Before and After: A “Dark and Dingy” 1990s Bathroom Brightens Up with a $4,000 Redo

published Apr 20, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
Historic Home
Project Type
Organic Modern
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Neutral colored tiled bathroom before renovation
Credit: Tarah Baker

Bathrooms tend to show their pain points faster than other rooms, thanks to their relatively compact size, frequent use, and factors like humidity and temperature. It may have been years since a living room was refreshed, but as long as the couch is soft and the TV is streaming, that can be delayed. But a bathroom that’s run-down can be harder to use, harder to clean, and definitely won’t encourage relaxation. That’s how Tarah Baker felt about this space in her 1910 property, which had last been updated in the 1990s.

Credit: Tarah Baker

“The bathroom was so dark and dingy,” Tarah remembers. “There was only one bathroom when we moved in, so we really wanted it to feel like a spa.”

Tarah and her husband, Cody Baker, were experienced overhaulers, and they bought this home knowing it needed work. The long rectangular shape with a tub-shower combo at one end and a sink at the other made for an efficient layout, but the finishes weren’t exactly stylish. Everything was either a dreary shade of white or a tired coat of blue, and a pervasive use of square tiles gave it all, well… sterile hospital vibes.

Credit: Tarah Baker

“My husband and I were both working from home and decided we could tackle this DIY,” Tarah says. “It was small, which helped with costs, but we learned a lot in this process.”

The couple budgeted about $4,000 for an entirely new bathroom, which they demolished and rebuilt themselves over the course of five days. They kept the positioning of each necessity the same — a walk-in shower on the furthest wall, a wider vanity mere feet away, and a modern toilet in between — but gave each detail an updated appearance. Gray hexagonal tiles were installed on the floor, all the way through the shower’s half-pane of glass and beneath its tall showerhead. The white subway tiles in the shower’s nook offset the vertical shiplap defining the rest of the room, which was painted in Behr’s “Natural White” alongside the ceiling. 

One smart swap the couple made was trading in the pedestal sink for a wall-mounted countertop and vessel sink. The new setup still preserves open floor plan, but offers a larger spot for toiletries. The countertop for the new vanity is made of reclaimed wood. “It was very inexpensive, but added a nice texture,” Tarah says. The black sink also complements the mirror above and the towel hooks on the opposite wall. 

Credit: Tarah Baker

Lastly, Tarah and Cody changed out the dated light fixtures for a modern flushmount and a jewel-like pendant. And while the bathroom all came together quickly, it wasn’t without challenges. 

“The bathtub was made of cast iron and truly a beast to remove,” Tarah says. “We took turns with a sledgehammer to get small enough pieces to carry out. But the walk-in shower proved to be easier than expected to install. We were expecting the worst!”

Now that the couple’s bathroom is firmly out of the 1990s — and styled to blend 2023 sensibilities with 1910 classics — Tarah is glad that they accomplished the getaway feel she had in mind. She advises others to plan for every component and beware of shipping delays, noting that they were able to finish fast because everything was on hand. But as soon as you’re ready, Tarah says to go for it. There’s no use in waiting for change. 

“This bathroom is small but mighty,” Tarah says. “It truly feels like a spa.”

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