World’s Slowest Before-and-After: The Micro-Bathroom Makeover, PART 1

Having two bathrooms for a family of five is a major life accomplishment, which we achieved exactly 1.5 years ago when we bought the Babushka House. The timing was perfect: Our youngest was potty trained,* and now five fully-formed humans all needed to use a toilet, usually at the same time.

Babushka’s downstairs half bathroom was tiny and yellowed with nicotine,** but had the tools to get the job done. And so, so many shiny gold towel racks:


The excitement of Double Bathroom Achievement was short-lived, once we realized that the mystical Second Toilet was falling through the floor:
IMG_5207For years, upstairs bathroom had been inflicting water torture onto its smaller cousin below; the incessant leak destroyed the ceiling, and rotted out the bathroom’s sub-floor. Sitting on this toilet felt squishy and wobbly, as if the slightest (ahem) strain or push might send both the toilet and its passenger tumbling into the basement.

The first step was to pull out the toilet, tear up the rotting sub-floor and build a new one.


I’m quite proud to add “Sub-Floor Artist” to my resume! Note my visionary interpretation of where the toilet base and water supply line should go. Feel free to add to you Pintrest page of Bathroom Sub-floor Inspiration.

subfloor captions

The easiest part of this project was choosing the tile: a modern-yet-traditional two-toned scheme. But Scott and I were devastated to learn that we couldn’t just throw new tile down on the sub-floor. First, we had to buy, measure, cut and install cement board, which is like drywall for the floor, only scratchier.

basement door cement board shot

Next, we had to conduct a “dry fit”, which is like a game of musty Tetris™ where we cut the tile to match our weirdly shaped bathroom. Note that our bathroom is extra weird because you have to go through the bathroom to get to the basement.  And surprisingly, I’ve only once walked in on a house-guest with their pants down (not pictured).



This tool is also useful for the annual Springtime “Dad Pedicure.”

With the tile layed out, we mixed up some thin-set mortar and schmeared it generously across the cement board like cream cheese on a bagel.


Then we (meaning, Scott) quickly and carefully arranged the tiles over the mortar like, um…. lox and capers and delicate slices of cucumber and red onion. ***

After the tile was set, we (meaning, Scott) mixed up a batch of grout, which is sort of like mortar, but scratchier, and fills in the space between the tiles. We intentionally chose dark grey, which is the color of white grout after you haven’t cleaned your bathroom in five years:


Spread the grout all over the tile and rub it into the cracks like lotion on a dry elbow.  Then wipe up that huge stupid mess you just made in the bathroom with a comically-big sponge:


While waiting for the grout to set, it was time to shave 50 years of other people’s nastiness from the base of the toilet, which was resting sideways in our kitchen.

That brown stuff that looks like the turds of a carnivorous drifter is really just a petrified wax ring. Or, that’s what we kept telling ourselves.


Repeat after me: NOT POO NOT POO NOT POO

We (Scott) then installed a new wax ring and flange — pronounced the French way, FLÁN-JAY —  and somehow got the toilet back onto its original hole. A fresh coat of caulk around the base adds a touch of class.


With the new floor installed, our micro-bathroom was now mostly functional!


After all that hard work, Scott and I decided to take a little breather before tackling the walls and ceiling. That “little breather” lasted more than a year. Did we ever “finish” the micro-bathroom makeover?  See how it all ends in Part 2…

* Some of you may be offended by the authoritarian tone of the term “Potty-Train” so instead we might say, “Defecation Education,” “Urination Leadership Initiative,” “Juvenile Flow Control Systems Support,” or “Human Waste Disposal Enlightenment and Direction Understanding.”
** I imagine when Babushka and her family bought this house in the 1950s, it was considered quite glamorous to smoke on the toilet.
** Metaphor Alert! Please do not attempt to schmear mortar on a bagel, or cream cheese on your cement board floor, or onions or smoked fish on top of any home improvement project.


10 thoughts on “World’s Slowest Before-and-After: The Micro-Bathroom Makeover, PART 1

  1. Dark grey grout is the biggest gift you can give yourself. I put it in my powder room (which has a similar tile scheme only the roundish penny ones with the black middle) and my laundry room. It’s been 4 years and it looks great. I can’t wait to convert the rest of my formerly white grout to purposefully grey. Great job on doing all of that yourself! I haven’t ever ventured into tile layer but it could be coming.


      • Yup, total game changer! Our upstairs bathroom is currently ceramic tile with a light-grey grout. Its getting a little darker around the base of the toilet because a certain pre-school boy has not mastered the art of Aiming. Maybe I should just put newspaper down for the next couple of years?


    • I’m glad to know I made the right choice! Our old condo had ceramic tile in the kitchen and bathroom, and I want to cry when I think of all those hours I spent scrubbing the grout in an attempt to make it white again. Of course, I never actually succeeded, and mostly just messed up the grout by scrubbing it so hard. So much pent-up anger got channeled into that kitchen floor!

      In hindsight, it would have been easier just to re-grout all that tile with a darker shade. And now our kitchen has dark maple floors and I love them!

      You should absolutely try tiling yourself. It’s a big job with a lot of steps (note that I did not feel like writing a detailed instructional blog post about it!) but totally do-able by the average do-it-yourselfer. We had never done it before, but just watched a lot of YouTube videos about it ahead of time. What did DIY folks do before YouTube? TimeLife books?


  2. This is awesome. When you do next bath room, there is grout that is mildew free! I want that when we do future remodel…. some day… ( quartz lock? No silica=no mildew but $$$)


  3. Great job with the tiles. We installed two new toilets in our place, being unable to tolerate the previous ones which had not been cleaned in, um, 10 years or so? I made the mistake of going for fancy toilet pans with everything concealed behind sleek ceramic. The trouble is, the bastards don’t ‘swallow’ the job first time, the hole is too teeny weeny and minimal. So now I have to spend twice the time cleaning and flushing….


    • What is a toilet pan? I love how all the plumbing and construction terms are so different throughout the English-speaking world. Drywall? Nope, its cement board (in the UK at least, not sure about Australia).
      Our last apartment, which was a rental, had what we affectionately called a “low-flush” toilet. This was not a modern contraption designed to save water. It was just a terribly weak toilet. It didn’t “swallow” the contents as much as it gargled them for a minute and then stopped. We learned that you could coax the toilet into a full swallow on the first try if you dumped another quart of water into as you were flushing, to create more of a tsunami effect.
      Of course we would have to explain this to houseguests before they used the facilities, and leave a small bucket that they could fill up and dump back into the toilet if there was a solid waste situation to remedy. We have very tolerant friends.
      So, whenever I start to feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities of home ownership, I think of that sad, weak toilet. I’m grateful that now at least we have the power to fix things ourselves, if not necessarily the time or money.


      • Oh, you’re so right about the different terminology. It’s not just US/UK but also Australia.
        The pan is the bowl, the throne, the all in one piece that you fit the seat to. Trendy ones tend to have narrow throats, in the mistaken belief that their new design will create enough suction to take care of the job. All the toilets you can buy here now have dual flush. The short flush is barely enough to get rid of a couple of sheets of toilet paper. The full flush is, well, pathetic. Luckily they both fill quite quickly so you have to stand around for a moment or two before you can get the job done, but it makes me cross. The old ones, while totally gross, did the job first time…


        • My biggest complaint with the low-flow toilets is that there is no universal (and obvious) symbol for a pee or poo flush (since we’re dainty ladies, we’ll say liquid and solid waste). There’s always two buttons. Sometimes one is solid and one has a line through it. Or maybe one is white and one is black. Or one has a circle inside of it. None of these symbols clearly express their purpose or flushing power.

          If you’re already on the toilet, chances are you’re not going to be embarrassed by pushing a button with a picture of a turd on it. In fact, it might give you a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. And the satisfaction that comes with proper handling of a modern machine.

          Better yet, let us personalize our flush buttons to reflect our own family’s private euphemisms for piss and poo.

          In our family, we call pooping, “Making a salad.” Its a long story involving potty training a toddler, but it works for us.

          Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make a salad.


          • In this house, they’re called short or long jobs. And the Husband goes for a ‘sit down’ (a euphemism for a brief evacuation followed by extensive game playing on his phone). I know what you mean about the buttons. Our cistern has a large button with a small button within it. Big button for big jobs, small button for lesser jobs. Neither produces impressive results. Often a second flush is needed. I’m getting out of the habit of using the small button because so often a repeat is needed…


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