Before and After: This 1955 Bathroom’s $5,000 Gut Reno Reveals a Hidden Treasure

published Mar 31, 2023
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Bathroom before renovation: hexagon floor tiles, black marble wall tiles, blue painted walls

There’s a scene in the classic 1990s movie “Clueless” where the main character, Cher, describes another girl at the school as a “Monet.” Her new friend, a recent transfer to the Beverly Hills high school from the East Coast, asks what that means. Cher’s response: “It’s like a painting, see? From far away, it’s OK, but up close, it’s a big old mess.”

Spaces at home can be Monets, too — they look OK, or even great, from a distance, but once you get up close… well, to quote Cher, it’s a big old mess. This bathroom in Hannah Mahaffey’s (@flippinggvl) home is a quintessential Monet. “At first glance, this bathroom wasn’t so bad,” Hannah says, noting that initially she just wanted to give it a bit of a facelift. It had hex floor tiles she wanted to preserve, plus marble wall tile she planned to refinish, and a decently sized vanity — all nice things!

“But after taking a closer look, I realized the vanity was a waste of space with only one sink, the toilet was way too close to the vanity and the marble tiles felt like plastic… because they were,” Hannah says.

Her inspection told her that while her home had been built in 1955, the bathroom had received a more recent renovation in the 1970s or 1980s. That redo had resulted in a frameless mirror covering up the original built-in medicine cabinet, those plastic wall tiles (“who knew they even made those,” Hannah says), and cracking hexagon tiles that actually covered up what Hannah discovered was a beautiful hardwood floor.

So while Hannah had initially approached her redo as a mini makeover, the discovery inspired a pivot. “I wish I had captured the moment I realized there were original pine floors underneath the hexagon tiles, because the only thing better than original hexagon floor tiles is original hardwood floors in a practically preserved condition,” she says. “I cried real (happy) tears and went from ‘I’m just going to paint the vanity and walls, reglaze the tiles, and update the fixtures’ to ‘let’s rip this room apart’ in about 60 seconds.”

Hannah started with a major demo of the bathroom, tearing out multiple layers of backer board and wire mesh behind the shower before starting from scratch with the installation of cement board and drywall. Then, Hannah moved on to the wall tile, which took longer than she anticipated, to say the least. “I had the audacity as a first-time home renovator to think I could get the project done in one weekend,” she says. “TWO MONTHS later it was finally done!”

Next, Hannah installed a new mid-century-style vanity made from a vintage dresser, plus new brass pendant lights. She also painted the parts of the walls that weren’t tiled using a creamy white (Sherwin-Williams’s Snowbound). Hannah tapped a local contractor (Carolina Floor Crafters) to refinish those gorgeous original hardwood floors (she also brought in a pro to do the plumbing rough-in before she installed the vanity, toilet, and shower fixtures). Finally, she decorated with charming touches like cheeky art, layered bath mats, and plenty of plants.

DIYing almost everything helped Hannah keep costs low — just $5,000 for this full remodel. “Absolutely everything was a first for me! I had never demoed a room with tile floors and walls, hung drywall myself, tiled anything at all, or put final touches on a finished space,” Hannah says. Her success here motivated her take on the rest of her home renovations herself, too.

The biggest challenge as a newbie, Hannah says, was understanding how long things take. “The timeline was the largest hurdle for this project,” she says. “I had unrealistic expectations for how long it would take to complete and I realized quickly that it would take much longer.”

But in the end, what she gained from the project was worth it. “Any kind of renovation project is going to be an excellent learning experience and if you are willing to spend the time to do and redo in order to get it right, you’re going to come out of the process with a toolbox of new skills and abilities,” Hannah says.

Now, the bathroom is a unique showcase for Hannah’s style and personality, but it’s plenty versatile, too. “If you remove the decor and strip it back to just walls, floors, shower and vanity, it’s a neutral space that anyone can appreciate and love,” she says. “This space is 100 percent me and it brings me joy to know that anyone who spends time in this room gets to know me just a little bit better.”