True to form, our bathroom renovation (with fabulous bathroom wallpaper!) took 6.5 months longer than necessary. We do love to avoid suggestions like: have all the materials on-hand before starting the project. If you also would like a two week bathroom remodel to take seven months, read my handy how-to guide!

Modern tropical bathroom with green penny tile and palm frond wallpaper.
The finished product!

Step 1: Gut the bathroom before all the materials are in your possession.

You may choose to have one item on-hand, like we had our vanity base, but don’t stockpile any other finishes. This means, don’t have the tile, sink, faucet, lighting, accessories, wallpaper, new door, door handle, door hinges, or…pretty much anything else ready and waiting before you take your bathroom apart.

Weathered wood vanity with grey and white quartz top. White wood mirror and mauve bathroom walls.
Before the remodel.
Mauve bathroom wall with white shiplap, a grey and white quartz vanity, and shabby chic finishes.
Soon to be stripped, drywalled, and wallpapered.
white bathroom with sink vanity
After the tear-out. There was no floor tile under the original built-in vanity.

The 15-year old mauve paint in our (only) bathroom was weathered. The wood vanity was looking pretty beat, too. We worried what we would find under the white shiplap on the righthand wall, or under the built-in vanity, but fortunately there was no rot or damage. Once the vanity was out, the shiplap and mirror off, our contractor dry walled everything smooth and painted it all Super White by Benjamin Moore.

Step 2. Order items piecemeal as the project goes along.

This can be wildly satisfying and prolong the renovation process many, many months beyond all expectation. Your contractor will also get a real kick out of this. For example, it’s pretty fun to assume that you can easily find square, white tile to fill the hole left where the vanity was removed. 

Wrong! Turns out those f*ckers are elusive. So, we either had to install non-matching white tiles (the scandal!), remove the entire tile floor and install something totally new (no thank you to the cost), or go rogue. 

Step 3. Don’t consider measurements when ordering lighting.

We brazenly ordered (non-returnable!) lights from our local  Berkeley Lighting store. The Berkeley Lighting crew is incredibly helpful and we love the lights, but we didn’t consider how much space the two, 7-inch diameter, mid-century wall sconces we chose would occupy on our vanity wall. Of course we had our contractor install them as soon as they came and we quickly realized that (with our non-returnable lights installed), our mirror size options had become extremely limited. Turns out, there aren’t a ton of mirrors that are 20 inches wide and 32 inches tall. Hmmm.

The lights we selected were the Stella wall sconces and the Nadia ceiling flush mount, both in aged brass and both by Mitzi Hudson Valley Lighting.

white bathroom vanity in a partially remodeled bathroom with green penny tile backdrop
Who us, measure?
white, midcentury modern flush mount globe light
The Nadia by Mitzi
green tape measures out potential mirror sizes between two midcentury modern bathroom wall sconces
Where is this miracle mirror?

Step 4. Attempt to defy logic via endless hours of online shopping.

Even if your wife tells you (repeatedly) that you may have to get a custom mirror (due to your lighting snafu), really clock those hours trolling Wayfair, AllModern, Target, heck, even Amazon, for a not-ugly (heck even an ugly) 20W x 32 H mirror. Persist despite all odds. Seek out any and all home furnishing and thrift stores open in a pandemic, hoping for that mirror miracle. Then, after weeks of looking, ordering, trying, returning, ad infinitum, surrender to the custom route. For our custom mirror, we used  Top Glass Co. in West Oakland to realize our arched vision. They did an awesome job, the mirror is gorgeous, but of course custom is never cheaper. So! Perhaps be more strategic than us? Or not!

Little baby mirror, will you ever grow into your tape?
Little baby mirror, will you ever grow into your tape?
A man in a neon green vest installs a mirror over a bathroom vanity
Custom mirror fits perfect.

Step 5: Make design decisions as you go. 

Nothing’s more fun than a game of chance, right? Why not base your whole bathroom on brassy gold hardware only to discover that no one makes double rocker light switches in the right shade of brassy gold. And, similarly, no one makes the proper brassy gold sink faucet so you’ll have to have more shine than you want in your sink or sacrifice an ungodly (ungoldly?) amount of money that you can’t really stomach paying.

If we had ordered everything before installing anything we would have decided what worked and didn’t. But instead we plowed bravely ahead, wily-nily as the kids are saying these days, ordered piecemeal, became disappointed, returned and waited for deliveries, were dis-pleased, returned and ordered again, over and over again. 

Step 6: Ignore the finish on your lighting. 

Bet you didn’t even think of this. We didn’t, either. Turns out the Mitzi Stella wall sconces we chose have frosted glass globes. But the Mitzi Nadia flush mount ceiling light (which appeared to have a frosted white globe light cover and is by the same brand) looks totally different and is actually milk glass. This means when the lights are all on they don’t really match.

All this may seem like splitting hairs when there’s a global pandemic and racial injustice is rampant (P.S. this newsletter on anti-racism is a wonderful resource!) and people are truly suffering and so I recognize the utter insipidness of these quibbles and yet, I feel compelled to share these lessons learned. How was I to know? Well, apparently, the internet knew. Also, I knew! 

white woman in a white dress taking a selfie in the remodeled bathroom.
Too many golds.

I used to write home renovation articles (for 3 years) for a well-known home improvement services site and I always wrote about how to be prepared for your remodel. Specifically, I interviewed countless contractors who told readers to have all their materials on-hand before starting the work. Turns out in the midst of a national crisis I forgot the simple facts. Next time! For now we’ll be gentle with ourselves.

What we should have done. 

If I could time travel to July 2020 Annie and tell her one thing, it would be: ORDER ALL THE MATERIALS BEFORE HAVING THE CONTRACTOR COME AND RIP OUT YOUR BATHROOM. We had months of a shell of a bathroom because every “32-inch” sink top we ordered arrived too small (not our fault!), or the cool, glass-paneled door we decided we needed last minute (definitely our fault!) would be on back order (because, pandemic). Stuff like that.

I would gently shake that naive girl and say, “July 2020 Annie, focus! Do a little cut and paste, get your vision in place. Then order the parts! You can do it! I believe in you! Then, wait for it all to arrive (!) and see how you like it all together. Why, you might even go ahead and order the tile now because surely that special, celadon penny tile you want will take weeks to deliver. Just think about it, July 2020 Annie. As January 2021 Annie, I don’t want to boss you around or anything, but I do think it’d make your life a little easier.” Or something along those lines. 


The only real disruption to life was the the sink and vanity coming out (and a solid two months of no bathroom door). This means that despite our backwards approach to remodeling our only bathroom—and a good amount of tooth brushing in the kitchen sink—we didn’t have to forgo basic sanitation and pee in a bucket or hose shower in the backyard.

Let’s talk bathroom wallpaper.

There’s lots to love about a fabulous bathroom. A makeup moment. Hair party. Hot showers. But let’s be honest when we admit that wallpaper really makes the party. I’ve wanted bathroom wallpaper since junior high when Jenny T’s parents remodeled and put a dark, floral, elegant paper in the half bath. I marveled. Is this even allowed? Glamour paper in the loo? Turns out as an adult you can do whatever you want. (Mostly. I also loved one friend’s bathroom in Ashland, OR, but as an adult I’ve come to see that carpeting and bathrooms don’t mix.)

The two keys to bathroom wallpaper success are:
  • Moisture-friendly wallpaper
  • Competent wallpaper installation

We got the paper from MuralsWallpaper. They have interesting, modern designs, plus they’ll send three free samples, which I appreciate. We chose their ‘heavy-grade’ wallpaper, which they say stands up better in wet environments. The heavy paper is gorgeous, with almost a linen look.  Plus the design has a full-on tropical palm, modern retro vibe. My wife’s sister said it best when we sent her a photo:

“It looks like a South Beach hotel bathroom.”

Nice. I didn’t even know it, but that was our goal precisely. Kind of a gay art deco Miami dream. Jim’s Wallpaper did the install, thankfully, and it looks amazing. 

white man in red shirt installing wallpaper on a white wall.
Pro wallpaper install! Worth it.
three wallpaper samples against a white wall.
Our three wallpaper samples.
tropical palm wallpaper installed in a bathroom
Install complete!

We swore never to remodel again. 

After our 9-month, no-kitchen heartbreak con man remodel disaster (wherein we were rescued by an amazing cabinet crew, our contractor friend, and my wife finally putting her foot down after a maniac swindler tried to take all our money and we had an empty hole in our house and a random dude in boat shoes showing up every odd Tuesday for the better part of a year) we SWORE we would never remodel again. *sigh.*

Turns out after that terrible experience, our amazing cabinet guys gifted us a bathroom vanity to match the gorgeous custom kitchen cabinets they installed. We hid it in the garage as long as could, but there’s only so long you can hide something that pretty away. After a year had passed with our kitchen complete, we started anew. So glad we did, it looks glorious! 

completed bathroom remodel, arched mirror, globe wall sconces,
All the pretty pieces!

Design party.

Our original plan was to put wallpaper behind the vanity, but then we pivoted and thought, why not rip the funky-ass shiplap off the side wall, wallpaper the sidewall, and cascade tile down the sink wall down and under the vanity. We’re like jungle cats, nimble! Turns out, we loved how it looked. So, it all came together, far slower than we might have hoped, but fabulously nontheless. 

My favorite touches were these square brass shelves. We added one to the left side of the vanity to hold our toothbrush (no one wants to ruin this gorgeous look with an electric toothbrush plugged in on top) and then we added two more above the shower to hold sweet little potted plants. We had the owner of Flora Arte help us make wee little potted buddies. We love him, so all you East Bay folks, go visit his shop in Berkeley on MLK. 

Two brass shelves holding plants, installed above a white-tiled shower
It's a jungle in here!
White bathroom remodel with brass planter boxes hanging above the shower wall.

The end.

That’s our latest home renovation saga. We make this house more over-the-top each year. Have you been doing any shelter-in-place home remodel projects? Tell me alllllabout it.

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