Throwback Month

Before and After: A 97-Year-Old Bathroom’s $280 Redo Blends Old with New

published Apr 10, 2022
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About this before & after
Project Type
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Before: green popcorn bathroom wall with sink, toilet, and tub

Bathrooms in historic homes, if you’re lucky, can have some cool features, like vintage wallpaper, one-of-a-kind tile, or retro tubs — which, depending on how much you like pastels, are coming back into style.

But older bathrooms are also often small and have pedestal sinks rather than vanities with cabinets, so finding storage can be a problem.

Architectural designer Evan Wojtkiewicz’s (@evan_voit_kev_itch) bathroom, with features mostly original to his 1925 apartment, was small and ready for some major aesthetic upgrades. Unfortunately, there was no valuable vintage wallpaper or tile to be found here, only a “stone-colored textured plaster on the lower wall” and a “dingy cream” color on the top, Evan says.

“It was bad enough that it’s a tiny space — there’s only about 12 inches of clear space between the front of the toilet and the tub — but the lack of style made it an especially unpleasant place to be,” Evan says.

After three years of living in the space, he decided to make a change. “With so much originality remaining, I knew some hard work would really make this room shine,” he says. “Being an architectural designer by profession, I’d been fantasizing about what to do with the space since I moved in, and I finally decided to go for it!”

Evan is a renter but has a passion for restoring historic things to their former glory, and he wanted to invest time and money into his bathroom. “It may seem odd to put this much work into an apartment that I don’t own, but I love the house, and I love the neighborhood,” Evan says. And it helps that his landlord “is pretty cool, too,” he says.

With his landlord’s approval, he scraped the bathroom’s lower plaster down to the original surface, then skim coated and block sanded. “The old plaster finish was relatively easier to do than anticipated, but the skim coating involved a bit of trial and error to get it perfect,” he says. “Working on an old home is already challenging enough, but that tends to be amplified tenfold when it’s been a rental property for almost 100 years. A century’s worth of questionable and lazy repairs from past tenants and handymen caused several headaches along the way.”

Although the redo only cost him $280 because he did the work himself, the sweat equity was intense, Evan says.

Evan says because the space was so old, he was too nervous to remove the painted paneling above the sink and find out what might be behind it, so he covered it withpeel-and-stick wallpaper. At $26, the black and white herringbone wallpaper was a steal. “Because this remodel has to last for the long haul, I decided to stay away from anything super trendy,” he says. “For example, I chose the wallpaper because it was clean and geometric in the current style, without being too busy.”

In general, he tried to make selections that matched the existing space. “My advice for renovating on a budget is to plan obsessively beforehand and work with what you have as much as possible,” he says. “For me, this included coordinating wall colors closely with the existing tile. The old cream-colored walls made the white tiles in the shower look out of place and almost fluorescent while the new off-white wall color ties everything together perfectly. Likewise, the wainscoting color was chosen to highlight the original accent tiles on the floor.” Evan selected Clark + Kensington’s Cast Iron for the wainscoting and Swiss Coffee for the walls.

The wainscoting is one of Evan’s favorite parts of his redo. “The colors coordinate perfectly, and the wainscoting looks like it could be original from 1925,” he says. His other favorite part? His refurbished medicine cabinet, which gives him a bit of stylish storage. “The medicine cabinet alone took over twelve hours to strip and stain,” he says, but the time was worth it, he says, as learning how to restore its original brass door hardware inspired him to restore the other brass features in his apartment, like the doorknobs.

Evan loves how all of the details came together in the space. “The accessories and the new glass wall shelf makes it feel like a finished and polished space,” he says. “Even the new shower curtain and rod make a huge difference. I actually enjoy spending time in there now! I feel like I’ve not only revitalized the space for myself: I’ve also preserved and accentuated the historical charm for many future residents to come.”

This piece is part of Throwback Month, where we’re revisiting vintage styles, homes, and all kinds of groovy, retro home ideas. Boogie on over here to read more!