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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. 

Fortunately

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.
Plants!

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.

If you’ve always got the blues, you might have the wrong paint for your north-facing room. See, I learned all about paint while avoiding a kitchen remodel. It was the classic home renovation pick and roll; renovate the bedrooms instead of tackling the non-operational kitchen. I mean, why start on a truly urgent project when you can tailspin for months over paint colors for north-facing rooms?

I’ll show you pics of the fabulous coral and true teal we decided, on as well as giving specific color suggestions below, but if all you want are bullet points without the backstory, the key takeaways when painting a north-facing room include:

  • Stark white paint is no good in north-facing rooms. More on why below
  • Warm neutrals (and whites with warm undertones) are a solid substitute for bright/stark white
  • Dramatic dark colors give a north-facing room depth
  • Pastels with warm undertones work well
  • Pastels with cool undertones can look tragic
  • Room decor, flooring, and exterior foliage impact the undertones in your paint selection. I linked resources below for understanding undertones

Backstory:

A few years ago, our electric oven broke (bear with me, this does circle back to paint). The easy fix would be replacing the oven, but my wife really wanted a gas range—and that meant hiring a plumber. Besides that, our janky white shaker cabinet doors were constantly falling off and the footprint of the galley kitchen was tooooo small for two cooks; so if we were going to do one thing, we were going to do it all.

photo of a galley kitchen with white shaker cabinets
The wee kitchen galley with disobedient cabinet doors and non-functional oven.



My wife and I were terrified of taking on a kitchen remodel (rightly so, it turns out the process has been
fraught with drama). So over two years of remodel denial we became experts at the no-stove workaround. My wife should write a lifestyle cookbook for the Instapot, crockpot, and countertop toaster oven crowd. After TWO YEARS of no-stove crock pot cooking we said, this is ridiculous! We are grown women! We can face our fears…and we promptly agreed to repaint the bedrooms.

Renovating the bedrooms

As any novice home renovator soon finds out, just repainting the rooms does not suffice. The carpets were disgusting from years of doggies, the original 1950s baseboards were jank, and the original closet was a dysfunctional monster. So, instead of a quick paint touch-up, we embarked on a two-month bedroom overhaul. Classic avoidance technique (do you see how we artfully pushed aside the kitchen work?). 

Choosing the paint

I thought the pale, icy blue of the guest and main bedrooms always felt cold and shadowy. Even when the sun was shining I’d wrap up in a depression sweater when I was back there.

A pale blue wall with old and damaged baseboards
Sad blue paint and sad 1950s baseboards


What I didn’t know then is that north facing rooms have minimal direct sunlight, so colors with cool undertones make cold shadows. So although the blue was, in theory, a beautiful pastel, in our north-facing rooms the color looked drab and cold.

We tend toward modern design and reasoned brighter and whiter might be a good choice. Boy was I wrong. After deep diving into blogs and paint sites, I learned that the type of sun exposure the rooms get impacts how the paint colors look on the walls. So instead of fabulously airy and light, true white looks grey and dingy in cool light, delivery dreary institutional vibes.

Counter to my ideas, light theory was teaching me that bold, rich colors bring warmth and life to dark rooms. In our shadowy room, deep colors could create a sense of coziness as opposed to the depression sweater vibe of our current pale blue.

View through a bedroom window to a small patio and back hill
We have large windows on the north wall of both bedrooms, but the windows look up a wooded hillside and never receive direct sunlight.
Empowered by countless home remodel blogs, I embarked on a campaign to paint our main bedroom a warm, glowing deep teal and our guest room/office a fabulous coral. Here is my teal paint Pinterest inspiration board and my coral wall paint Pinterest inspiration board.

A few years back when we painted the living room and dining room, we learned (the hard way) that paint color cards DO NOT LOOK ANYTHING LIKE what ends up on your wall. This is because the orientation of your room, your interior lighting, your decor, carpet color, and the amount of natural sunlight you receive all impact how the color looks. 

woman making a silly face in front of multiple paint swatches painted on a wall
Lessons learned from the living room. Don’t lose your mind amongst all those lilacs that had masqueraded as grey at the paint store.
As a result of painting millions of misleading sample grays on our living room walls back then, we had a better strategy for painting our bedrooms this time. Try it out if you like:
  1. Search Pinterest for paint inspo for North-facing rooms! Make a Pinterest board with colors you like
  2. Consider your decor (bed frame, carpet/flooring, artwork and overheard lighting) and what colors would look good?
  3. Bring your Pinterest boards to your paint shop and have them help you color match some of the paint cards to the pics
  4. Buy no more than four paint samples to test on the walls
  5. Paint large (at least 2 or three foot squares) swatches of each color on the main walls

I wish I had better photos of our teal paint samples, but thanks to the crap natural lighting in our main bedroom, photographing this room is like trying to bathe a cat. Never a good time with natural light and overhead light casts strange shadows. Here is my best attempt:

teal paint swatches on a light-colored wall
From the top, clockwise: Real Teal, Seaworthy, Oceanside, Great Falls. All by Sherwin Williams
The coral guest room photographs far better thanks to an overhead skylight that augments the natural light in the room.
coral colored paint swatches painted on a light blue wall. Grey carpet samples against a brown carpet.
From left to right: Ravishing Coral and Lei Flower by Sherwin Williams. In addition to my photog skills, this pic shows off our grody old carpet, the new carpet options (spoiler, we went w/ the darker one) and those beat down baseboards, which are now replaced.
Our final paint choices

Curious how the rooms turned out? We chose Lei Flower for the guest room / office and Real Teal for our bedroom. I LOVE the coral paint and I adore the teal BUT I flubbed on the teal by choosing a semi-gloss sheen. In retrospect I would have done a satin sheen in the teal like I did with the coral. The semi-gloss is just too damn shiny. Here are the final pics:

Resources: Paint for north-facing rooms


Scooter, my old man dog, has recently embraced incontinence as a lifestyle choice. 

Poor little dude. I took him to the vet, and they ran a $300 test to tell me if there’s a thing to do, but in the meantime my reactions to taking him out to pee every 30 minutes make me feel like an asshole

My kid parent friends are noble. They stay up nights and feed babies and tend to sick kids and clean barf out of beds and I never hear them say things like, “can I just put him in a kennel?”

I love him like crazy. I don’t want him to suffer, but I also don’t want to wake up three times each night to let him out to urinate. And those times that he doesn’t whine to be let out, he just pees in his bed. My mom friends (I don’t know about all dudes, but among my hetero couple friends, it is really only the ladies who are doing this work) seem to be more focused on their baby’s well-being than urine ruining their carpet, while I constantly am concerned about Scooter pee leaking through his bed. 

Unto you a doggy is born

It all started two weeks ago while my wife was out of the country. I was having an emotional melt (not directly related to being alone, but certainly the loneliness compounded it) and woke up wanting comfort (poor me!) and looked to Scooter for morning snuggles. Instead of a soft and fluffy coat I found his bed soaked and his fur drenched in pee. I felt it really lent a type of gravitas to the depths of my self-pity to get on my hands and knees and blot urine stains from our new carpet (!) instead of crying softly in bed over the weight of my feelings. Next, a de-pee fur bath. I even tried to blow dry him, but he was not interested. 

Later that day, I face-timed a friend to recount my sorrows, and she happened to be at the doctor’s office. She was waiting for an appointment for her littlest one, due to the fact that her three kids, all under age seven, were up the night before barfing and she had spent the night comforting them, bathing them, and cleaning up vomit. She was tired but mostly just concerned about her daughters’ health. What I mean to say, she was more concerned with her kids than herself. 

So.

I feel like there’s a lesson here:

  • It’s great that I’m not a kid mom
  • Maybe I could pray for patience

*Just so you know, I am really sweet to Scooter and always tend to all his needs, but inside I secretly wish my dog brought me bed coffee and fed himself. *

Redwood glamour dog

I’m in Thailand and my hometown is surrounded by the flames of Camp Fire—the deadliest California fire in history. My heart is heavy with the literal loss of Paradise. I was there (Paradise) three weeks ago, doing some work for my parents. My dad was talking about updates the city was making—the new park, the downtown. As of November 8, the small ridge town of over 20,000 has burned down. Nearly 7,000 structures gone, nearly 30 people died, and nearly 230 still missing. So strange to witness such close tragedy from so far away. My love is going out to all the people and pets and loved ones and lives uprooted by this massive fire.

Here is a #CampFire List of What To Do If Your Home Has Burned, compiled by someone much wiser than me:
1. Get a PO Box

2. Longer term rental search – include insurance on it so they pay directly for rental. Find a nice place that you like, don’t settle. You should be able to get a “Like Property” so insurance should cover a nice place for you to live while you work through all this. You might be living here for 2 years, so choose wisely.

3. Find a place to buy some sturdy boots and gloves. Get some shovels.

4. Start working on the personal property list (this is not fun at all, be prepared to cry we sure did). Write down the moment you remember – keep list on phone or pad of paper with you at all times.

5. Save receipts. Loss of use insurance will cover incidentals too – hairbrush, phone chargers, etc.

6. As you buy things, tell the store owner your situation. Most stores will give you some level of discount as their way of helping you.

7. Let people do things for you. Do you have a friend that you can send to the store to buy you some basic clothes or comfort foods? Let them do it – they want to help and you don’t need to spend time doing these errands. (The ‘fun’ of shopping is gone…it quickly becomes a chore because you don’t want a new shirt, you want the one that you always liked to wear but now it’s gone and you are sad/mad.)

The Big List:

1. Register at the shelters, with Red Cross and any other agency there, california FEMA, etc.
a. Most of the aid coming in will use these lists as a point of contact and will help to ensure that you don’t get left out of anything.
b. This will be especially important should FEMA be activated, which in my opinion is very likely with the amount of devastation experienced.

2. Call Homeowners/Rental insurance to trigger “Loss of Use”
. This typically will allow you to be in a “Like” property for x number of years and sometimes has a dollar limit attached and sometimes not, this is dependent on your policy.
a. This coverage should also give you some immediate access to funds for essentials, clothes, toothbrushes, food, etc.
b. This will also get the ball rolling for the insurance claim on your home and rebuilding/personal property Dollars.

3. Get a PO Box and forward all mail to the Box.
. Use this PO Box as the mailing address on all forms you begin to fill out.

4. Start Searching for a Long term rental.
. Coordinate with your insurance company so that payments can be made directly from them using your “Loss of Use” money.
a. Plan on renting 1-2 years, but do not necessarily sign a lease for a full two years as circumstances can change.

5. Itemized List of belongings – (This is very hard but very necessary for your claim)
. I would organize by room and list everything that was there with a replacement cost. (you will cry a lot doing this and that is ok)
a. Replacement Cost should be what it would cost to replace not on sale from pottery barn, it should not be the price you paid for it with that 50% off coupon.
b. Make sure you list everything, even if it is above and beyond your policy limit. This is very important because everything above and beyond the policy limit is considered a Loss and can be claimed as such on your taxes – See #9

6. Call all of your utilities and either freeze or cancel service.
. Electric, Gas, TV, Land Line phone
a. Newspaper delivery, either cancel or update to PO Box.

7. Call the rest of your insurance points as needed.
. Car insurance
a. Any specialty insurance for unique items

8. Permits – An unfortunate necessity.
. Debris Removal – as things wind down it will be necessary to remove the debris, this requires a permit usually. (This should be covered by your insurance, we had to force the issue but ask repeatedly.)
a. Erosion Control – If you are on any kind of hill or have sloped property you will need to put some sort of erosion control measures in place, again this will need some sort of permit.
b. Temporary Power Pole/Trailer on site Permit – Getting this earlier on can prove helpful in both the rebuilding process.

9. Taxes
. You will be able to claim the monetary loss of the value of all your items minus what you receive from your insurance company. I’m unfamiliar with the exact laws, but I believe that we were able to carry our losses back 2-5 years and received most of the money that we had paid in taxes back in a nice large check.

10. Network with others. You will learn so much from others as you go through the rebuilding process. We all have our strengths so share yours and use others. The amount of time that you will spend on the rebuild, insurance, recovery process is staggering so you need to use all your resources.

Thanks to Angie‘s friend (who sadly lost her home in Santa Rosa fire last year) and made this incredibly useful list.