Our Bathroom Remodel Project Step by Step

Continuing from the last post of our bathroom remodel project, this post is about more practical side from idea gathering to budgeting.

This is how we planned, organized and managed the project. The key is having a guideline for yourself to stay on the track in case situations are confusing, you have doubts or feel lost, and finding right people you can trust to work with.

We had no time constraint to the project. How we did might not for ones with time constraints in some situations. We wanted to make sure we would get what we wanted at the end. So, we took time where it needed.

Goal Setting

Why need a goal? Because it helps you to validate what you think is what you actually want/need. Because it helps you to stay on the right track toward what you want. It would help you define what you want and lead your project to a successful ending.

Our goal was to have THE bathroom, not A bathroom. It is our bathroom, so it should not be any bathrooms, but something we love, we are happy about and enjoy to be in.

Everybody has different opinions based on values they believe. Some might think a bathroom is one of places to take care of their needs and as long as such needs are covered, they wouldn't care anything else. That's what they value and such practicability could be their goal. If some wish to finish their project within their budgets and they prioritize that the most for any reasons and situations they are in, that would be their goal. Some might want all bells and whistles to get envies from others. Some might value the biggest ROI. Again, that's what they value and becomes their goal.

What I'm trying to say is that find your goal first. If you have a solid goal, when you run into a situation that you find yourself hard to make a decision, your goal guides you.

A goal is what you want as an outcome of your project. It can be one solid sentence. It could be a list with your priorities. There could be other forms. As long as you have a clear goal, you should be able to make your decisions based on the goal instead of a momentum you are occupied at the moment.

Idea Gathering

Once your goal is set, you can start gathering ideas for your project. The goal helps you clarify what you need and want as more specific forms in this process. In some cases, you might find you need to adjust your goal. That's ok. In that case, the goal served to refine what you really want and define your new goal. You can say this idea gathering stage validates your goal.

This is a process of;

  • getting inspirations,
  • exploring possibilities,
  • clarifying what you like and don't,
  • learning your needs and options,
  • collecting little pieces of what you like,
  • adjusting your goal.

As a start, we went to showrooms in our area. They have designers on site to help you. Showrooms are great place to ask questions Google wouldn't get straight answers from something technical to pricing. Since they have samples as display, you can get a good sense of sizes and textures of elements.

The internet would bring you tons of information. I took a great advantage of it. I had a little trouble with this process at the beginning. We knew we wanted a clawfoot tub and a style matching to one when the house was built. Anything else was just blur or blank. I went to domino, houzz, HGTV, some design firms' and architects' web sites and other places to see bathroom projects' pictures. Most of them are fancy big bathrooms. I narrowed my search to small bathrooms, but I was not happy with what I saw. Then, I realized that I was expecting to see my dream bathroom would pop up. That wouldn't happen. I was wrong. I started out to see what was in the world, but somehow, I shifted to look for what I wanted in one picture. Especially when you want something unique to be yours, you'd never find everything you want in one picture by googling because you are the one to put together every piece of what you like and want to be one picture.

Define What You Want

Once I realized my mistake, I started looking for pictures to find little bits of what I like, want and need in tubs, showers, walls, lightings, colors and so on. It helped me to define what I was looking for as:

  • function
  • modern convenience
  • easy to clean
  • traditional/vintage look
  • bright color scheme
  • clean and simple style
  • some texture to add characters

This list is the detailed description of our goal. It adds meat to the bone "something we love, we are happy about and enjoy to be in." At this point, we hadn't decided a color scheme, but we knew we wanted a clawfoot tub, a pedestal sink and a niche or two on the wall.

If you hire a designer, I still suggest to do these three steps. Understanding what you want makes communication with your designer much easier. A designer wouldn't magically put together what you want without clues. He/she does his/her job based on information of what you want/like. He/she tries to pull out as much as information from you to understand what you expect as a deliverable before starting his/her design work. He/she could help you define what you want, but ultimately if you don't know what you want, it would be difficult to him/her to deliver his/her best work to you. He/she might make some suggestions. If you like them over what you initially thought you wanted, you can change your mind and go with his/her suggestions. That's totally fine. Just make sure whatever you choose makes you happy at the end of the day.

Picking Elements

We got our goal and the principles to support the goal. I knew what we would aim for. It was time to look for elements of the bathroom.

The goal of this step is to find a specific look of an element you like such as a bathtub, a medicine cabinet, a towel bar, and so on. You might find multiple styles you want for a towel bar. You don't need to make up your mind yet. At this point, I didn't care about a price of element because just you like something, it doesn't mean you'd actually buy it. List up everything you like as you find. It's ok to find 10 lightings you like. They could be your options when you draw a whole picture. You might find some wouldn't look good with other elements, then they'd be eliminated. Thus, your options get narrow down.

If you hire a designer, he/she would do this for you. They might give you curated options for certain things, and let you pick some elements. I love putting things together like building Lego bricks, so I did it by myself.

I used a spreadsheet to keep track with what I found. It had columns for:

  • Element
  • Model as a product name with a link to the product info page
  • Spec
    • Size
    • Option 1
    • Option 2
    • Option 3
  • Price
  • Amount
  • Ordered Date
  • Delivered Date
  • Note

The spreadsheet helped me to;

  • record what I found,
  • hold information of where to buy,
  • what else I might need,
  • get a ballpark cost.

It's almost impossible to know everything necessary for the project from the beginning. You don't know everything you need at this point. You start wtih what you know you need. As you think of details, you'd notice what's missing from your list. As you find missing items, you add them to it.

First, I listed a toilet, a sink and a tub. We'd keep the toilet we had, so it was all set, but the flushing lever was brushed nickel finish. We wanted all hardware to be oil rubbed bronze. So, I added a toilet flushing lever to the spreadsheet right below the toilet. Then, I googled to find one with the finish. After that, I realized a toilet paper holder was missing. That was added to the spreadsheet and a hunt for a toilet paper holder began. I found two I liked. I was not sure which one I liked better, so I listed them both to decide later.

Next thing was a sink. We wanted the same style as the toilet for the sink, so this was easy enough. I looked up the model of the toilet we bought a couple years prior, then found a sink with the same style. Then, I noticed that there were some options for holes for hot and cold water. They made me think what type of faucet to pick. I wanted less holes for a clean look and easy cleaning. So, I picked a single hole model. Then, I knew it needed a single hole faucet. That was added to the spreadsheet. The faucet needed to be oil rubbed bronze. Its options columns are noted as "single hole" and "oil rubbed bronze."

You get the idea. Whenever you notice missing element for the project, just list it in the element column. You don't need to put actual item yet. The list works as your reminder/to-do list. Before you look for specific items, you need to know what you need like a lighting, a fan, a shower, a tub, a shower door and so on. When you notice you need a lighting, you might not know you want sconces, a ceiling light or a light above a mirror. When you're learning what you need, you don't need to commit anything specific unless you already know.

To list up what the project needs, it's easier to go with a small area at once. Our bathroom is quite small. It's about 8-foot squire. It still needed around 40 elements for just cosmetic stuff. I divided the bathroom in areas of:

  • Toilet
  • Sink
  • Door
  • Tub
  • Shower
  • Window
  • Walls
  • Ceiling
  • Floor

Then, I went through details of each area one by one. For the walls, I thought about the options of tiles and wallboard, towel bars, wall mounted storage or recessed one, electric outlets and switches. You might think walls are just walls, but there are some things to think about.

Once an element is listed, you start looking for items. As you find items you like, list them all along with their sizes, colors and any other distinctions to note. The size is important. Make sure what you find would fit where it would be as well as the door to come though.

When I was searching for a tub, most of tubs are 32" wide, but our bathroom door is 30" wide. Even most of tubs' heights are under 30", it wouldn't be realistic to carry a cast iron tub sideway to get through the door and flip it to right side up in the small bathroom. Once you find item you like, make sure its size. Otherwise it could break your heart.

For the walls, I decided to go with tiles because I didn't like the painted walls got sweat and left marks at our old place. Some bathrooms have tiles partially on a wall/walls. In our small bathroom, I thought such texture change would look odd. Even it would cost more, that wouldn't be something we could live with. So, we decided to stick to tiles from floor to ceiling. I also thought about when this house would be on market, and I wanted the bathroom to be attractive enough to be one of selling points. It costs now, but it's a sort of an investment for the future. Plus, we'd enjoy every bit of it until we move out someday.

About Colors

A color scheme sets a mood for the room. Even though we wanted 1920's style, some colors from that era are pretty dated. To keep the bathroom simple and clean, I was leaning toward white to some shades of cream. White looks clean, but it could look cold like a hospital. I wanted the bathroom to look warm as a part of the house, our home. We went to some tile places in our area. I liked Tile Gallery the most for thier selections and quality. We borrowed samples from them and lined them in the bathroom. Colors could look totally different under different lightings and surrounding colors. We checked the colors on all walls in the bathroom in different times in a day.

Speaking of colors, we took a risk to go with oil rubbed bronze for the hardware. When I was looking some items, I noticed so it called "oil rubbed bronze" comes in many shades. Some are light. Some are dark. Some are reddish like cupper. Some are deep brown. In addition to them, the finish could vary glossy to mat. We picked all hardware from various makers, but luckily they are in close shades and don't look odd. Even colors have the same name, it's not necessarily they are exactly same color. This is something to keep in mind.

Grouping Toward Big Picture

As I find some items for one element, I looked through the items with other elements in the divided area. For example, in the sink area, I found 2 medicine cabinets and more than 5 lightings. I pictured how they would look together and eliminated ones didn't go with others and had too much statement by themselves. Balance is everything even if an area could have a focal point. If one item takes away from others too much, you should think twice. Especially in a small space, you'd like to have everything in balance and complement each other. I finalized items by thinking as a group starting with a small area like the sink area, then expanded to one wall. Next, looking at two walls next to each other, then finally as an entire room.

By doing this, you can also make sure the scale of the items, too. For a towel bar, the wall doesn't have much space between the door and the sink. It could fit a 24" bar, but it would look very tight. So, I picked 18" one. The 6" could be my regret for a long time if I didn't think of it on the wall with other elements.

Sometimes, it's hard to get a sense of scale. My tape measure is my best friend for this purpose. When I needed to think of multiple items, I used masking tape and some paper cutouts. When you cannot picture in your head, picture it on a wall. It helps.

Nothing I Like

Sometimes you just cannot find anything you like. That happened to me with a fan, a valve trim kit and a shower curtain rod.

You basically do one of these 5 things: give up, compromise with available options, improvise something available, custom-order, or wait something new come up.

Fans are usually come in white or very light shade of gray. They would draw eyes to themselves on the aged cupper finish celling I picked. I might spray paint the fixture with a similar color to the ceiling. Since the project got on hold for a while, I searched a fan again later. Then, I found a color and shape I was happy with.

A valve trim kit was tough one. Valve trim kit's models in the US generally have one combined controller for volume and temperature. You get small volume in lower temperature. As temperature goes up, you get more to full volume. It's very a poor function. I never like you get only small volume of cold water with it. That especially annoys me when I want to take a cold shower in a hot summer day. When I clean the shower, I want to rinse the cleaner with cold water. Whenever I use hot water to get enough volume and pressure to rinse off the cleaner, the hot water brings more fume from the cleaner and makes me sick. To me, temperature and volume controller should be separated. Since I couldn't find any trim kit with separate volume and temp controllers, we went to showrooms to get ideas. They suggested to have individual controllers instead of using a trim kit. We found out this would be a very costly option. This is where we left when the project got on hold. As the project started moving again, I searched a trim kit and found one with separate controllers for volume and temperature. Sometimes, time takes care of it.

Shower curtain rods are made with some standardized sizes. For our tub, we could use an O shape one hanging from the ceiling. But, I don't like it because it looks cluttered on the ceiling. Nothing to cover 80" wall to wall. I found ShowerRods.com who offers custom shower rods. You could pick a shape from their options and specify size you need or a full custom shape. I didn't see a shape I was looking for in the options, so I drew what I wanted along with the measurements and asked them if they could do that. They confirmed they could do what I asked and gave me the estimate for the cost and schedule to be delivered. It came out very nice. The curbs are exactly how I specified to match the tub's shape. The color match to the other hardware. Their communication was good. My order was delivered in time. I highly recommend them if you need a custom shower curtain rod.

Find Right People

Finding a contractor was the most difficult task to us. It is not just about their capability to get the project done, but they must be people we feel right to have them work on our home. If you pay someone, they would do their job, but are they trustworthy?

As we did the design work, we needed someone who is willing to listen to and work with us. Otherwise our design wouldn't be executed. We also wanted someone who wouldn't hide problems. If they see any issues with our design, they'd better tell us to find a solution. If they rip off the wall and find any possible issues like an exposed wire or water damaged area, you want to take care of such issues instead of their covering them up not telling us.

We started looking for a contractor through our friends and neighbors who had done their home improvement projects. Some were not so interested in our project. Some gave us estimates much more than we thought they would be. We also tried some small local businesses through Houzz, but didn't find anyone.

Eventually we got a contractor, but he was interested in having our project in his portfolio. When we shook hands, we thought he would be willing to work with us. Right before the project began, the true color came out and the project went on hold. As much as it was upsetting, this was good to us. If we found that out after the project started, that would hurt us more in many ways.

Through words of mouth, we finally found someone we'd like to work with. Thankfully, they agreed to work with us. From the beginning to the end, we enjoyed working with them. I don't repeat myself from the last post, but I can tell one thing, who you work with is very important.

Then, how do you find right people to you? We think the biggest part is how you feel about them. A gut feeling is important. If you feel something unsettling, don't ignore that. Ask them questions. If they're willing to answer them with extra information, that's a good start.

You tell them what you expect to see as a project and see how they respond. See if they show their interests, ask questions, or express any concerns. If they do, you'd know they care what they do. That's a good sign. How they present their estimates would be one way to see how they work. If you receive a categorized estimate, check they make sense to you. If they just through you a number without any explanation, that is a red flag.

You also need to make yourself available to answer their questions. Communication is always two ways. You should be able to communicate with them about what need to be done and how you'd like to be done. And, listen to their questions and concerns. Don't expect them to solve everything just because you pay them. You'd better work with them to get a satisfying outcome.

Without them, your project woudln't be done. Find people you feel comfortable to work with, and be reasonable to them. A good friendship goes a long way.

Budgeting & Financing

We didn't have specific number for the budget. At least, that's where we started. We didn't know what would be a reasonable cost for the project. We had no intention to spend more than necessary, but didn't want to compromise what we wanted for the budget as a number either. So, we kept it loose in a range where we were comfortable to spend.

As I'd watched so many shows on HGTV, I knew it would be rare to finish a project under a budget especially with an old house. We never know what we find between the walls. We knew we'd better prepared for an extra cost for something unexpected.

One thing we didn't want was ending up in a big debt. We had saved up for a couple years for the project. In addition to the concern to the old house, if we would wipe out our saving for the project, we'd still have some backup plans for any emergencies. So, we got a home equity line of credit.

It's not all about saving money. It's more important to know where to spend money. We wanted to get the job done right. So, we knew we couldn't cut cost with labors. You don't need to overpay, but you should pay for the quality you get. If you find someone who does a good job, pay them what they deserve. Don't take advantage of them.

To keep cost down, think of what you can do by yourself. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, you can take some tasks like painting. It's fun to physically get involved with your own project instead of having someone get it done.

Instead of having a designer, we did the design work by ourselves. Around that, I managed ordering and delivering cosmetic material. Once the contractors and their crew came, we went over where which items would be placed in details, then they did their job.

I stripped off the paint from the door and the window and refinished it. As the crew installed the new trims for the door and the window, I stained them.

You might consider to do some furnishing work by yourself. I made the curtain and the shower curtain. A curtain is a very simple sewing project. If you have a sewing machine and you can use it to make a straight sew, you're good to go.

If you're not sure what you can do to keep the cost down, you might ask your contractor. He might have some suggestions for you.

For cosmetic material, I searched for lower prices. I also took advantage of major holiday sales like a Memorial Day sale, a 4th of July sale and such. If your project is not in rush, you might consider to take advantage of such sales.

Shipping cost was another thing I kept eye on. If I found 2 places offered the same price, I ordered from one who offered free shipping or lower shipping cost. If bundling items qualified for free shipping, I took advantage of that. You wouldn't think it would do much, but it would add up. Especially a big element like a tub, it could cost a lot to get delivered to you if you don't pay attention.

When I found what I like with high-end brands, I looked for similar design with lower prices in other brands. It's not necessary to have everything high-end . It's not necessarily just because you put together all expensive stuff, it would look good. It's all about balance. You might find something looks great as much as the high-end item. Then, is it worth to spend extra $$$ for the item? If you cannot find alternative item with satisfying or acceptable style, you might go with what you really like spending more than expected, but you might consider balancing the extra cost with other elements.

Another way we validate some big expenses was thinking what the extra spending would bring us. Is that a quality or durability? Does it help to raise the value of the house? Don't try to justify the extra spending. Validate it.

We ended up in our comfort zone with the very satisfying outcome. We spent where we needed and saved where we could. Thankfully, there was no surprise behind the walls. We managed to cover over 90% of the total cost with cash.

I didn't cover scheduling and time management. This subject was not relevant to our project since we had no time constraint. So, we went with the contractor's availability. Only schedule related thing I managed was to get all material we were supposed to supply delivered before the crew came.

A good detailed planning would get a project move smoothly with less surprises, and keep your stress level more manageable. This is not a definite way, but one way worked for us. I hope this post would give you some helpful tips for your projects.