One of the rooms we knew we wanted to update from the beginning was our guest bathroom. While it was fully functional, it just wasn’t very pretty. It was bland and of course had those “stunning” sea foam green laminate counter-tops that were all over the house. There must have been a clearance sale on those in the 90s. Anyway, we wanted to update this bathroom by replacing the counter-top, upgrading to tile floors, and adding a mosaic tile accent wall. We had no intention of this being a FULL scale bathroom gut………but it was! Nothing came back, not even the toilet.

If you have been reading along, I bet you are wondering, “why start with the guest bath when you have a master you don’t like?” Well, there is a reason. We had actually never done tile work before and we thought it would be best to start small and “practice” on our guest bath in case we were in over our heads. Makes sense right? Not to mention, if this didn’t go quickly, I didn’t want to be without a bathroom for six months. As I would normally do, I thought about this for some time. I originally wanted to replace the countertops in both bathrooms at the same time, so I started looking at Home Depot and Lowes for prefabricated options since they are normally the best bang for your buck. One problem. Our house was built in the 70s and apparently back then they gave no thought to making things a standard size. Yep! you guessed it, neither bathroom counter was a standard size. The guest bath counter was 59 1/2 and the master was 76 1/2. We needed something custom……ERRRRRR! So we went to a well known local granite supplier with our measurements and got a quote. After all, they were having a year end clearance sale. For just the two counter-tops and under mounted sink bowls for a level 1 granite (supper generic) was almost $4,000! That did include installation, but that was almost $175 per square foot and it didn’t even buy us a whole slab. That was just for what we needed. Say what?!?!?! I was totally crushed as this was not in the budget. I moped around a bit and spent some time binge pinning on Pinterest to see what other people did. We couldn’t be the only people that faced this type of road block, right?

Some of the DIY ideas I encountered were tile countertops, penny counter tops, homemade concrete, and wood. I will be honest, there was no way I was doing tiled counter tops. It isn’t a style that I am particularly fond of and do you know how hard these are to keep clean? In a bathroom… thank you. Next. Penny countertops. This was a unique idea that I thought would be really fun on a bar top or in a man cave or something, but I just couldn’t see it as the counter-top in my guest bath. Next. Concrete counter-tops. These were actually something I wasn’t totally against……..if they were made by a professional. I liked the look of them and they seemed very utilitarian, but Barry and I make them? Get real. They would have looked liked a 5 year olds’ art project and even if we nailed it, I was worried about the longevity of the DIY versions. The final option was wood. I didn’t hate this idea but I wasn’t totally sold. I really didn’t want anymore over mounted sinks. Then I saw this post that I really liked by Centsational Girl. She did a great job and I loved the darker wood counter, vessel sink and the tiled wall behind the vanity which is what we were planning. I pitched it to Barry and he didn’t say no, which to me is basically saying yes. So I found a vessel sink and a tall modern faucet I liked and ordered them. On the next available weekend we got started. We went to Home Depot and picked up the wood then went home to demo the counter-top. And this is where the saga really begins.

Once we disconnected the plumbing, we removed the counter-top. When we did this, we discovered there had been a leak and we had some mold behind the vanity. Sigh. It wasn’t terrible, but we didn’t want to take any chances so we removed the vanity. We also cut out the bottom portion of the drywall that was behind the vanity just in case. This was a major set back in timing, but it needed to be done. 

Now we had to get a new vanity. Unfortunately, as I already mentioned, the space was not a standard size. A 60 inch vanity would not fit. So we decided to go with a 48 inch vanity. It wouldn’t touch the walls but we could center it and I thought it would work. The good news on this front was now I could buy a pre-fab countertop. So we took back the vessel sink, faucet, and wood we purchased for our original plan. I then picked out a new vanity in an espresso finish with clean lines and “legs” rather than the old box base. For the countertop I chose a nice white/off white quartz that provided a good contrast between the two.

At this point we took a step back and thought about the project from “the big picture”. Our original budget was only about $1,200. Not because that was all we could spend, but because that is all I thought we needed to spend to make a big impact. Now we were incurring additional costs for items we didn’t plan to replace. Most normal people would pump the brakes at this point. But guess what? I am not normal. I dreamed bigger! I thought if we were re-doing the floor, and tiling the whole wall, and getting a new vanity and counter-top, would it look incomplete if we didn’t re-do the shower? Yep! We are two people that had NEVER tiled before and I decide to add tiling a shower to an already 100 sqft tile job……..See this is why it’s so special that Barry loves all my shades of crazy 🙂 But in my defense, he was totally on board.

Time to go tile shopping. Before we had to change our plan, I really wanted to do the tile that looks like wood. But now that we were getting a new vanity in an espresso finish, I didn’t feel like the vanity would pop off the wood tile so I decided we needed something lighter. We picked a neutral colored rectangular porcelain tile for the floor that also came in a square tile we could use in the shower. For the accent wall and the accent in the shower I chose a porcelain and glass mosaic.

Once the old shower tile was removed Barry realized our bathtub was actually a standard size! Really? Something standard, no way! We previously thought it was 59 1/2 inches, which is not standard, 60 is. What we failed to account for is the quarter inch of drywall that comes down over the tub on either side. Being the oh so thoughtful man that he is, Barry proposed adding a jetted tub. Well this definitely wasn’t in the budget! Again, mostly because I didn’t think it was even an option because of the size. So now we had something new to think about. Do we splurge and do the jetted tub? There was nothing wrong with the old tub, but it was just a tub. No jets. Since our master bath only has a stand up shower and no room to add a tub without sacrificing sqft somewhere else, this was my only chance at getting a jetted tub. The practical side of me said no, we don’t need it, but the little devil on my other shoulder said “do it, do it, do it!” So I got online and started to research how much this magical tub would set us back. Surprisingly, they were not out of this world. I could get one for less than $700. Not that $700 is cheap, but I was expecting several thousand, so I could stomach this. We only wanted to do this bathroom once so we decided to go for it and get the jetted tub. This is the one we picked.

Once the tub was delivered, we scheduled the plumber & electrician to come out and set up the tub. We thought this was going to be a few hours and we would be good to keep on moving. Of course that wasn’t the case. In order for the tub to come out, a bunch of the drywall had to be removed. For a minute there I thought we were going to have to saw the tub in half to get it out! Luckily we didn’t. The new tub went in pretty easy but the plumbing needed a little finagling. Then the drywall had to be fixed and the backer board for the shower needed to be installed. This was wearing on my patients. Thankfully, the plumber we used also does a lot of general contracting as well and offered to help us out by doing the backer board, drywall, and re-texturing for us for a nominal additional charge. YES! I was paying to have that done. We were already two and a half months into this project and our time was becoming more and more valuable! 

Now we could actually get started tiling. FINALLY!!! On one of our million trips to Home Depot during this whole process, we did buy a tile saw. We did lot of research on the different methods for cutting tile and even contemplated renting a wet saw at a rate of $55/per day. Judging from how the rest of this project had gone so far and since we had about 180 sqft of tiling ahead of us, we thought it would be a better investment to just buy our own. We found one at Home Depot for just under $300. So unless we only needed to use the tile saw for six days or less, it was a better deal for us to just buy it. And since we had never done this before, I was NOT optimistic that we would be done in six days. This way we would also have the saw for future tile projects, which I already had on the to-do list 🙂

Tile day number 1! In my mind this was going to go pretty quick, but I was wrong. We had done all kinds of research before starting this and one of the big things we heard again and again was to start in the middle of the room so you don’t end up with weird little pieces. Hummmmmm, wouldn’t you almost inevitably end up with a little piece somewhere though? I wasn’t convinced. So I decided we should do a mock-up and lay out each tile on the floor before we started with spacers to make sure this was going to work out well. It was a good thing our tiles were larger, otherwise this step would have taken a lot longer. While it did take several hours ( I laid out the tiles more than one way) I am glad we did it. It helped us determine where the cuts would be and prevented us from having a really skinny tile by the door. I knew I wanted to lay the tile in a brick pattern or subway pattern, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted them horizontal or vertical. After laying them all out we decided to lay them horizontal. Once we had our pattern figured out, we made all of our cuts. I know this is not the method most people would advise you to use, but it worked for us. As a side note, the tile saw worked great and was super easy to use and set up! I would not use it inside though as it is very messy. I also recommend using a pencil to mark your cuts on the tile rather than a tile crayon. If you go over your line a few times with a pencil it will be dark enough it won’t wash off immediately, but once your cut is done you won’t have to scrub off any residue. I found the tile crayon hard to get off. And don’t forget your safety goggles. You don’t want a piece of tile in your eye!

Day two we started laying the tile. We used a traditional mortar, not the quick setting kind, because we had never done this before and didn’t want the mortar to start drying before we could lay the tile. We found it best to only mix a small batch of mortar at a time and only spread enough for what we could immediately lay. For the most part, I laid the tile and Barry spread the mortar. We also found it best to “work our way out of the room” so we didn’t have to step on tiles we just laid. Until they have set, they could crack if too much pressure is applied. The actual laying of the tile took us about two hours.

Day three is when we grouted the tile. We waited a full 24 hours from when we finished laying the tile to start grouting it to ensure everything had set. For the floor tile we chose an eighth inch grout line. For grout lines an eighth inch or bigger you need to used a sanded grout. When grouting it is highly recommended to wear gloves. You also need what they call a float to spread the grout. We bought a few different types since we didn’t know what would work best, but the really stiff float works the best in my opinion. I am not going to lie, I don’t think tiling is that hard, but I really dislike grouting. A) You have to spread it pretty quickly because it dries fast. B) It’s difficult to “smush” it into the cracks sometimes. C) You have to wipe off your tiles within about 10 minutes of applying the grout or you are going to have a really hard time getting it off! The good news is it doesn’t take that long because you have to work fast.

Now that we had a floor it was time to work on the accent wall. The mosaic tiles are a little easier to lay in my opinion. Even though they are smaller and all attached via the mesh backing, they aren’t as difficult to level out since they are not one solid surface. I will say working against gravity was more difficult though! Hence, why it is best to start at the bottom and work your way up the wall. Another interesting challenge with the smaller tiles was the mortar oozing out between the grout lines. We had to make sure to clean any extra residue out with toothpicks so we would have grout lines to grout. We obviously did not lay these tiles out before we started (that would have been funny if we did though, can you picture all that duct tape?) and we made our cuts as went along. The smaller tiles were a little trickier to cut since your fingers have to get a lot closer to the blade as well as the risk of small pieces flying off. Just another reason to wear safety goggles! Otherwise these went up pretty easy.

If only the grouting of the accent wall was as easy as the tiling. One major issue with these beautiful mosaic tiles is there are SO MANY more grout lines! And when you are working with grout lines less than an eighth of an inch (or glass tiles), which we were on both accounts, you have to use un-sanded grout. Oh, and grouting a wall is just harder because you don’t have as much leverage to “smush” the grout into the cracks as when you are doing the floor. This one my friends took us all DAY! But when it was done, it looked great!

Now onto the shower. I have to admit, I was not looking forward to doing more tile on a wall……..gravity people, gravity! But with the wall and the floor looking so good, we were inspired to keep going. Since these were square tiles, I didn’t want to do any fancy pattern but I did want to make sure we weren’t going to have awkwardly placed small tiles. We started with the big wall of the shower and made it so we had three full sized tiles in the middle with two equal sized partial tiles on the ends. The other halves from the partial tiles would then start the row in the corner of the smaller side walls so it looked like we “folded” the tile in the corner. This would continue all the way up the wall. We also figured out if we did 5 rows we would have just enough to do an accent border and not have to cut any skinny tiles up by the ceiling. Perfect! Now all we had to do was lay them……

One of our biggest obstacles here were the holes for the plumbing. We knew these were going to be challenging. First, we tried to bring the wet saw down in hatch marks on the area we needed cut out and then just break the weak pieces off to make the hole. That did not work. These holes were way too small.  About an hour into us wasting our time, I get my iPad out and google this. There has to be a better way. And OH there is! Its a $40 diamond drill bit that cuts out a perfect circle. At this point, we were ready to kill each other because we were so frustrated, so it was worth spending the money. This drill bit worked like a charm and we were done in a matter of minutes. Having the right tools really does make a difference! At least I had two holes to drill…….get my money’s worth 🙂

The entire shower took about three weekends to complete including the grouting.

With the shower done, floor done and accent wall done, we needed to paint and start moving things back in. The painting was a breeze. There were no toilets to do gymnastics around this time 🙂 I chose Valspar’s Arid Plains in a semi gloss finish. Once it was painted Barry put up the baseboards. Since it’s a pretty small bathroom, this didn’t take long. Then we moved in the vanity and attached all the plumbing. Actually, Barry did the plumbing…..I handed him tools, held the flash light and refilled his wine glass 🙂

Now the only thing left was to put the toilet in and decorate it. Yea!!! And just in time because we were getting ready to host a wine tasting party. We asked one of our friends who had just done a similar job at his house to help put the toilet back in. No problem. So the boys were in the bathroom and I hear Barry say a few choice words I won’t repeat here. I ran into the bathroom to see what the problem was and it turns out we did not tile close enough to the toilet flange and the base of the toilet didn’t cover the mistake….You have got to be KIDDING! At this point the only thing we could do to remedy this was buy a new toilet.

Luckily I was able to find this toilet with a larger base that would cover the tile issue and it was only $100! Thank goodness. So there you have it……..nothing came back into this bathroom! This entire project took us 4 months, only working on weekends. However, the actual tiling was complete in little over a month. We faced a lot of delays because the scope of our project changed along the way. The silver lining, we learned a lot! First, tiling is not as hard as some may think, but it does require patients, careful planning, and attention to detail. Second, if we had a more concrete plan in the beginning and would have coordinated materials, electrical and plumbing before we started, we probably could have finished this in two months.  Third, if we got through this project and still love each other, we can get through anything 🙂 There were a lot of frustrating moments! Finally, was it worth all the time? Yes! It did take a while, but we learned new skills we can apply in other areas of our house and even though we spent more than we initially budgeted, we saved double if not triple by doing most of the work ourselves. We were able to do a full gut of our guest bathroom for about $4k – which if you recall is what the granite place wanted to charge us for two countertops. In the end it turned out great and we are excited to move on to the next project on the list. And the finished product…….

Now we are just sad our guests get to enjoy this fully remodeled bathroom while we still have a master bath with carpet. We will get there, I promise!

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