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Putting the Bathroom Back Together

Welcome to Shiawassee Street (Part 6)

So the very last thing that absolutely had to be done before I could move into my reno mess was a working full bathroom. I only had one full bathroom in the house upstairs by the 3 bedrooms. If you remember from earlier posts in this series, it was seriously UGLY with pink tile and olive green walls and a whole lotta water damage (remember when I fell through the floor)?!? You can check back to any of the previous posts from this series here!


Here is just a little reminder of what has happened with this bathroom so far:



From ugly to blank slate! My plans for this bathroom were to keep the same layout as before... mainly to save on money to not have to move the plumbing everywhere, but also because the bathroom was basically a perfect square so there wasn't a lot of changing to do with the somewhat limited space and needing to keep a tub in the one and only bathroom. While I did not have children or plan to or am a bath taker, it is important in my opinion to keep a bath somewhere in a house for resale and it was my only full bathroom. The reason is that you eliminate a huge percentage of buyers that may have young children if you do not have a bath in your home! While at the time I didn't plan to sell right away, I also knew it wasn't my forever home so I wanted to be smart about the decisions I made in the renovation process.


As far as the design of the space, I wanted to keep the bathroom in line with the 100 year old style of the home, while adding a little character a long the way. I also planned to do all of the work myself as well (with a bit of help from some friends and family). So my design plan was a traditional subway tile wainscoting and through the shower with a Carrara marble basketweave tile for the floor and shower niche. I also wanted to add a one-of-a-kind vanity to top off the space.



Before I could get into the pretty stuff though, I had to start putting back the pieces to build the foundation for tile. So luckily my dad volunteered to spend some time with me in Michigan to help me out! When we originally demoed this bathroom, we ripped out all of the wire mesh and plaster in the shower area but kept some of the lathe and plaster in other areas to reduce having to pull more stuff out. Our plan was to put new drywall over the top of the existing lathe and plaster for a clean finish. This meant we had two layers to make up for in the shower. So we first put Green Board up as the base layer in the shower and covered the old lathe and plaster with new drywall in the rest of the bathroom.


Bathroom Renovation - Interior Design Detroit
Spray Foam - Yuck

We also tried to add insulation anywhere we could in the process. I got in a little fight with the spray foam around the windows. It was my first time using spray foam and for some reason I though you could manipulate it with you finger similar to how you do with caulk. Well, that is absolutely not the case!! (So you don't make the same mistake that I did, you should wait for it to dry and cut off the overflow with a knife). I had that spray foam stuck to my hand for like 3 days, and that is after using mineral spirits and straight gasoline to try to remove it. It is nasty stuff!


In the shower over the Green Board and over the OSB subfloor, we installed Hardie Backer cement board with both screws and mortar. I prefer using Hardie Backer to other cement boards because I think it is a little easier to work with. It doesn't crumble like other cement boards when you have to cut it. But that is personal preference for me and I'm sure actual tile professionals have their own view on this. There are some waterproof cement boards such a Go Board that I know is a favorite of many professionals but that is not something I have used before.



Renovating a Bathroom - Interior Design Detroit
RedGuard in the Shower

The last step of prep for tile was RedGuard (or whatever brand waterproofing membrane) to waterproof. I know I'm not a professional and there are other ways of waterproofing, but please please please make sure you are waterproofing your shower. Green board drywall and a lot of cement boards are NOT waterproof so you shouldn't be sticking your tile directly to those without some waterproofing method. Whether it is waterproofing membrane, a Schluter Kerdi system, Go Board and sealed seams, or whatever... just spend the extra time and money. Again, I know this is something that professionals have their opinions on as far as preference of method to waterproof, but the good tile professionals all waterproof a shower. I like RedGuard (or similar waterproofing membrane) because it is so easy and rolls on like paint! This is a great way to waterproof if you are a DIYer. You can see the red shower all ready for tile install!


Once the whole bathroom was insulated, drywalled/cement boarded, and waterproofed, it was ready for the tile the next weekend. I had done some tile before in my past, but always with someone helping me. So this was my first solo tiling project. I decided I was going to start with the floor and the basketweave tile. As you can see in the image earlier, basketweave is a mosaic tile that comes in sheets but is made up of teeny little squares and small rectangles. For the most part, that is all good an fine when you can put a whole sheet down at a time, but when you get to the edge of the room, you have to start pulling those little pieces off the sheet and cutting them individually. Also, the teeny black squares are not always straight when attached to the mesh so I had to pluck a lot of those off of the mesh and put back in straight anywhere I saw they were off. I didn't feel like spacers really worked well with these sheets because they would just push over the one little piece of tile on that sheet, not the entire sheet so I just eyeballed it, very meticulously.

It was an extremely tedious process. Especially when my tile saw was 1 1/2 flights of stairs down in my unheated garage... in December... in Michigan. It was cold and tiring. And my saw water froze a lot as well as my hands. So I got pretty good at marking a bunch of cuts all at once so I did not have to go down as much. Oh yeah, and I also didn't have any lights installed yet so everything was done by either daylight or a shop light. But all and all the floor installed pretty smoothly and she turned out pretty dang good if I do say so myself. I was pretty obsessed with this floor!!! A few days later my pup Stella came to keep me company for the grouting process.

Once the floors were installed, grouted and dry, it was time for the wall tile. Like mentioned above, I planned to do a traditional brick-laid, 3"x6" white subway tile throughout the shower and as wainscoting about 4 1/2' up the wall. So I put in my order to Lowes for the tile and picked up the 1900+ tiles, trim pieces, grout, adhesive, and a giant Biggby coffee to kick off my weekend of tiling! (If you don't live in Michigan, Biggby is like a Starbucks but better IMO).


Tiling a Bathroom - Interior Design Detroit
All the Wall Tile + Coffee

Tiling Bathroom - Interior Design Detroit

I was already exhausted just looking at all of that tile and a little overwhelmed because I was by myself and again, it was still December in Michigan which meant I still had to cut everything in my unheated garage down 1 1/2 flights of stairs. But I needed that bathroom complete to move in so I got busy. The first thing I realized was that my floors were significantly out of level. And I mean by a lot... I think it was somewhere around 3/4" difference over a couple of feet. Lesson learned, I should have fixed with leveling compound that before I laid the floor, but, it was too late at that point. So I started at the highest corner and worked from there to keep my tile lines level and not follow the floor. I used a level to draw vertical plumb lines with a sharpie on the drywall so I could visually see where I needed to lay the tiles and where to start my next row to keep everything straight. With every row of tile I laid, I constantly put the level on the top of the row to ensure my rows were level and didn't stray. Knowing what I know now, a laser level would have been worth its weight in gold (and I use one now for all of my tiling projects)


Subway tile is actually some of the easiest tile to lay. It goes up super quick so long as you continue to check for level throughout the process. Subway tiles are self spacing and have a built in ridge on the back edges to create a 1/16" grout line so spacers are not needed as long as you like the small grout line. And I will give you my personal and professional opinion about grout lines in a bathroom. The smaller the better on the walls in the shower. Obviously grout lines are there for a reason so you can't go sans grout, but grout is also what holds in all of the soap scum and grime in your shower. The thicker the grout line, the more you have to clean. I also just don't like the appearance of a large grout line on a small format tile. I was able to work through the bulk of the room pretty quickly with exception of the edges where I had to make cuts. For subway tile, I used a 1/4"x1/4" square notch trowel and dragged the tile adhesive horizontally. This grooves of adhesive/mortar create a sort of suction so the tiles stick. if you just slap up a bunch of adhesive without using a trowel, your tiles are probably going to fall off!

The main walls took me about all day and I saved the shower until Sunday. Of course like usual in winter in Michigan, it was very gray out and hard to see and I still had no lights installed so everything was done by shop lights. The shower went relatively easily with extra work around the niche. I made my own niche to be able to fit my large bottles of shampoo, both on the top and bottom shelf (my plan was to add a glass shelf in the middle of the niche). I also added the basketweave floor tile on the back of the niche for a little extra style. Back then I think maybe that was cool and "in" but now it probably dates it a little bit. But all and all it was a pretty clean and classic look to keep in style with the 100 year old house.

The following weekend my dad came back up and helped me grout all of the walls. I used a medium gray unsanded grout. Rule of thumb is to use unsanded grout if you are using glass or natural stone tiles OR if you are doing 1/8" or less grout lines, which I had 1/16" grout lines. If I'm getting my grout from a big box store, I prefer Mapei (Lowes/Floor & Decor) brand to Custom (Home Depot). I had a good process going for grouting when I was working by myself, but when we started working together and both grouting, somehow we got way ahead of ourselves and grouted way too much before cleaning it off with sponge and water. So the grout got really dry before we started cleaning it back out which means it took FOREVER to clean off the grout. Word to the wise, work in small areas at a time so you don't get too far ahead of yourself. But after a lot of rubbing, we finally got the tiles clean and the tile was all finished!!


I didn't take any pictures at this part of the process because we were so frantically trying to catch up with the grout. You will have to tune in to the next installment of this series to see how the bathroom wraps up with a one of a kind vanity for this space! Let me know your thoughts on how my subway tile turned out in this 100 year old bathroom!



Previous posts:

Part 2: Demo Day

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