Introducing My Never Been Seen Basement Bathroom (And My Plan To Make It Awesome With Basic Pieces + A Lot Of Vintage Styling)

I’ve been sitting on a secret bathroom that we haven’t touched since we bought the house three years ago and it’s time to fess up and show you (obviously I have no secrets. I just realized I don’t think you’ve ever seen it because it’s just meh). It’s in the basement of the guest room/office and it was VERY low on the list of priorities to design. I rarely saw it, never went into it and when Brian was down there working I gave him that space as ‘his’. Well here it is:

It was super generic but functional and since it wasn’t gross or offensive we just left it for years. Brian certainly didn’t complain and he wasn’t going to add to my workload to have a better bathroom.

The challenges are as follows:

  1. SUMP PUMP ACCESSIBILITY – Wake up. DID SOMEONE SAY SUMP PUMP?? Holla. This is exciting stuff. Inside the vanity, under the floor is the sump pump that the previous owners put in to make this bathroom usable, and just in case it needs repair we would need access to it. So no cute pedestals for us and the size of the vanity needed to be very specific, with easy access to a big square hole in the ground that housed something I want nothing to do with ever.
  2. Weird angle near vanity – see overhead drawing below.
  3. Odd Cement “bench” – I’m sure it’s purposeful, but it makes it awkward and I for one do not want to hang out and read on that “bench”.
  4. Sure, all the finishes needed to be changed, but that’s not really a ‘challenge’.

So last year, after the mountain house was wrapped we decided to tackle this little bugger. We had a fantasy about turning the main space into a podcast studio, and listen, our list of podcasts guests included Dax and Monica, Matty Matheson, Lin Manuel, Oprah, Michelle and Barack, Beyonce, and we needed an impressive thrown for their use before our hour of laughter and unhinged honesty.

No. It must be redone. At first, Brian and I were going to “do it ourselves” (talk about unhinged laughter) and I think I even made a big speech about it to my team – how “I want to be more hands-on”, I want to “learn to tile” and Brian chimed in with his desire to demo something. Also, we truly didn’t want this bathroom to turn into something insanely expensive – sure, KB might make an appearance, but we didn’t need to spend $25k on this. YES. We would save money.

Then it sat there for 3 more months. Meanwhile, the entire basement flooded due to those epic flash floods last year so Brian moved his office into Birdie’s old room. We forgot about it, (we had to tell Lin-Manuel to cancel his flight), even though this space was one of the best selling points of the house – a separate guest suite/office is HUGE in LA (and likely even more now so).

So knowing that this wasn’t something that Brian and I could DIY, I shifted gears (while slammed with shooting the book) and thought it would be “fun” for Julie to take over the design. My bandwidth was strapped and she is looking for more portfolio work. No pressure. Just design your boss’s gross basement bathroom – on a budget – for millions to see. So she came up with this plan:

Let’s break this design down:

  1. Walls – Roman clay. YES. A pretty texture on the walls in a soothing moody blue.
  2. Vanity – We would do a custom floating vanity and engage that weird corner (aka more counter space) and made from one slab.
  3. FlooringZellige Octagon & Buchon from Cle in the same color as the wall tile. I just asked her what was her solution for the sump pump and she said that at the time of drawings she didn’t know where the access panel was (because it was under the vanity that hadn’t been demo’d yet) so she hadn’t planned that in, but we would have likely tiled a removable access panel on the floor.
  4. Shower surround – We had enough leftover Zellige from Cle (that we used in the kitchen and master bath) so we wanted to use that to save money and not create more waste.
  5. Lighting – Right now there are just overhead cans so she planned two sconces – one on the mirrored wall, the other on the sidewall with a pretty mirror in between.

It was all a go. I loved it. GREAT! We thought it would cost about $15 – 18k for mostly labor (guys, it’s always labor) and since we didn’t feel that we could do it ourselves, at the time seemed like a good investment for this house. We started the demo a few months ago and then guess what happened? Miss. Car. A. Rona came to town, and all of a sudden the demo’d basement bath that no one ever used anyway became priority #12560.

So it sat there for months without me knowing how to proceed. And now spending $15k – $20k on this tiny little dark number felt, well, highly unnecessary and indulgent. The world just feels too unsteady to be throwing around that in a BASEMENT even if you are an IFD (internet-famous designer – I hope you realize that I’m making fun of myself when I say that – it’s definitely just different.)

Then a month ago I thought to myself, What if I did this AS INEXPENSIVELY as possible? With the least amount of labor, subs, and materials possible??? What if I made it cool JUST through the styling??? Lord knows I’m not the only one with a basement bath that needs an upgrade. Plus it would be so fun for me to do something super basic that I amp up through styling – what I love to do most, anyway.

So let’s see how little we could spend and how fast it could be done.

Here was the plan:

  1. We’d extend the same Cali Bamboo waterproof vinyl flooring from the bedroom into the bathroom. Keeping it simple and not buying hardly any more material. No tile floor. Just good old wood-looking vinyl that looks GREAT for being totally waterproof.
  2. We’d LEAVE the acrylic shower surround but take off the glass door with the chrome handles and instead install a cute shower rod and curtain. You heard me – that acrylic molded wonder is staying. Is it offensive? Well, that really depends on your definition and your taste level. It’s acrylic and has hilarious ‘grout’ lines between the ’tile’ but it somehow doesn’t offend me as much as it should – it’s just white and maybe 15 showers a year will take place in that acrylic hug. To replace it we would need to demo it out, see what lies behind, likely waterproof it all, wet mop the floor, put in a damn, order tiles, and then tile the walls. This hardly-used-shower didn’t deserve that kind of time and expense. We could simply put a really pretty curtain in front of it and call it a day.
  3. We’d switch out the shower faucet and the sink faucet trims for something with the exact same specs as was currently there, just changing the style and finishes. I’d shop for something super inexpensive that looked as good as possible. And save a lot of money by not replacing the valves – the plumbing pieces in the wall.
  4. We’d put in an inexpensive readymade vanity that could cover the footprint of the sump pump. This was after weeks of me trying to find an awesome vintage wall mount sink that I could put a little skirt around to hide the removable panel. But ultimately being up in the mountains gave me little ability to find that sink unless it shipped from across the country and while buying ‘new’ does create waste, flying a 60 lbs sink from upstate New York seemed unnecessary, too (wasting carbon and way more expensive). If times were different I would have thrifted to find a piece that could be retrofitted into a vanity, but without in-person shopping, I was just so limited in the used/thrifted sink department. By the way, if I could go back in time I’d just paint the one that was there, but it was given to Habitat for Humanity months ago and not a possibility.
  5. We’d just paint the walls! No tile, no wall treatments, no paneling – just good old fashioned MF paint.
  6. We would put down a primed waterproof baseboard to paint and that’s it.
  7. No new electrical. We’d work with the cans and instead, I’ll style out a cute plugin sconce or swag a pendant – but no hardwired sconces or new pendant lighting.
  8. I’d style it out with fun art, vintage accessories, and a lot of quirk.

The idea was no need for plumber, tiler, or electrician – we’d just be swapping out fixtures (using the old toilet) and change as little as possible.

At the time of publishing aka today (I really should start with that sentence every day – we are breaking news journalism!!) we are ALMOST DONE. You Insiders will get a sneak peek on the community platform. The only bad news thus far is that we DID need to hire a plumber to move the faucet because the center of this vanity is different than the original (even though I checked measurements like 9 times). So I didn’t succeed in not hiring any subs.

As far as what we are using, product-wise? Here you go. All of it is super affordable and seems FINE in person.

1. Kingston Brass Faucet in Matte Black | 2. 30″ Vanity in Gray | 3. Clare Paint in Good Jeans | 4. Moen Shower Set in Matte Black | 5. Baseboard Moulding| 6. Cali Vinyl Longboards Flooring in Seaboard Oak

It should be done in the next few days and then I get to style it out which I’m INCREDIBLY excited to do. Again, without much in-person vintage shopping or thrifting I’m going to pulling from what I already have, but I have a lot of cool art, smalls, shelves and even stools that I think will be cute, and I’m even toying with the idea of sewing together scraps of vintage plaid for the shower curtain.

It’s 2020 designing and while there are a lot of limitations (HAHAHAHAHAHA IS THERE EVER) the budget ‘make it work’ mentality is contagious and frankly inspiring. I like to style. play. every day, and that’s what I’ll do.

Questions. Comments. Concerns?

Fin Mark

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