One Room Challenge

Before and After: A Dark Bathroom Loses the Red (and a Couple Walls) to Become a Light, Serene Escape

published Dec 8, 2022
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Organic Modern
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Before: Bathroom with red walls and brown vanity
Credit: Cathy Balsom

Although deep reds are predicted to be a major trend for 2023, according to both Pantone and Apartment Therapy’s annual poll of 78 designers, that color is appearing in kitchens and bedrooms more than it is in bathrooms.

In small spaces, wall-to-wall red can be a bit overwhelming, as it was in homeowner Cathy Balsom and her husband, Blair’s, primary bath. “This wasn’t the spa-like ensuite we were hoping for,” Cathy says. “It was mismatched, with red walls and a gray-lilac tub and tile surround.”

Credit: Cathy Balsom

And there was a lot about the layout that just didn’t make sense. For one, the room had two walk-in closets and a linen closet off of it, which was awkward to navigate in the mornings, Cathy recalls. And the light was blocked by two side walls on either end of the tub, while the stand-up shower was too tiny to actually use. To top it all off, there was mold growing behind the toilet, and the vanity was a darker tone than Cathy and Blair would have liked.

Credit: Cathy Balsom

The two of them, with the help of Blair’s dad for some of the demo, renovated the whole bathroom. Part of the project fell into this fall’s One Room Challenge.

“Full room renovation projects can feel totally overwhelming, but if you break it down into small tasks and complete them one by one, before you know it the job is done,” Cathy says. “Here, we said, ‘Where do we start? 1) Take out the shower, tub, toilet, 2) Take down the walls on either side, 3) Plaster as needed… and so on. Each step was easy!”

Credit: Cathy Balsom

During the reno, Cathy and Blair rerouted the plumbing to install the new shower plus its new glass doors, the sleek vanity, tub, and toilet. They also replaced their old copper pipes with PEX piping (a bendable, flexible, heat-resistant option used in a lot of new construction). Then, they drywalled over the spaces where closets once were, installed an arched wall shelf niche using beadboard for the backing and leftover stained wood for the shelves. Finally, they installed new tile and created the new wall treatment, giving the whole room a completely new vibe.

Credit: Cathy Balsom

“I love the texture of the lime washed walls and how it plays so well with the tone of the tile,” Cathy says. “Words can’t describe how beautiful the light is in the morning when it shines in that large window, uninterrupted by any walls, and shines onto those textured walls and muted tile; it’s beautiful!”

That said, Cathy says if she were to do the project over again, she would have approached the lime wash differently. “If I had my time back, I would have trialed a few different lime wash paint colors,” she says. “I chose one online and put it directly on the wall without testing it. As it turned out, it was a lot darker than what I had anticipated, so I had to prime the walls again and water down the lime wash to the tone I wanted.”

Credit: Cathy Balsom

Cathy also says that while installing the new tile on the floor was easy because the room is rectangular, installing the 2-inch taupe tiles in the shower was more time-consuming than expected due to their small size. “That took a ton of time and patience, which I often don’t have,” she says. “[But] I knew the look I wanted required these!”

Credit: Cathy Balsom

One of her other favorite tile details in the space is the arched niche. “It’s the perfect touch to complete that empty corner!” Cathy says. In the end, she loves the way the whole space came together with the $8,500 budget over a four-month reno (finished during the eight-week One Room Challenge).

“I love the feel of the room,” Cathy says of the after. “It’s the perfect spa-like calm and serene feel I was hoping for.”

This project was completed for the Fall 2022 One Room Challenge, in partnership with Apartment Therapy. See even more of the One Room Challenge before and afters here.