wide and 12 feet long and positioned entirely under the sloping roof of the Cape Cod.  The bathtub was positioned on the outside wall because the space was too narrow for it to be the other way.  This meant that the wall side of the tub was 48” floor to ceiling.  The “shower head” was positioned at a point where the ceiling height was 56”.  I’m 6’-3”.

    The one structural change to the space that I’m very pleased with is — after working with the building inspector — we decided to raise the ceiling height to match the rest of the upstairs, since for some inexplicable reason it was originally framed at six-and-a-half-feet. You also had to physically climb over the pedestal sink in order to get to the toilet, as the space between the sink and the wall that constituted the traffic path was 18” wide.  Finally, the walls had been covered with pressed MDF patterned to look like tile that had then been texturized with stucco and then had been painted sunflower yellow.  The floor was peel-and-stick vinyl tile applied directly to the subfloor. I gutted this space and it’s now the Master closet.  The third “bedroom” upstairs had been converted to a kitchen during the rental days in the 80s.  It wasn’t overly large, but it became the space for the bath.

    Kate: Why did you choose a retro style?

    Chris: The house has a great location, and the factory-sized bones means it was structurally strong. The goal was to give the house a cohesive architecture that was period appropriate to the era of the exterior. Only one room remained original and able to be restored.  The rest had either been remuddled badly or had originally been simply drywalled boxes (such as the dining room), so the entire project is a gut and re-create. The focus is thus WWII-era, though admittedly, the quality of the materials are from a higher price point than originally used because the neighborhood has evolved in the past 60 years.

    Vintage black and white subway tile bathroom

    Kate: How did you choose the color scheme for your bathroom?

    Chris: The color scheme is more practical than anything. I expect to be transferred sooner or later and may need to sell the house. I like 50s bright baths as well as the 40s mint greens, but a black/blue or mint/black combination doesn’t appeal to everyone. If I knew I was staying put for an extended period, I’d go with one of those color schemes anyway, however, the reality of my situation makes going neutral a better choice, and there are still plenty of examples of classic black/white originals from the era. The slate grey wall color was a mis-tint at Home Depot and was only $5 for the gallon, hence the wall color choice.

    Kate: Did you do the work yourself?

    Chris: Yes, though keep in mind I’m an engineer with a background in architecture which might help slightly with the permitting process, electrical and plumbing.

    Being a precise and detailed person — he’s an engineer, which sure is handy for a home renovation! — Chris put together a detailed explanation and list of his materials:

    laying tile

    vintage-tile-rug-black-and-white

    Resource List: Tile

    Chris says:

    The white subway tile and the black subway tile laid in soldier course are both generic tile from my local store. They are made in Asia with no specific manufacturer noted. The black subway tile is used in place of proper base tile because, it was 10x the cost to use proper base, and also because the floor is not level so each tile could be cut to match the slant of the floor at the bottom and keep the rest of the tile perfectly level and therefore fool the eye into thinking the floor is also level.  In reality the base is almost an inch higher on one end than it is on the other but you don’t notice it. The black chair rail tile is from the same generic series.

    black-and-white-retro-bathroom tile vintage retroThe black pencil tile (aka liner tile) ran above the base as well as on either side of the accent tile came mounted to one-foot square sheets for use as kitchen back splashes from the local big box. The tiles easily peeled off the mesh sheets and for the cost of $10 per sheet, you got 32 accent tiles rather than paying $1.98 each to buy the standard ½”x6” pencil tile. [Pam interjects: BRILLIANT IDEA!!!!]

    The accent tile is (in between the two pencil/liner tiles, as shown above)  a 2’x8” glass tile from Home Depot.  It has a ribbed or “reeded” pattern that matches the privacy glass in the window.  It is actually called white, but the glass makes it read blue-green against the white porcelain.  Again it was super inexpensive being I think about $5 each.

    vintage-tile-with-modern-shower glass doors

    The Floor tile is brand name and is Keystone mosaic from daltile. I choose it because it came in an off-white unglazed tile that is both safer when wet and more closely resembles vintage tile than the glossy white version sold most places.  It was also important that the manufacturer sold 1×1 in the same colors further making daltile one of the few choices.  The plain white fills as well as the black borders are made from tiles cut from 12×24” sheets of 1×1 tiles in both white and black.  I ran a continuous 1×1 black tile against the base all the way around the room to further the give the feel of the proper 50s coved base tiles. Doing this also allowed me to break up the white of the floor from the white of the tub, which didn’t look that great together when they touched. The grout is ‘dark charcoal’ which has worked out well and tones down the field of white since the floor white differs from the wall’s glossy white finish. I used epoxy grout in the shower which doesn’t require sealing and you really don’t notice the difference between it and the standard non-sanded grout used in the rest of the bath. Epoxy grout uses a different installation method than standard grout, but once you understand it, I didn’t find it any more difficult to work with (keep it iced – it’s an exothermic reaction).

    electric floor warmer under tile

    I splurged and installed electric tile heat under the tile, and admit it’s fantastic to have a warm floor to walk on in the mornings. I haven’t noticed any impact on my electrical bill from it either. The electric warming mat is made by Warmly Yours.

    Resource List: Plumbing

    Chris shares:

    Toilet, sink: Kohler Memoirs Stately Collection, with the original Kohler flush lever swapped out for an American Standard Town square one to match the taps (rework was needed to do that).

    Faucets: I used your suggestion for 8” centers on the taps (American Standard Town Square Collection) so that it’d be easier to clean. Diverter valve in shower Kohler Memoirs (American Standard didn’t make one in the Town Square series). Handheld is by Delta as I wanted one that was square, and for some unknown reason the American Standard Town Square one has a very rounded handheld that in my opinion doesn’t look anything like the rest of the series. The drop elbow is from Pfister, as again I wanted the square one and both Kohler’s and AS were round. Body sprays are from Grohe. I also included a cubby area (with the sill set at a 5 degree slope to drain water) in the shower like you suggested.

    The towel warmer is the Infinity model from Warmly Yours. (Keeps towels from smelling musty allowing them to be used multiple times, and as a bonus makes them nice and warm as you wrap them around yourself coming out of the shower).

    vintage-tile-bathroom mirrored doorResource List: Doors

    Chris’ list:

    I’ve noticed on a number of homes of the 30s/40s era that they have built-in mirrors on the back of the bathroom doors.  Masonite actually makes a mirrored back door, but it doesn’t come in the two panel door pattern used in my house, and the mirror itself isn’t beveled like the traditional ones. Therefore, I made my own by buying a stock door, cutting the back panel out, stuffing the door with plywood and then ordering a custom mirror with 2” bevel from a glass shop. The doors have applied moldings added to match the originals. Glass shower doors are the same local company.

    custom-bath-vanitybuilding-cabinets for bath vanityResource List: Vanity

    From Chris:

    I custom built the vanity myself from maple furniture plywood since none of the ones available from home centers had the correct dimension to match my installation as I have the full-length window only 16” from the corner  (The shallowest side drawer units I could get were 18” and I needed 15″).  The vanity doors and drawer fronts are from Conestoga. I realize the vanity should be painted white to reflect the time period, however I was feeling that too much white would overwhelm and also I tend to like stained wood. I figure a future owner can paint it white in an afternoon if they want to. The mirror over the vanity started its life at a Sears Outlet store as a bedroom dresser mirror, and then I ran the wood frame through the table saw to match the slope of the ceiling. Buying a bedroom dresser mirror from a furniture outlet proved to be way less costly than a similarly sized bathroom mirror elsewhere.

    bath-vanity-custom-madevintage lightResource List: Lighting

    Chris da bomb say:

    Salvaged-wall-sconce-vintage 1940s

    All the lighting is from a 1938 mansion that was being demoed (which I rewired). I used a three-way switch at the door for the vanity lights so that you can turn them off and on from both at the door and at the vanity and not have to walk back and forth if you forget.  The lights themselves are rewired 40s antiques from Re-store (Habitat for Humanity)  The ceiling exhaust fan is also on a timer as you had suggested.

    Chris — all I have to say is WOW. You have gone above and beyond to remodel your bathroom in a way that hugely upgrades its functionality, makes use of salvaged materials, historically fits the era of your home and is just downright wonderful to look at. Kudos to you for completing — and doing it well — what must have been a long and exhausting project. With my own bathroom project looming, you’ve given me a whole bunch of ideas — that heated floor must be awesome — and I’m wondering if I might be able to build my own vanity too. (I’m no engineer, but I went to art school and know my way around the power tools.)

    Thanks for inspiring us Chris, and for giving us such and in depth look at your fantastic bathroom remodel!

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    Comments

    1. That tile work has me just breathless! Wow! Gorgeous bathroom!

    2. Amazing…great work!!

    3. This is absolutely beautiful. This bathroom is a work of art. I can’t even imagine the hours it took to do this. Lots of great thinking, great searching, and great workmanship. The detailed information and list of products will be so helpful to many bathroom remodelers. Congratulations on a completing a perfectly gorgeous and functional bathroom.

    4. It is absolutely beautiful! I like that it is updated and modern in function but kept the 1940′s flavor. This bathroom in black and white is timeless, to change it up any colors can be added with towels/accessories. I can imagine red towels, bright yellow, even the seafoam green! Great job Chris!

    5. Nancy Bekofske says:

      Wonderful! I love it! Plus, it looks like the bathroom in my childhood home, which was installed in the 1930s.

    6. Diane in CO says:

      What a delightful bathroom! It’s not easy to pull off the period look and you incorporated so many details that make it look like an original bathroom! How brilliant to use the little 1×1 black tiles around the base to mimic the vintage “coved” look. That works great!

      We JUST used that very same floor tile in our cottage bath (it’s under construction now) but without the charming border detail you installed. Also interesting about the charcoal grout; we used off-from-white and it looks good as well. Great sink choice; Our Kohler Memoirs Stately drop-in sink is going in this week LOL! Too many wonderful details to mention individually, Chris — but just a masterful design and installation. Bravo!

    7. Is this guy single?! Some lucky woman better snatch him up quick!

    8. wow!

    9. having recently used epoxy grout, I am very curious about the installation process and the endothermic reaction mentioned by Chris. What did he mean by keeping it iced down? I may not be doing another bathroom anytime soon, but am curious. Also did he use anything like red guard behind the tile in the shower, or perhaps a kerdi product? BEAUTIFUL bathroom, I also did mine in black and white, but not quite as mid-century as his. I wish I did now!

      • Shower wall composition:
        -Plastic vapour Barrier
        -2 layers 30# asphalt felt (ie tar roofing paper)
        -1/2 CBU (cememnt board) by Permabase/Wonderboard)
        -roll on waterproofer (mine was made by Laticrete and is blue but its the same as the Red Guard sold by home depot) The corners are reinforced first with CBU Mesh tape and motar, then with rubberized strips that are manufactured to be embedded into the waterproofer as you would drywall tape.

        The floor is a traditional mud base but with a PVC liner rather than lead.

        EPOXY grout:
        Unlike regular grout where you trowel on a large area, let it set up and then wash it off, epoxy grout is a two-part chemical reaction that the longer it is exposed to air the harder it becomes.

        I did 3×3 foot sections. I applied epoxy then immediately started wipping it down. I used a water/household vinegar solution to wipe it (it sticks to regular water too much and is like trying to wipe chewing gum). An ammonia/water mix would work too but vinegar is cheaper and more pleasant to work with. The epoxy is available from SOME big box stores (Rona carries it here but not Home Depot). It comes as a creamy mix that you then pour the second bottle of hardener into and mix. As soon as you mix, it starts to set up. Since I was only doing a 3×3 section before washing it was important to keep what I hadn’t used yet on the wall from setting up in the container while I was wiping the other off. Keeping an tight lid on the container helps but I found I still needed to slow the reaction and to do so I needed to cool it. Therefore I put the sealed container in a camping cooler of ice with the lid on it between applications. It slowed the reaction enough that I could get through the entire container without it setting up too much. Wash your applicator trowel as soon as you finish applying the epoxy before you start the wiping process or when you go to use it again 5 minutes later it will have hard epoxy stuck to it. The stuff sets up quick and you have to keep cleaning it off but its really not that bad to work with despite the horror stories you read. You just need to understand the material and not treat it like standard portland cement-based grouts.

    10. MsKittyMuses says:

      WOW! My husband and I have been going back and forth on a black/mint green/white color scheme or a black/white color scheme, and this has pushed me towards simple black and white, because we too don’t know how long we’ll be in our current house. Absolutely stunning!

    11. Beautiful. Such attention to detail really pays off with the end result. I think I would have painted the vanity black.

    12. Nice work sir! I can very much appreciate all the blood, sweat and tears you put into it. Your making me feel bad hiring out some of the work in my current bath remodel.

      How long did the whole project take?

      Congrats and I am sure you have a great sense of satisfaction

    13. When I was house hunting 6 yrs ago, we looked at a typical ’30s era 2-story. The kind that is skinny and looks like a “L” with a porch filling in the open part of the “L”. Anyhow, the main bath was upstairs and the shower was also against the outside wall with that same angled ceiling!
      I’m 6′-2″ so that (and the fact it was in the ghetto) was the big turn off. I don’t know what people are thinking when they have to lean sideways in a shower every morning!

    14. Holy Guacamole, this bathroom is amazing!! Just gorgeous. Having limited DIY skills, I am so incredibly impressed and just a bit jealous. Our bathroom has most of the original tile, but some of it was replaced by the previous owners, who did a dreadful job. I know it will need to be addressed in the not-so-distant future and, while daunting, this bathroom is so incredibly inspiring. I will most definitely be referring to this post! Congrats, Chris. It’s incredible!!

    15. Not mentioned in the resource list and by studying the fantastic pictures; Chris used the original TUB?!?! It is especially impressive considering how the previous surroundings would tend to make one chuck it all ^_^ As might daughters would say So Pretty!

      • Yes, it’s the original tub. It did take a long time to get the years of badly applied caulk, paint spatter, and staining off. I did sand and acid etched it before spraying it with two-part tub epoxy paint. I don’t think refinished tubs wear particularly well but it’s mostly decorative any way as the shower is the fixture I use and therefore I wasn’t overly concerned about the long-term wear of the refinished tub.

    16. TappanTrailerTami says:

      Hi Chris – beautiful, beautiful job on your bathroom! It turned out great, and I like seeing an actual vanity cabinet paired with the retro 30′s ish look, rather than the standard pedestal sink.

      A couple of questions:

      Is your door hardware original to the house, or did you put in reproduction knobs/backplates (from where)?

      What material is your vanity top?

      Are you single? Haha…..I think there are 4 women ahead of me though, based on the current posts!

      Thanks!

      • They are all reproduction. I bought a box of 12 of them deeply discounted from VanDykes (http://www.vandykes.com/) – before the recession they used to carry an amazing assortment of products now I find they’ve greatly reduced their selection to common things you can get any where.

        The vanity top is a piece of solid marble. It’s real, not the 70/80s composite “marble” despite the color being similar. It was a 6′ x 2′ slab I got from the same demolition as the lighting. I wish it had the grey undertones to like the marble I used elsewhere but it was free and isn’t quite as beige in reality as it reads in the photos. I used a concrete and hand saw to cut the shape and then lots of sanding at various grits to polish the ede to the final dimensions.

    17. Concrete hand saw?? You mean you cut the marble with something non electric? How did you start the initial cut for the sink? Did you use an electric sander? Did you use wet dry sand paper for the final finish?
      Again, just amazing. I have heard it is easy to DIY soapstone counters.

      • Concrete saw and hand saw.

        I used a 5″ electric diamond-blade wet saw (basically a skill saw with water) to cut the basic shape, but as the blade is round, it doesn’t cut squarely into the corners for cuting out the sink and cutting the notches for the set-back portion of the vanity. A regular hand saw for cutting wood works (though very slowly and expect to pitch the saw when you’re finished) to cut the rest of the marble to square up the corners.

        For the sink cut out I just started the saw and carefully lowered it onto the middle of the cut for each side. The sink overlaps 1.5″ so it didn’t need to be perfect.

        For sanding, it was 60, 120, 220 grit dry on my electric palm sander, then 600 and 800 grit wet.

    18. Chris,
      Please share pictures of the rest of your home. It the rest is like this bathroom it must be awesome!

    19. Peggy Miniard says:

      Its so nice…no cookie cutter bathroom here….love it!

    20. Chris,

      Saw a picture of your bathroom on the HOUZZ website and loved it!. We’re redoing our bathroom and are planning on copying some (lots) of your ideas, hope you won’t mind. We particular like the floor and the black and while subways. We’re also scraping our only tub for a shower, you had a great idea.

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