the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The Armstrong Bathroom Makeover Catastrophe

UPDATE: If you don’t normally read the comments on these posts I highly recommend you make an exception in this case. Holy crap, the nutters have come out!

Two years ago when we moved into this house (a process chronicled here, here, here, and here) we knew that at some point we were going to do an entire remodel of the downstairs bathroom. We envisioned knocking down a wall, tearing out every fixture, installing a luxurious bathtub, and doubling the size of the shower. But like with many remodeling ideas, this one repeatedly got knocked on its ass when we realized that simple things like “removal of a wall” would first require completion of a series of other projects. Like say, the blood sacrifice of the first born child and agreeing to name the second one Wells Fargo.

So we’ve lived with the cramped space and rearranged our lives so that it no longer seems weird that the one bathtub in the house is not on the same floor as the bedrooms. But then a couple of months ago I got knocked in the head with a bowling ball of nesting hormones and realized we could make the space more livable with just a few small upgrades. This happened to coincide with a trip to Ikea where Jon spotted a bathroom vanity that he loved, and just like that we embarked on a bathroom makeover. Without any preparation or research whatsoever. While I’m in my third trimester of pregnancy. Because we don’t hate each other enough already.

Let’s start this journey with a few pictures of the bathroom before we used it to dismantle our marriage:

Now, let me just go ahead and point out that Jon and I had a conversation wherein he acknowledged that I was not going to be able to help him like he might need me to, that I was so uncomfortably pregnant and clumsy in my body that having me in that tiny space was going to cause all sorts of trouble, and that he might need to call someone else for backup. That conversation went something like this:

Me: “You know I’m not going to be able to do any heavy lifting, right? RIGHT?”

Jon: “Right.”

Me: “No, seriously. I CANNOT HELP YOU. You get that, right?”

Jon: “I get it.”

Me: “So when you reach a breaking point and ask for my help, I’M GOING TO BRING UP THIS CONVERSATION. And then I’m going to make fun of you on my website.”

Jon: “Heather, there isn’t that much to do. It’s going to be fine.”

This reminds me of the book I want to write about remodeling. It would go, “Nothing will be fine. Now go re-read that first sentence. The end.”

The first thing to derail our schedule was the discovery that the previous owners had not tiled underneath the vanity. Yes, we could have special-ordered that hexagonal tile from various places, but the quickest turnaround time we could find was more than two weeks, and HELL if I was going to go 14 days in third trimester pregnancy having to climb a flight of stairs every time I needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. So we compromised, installed a square tile that was similar in color, and have trained our eyes not to focus on the glaring difference:

And then I broke my toe. And while Jon was assembling the terribly constructed Ikea vanity he pulled a muscle in his back and couldn’t move his torso in any way for three days. But it looks nice, right?

That brings us to the 700-lb mirror and piece of crap light. I’m going to condense this story into one bite-size paragraph because otherwise I’ll get going and next thing you know I’ll have used up enough hard drive space to fill a warehouse the size of Michigan:

The wall behind the vanity is in no way whatsoever a level surface, so what should have taken less than an hour sort of snowballed into a three-day expletive-laden tug-of-war between an exhausted man and his basketball-shaped wife. With the man shouting LEAN INTO IT! LEAN INTO IT! and the wife going REMEMBER THAT CONVERSATION?! REMEMBER THAT CONVERSATION?! And at one point we both wanted to impale each other with a Phillips-head screwdriver. Fortunately, it was at that point that I had to go pick up Leta from school, and figuring we could both use a break I decided to run a few errands while I was out. Except I guess Jon was in no mood for a break, and Internet, I have saved on my iPhone the most desperate set of text messages ever transmitted between a married couple. I would share them here with you, but I fear Jon might not ever speak to me again. And I don’t want to raise this baby alone.

  • Milla

    2009/05/11 at 3:14 pm

    that orange rug is the hotness! MUST. GET.

  • Jennifer

    2009/05/11 at 3:16 pm

    That vanity is beyond awesome. And the rug? So. Freaking. Cool.

  • Maternal Mirth

    2009/05/11 at 3:17 pm

    You guys wanna help us remodel our Scottsdale home? Hilarity is the only pre-qualification you guys seem to have.

  • Kathy C.

    2009/05/11 at 3:18 pm

    Oh, MY. Gorgeous. You guys have the best taste in every thing.

  • Denise

    2009/05/11 at 3:18 pm

    Wow….I usually like what you guys do as far as decorating/remodeling goes, but this…..not so much. I think it’s that funky wrong tile under the vanity. That would drive me NUTS.

  • Anonymous

    2009/05/11 at 3:20 pm

    All totally awesome except the tile. I’m not sure my eyes would ever be THAT trainable!!!!

  • kjw

    2009/05/11 at 3:21 pm

    I’d definitely snag my toes on those little vanity feet. Love the wall art. 🙂

  • Kendall

    2009/05/11 at 3:21 pm

    This is making me dread the eventual remodeling of our downstairs bathroom. I just KNOW it will be a nightmare.

  • Phoo-D

    2009/05/11 at 3:24 pm

    I love the orange highlights, and the tall faucets are great too. Nothing in a bathroom bugs me more than bumping my hands against the back of the sink when trying to wash them under a short squatty faucet. Great job!

  • Lorena

    2009/05/11 at 3:24 pm

    This brings back fond memories of our own remodel–except our family was remaking the entire house. At one point we didn’t have a kitchen and were cooking food in a toaster oven in the laundry room. It was festive. And then someone installed a beam in the ceiling incorrectly and when my younger sister was walking around the dining room one morning a chunk of celing fell on her, burying her under a moutain of fluffy insulation and plaster. Good times 🙂

  • Kristan

    2009/05/11 at 3:25 pm

    The vanity is cool, but I think y’all need to push the orange rug over the line where the two tiles meet, because the difference is HUGE and awkward…

    Also, I’m confused: if you only replaced the vanity, how did you solve any of your problems?

  • Jaycie

    2009/05/11 at 3:26 pm

    I think I would have waited the two weeks for the tile…pregnant or not, that tile is UNSIGHTLY.

  • Kristan

    2009/05/11 at 3:26 pm

    Then again, y’all are giants, so maybe the angle you’re seeing things at helps hide the tile thing…

  • deebook

    2009/05/11 at 3:27 pm

    How long until coco gets at those loose rolls of t.p.? lol. My bathroom doesn’t even look as good as your pre-remodel…

  • Ingrid

    2009/05/11 at 3:28 pm

    Love ya Dooce, and I usually love how you decorate, but I gotta say, I’m scratching my head a bit with this one. Seems silly to me to put so much work into a remodel–the whole point to which was to make a room look better–and use those mismatched tiles.
    Whatever, though, not my bathroom. And I do love the new mirror and the removal of that gigantic light fixture.

  • Elaine at Lipstickdaily

    2009/05/11 at 3:29 pm

    Rug is nice. Tile is . . . geometrical. You’re brave . . . and as insane as I was when we decided to remodel our entire home (as in we had to move out) during my high risk pregnancy. Suuuurre it’ll be done before the baby comes. Project late, baby early . . . glad that’s over!

  • Amanda

    2009/05/11 at 3:29 pm

    I think it looks great! Love the rug especially. (And the tile looks fine – don’t listen to the haters.)

  • Angela

    2009/05/11 at 3:31 pm

    LOVE the vanity!

    We’re moving in 6 weeks and my rule is, “I will NOT help you move ANY furniture into the elevator”. I doubt he’ll remember it come moving day…

  • Scott

    2009/05/11 at 3:32 pm

    Don’t take this wrong way, but I’m so glad I’m not married. Especially to a pregnant woman.

  • Ingrid

    2009/05/11 at 3:32 pm

    Also–I’m confused—it could just be the angle of the photos, but in the “before” pictures, the bathroom looks a lot bigger!

  • NaysWay

    2009/05/11 at 3:32 pm

    Remodeling always brings out the worst in people – ESPECIALLY married couples. I can’t believe you guys put yourselves through that and are still alive.

    Nice bathroom, though. (hehe)

  • Katrin S.

    2009/05/11 at 3:32 pm

    I still am at a loss as to why bathroom re-models cost upwards of $20 K.

    But I guess I’m just unwilling to face reality. Like the old ladies in the writers workshop I run who went totally apoplectic when I told them that typing up a page of their work will cost about $10 an hour (if they’re lucky) and they screamed: WHAT? THAT USED TO COST A QUARTER!!! OR A DIME! TOPS!

  • beyond

    2009/05/11 at 3:38 pm

    oooh, i love hexagonal tiles. so nice and old-fashioned. i was going to write that you can hardly see the difference between the tiles, but you can. and why would i lie to you when we haven’t even met? however i don’t think it would bother me because the bathroom as a whole looks really great. (maybe you could position that lovely rug differently?)

  • Caroline

    2009/05/11 at 3:38 pm

    Call me Pandora, but I want to see those awesome text messages. C’mon, Jon. Let us have a look. They can’t be THAT bad, can they? :o)

    Heather… once again, you rock the blog. Mahalo!

  • randi

    2009/05/11 at 3:39 pm

    crazy it might seem… but beautiful ya’ll have made! i love it… so gorgeous!!!

  • Ashley

    2009/05/11 at 3:39 pm

    I’m with some of the others…I think I liked the pre-remodel better…I would have only changed your faucet and ALL tile! I can’t really see the new light fixture in the pictures…but old bathroom did look bigger..maybe pics were taken at different angles?

  • Noelle

    2009/05/11 at 3:40 pm

    I actually like the difference in tile. It’s a little odd, but I do like it. GO YOU!
    It works with the room…

    I think I’m alone in thinking that, though.

  • Jack & Jill Put Up A Blog

    2009/05/11 at 3:42 pm

    Looks very nice and refreshing…unlike the experience for you all. Your taste is so clean, I love it!! I find that remodeling is a series of compromises…getting further and further away from the original idea. With that said I must say I miss it!!

  • Stacey

    2009/05/11 at 3:43 pm

    Looks good, you two.
    Way to go, Jon!

  • Mosie

    2009/05/11 at 3:45 pm

    Y’all have done some cool stuff to other parts of your house, but this bathroom looked way better before, and that vanity is UGLY. There’s modern, and then there’s ugly. The vanity is ugly. And the tile is horrendous. Hope you don’t plan on trying to sell the house anytime soon because you guys seriously need to go back to square one with this project.

  • Shnerfle

    2009/05/11 at 3:45 pm

    Is it wrong that I am dying to read those text messages?

  • kalisa

    2009/05/11 at 3:46 pm

    When we did a slight bathroom remodel in our old house, we took down the big flat hotel-style mirror and discovered the same problem – that the wall was not flat. So the last owners? To compensate? PUMPED THAT FOAMY STUFF THAT HARDENS INTO STUFF THAT LOOKS LIKE FOAM BUT FEELS LIKE CEMENT BETWEEN THE MIRROR AND THE WALL. Good times.

  • MotherProof

    2009/05/11 at 3:46 pm

    It looks lovely. I hope Jon’s back is feeling better in time to help with all the heavy lifting you’re about to throw his way…

  • Kristen

    2009/05/11 at 3:51 pm

    I am so in love with that vanity that I am convincing my husband, that we need it, or I will die w/o it!

  • The crazy suburban mom

    2009/05/11 at 3:51 pm

    Ugh, Ikea. Not a lucid direction in any package I’ve ever gotten from them. Once took me 40 minutes to put together a 10 inch paper lamp with about 5 parts.

    It’s like they translate directions from Swedish into English using Japanese as some weird middle language.

    I’ve never been able to help anyone with anything from Ikea without a good deal of luck, Xanax and a gag.


  • Sarah @

    2009/05/11 at 3:52 pm

    That book you’d like to write? That is EXACTLY how 150% of our home projects go. WHAT A COINCIDENCE.

  • Becky

    2009/05/11 at 3:53 pm

    I love the vanity. And I never thought of putting the Orla Kiely canister in the bathroom. Cute! And since we’re noticing things, the Orla Kiely bowl on the back of the potty! Yes, I am a little Kiely-obsessed at the mo’.

  • A.

    2009/05/11 at 3:53 pm

    Looks great! Love the vanity, but I think that some time in the future you should re-tile the rest of the room with the rectangular tiles under the vanity. (Because your marriage hasn’t already gone through enough of a strain, right?!) They just seem to match your esthetic much more than the hexagonal tiles do. Anyhow, good work!

  • Karen

    2009/05/11 at 3:54 pm

    Despite the pain of it all, it came out gorgeous!

  • Annie

    2009/05/11 at 3:56 pm

    I don’t understand why anyone feels it necessary to tell you that what you did with your bathroom is ugly.


    If you don’t like it? Keep your thoughts to yourself. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?

  • Habitual

    2009/05/11 at 3:56 pm

    You can’t leave the tile like that!!!! Go tell Jon!

    We just got a quote to remodel our bathroom, replacing the fixtures in their same locations and keeping the walls in place. So, basically rip out the biggest tub in the entire world and replace it with a stand-up shower. The quote does NOT include: plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, tile or painting (those are all items WE have to supply, they will install) and it was $12,500. What recession?

  • Brianne

    2009/05/11 at 3:56 pm

    Aside from all of this hullabaloo that you guys had to go through – you have SUCH GREAT taste in decor. You should get this side internet job during which you just look at cute stuff and tell people how to decorate their rooms. They can go buy it all and assemble it all and put it all in working order. Wouldn’t that be great?
    You have my sincerest sympathy for all you guys had to go through just for this one project. And as a soon-to-be first time homebuyer, you have succeeded in scaring me shitless.
    You rock!

  • Claire

    2009/05/11 at 3:58 pm

    move that extra toilet paper closer to the toilet. Believe me,

  • Aileen

    2009/05/11 at 3:59 pm

    I’ve liked your past remodels but this one…not too much. The “before” pic looks way better. That said, to each his own & if you like it, that’s what counts.

  • Margie

    2009/05/11 at 3:59 pm

    Am thinking I have to agree with some of the other folks, liked the pre-transformation better. The floor tiles would drive me nuts!!. only thing I would have changed is the that big light . . but then it isn’t my bathroom and as long as you guys like it that is all that matters.

  • natalie

    2009/05/11 at 3:59 pm

    does the extra toilet paper get dog hair on it? never know where to store mine in my tiny bathroom with a constantly shedding dog.

    looks great btw!

  • Liesel

    2009/05/11 at 4:00 pm

    So… where’d you get the astronaut costumes?

  • J. Bo

    2009/05/11 at 4:00 pm

    For a “quickie” redecorate/remodel (that is to say, one that doesn’t involve tearing down walls and sacrificing children), you guys did great. I think the tile is an interesting geometric contrast AND, to quote The Dude, that rug really ties the whole room together.

  • Amy

    2009/05/11 at 4:01 pm

    Oh, do I feel your pain…my husband and I moved into a new house at the end of February, when I was 24 weeks pregnant, and our efforts since that time to select furniture, decorate, and complete a variety of other new-house projects has necessitated the hiring of a referee, I mean decorator, so that we do not KILL each other. I swear, I’m finding that this whole nesting instinct thing is making me just want. things. finished. regardless of what’s involved.

    Good for you for getting this project out of the way!

  • Hokie Deb

    2009/05/11 at 4:01 pm

    –>My marriage has now survived two complete bathroom remodels and thankfully, we only have two bathrooms. The second one was with a 1-year-old in the house who didn’t want to be anywhere but in the bathroom that had no floors, walls or fixtures. It’s been a year and I’m glad it’s finished.
    Your new bathroom looks great.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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