Projects & Improvements

Before and After: A “Complete Gut Job” Bathroom Redo Makes the Most of Just 50 Square Feet of Space

published Nov 4, 2021
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About this before & after
Home Type
Historic Home
Project Type
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Before: Dingy bathroom with blue tile

Some powdery pastel bathroom tile is cool and retro and worth saving, but some just looks, well too retro — moving into dated territory.

In historic homeowner (and former Apartment Therapy staffer) Jenny Chang-Rodriguez’s bathroom, the blue tub, toilet, and sink were just a bit much. “The cherry on top was these blue snowflake tiles throughout the room, just in case you missed the blue theme,” she says.

The bathroom in the 1921 New York state bungalow, aka the @centurycornerhouse, that Jenny bought with her husband was showing its age. The cabinets were peeling, the tiles were caked with grime, and the walls were painted over so many times that adding another layer wouldn’t help. “We wanted to preserve the house as-is as much as possible, but it was hard to overlook the years in this one room,” Jenny explains. “Being the main bathroom, and having housed families after families for a 100 years, you really saw the toll of that.”

It’s the only bathroom in the house, so Jenny and her husband wanted to pack updated style and function into the 50-square-foot space. “We didn’t have too much wiggle room in terms of the layout but having lived in many NYC apartments, we tried to get creative,” she says.

For instance, with the help of a contractor, they brought up the ceiling as much as possible, installed a clear glass shower door to make the small space appear more open, added wooden shelves that draw the eye up, used window ledges to act as additional shelves, and hung a towel rack on the back of the door to conserve wall space.

Jenny says planning was an important first step to making the vision come to life. “We were able to come up with a really thorough vision of what we wanted the room to look like and prepare all the materials way ahead of time so we didn’t need to worry about ordering,” she says. “This definitely helped us in terms of timeline.” (By the time the contractor got there, the project took only 10 days!)

On the flip side of that though, is the latter half of Jenny’s advice: When embarking on any home project, prepare to roll with the punches. “As much as we were able to have everything down on paper, with every renovation, they still come with surprises and just accepting this as a part of the process and moving forward helped with our sanity,” she says.

Jenny’s proud of how functional they made the new space and of some of the small, personal touches throughout. “Although we weren’t able to preserve the home exactly, we love how we were able to preserve the style to match the rest of the house,” she says. “We decided to go with a more retro floor tile which is the accent of this room. We also kept this interesting gold hook which we believe was part of the original house. We repurposed it here to hang a bouquet.”

In addition, they added an Otherland candle that Jenny designed last year and a framed postcard of the Wythe Hotel, the spot she and her husband stayed when they got married. They swapped the blue for a more soothing, earthy green (Benjamin Moore’s Gothic Green) and paired it with neutrals, like the mid-century style vanity, the terracotta Anthropologie bath mat, and the white subway tiles on the walls.

What was once 100 years old and overwhelmingly blue is now calm, clean, and functional enough to last for years to come.