I recently renovated my downstairs half bathroom (or, as some call it, my powder room). Though I’m thrilled with the final result, my renovation journey was not without its speed bumps. Google, Consumer Reports and Pinterest helped, but still didn't stop me from ignoring some important details—especially because so many products have to be ordered online, sight unseen.
I didn’t have a huge budget, so I decided to use my trusty handyman Fernando to do the labor. Fernando gave me all the measurements I needed, but comparing those with product specs online can be confusing—especially when it comes to toilets.
My bathroom before work started
I ordered no fewer than five toilets, but had the good sense to have them delivered to Home Depot instead of my house. The first was too large, the next two were damaged when they got to the store, and the fourth arrived intact—but by then, I’d changed my mind and decided to go with a one-piece model.
I finally bought a compact-elongated, chair-height Kohler model from Lowe’s that’s very nice on my aging knees.SPEED BUMP #2: NOT DOUBLE-CHECKING PHOTOS
Floor tile was next on my agenda. I went to several showrooms, but found most were understaffed, and had a confusing array of samples and styles designed for what seemed like something akin to the Hearst estate.
One morning, I ended up at Swan Tile & Cabinets in Westbury, New York, a low-key showroom with a unique selection. The saleswoman was patient and attentive, and I eventually picked out a gray, white, and taupe marble floor tile with a cross-hatch pattern. It wasn’t cheap, but it was pretty.
What I did next almost blew my entire budget right out of the water. I took photos of the tile with my phone, but didn’t compare those photos to the actual sample before leaving the showroom. Turns out the photos were underexposed and made the gray in the tile look brown. So I nearly bought a vanity, countertop, paint, and other accessories based on the wrong tile color. Luckily, I picked up the tile order before buying anything else.
I’d already decided on paint instead of wallpaper. Four sample pints later, I picked a cocoa/gray color for the ceiling, window, and floor molding, and a light taupe with hints of green for the walls. That last color I chose in spite of writing on the back of the paint chip after painting a sample wall, “No way! Hate it!” By the next day, I had totally changed my mind. The color was great.SPEED BUMP #3: NOT KNOWING THE ROOM'S PLUMBING
If the star of the bathroom was going to be the tile, the featured supporting actress was going to be the vanity. I must have looked at every vanity on the Internet and in every showroom within a 25-mile radius of my house. Finally, I ordered a vanity online that I’d seen in a showroom. It looked great with the tile, and it had the right measurements—or so I thought. Measurements are one thing, volume is another.
Remodel in progress.
When the vanity arrived, the first problem was getting it to fit over the pipes that came out of my bathroom floor. It hadn’t occurred to me that the pipes didn’t come through the wall like in my upstairs bathroom. It also hadn’t occurred to me not to pick a vanity with a drawer on the bottom because of those pipes. But trust Fernando to find a way. A buzz cut here and a buzz cut there, and the vanity fit over the pipes. Hooray!SPEED BUMP #4: NOT CHECKING THE RETURN POLICY
Installation of the vanity was on schedule, but after actually seeing it in the bathroom, I realized it wasn't working. Although it fit, it was too big for the room.
So here I had a gorgeous $1,400 vanity, marble top, and sink, and no bathroom to put it in. And there was no returning it.
Speaking of returns, read those policies when ordering online. There are often strict rules when it comes to returning new or damaged fixtures. Most retailers have a restocking fee and some brands can’t be returned at all. Many policies also specify that you open and inspect the merchandise in front of the delivery driver. If you don’t and the merchandise is damaged, they may not replace it.
But back to the too big-vanity: install it and be unhappy, or bite the bullet and order something else? I bit the bullet, ordered an appropriately sized pedestal sink and decided to sell the vanity on Craigslist. If I got half what I paid for it, I’d be happy.
My new bathroom … without that huge vanity.
It’s kind of like getting married, if you know in your heart it’s wrong, don’t go through with it just because the invitations have gone out.THE FINAL RESULT
The rest of the installation went well, though grouting and sealing marble tile is a meticulous process that Fernando and I had to learn on the fly. Several trips to Bed, Bath and Beyond for towels and accessories and my bathroom…er, powder room is now complete. And that gorgeous vanity, sink and marble top found a new home at my cousin’s house in Brooklyn.
A close-up of the finished bathroom!
The total bill for my powder room renovation: $4,500—not including the $1,400 vanity, marble top, and sink.
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