Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

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.

  • I love the new look. Thanks for documenting the madness. Perhaps I’ll delay refinishing the kitchen hardwood floor until never. Can everyone just chill now so that both parents are in good working order for the new kid?

  • sbk

    Michigan! Whooooo!

  • That is such a gorgeous before and after shot. Before it was a simple bathroom, after it is modern, minimalist and warm at once. It’s simply gorgeous, good job – and while pregnant!

  • I really love what you did, you guys have amazing taste. Only I think I would make use of all that bright light in there and paint the walls a color like pale orange or a shimmering lime or celery ice green ala benji moore.& I wouldn’t use semi-gloss I would use eggshell or flat paint too… but, that’s just me.
    : )
    Dear Heather, I just finished your, “It Sucked & Then I Cried” book & loved it. I can’t wait to share it with friends. You are a natural born storyteller.

  • Why are some of your commenters such assholes?

    P.S. The vanity is hot.

  • i have that same hexagonal tile in my bathroom!

    and call me crazy, but i actually like the different tile under the vanity. seriously.

    and it’s posts like this that keep me coming back here.

  • Send Jon to Nashville; I’m not currently pregnant but I do need help with remodeling my bathroom and I will not help with any heavy lifting no matter what.

  • I adore the new look (even more so seeing the documentation of what went into it)! Truly an inspiration for whenever I own a house. Simply adore your style. 🙂

  • Joe in Australia

    It’s actually something of a relief to see an occasion where things haven’t gone well. I know you really do work hard on renovation, but your projects seem effortless and sometimes I feel that you could pick up a doily at Walmart and I’d be all OMG THAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. So now I feel better about things I’ve done which haven’t always worked.

  • I know I’m going to be absolutely, positively hated for this, but… I liked it the old way better. *ducks flying objects* But hey, it ain’t my bathroom, and if this floats your boat, good on you.

  • Looks great guys! Good job not killing each other. 🙂

  • Cris

    I don’t know… I don’t think I can go back into my perfectly-tiled bathroom until you post photographical evidence that you too have a perfectly-tiled bathroom. Just the fact you have astronauts in your bathroom does not compensate the fact it is NOT!!!!!!!!111 a perfectly-tiled bathroom.

    So I hold you personally responsible for my upcoming UTIs and other nasty stuff.

    That is all.

  • kiki

    knowing it’s too late now, but i wonder how it would look if you decided to go with something really bold & funky under the sink instead of trying to match it? like big orange tiles underneath the sink?

    in any case, love the mirrors and sinks, and the simplicity of the room!

  • JP

    I like the retro feel of it all. Nice…

  • LOVING the rug!

  • Tile Hater

    I hate the tile and frankly this looks more like a remuddle than a remodel. Ikea is fine for something temporary (a kid’s bookshelf or desk for example) but for a bathroom it screams cheap. But perhaps my taste is too sophisticated to understand your intentions here.

  • I’m not a hater. I could never be a hater. I think the final result, could use a little improvement, so I’m here to offer some unsolicited suggestions. I’m self-important like that.

    How about adding a nice warm wall color in there? Something that would really make that orange pop? Or maybe the wall is painted, but it’s appearing washed out in the photos?

    I think the mixed geometry on the tile could appear more like a deliberate choice, and not a mistake if you had opted for another color in the tile or the grout. If it doesn’t match, I don’t think it usually works to pretend that it does. It works better to play up the difference. But, since it’s already done, it’s time to make a happy accident. A couple of shallow, wide storage baskets filled with rolled spa towels and placed under the vanity might just do the trick.

  • Tracy

    The vanity looks great. That tile would drive me CRAZY! I think you should scootch the rug just a tad under it. Because you care what I think and all. 😛

  • Ooh… Love how you have incorporated the Orla Kiely accessories in!!

    My hubby and I once decided to build a front porch together… Yeah. We butted heads the whole time and we are lucky we are still married. ;o)

  • Mari

    Turned out very well overall, and I think you have to hand it to Jon for remodeling a bathroom pretty much by himself. That said, I think I’d eventually replace the hexagonal tiles with the rectangular tiles under the vanity (the hexagonal tiles don’t really go with the modern vanity). I also like #54’s suggestion regarding paint color.

  • Bathroom reno project while you’re 100 months pregnant? You guys are nuts!

  • emily

    the old way sucked, the new way is awesome.
    shut up assholes.

  • Nik

    OH my god. And this is why whenever my husband says he is doing anything home-improvement-y, I run screaming the other way: “Hope you don’t need my help! I’m outta here…!!” I’ve learned the hard way!

    Glad to see your marriage has survived the trauma. And you have an absolutely beautiful bathroom to show for it.

  • Lindsey

    WTF. People really take the time to tell you that they don’t like YOUR bathroom? I happen to like it, but regardless, ITS YOUR BATHROOM. No wonder I need to be on medication to be nice to the general public.

  • Gaby

    Vanity is great. Just read Jon’s Twitter – I agree that the tile isn’t so bad for “in the meantime” purposes. I also found myself going back and forth between before and after photos because you made the bathroom look much bigger in the before. Oh, and post those darn text messages. Please 🙂

  • The two types of tile? Don’t quite do it for me but you have some serious balls for trying it. I love that you made the room work using mostly just shades of white. I would not be able to restrain myself from splashing that awesome orange all over the walls!

  • JenC

    Great Job! Love the orange. Where did you get the light fixture? It’s the only thing left to do in my bathroom, but I can’t find any I like.

  • P

    We went through considerable “discussion” when remodeling one of our baths during a whole house nine month remodel. At one point, I ask the cabinet sub to intervene. He politely declined and said, “I never get involved in personal homeowner’s choices. I figure you’ll either work it out or I’ll read about it in the paper tomorrow.”

    Smart guy that one. Fortunately for us, it was the former and not the latter.

    And NOT that you asked, mind you. But, go ahead and order the hex tile, two weeks-schmoo weeks what the hey. You’ll thank “us” later…

    Thanks as always for sharing.

  • Carrie

    I paid a housecall to a patient 3 days shy of her due date to begin induction treatments. As I was leaving, she mentioned that her plan for the rest of the evening was to regrout the bathroom. I stopped, set everything down, put my hands on her shoulders, and made her vow not to start that. Oy. Your bathroom looks clean and bright and fine and a perfectly marvelous place to allow a baby. Anyone who would criticize a pregnant woman’s nest is an asshole. Let’s see your houses, people.

  • The book you want to write about remodeling? Go for it. It’s true, short, and relate-able. You’ll be rich!

    The bathroom looks nice. You two did a great job. I admire your determination. Be careful though! Leta and baby girl need parents who aren’t hobbled to care for them. 🙂

  • I love those bright tones of orange in the rug, photos, and pear design on the countertop. What a great way to brighten things up for the winter!

  • Oh NO…I’m laughing so hard that tears are running down my face…that is how you can tell the ones who have been married for a while and have gotten involved in remodeling projects…we are the ones on the floor laughing.

    Ya’ll are in my prayers. hahahaha…for real…I know and totally understand.

  • I love the colors in the room now! They really brighten the place up and make it look so much more up to date. Glad everyone survived.

  • Sandra

    I love it – even the strange tile. Love the clean lines, the colors, everything. Can I copy when I redo by guest bath next year? The “Home Depot” look is what I worked very hard to avoid when I remodeled my extremely tiny bathroom two years ago – using Ikea cabinets and fixtures which I still love. My remodel took six months, however, as I did most myself and it took months to find the white tile I wanted – everyone kept telling me I wanted brown or beige.

    Am I the only person who can assemble Ikea furniture without instructions? I’m thinking of becoming a professional Ikea assembler.

  • I *heart* the orange rug; where did you find it? I think I missed that.

    Seriously though, the tile is fine. The non-matching part is UNDER THE SINK, so who’s gonna notice?

    People always find something negative to say…gotta love it.

    Will you take bribes to see the text messages?

  • Brava97

    What in the world is the purpose of the bowl on top of the toilet?

  • Erin

    Not that you asked for our opinions (HA!), but I think it looks great. I actually like the mismatched tile–it looks like a tile-rug for your vanity. And the vanity/sinks/faucets are GREAT. Crazy haters.

  • Sissy

    I love it and I think it looks bigger. The old cabinet screamed 1975 because I had a “junior bedroom suite” that had that same look.

    Only thing I would do would be put the toliet paper in one of those drawers or get a basket. Nothing worse than some soggy toliet paper.

  • Kristen

    That bathroom is about 5 times bigger than the biggest bathroom in my house where 4 kids were raised. So I’m jealous. 🙂

  • Sarah

    I’m confused! Are you joking?! I’d toss that rug diagonally under the vanity because that tile is killing my eyes. Also…I’m so confused…the new vanity seems smaller? But then it’s not actually, because it goes from the wall on one end to the toilet on the other? What changed, space-wise, then?! I’m off to go scratch my head staring at the photos.

    Also? Calling us haters for saying we don’t like it? She posts pictures all the time. Why is it okay for people to comment saying they love ____? I’m not criticizing Heather and Jon, I’m just scratching my head because it seems like they’ve done so much better elsewhere. So I’m left wondering if I’m missing the punchline to a joke here. But if they like it, what difference does it make what me or the rest of the “haters” think of it? None whatsoever.

  • Beth

    Seriously, people need to shut the hell up. That bathroom looks nice, the two kinds of tile are fine, and if you don’t like IKEA because your “taste is too sophisticated” you’ve missed an entire half century of design. Luckily, you should be able to skip a few decades of colonoscopies because your head is far enough up there that you can inform your doctor if any abnormalities appear. Yeah, the vanity is not made out of solid, hand-carved oak, but it’s something serviceable that lots of people can afford. And Dooce and Jon made it look so pretty and individual that anyone who doesn’t like it – and who takes the time to tell a pregnant woman that they don’t like her nesting – is a jerkface of abnormal proportions.

    Speaking of which, you two must have a larger than average collection of balls (both by number and volume) to embark on a project like this so close to having a baby! Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

  • Phoebe

    haters can suck it.

    love the rug. and the landnauts.

  • Anonymous

    YOU ARE ONE F___ING SPOILED PERSON!

    Do you realize how F—ing spoiled you even are? That things in your life are so wonderful and going so well that you actually have the freeedom and liberty to complain about how your bathroom looks?!?!?!

    i would give anything to have the great life you obviously have, to be able to comaplin about my bathroom! Id give anything to not have relatives who are dying, a potential job loss in the future, lots of $$$ that you make from advertisers to your blog, a healthy child, another on the way, and a husband who dotes on you. Do you even realize how blessed you are?? Do you?

    how come every one of your posts is a sarcastic one about something going on in your life, thats actually a blessing? Why do you turn around every incident that happens to you and poke fun at it, when it actually just shows youre a blessed person?

    All i can say is– enjoy it while it lasts. time still still for nobody. We are all getting old, and will get sick and die. We will ALL Die! every one of us. all our parents, our partners, our kids, our relatives and our friends… we will , someday, be alone with nobody who loves us unconditionally.

    i used to be blessed. a wonderful upbringing, great friends, great family, the best of schools… all gone now. or almost gone. i didnt truly appreciate it till it was gone.

    but gone it is. and gone it will be for us all.

    like the unmatched tiles in your bathroom… they will all be gone.

    do i sound jealous? its cause i am! i yearn for those days again. but theyre over. theyre gone.

  • Anonymous

    YOU ARE ONE F___ING SPOILED PERSON!

    Do you realize how F—ing spoiled you even are? That things in your life are so wonderful and going so well that you actually have the freeedom and liberty to complain about how your bathroom looks?!?!?!

    i would give anything to have the great life you obviously have, to be able to comaplin about my bathroom! Id give anything to not have relatives who are dying, a potential job loss in the future, lots of $$$ that you make from advertisers to your blog, a healthy child, another on the way, and a husband who dotes on you. Do you even realize how blessed you are?? Do you?

    how come every one of your posts is a sarcastic one about something going on in your life, thats actually a blessing? Why do you turn around every incident that happens to you and poke fun at it, when it actually just shows youre a blessed person?

    All i can say is– enjoy it while it lasts. time still still for nobody. We are all getting old, and will get sick and die. We will ALL Die! every one of us. all our parents, our partners, our kids, our relatives and our friends… we will , someday, be alone with nobody who loves us unconditionally.

    i used to be blessed. a wonderful upbringing, great friends, great family, the best of schools… all gone now. or almost gone. i didnt truly appreciate it till it was gone.

    but gone it is. and gone it will be for us all.

    like the unmatched tiles in your bathroom… they will all be gone.

    do i sound jealous? its cause i am! i yearn for those days again. but theyre over. theyre gone.

  • The beginning of the end of my marriage came when we decided to move into a much bigger house when I was 30 weeks pregnant. I didn’t have the mental chutzpah nor the self confidence at the time to tell my now-ex-husband that there was no way in hell I could do more than sit on a chair and dictate exactly how he should be painting every freaking wall in our 2400-sq-ft house with its gloriously vaulted 11-foot ceilings.

    Since he wanted to take it easy on me, he gave me the trim jobs. At that point, my stomach was measuring almost 48 inches around (“wow–that’s how deep your average swimming pool is” he said). And it was May. And it was hot. And we didn’t have air conditioning. And I was on my hands and knees trying to do my best to get the paint along the edge of the molding, not on the molding.

    And THEN I was up on a 16-foot extension ladder. Because the baby at that point had robbed me AND him of all of our functioning brain cells.

    And THEN he had the audacity to yell at me. For getting paint on the popcorn ceiling. And on the carpet. As I cried.

    And that’s just one of many “it’ll be fine” remodeling projects that slowly ate up our marriage.

    But you and Jon seem just fine. 🙂

  • i think it looks great, provided you don’t notice the floor. so, personally, if it was my bathroom, i’d be more than happy to live in the upgraded version till the baby is out and i can climb stairs with ease again. then i’d chip out that blue trim tile, order the extra hexagons, and finish off the bottom the way i think you inteneded. but that’s just me. living in a shit-hole fixer upper myself, we were psyched to trash the 70s faux brass mirror/light combo above the sink and replace it with a plain boring mirrow and sleak modern light fixture as TWO SEPARATE UNITS. made it totally possible to forget about the neon blue tiles in the tub. which are still there.

  • the dual sinks must be a god-send. love the touch of green (leaves) that brings the outdoors in.

  • dooce

    These comments just keep getting better and better!

  • I was with you until I saw the toilet paper rolls on the floor.

    From your tales and pictures, I believe you have two dogs. How are you able to make that happen? I only had one dog and he would not have been able to control himself long enough for me to snap a picture, must less any extended period of time to actually use said toilet paper.

    Kudos on your skills in magic.

    And kudos on the rug and vanity – me likey.

  • Anonymous

    YOU ARE ONE F___ING SPOILED PERSON!

    Do you realize how F—ing spoiled you even are? That things in your life are so wonderful and going so well that you actually have the freeedom and liberty to complain about how your bathroom looks?!?!?!

    i would give anything to have the great life you obviously have, to be able to comaplin about my bathroom! Id give anything to not have relatives who are dying, a potential job loss in the future, lots of $$$ that you make from advertisers to your blog, a healthy child, another on the way, and a husband who dotes on you. Do you even realize how blessed you are?? Do you?

    how come every one of your posts is a sarcastic one about something going on in your life, thats actually a blessing? Why do you turn around every incident that happens to you and poke fun at it, when it actually just shows youre a blessed person?

    All i can say is– enjoy it while it lasts. time still still for nobody. We are all getting old, and will get sick and die. We will ALL Die! every one of us. all our parents, our partners, our kids, our relatives and our friends… we will , someday, be alone with nobody who loves us unconditionally.

    i used to be blessed. a wonderful upbringing, great friends, great family, the best of schools… all gone now. or almost gone. i didnt truly appreciate it till it was gone.

    but gone it is. and gone it will be for us all.

    like the unmatched tiles in your bathroom… they will all be gone.

    do i sound jealous? its cause i am! i yearn for those days again. but theyre over. theyre gone.