Faith & Mike's Master Bathroom: Real-Life Lessons from a Real-Life Renovation

Renovation Diary

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Name: Faith and Mike
Type of Project: Master Bathroom Creation
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Type of building: 1920s, multi-level, single family home

Time for the last installment in our renovation series! Here are some thoughts on what we learned, and what I would do differently. Much of this is from our whole house renovation, not just the bathroom. In keeping with that, I'll give you a few photos of the whole master suite we built, with before/after photos, showing how we put it all together. 

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BEFORE - looking towards the back of the house. 

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AFTER - the wall was torn down and new windows put in, as well as drawers with a wood bench top we built out of old ceiling joists we pulled out during demolition. 

Now that the project is over and you're looking back on it, what are the most important lessons you learned through the remodeling process?

  1. Don't live in the house while renovating, if possible. Our construction loan was interest-only until the renovation was complete. This let us stay in our rental until the renovation was 95% finished. The house wasn't really livable, given how much demolition we did, and being able to leave the mess behind in the evenings was a relief. 

  2. Get your scope right as soon as possible. I left a part of our planning process out of our series, but I'll mention it now. When we first envisioned our master bedroom, there was an exterior door and walk-out roof deck on our flat-roofed kitchen addition. Our contractor and architect estimated that this would be quite inexpensive.

    But after all the measurements and plans were done, we scrapped the idea because we discovered it would cost a lot (at least $15,000) because our ceiling was just too low for a door, and major reconstruction of the roofline would be necessary to make everything work. This ate up a lot of time and extra money on the design and blueprints that in hindsight we wish we wouldn't have spent. We were a little frustrated that our contractor and architect couldn't give us a more accurate estimated cost earlier in the process, and if I could do it again I would be a lot more hard-nosed about getting estimated costs before investing time in design. I know it's tricky to do this, but we were just left feeling like we had wasted money and time on something we couldn't afford. 

  3. Assume your nights and weekends are spoken for. Even if you're not doing much demo or construction yourself, renovation involves many, many decisions. It's exhausting to make so many decisions, even when you enjoy that kind of thing. It takes a lot of time and thinking. It's hard to have a normal social life while in the throes of a big renovation. 

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    BEFORE - tearing down the walls in the porch area. The wall behind my sister was torn down. 

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    AFTER - the two rooms combined.

  5. Demolition looks fun but is actually hard, and far more time-consuming than you might expect. It was really fun to buy crowbars, brick chisels, and sledgehammers, and the first few swings were fun too. But demo is extremely hard work and it took us months, in this old house that needed to be taken down to the studs. Plaster and lathe is very messy and laborious to demo. Don't underestimate it, and get a lot of help. It's also not free, even if you do it yourself. We spent at least $1000 on dumpsters and debris hauling. 

  6. Don't underestimate painting after new construction. Budget plenty and do it right. New drywall requires a whole other level of finishing and painting; little imperfections and corners need smoothing and extra attention. New baseboard and trim needs to be caulked, as do windows, and our contractor assumed that our painter would do this. When our painter didn't, our contractor took care of it, but there was some confusion there. Overall I wish I would have planned for at least an extra week devoted just to painting, and hired painters more experienced in finishing new construction. 

  7. Have a cushion of extra money — at least 25% more than your highest, most pessimistic estimate. Yes, this is what everyone says, and it's true. You just don't know what will happen or what surprises you will find. It can be very stressful; it's worth it to save a little longer and have what you need. We had a good cushion of savings for this renovation, and we needed all of it! 

  8. Heated bathroom floors are worth it. Nothing else much to say — just that. 

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  10. Choose a contractor and architect you like personally and feel comfortable with, but don't be shy about demanding what you want.
    We worked with a contractor and architect we liked immensely, which is good because we spent a lot of time with these people. But at times that got in the way of being as hard-assed as I would usually be when paying, you know, our life savings for something huge. I didn't want to offend them or feel like I was being rude. Luckily this didn't have any major ramifications for us, but it did make me reflect on my instincts, as a woman who wants to be friendly and nice to everyone.

    In construction, it's best to be very direct, and quite insistent on details you feel are important. If the contractor or designer feels differently, then it is their job to persuade you otherwise. They shouldn't expect you just to take their word for it. Also, you shouldn't be freaked out or offended if your contractor or architect has a different idea than you do — there should be a good flow of information and persuasiveness going back forth. The sign of a good relationship is not that they read your mind, but that they listen and are agreeable to what you want. 

Did your schedule go as planned? What took more time than you thought it would? What took less time? 

More time: Demolition! Because we were learning as we went, we took forever. 

The overall construction and finishing of the home actually went very quickly; it only took about three months to pour foundation, build an addition, re-drywall essentially the entire house, do plumbing and electric, and install air-conditioning. Once the pros got involved, I was shocked at how quickly it all went up. I think this is partly due to having a great contractor, and also just a testament to how much faster the pros can get things done. 

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What is your next project going to be?

Ha - rebuilding our savings? Oh, you mean in the house. We have some small details still left from the renovation, like our bedroom windowsill, which was delayed while my husband built and installed the bench top. I want to build more shelving from reclaimed wood across from the bed, and install a better closet system. I reaaalllllly want custom window shades for all the windows; we're making do with these sort of awkward roll-up curtains from IKEA for now. 

We are saving for a major outdoor project — replacing the front porch (the floor is rotten, naturally), and building a garden and patio area. 

I also really want to renovate the one preexisting bathroom. It was "renovated" single-handedly by the previous owner's daughter, and while I respect her DIY gumption, it was really not done well. We also have reason to be concerned about the state of the plumbing in there, so I'm itching to rip the room apart and redo it. 

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Any final thoughts?

Renovation is immensely satisfying, but you have to love making decisions for months on end, which can be so wearying. But it's an adventure, and in the end, it is one of the most thrilling and satisfying things to see a worn and run-down space transformed. 

Thanks so much for following along! 

Our contractor: Tom Eastwood of Cornerstone Construction
Our architect: Tim Lai 

This concludes Faith and Mike's renovation diary. You can check out the full series to see the whole renovation process, step-by-step, or you can explore all of our Renovation Diaries.

The Renovation Diaries are a new collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

(Images: Faith Durand)