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in the Renovator Notebook, homeowners are opening up about the essentials of their remodeling: how long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went wrong; and what went wonderfully was fortunately worth it in the end. Check out more tips for your next project below @reno_notebook.
Location: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Approximate cost: $12,000
Top priority: bringing personality to the en-suite bathroom without tearing out the impeccably fine finishes.
New York-based editor Arati Menon never saw the honeymoon phase when she and her husband bought their Prospect Heights, Brooklyn apartment in early 2020. You know that butterfly feeling you get when you move to a new neighborhood and discover all the cute restaurants and 24-hour bodega. “We didn’t have anything like that,” Menon recalls. “All we had was this apartment and problems swirling around us.” It was only when the world slowly opened up again the following year that she was finally able to settle in. The first space she wanted to put her stamp on? your own bathroom. “The bedroom is such a sanctuary for me, so it was a good start,” she says.
What followed wasn’t a full renovation, but what Menon likes to call “half Reno.” Instead of designing her dream space, she tried to give the space some personality while staying true to her budget constraints, and she admits tearing down a perfectly harmless space just felt wrong. “Since I didn’t want to send stuff to the landfill, I had to get super creative,” she says. Menon decided to keep the features she could live with, like the contractor-grade marble mosaic floors, ordinary toilet, and gleaming white bathtub. She then identified her biggest pain points: the bare subway tiles in the shower, the inefficient sink cabinet, and the total lack of a mirror.
Ahead, in her own words, Menon reveals the good and the bad of her roughly $12,000 bathroom makeover.
Splurge: Fast Ship tile that says “Sanctuary”
When choosing the new tile for the shower, I was guided by the scale of the bathroom itself and the size of the floor tile. Fireclay sent us some samples that I played around with. I wanted to create a sense of airiness, so I was very interested in stacking them vertically. The guy who did the installation said it would be easy enough for him to add a niche for our bath products, which was good news because I passionately hate clutter around the edges of a tub. We clad the base of our windowsill with the tiles we had left over from the project to avoid wasting anything.
Save: Warp Proof Varnish
Peering into the bathroom from our bedroom, I realized it needed one last little thing – it was too empty. I painted the wall closest to Benjamin Moore’s Weekend Getaway toilet, which corresponds well with the Rosemary tile. To protect the fresh color from any water damage from the shower, we went with the brand’s Aura Bath & Spa finish.
Splurge: Stock lights that are unexpectedly chic
Kohler’s shower system was another expensive item (nearly $1,000), but thankfully the pieces didn’t require massive adjustments to the installation — they fitted right onto the wall. I originally had my eye on a bright brushed brass plating, but when the company told us there was no way we’d be getting it anytime soon (shipping delay!), I settled on brushed nickel… and I’m so glad I did have made. Brass would have drawn too much attention while the nickel really holds everything together.
Splurge: A stable barrier
I didn’t want to block our beautiful new shower with a curtain so we put a glass door in its place and chose the wider of the two sizes available. This gave us a bit more coverage, although we did have an issue early on with water seeping through the tiny gap. We had it sealed and have had no problems since.
Save: Life on the Edge
The ongoing challenge was: where to put the mirror? (The windowsill in front of the sink prevented us from putting one there.) Thankfully, there’s an expansive wall to the left of the shower. At first I thought it was a medicine cabinet, but the truth is we didn’t need the storage space so I bought a basic swivel mirror for $300. We have plenty of room in our new vanity for most of our stuff, but this little ledge is perfect for displaying cotton swabs, candles, and everyday skincare.
Splurge: drawers that go deep
The old gray vanity wasn’t tweaked on the inside (it was essentially a gaping hole). We swapped it out for an IKEA floating version with upgraded semi-handmade fronts, a Kohler faucet, and Rejuvenation hardware. This piece has two drawers so my husband and I can keep our stuff separate. I was so thrilled that I found buyers for our old vanity and hardware in my local Buy Nothing Group. Not wasting those items and knowing someone else is using them is such a relief.