Finally sharing another space in our home, this time the bathrooms, his & hers. Probably the areas with the most extensive amount of renovations done (and maybe the kitchen). We are very lucky to have a condo with two bathrooms so thankfully (for Tyler) we don’t have to share. It is one of the things that we definitely appreciate about where we live. It’s always important for me to talk about because I feel like in the society we live in, having a house and living in the trendiest, most popular neighbourhood seems to be THE ultimate goal. While deciding wether to move or renovate I got totally trapped in that mentality and it wasn’t util we went on a trip to Europe that I realized all of that stuff is superficial, insignificant and absolutely does NOT add to your overall happiness, IN FACT it can even cause more stress. It’s strange to me that that was even a priority for any amount of time in my head as I grew up in an apartment, I don’t even know what it’s like having a house, so what did I think I was missing out on?
When we try to live outside of our means to flex our status to the outside world our vision can get a little blurred. The truth is, thanks to the fact that we live in a less popular, older neighbourhood we pay less property taxes, we have a larger apartment with more room to actually live, we are closer to everything we need like shopping, the airport and the downtown core which makes it super easy and fast to get around. The alternative for us would be to 1. live in a big house an hour away from the city, 2. live in a house in the inner city, pay 10x in taxes + spend too much money on a mortgage OR 3. live in a tiny cell sized condo downtown AND overpaying for both mortgage AND taxes.
I grew up in an apartment, I don't even know what it's like having a house, so what did I think I was missing out on?
Our renovations started with the bathrooms, they seemed to be the most time consuming and they needed to be completed first due to our moving schedule and required availability. We started a month in advance of having to move in and we STILL needed to use our neighbours bathrooms for a week. Bless good neighbours. We decided to gut the bathrooms completely as the majority of everything here was very outdated, including the original linoleum floors that were a giant pain to take out/scrape off. We wanted to update the whole look to be more modern and clean and hopefully give us a little more storage. We learned a LOT during this process, from how to pick our contractors (basically always go with the Polish guy), to how to plan ahead and what really goes into renovating a 5×8 foot space. Read below to learn from some of our biggest mistakes…
I never felt so scammed in my life
BATHTUB – It turns out standard sizing has changed quite a bit since this condo was built in 1995. Finding a 60″ plain rectangular soaker tub days before your contractors are demolishing your bathroom is a TERRIBLE idea. Commercial stores like Home Depot or Rona may have a style you like if you get lucky, and they are inexpensive, in our case there was only 1 option but it turns out the tubs were about half an inch too wide for the space. With the layout we were working with one of the bathrooms allowed extra room where the other had to be an exact fit. Since both bathrooms had to match it was back to the drawing board. I got extremely lucky to stumble on some insanely nice and helpful folks over at Frontier plumbing in Calgary who pulled some strings and found the perfect tubs we needed to make this work. Two plain rectangular 60″ soaker tubs coming right up! And they were relatively inexpensive. For those wondering tubs range from $200 – $3000+ in price. Ours were $400.
TIP: When installing your tubs make sure they are level. Our first plumber told us he had to lift one side slightly for the water to run off but that is already something that tub makers take into account. We ended up having to rip them out and re-install correctly. Also make sure the rough in is done correctly (this is the part where the plumber prepares the pipes before everything goes in). Once the tile goes on there is nothing you can do to fix it.
TOILET – measuring out your space when you are working with so little of it is ESSENTIAL, we didn’t know this so it was a lot of running back and forth for us on this one. Think about how big the old toilets were and how much room you need to open the door if the toilet is in the way. Toilets have also changed over the years, it seems elongated comfort is what it’s all about these days, so you can really call it a throne. This means 26″ deep toilets aka 1995 standards, were nearly impossible to locate. Here we faced one of our compromises, we had to give up on our ideal shaped toilet (square and angular) and just take what we could get (round with a tear drop flusher).
Where trades people are concerned it took us a minute to find the right plumber, and not without it’s price, $2K+ to be exact, crooked shower heads and tubs and a half assed job all around. I never felt so scammed in my life. Guys like our first plumber totally give the trades a bad rep. You start expecting a shitty job from everyone that walks through your door because you got burned by a joker like this and beware because sadly I’m afraid that’s the majority at this point. AJ, on the other hand who we got as a recco from our friends at Frontier turned out to be a real treasure and an angel sent from heaven. I have this guy permanently on speed dial. He was efficient, knew what he was doing, charged a totally reasonable rate and did his job with attention to detail and care. He didn’t leave without having the job 100% complete and he also took care of finding the right toilets for us!
TIP: Be very careful which plumber you choose for your project. Go to a local bathroom supplier and ask them who they like to work with instead of asking other trades people. They will be able to give you a better insight into who to call. Trades will often reference each other to get a job for a friend instead of getting you the best there is.
Trades will often reference each other to get a job for a friend instead of getting you the best there is.
VANITY – Currently you can go to any home hardware store and pick out a finished one piece vanity that will be perfect for your home. Except you can’t always guarantee it’s quality, we picked up a few of these over the course of our reno and they turned out to be complete duds. We then went to bathroom showrooms in hopes of finding something, and unless we were willing to spend $2.5K+ on a new bathroom vanity there was nothing there for us. Luckily I found the site thevanitystore.ca. The price was reasonable enough that I was willing to give it a try. We had about six weeks for delivery but it was perfect. As long as you know your dimensions (again with the dimensions) and what style you want you may be better off to getting something online. 4 for 4 in fact for us as we also got my mums vanities, this time on amazon and they were exactly what we wanted.
TIP: Ensure that you open the Vanities before signing for your delivery, many online stores don’t guarantee returns if you find a flaw after the fact. Read the fine print. And always make sure you can return your online purchases before you buy.
LIGHTS – Our bathroom lighting was very low maintenance, we basically switched the 4 bulb light for the 5 as we already really liked the look of these, but wanted them to span the whole width of the vanity. We covered the whole wall with tile so we were looking for the perfect fit. Again Benco came through for us with no hiccups and wired everything for ahead of time so when it was time to install the fixtures it was a painless process.
I walked in with fear in my eyes, a floor that wasn't level with the laminate that was laid out in the hallway and a guy that truly didn't see the problem
TILE – What should have been a very straight forward job turned out to be quite a nightmare. We were definitely way over our heads not knowing what to look for in a good contractor for this particular job. We quoted a couple of guys and went with a recommendation from a friend and quickly found it wasn’t our best decision. Everyone’s standards are different and for a perfectionist like me I needed a total pro, which we ended up finding for our kitchen but sadly had to go through quite a painful process with the bathrooms. It took over FOUR weeks to finish the tile in our two small bathrooms. They boys didn’t place much importance on straight lines so I had to monitor every step of the process, which was mega frustrating for both them and me. There was quite a bit of back and forth about the difference between a straight laser line and a straight line in relation to all the other lines in the room. Essentially if we had gone the former route we would have a very crooked bathroom, it took some convincing but we finally agreed on who the boss really was. I put too much faith in them at the very beginning and as a result one of our bathroom walls is now convex. And the other has sloppy finishing along the bathtub. And don’t even get me started on the silicone. Hopefully these would not be visible to an outsider seeing the space for the very first time but trust me, once you see these mistakes, you can not unsee them. Yet another problem came in the form of our shower niches. The original contractor assured he was able to create my long coveted shower shelves and it started quite promising, until time came to tile them and then it turned out he had no idea what he was doing, so much in fact that he completely gave up on the project and left them unfinished (!) Leaving us with another problem… no contractor wants to fix another guys mistakes so it took us a few phone calls until we found the right guy for the job. Not only skilled but also reliable, easy going and Polish, and we ended up hiring him to do our kitchens, which he finished in two half days!
it took some convincing but we finally agreed on who the boss really was
Onto floor tiles… oh yes, the drama continues. Because we got a few quotes from several guys (one of which came over to our house high out of his mind ahem ahem… talk about red flag) we roughly knew that we needed to level the floors before laying out the tile. Our marble floor tile, at $60 PER SHEET was laid out initially without any levelling or underlay. I walked in with fear in my eyes, a floor that wasn’t level with the laminate that was laid out in the hallway and a guy that truly didn’t see the problem. I wasn’t sharing all this drama at the time on my stories because I really didn’t want to further the issue but you guys it was BAD. He had to rip out the entire floor and start over. Thankfully our bathrooms aren’t big otherwise this would have been a MAJOR financial setback. I do have to give him props for offering to pay for the floor, but considering that we were paying him PER HOUR (see renovation budget NO NO’s) probably didn’t hurt him that much in the end. Sorry if you’re reading this bud but I think we both learned some valuable lessons here. I will be writing a whole blog post about renovation dos and don’ts because there are real gems in here that people probably don’t even think about before embarking on a project of this scale.
once you see these mistakes, you can not unsee them
Then there is the grout. Everyone was telling me what a nightmare it will be to put black grout between my white tiles but it turns out it was the least of my worries, what did cause a bit of a headache was actually the silicone. You want to make sure that whatever silicone you use in your bathrooms it be waterproof and ideally match your grout. Black silicone is hard to find and stores don’t stock it because it’s not a popular choice so we had to wait about a week to get it in. Laying it out requires a trained hand, it’s not as easy as YouTube makes it look so it took a few tries and two different guys to do it, and even though some spots still need work it more or less looks photo ready.
TIP: The guys who do your tiles can NOT do your plumbing so make sure you have someone lined up for all these jobs. The hardest thing to do is scheduling everyone’s time. This is what you would hire a general contractor for, however, there is no guarantee that the gc will have the right guys for the job. He, too is getting whoever is available. I am happy to say we were able to forego this step and vet all the guys ourselves. It took trial and error but we now have a group of people we were able to hire for my mum’s apartment and our upcoming studio renovation.
SHELVING – Because we decided to tile our walls floor to ceiling we now had to figure out a way to put up floating shelves and be able to get away with it, ie. they won’t start falling on us immediately after install. We enlisted the help of a carpenter, the same guys who did the bookshelf in our living room. They put up the shelves underneath the tile on the same plain as the drywall, which meant they will be stronger, but also means that if we ever want to replace them that’s a full wall demolition for us. The tilers tiled around the shelves and it worked. When we initially ordered the length of these we didn’t factor in our shower curtains, so when the shelves showed up they were the exact length from the vanity to the tub, this meant that there was no space to close or open the shower curtain. They remedied this quickly by cutting the shelves on the spot, the only problem was that they no longer had that perfect shop finish. Another compromise. If they had taken the shelves back to the shop the tilers couldn’t start working on that wall and everything would be delayed yet again.
TIP: Measure out everything you will need to place around the shelves. Will you have enough space for your faucet, your toilet, your shower curtain? We learned the hard way and now our faucets are uncomfortably close to the bottom shelf, making it impossible to put any tall bottles beside the faucet. Be mindful of the order of things, we should have put our vanity in first so we could measure everything in relation but since it has not arrived yet we were going by estimation. This too contributed to a lot of our problems.
Smaller, local suppliers may give you a higher price without you even realizing. I am talking the difference between $150 and $500 for the same faucet!
FINISHES – The finishes were some of the first pieces we picked up when we started looking at renovations, those were the building blocks of what we wanted the vibe of our new place to be. It is surprisingly hard to find good looking faucets, even though there is lots of selection, you can save yourself time by dishing out thousands of dollars at a showroom. I didn’t even think to look anywhere other than Rona or Home Depot but when we got deeper into the renovation and I did, I was shocked at the cost of hardware. Beware of the costs at some of these places. I have found many pieces at hardware stores that you could easily overpay for at more fancy places around the city. Not only that but many of those places don’t even allow returns. In our case this would have been detrimental since we changed directions a few times due to our lack of pre-planning.
TIP: Shop around. Every store will give you a different price on the same product. Smaller, local suppliers may give you a higher price without you even realizing. I am talking the difference between $150 and $500 for the same faucet!
ACCESSORIES – The way you chose your accessories depends on a few different things. Size, vibe and price. If you live in a country that has an H&M home make sure you stock up on everything they carry. The price point is incredible and the quality is great! For the price you pay you won’t be worried about changing things up and will always be able to keep it fresh. It’s also an opportunity to give the space some personality. Little storage containers help with organization, especially when you have open concept shelves like we do, making it easier to move things around in chunks and categorizing them for your needs. Add a little bit of your own flare with some found objects, one of my favourite things is a crystal cigarette holder that I got from my parents that I use for Q-tips. It helps keep things classy and interesting and of course don’t forget the small details like your shower curtain. They don’t usually come in very interesting color ways so I like finding a white fabric version that is easily replaceable and also blends in so I don’t even have to think about it.
The bathrooms were the first and the biggest challenge during our entire renovation, everything in comparison seemed like a piece of cake. We learned some hard but valuable lessons along the way but at the end of the day I am ready to do it again, because where transformations are concerned this was the biggest one of them all and it was so satisfying to turn the space around. There is so much more to share so stay tuned for more of my newly found home renovation wisdom. xoxo
We learned some hard but valuable lessons along the way but at the end of the day I am ready to do it again