Life, Stories Told

Operation Lipstick on the Pig, or how I refreshed my bathroom for under $500

I’m feeling rather proud of myself, and I hope you’ll indulge me as I tell you why.

I think the reason I got such a good deal on my house is because the kitchen and main bathroom both needed updating. The kitchen just needs new countertops and a dishwasher, which I’ll take care of eventually. The main bathroom, however, was bad. Really bad. “Shield the kids’ eyes, Martha!” bad. The walls were covered partially in fake brickface, partially in gaudy marble-look laminate. The tub surround was beige, but the tub was white. The sink was made of flimsy plastic. I didn’t even know they made plastic sinks! The vinyl tile was laid off square. A closet lacked a door. Only one of the four light sockets worked.

I bought the house anyway because it was less than a mile from where my sons lived, I could afford it, and it was otherwise in good shape. I wanted to gut the bathroom to the studs and rebuild it, but I was still broke after my divorce. I would need to be creative and find ways to make the bathroom livable on the cheap. Not long ago I wrote here that one thing I do to keep my equilibrium is work on personal projects that give me a feeling of accomplishment. Let me tell you, this bathroom has provided no end of such projects! I photographed my progress at every step. Check it out.

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As I worked, there were a few times that I wanted to wring the previous owner’s neck. The first time was when I ripped the godforsaken laminate off the upper parts of the walls to find it glued onto wallpaper. The next time was when I removed the mirror over the lower window sash to find the glass was covered in opaque plastic film, which wouldn’t have been so bad it wasn’t also painted. The final time was when I was trying to cut out a portion of the brickface-covered wall to make way for a new mirror, and found the brickface attached to ceramic tile. My saw wouldn’t cut through it!

It all turned out better than I imagined. I thought I was putting a little lipstick on the pig, but instead the bathroom is transformed. And I did it all for a little less than $500!

There’s more work to do, of course. I need to replace the glass in the lower window sash and hang some sort of window treatment. I need to lay a new floor, which will involve lifting the toilet so I can lay tile under it like you’re supposed to. I might even replace the toilet while I’m at it, with a more compact model that flushes with more, ahem, authority. I will eventually reconfigure and paint the bathroom’s other closet. I’d like to replace the tub surround and the sliding doors, which are permanently stained. And I’m going to move the towel bar, as it is in the way when you’re spending quality time on the toilet.

My pride here isn’t about having completed these projects. It’s about having figured out how to do them. I’ve always lacked confidence in my home-improvement abilities, and beyond wielding a paintbrush I’ve never done anything like this before. I had to do some carpentry, electrical work, drywall work, and plumbing to pull this off! I also had to imagine what I wanted the room to look like then make it look like that. I tell you what, I feel all he-man!

I am surprised to find that I enjoy working around the house. My favorite job is mowing the grass. I love driving my lawn tractor!

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23 thoughts on “Operation Lipstick on the Pig, or how I refreshed my bathroom for under $500

  1. Lone Primate says:

    Man, you’re really putting a bug in my ear for wanting to get my own place, rather than spend the rest of my life renting. I can really relate to the sense of accomplishment you must feel… especially having made the Scots proud in getting it done so affordably. :)

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    • I miss being able to call the landlord when things go wrong. But I do like the privacy and peace of not sharing walls. Of course, later this year the city is going to compel me to connect to the new sanitary sewer line they’re laying, to the tune of almost $6,000. These kinds of hidden gotchas always lurk when you own your own.

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  2. tina says:

    It looks great, and it’s wonderful that you could spend so little on it and still be happy! Knowing how to do that kind of stuff yourself is such an asset. Yay!

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    • Thanks Tina! This house has been quite an adventure and I’ve learned how to do things I never thought I could — and, in some cases, never wanted to.

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  3. ryoko861 says:

    HGTV and DIY Network would be proud! And you did a fantastic job! Love the new mirror and over head light!!

    A great transformation!

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  4. Michael says:

    Good job! I don’t think I could have kept that faux brick though. Even painted nicely it looks nasty. I’ve never heard of a plastic sink either outside of laundry tub style.

    If you want to learn how to mud drywall I’ll have plenty to do here real soon. And texturing ceilings. And painting. And installing kitchen cabinets. And if you’d like to install a shower base and toilet, I can hook you up. :)

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    • If I stay in the house for more than the next few years, I’ll gut that bathroom and start over. But for now, it is 1,000% better than it was. I’m not embarrassed to have friends over anymore!

      Mudding drywall stinks! I did enough of it in that bathroom, repairing the walls after I got the laminate and wallpaper off.

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      • Michael says:

        I like the smell of drywall. :)

        At least your guests didn’t have to walk through a bedroom to reach the bathroom.

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      • Michael says:

        I like the smell of joint compound. :)

        At least your guests didn’t have to walk through a bedroom to reach the bathroom.

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    • You know how it is – once you’ve taken your bathroom apart, you kind of have to put it back together. I have 1 1/2 baths and this is the one with the shower in it, so there was no turning back!

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  5. Wonderful work, Jim! Sounds eerily similar to our bathroom remodel, which had us tearing up the floor because earlier remodels hadn’t sealed the water lines properly. We did score some great deals at the local Habitat Restore, though – brand new vanity and beautiful tile. It’s so rewarding on many levels when these projects are finished. Enjoy yours!

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