Before and After: A Builder-Grade Condo Bathroom Goes from “Shabby” to Chic in a $10,000 Redo
It’s definitely possible to make do in a so-so space, one that could use a few upgrades here and there, for a while, but as is bound to happen over time as any home any home ages, small issues will begin to compound, and eventually, it might be worth making a big change. This was true in condo dweller Michele Snow’s (@michenator) bathroom. When she and her husband first bought the place in 2018, it was “a little shabby,” she says, but in the next few years after, things went from well, shabby, to worse.
“By 2021 it was falling apart,” Michele says. “There was a cracked floor tile, a crack in the toilet, and we resorted to taping open the drain in the tub so it wouldn’t clog. We were getting sick of all the builder-grade cheap and easy fixtures some contractor had chosen back in 2011.”
Michele says she and her husband “really wanted to upgrade the whole space and do it right,” adding that they knew from move-in that they would renovate the bathroom — but it took a while to plan (and save!) for it. Michele and her husband started plotting out the materials they would need for the reno in fall 2021; due to supply chain issues, they didn’t have all their tiles and plumbing fixtures until spring 2022. To save on cost, they sourced their materials themselves. “I was ruthless in price comparisons as I was shopping around,” Michelle says. “Choosing everything was relatively easy, as I had a clear vision of a color palette and am a quick decision maker when it comes to aesthetics.”
Michelle also made sketches and mockups using Adobe InDesign, a layout design program, to help guide both the design decisions and the tile quantity needed. Once she and her husband ordered their materials, they did hire a contractor to do the installation. “The most surprising piece of all this was how long that step took; so many contractors were prohibitively expensive or booked up for months,” Michele says. They finally booked a contractor in September of 2022, and the project was complete in November.
The “after” is a gray-green (officially named “mist green”) tiled stunner that was partly inspired by Mandy Moore’s bathroom, which also has vertically stacked gray-green tiles. But Michele’s favorite detail in her new space is actually the floor tiles. “I just love the large-format terrazzo tiles so much!” she says. “My other favorite detail is the brass finish Schluters that cap the tile edges. It just gives the room such a modern-but-subtle wink that really elevates the style!”
Michelle says she always knew she wanted to go with brass hardware and wood tones paired off-white paint. “As this was an interior room with no window light, I wanted to keep things bright but warm,” she says. One of her takeaways when it comes brass hardware? “Unless you get all your brass from one source, it’s all going to look slightly different!” she says. “I have sort of come to terms with it, but between West Elm, Brizo, Schluter, and more, the difference in those golden colors is something I’ll always notice, but I hope it’s just me.”
There were couple more things Michelle learned that she wish she’d known at the start. First, knowing and understanding water flow measurements on the order form for her new brass faucet — “we ended up with a low-flow faucet that doesn’t give a satisfying rush of water when you turn it on,” she says. And second, she and her husband had their new toilet still in its box for almost a full year before they finally opened it to install it. When they opened it, the tank was completely shattered, with no damage to the exterior of the box. “It was well-past the refund window, and we had to order a brand-new one,” Michelle says.
Future bathroom renovators, take note: Don’t be shy about asking all of your water flow questions. Find some local suppliers you can consult, Michelle says. And open all of your boxes right when they come.
Despite these couple of setbacks, Michele says that overall, the space got a much-needed breath of fresh air. Her modern-meets-vintage light fixture is lighter and sleeker than the builder-grade black one before, and her natural oak vanity is more sophisticated — and less damaged than the old tan one. Plus, her new tub and drain don’t have to be taped open! The new arched mirror from West Elm adds visual interest, too, — and keeps the same space for storage that they had before. Yes, it’s a medicine cabinet!
Of the upgraded space, Michele says: “We think it will make a big difference when we do sell our condo, but we didn’t make this choice purely for re-sale value. We wanted to enjoy an updated bathroom ourselves. I’m really proud that we had a clear vision from the start, and that it’s more or less what the finished product looks like … I’m just so happy to finally be proud of the room.” Kudos, Michele!
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