Old House Design The Scenery House

The Petite En-Suite – A Tale of Bad Decisions

October 12, 2020

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Small En-suite Bathroom Before

This was supposed to be a post about all my carefully made plans for a budget, DIY update to our ensuite (a secret room in our house that I haven’t shown you since I first shared the listing photos!) I’ve been working away at preparing this post but at the same time, my plans for the small bathroom have been changing both in plan and in practice. Mistakes were made, money and time were wasted. IT HAPPENS TO ALL OF US.

My renovation hibernation has made me a bit rusty but also – let’s normalize making the wrong decision, failing on DIYs, and doing things in the wrong order. Ashley at The Gold Hive recently shared her Deflating DIY Fail and it inspired me to take a different approach for how to share the en-suite project with you.

I’m going to walk you through my original plan, how it evolved, where I started, where things went wrong, and where I am now – because, my friends, I’m still in the thick of it.

The Petite En-suite – Before

We’ve done next to nothing to our secret en-suite bathroom since we moved in and I never show it to the internet. We’d like to remodel this whole room someday, but we know that’ll be quite the undertaking. We’re just not there yet but this tiny room sticks out like a sore thumb, one that makes us feel like we’re living in someone else’s house. I like budget spruce-ups for rooms that would take a ton of money and effort (and construction dust) to make perfect, but that could be vastly improved with a small budget and some good ol’ DIY work. Our $600 kitchen spruce-up is a good example. We are ignoring the ensuite no longer – let’s take a quick tour of what we’re working with.

There is nothing wrong with this room. It was updated within the last 10 years by the previous owners to remove the original windows (I know), replacing them with vinyl (I know), and adding a new vanity. It looks like the same update involved new floor tile and the cabinet above the toilet. There is small square mosaic tile on the walls – I did some investigating and made the decision not to remove the paint from the tile. I think this tile was added sometime in the 50’s or 60’s, if it had been original to the house (like our blush bathroom’s subway tile) you bet I’d be meticulously unearthing it. I am going to paint right the heck over that tile and I’m not going to feel bad about it.

Ensuite Bathroom off Main Bedroom

As you may have suspected from the name, the ensuite is attached to our main bedroom.

Ensuite Bathroom Before with View of Vanity and Toilet

Not much to see here, folks. The wall color is the faintest purplish mauve-y shade and the large format tiles are neutral enough and generally fine. We’ll be keeping the vanity. The clock barely works and has been in the Cosnotti family since 2011 when I painted our rental bathroom walls a deep dark blue. Andy really likes to keep an eye on the time when he’s in the shower.

Ensuite Before Vanity

At some point, we had to replace the light fixture above the mirror. And in an uncharacteristic move, I said “just go with whatever is cheapest.”

Ensuite Before Mirror

Oh, maybe you wanted a better look at that mirror? The glued-on rope trim adds a special layer of glam texture, and I really can’t believe I’ve just left it there for four years. There is a simple shiny brass-tone metal frame underneath. It was very much my plan to remove the trim and save the mirror, but things escalated quickly and for many reasons, it will be replaced.

Ensuite Bathroom with Tiny Shower - Before

Yes, we kept the shower curtain and those rose shower curtain hooks. What you can’t hear in this picture is the sound that the towel bar makes when Andy removes his towel from it every morning.

The Original Plan and Mood Board

The en-suite of our dreams is many years and many dollars away, so we hoped to make DIY improvements to buy us some more time and happiness. We planned to save money by keeping the vanity, toilet, shower, flooring, and mirror. It was all so simple! Just a quick coat of the perfect olive green paint, a new light fixture, roman shades, some budget additions like art with personality, a new light fixture, and some new hardware. So easy! Here’s what I thought it would look like:

Ensuite Bathroom Traditional Modern Mood Board

[ 1. Sconce | 2. Brass Wall Shelf | 3. Moth Print II | 4. Moth Print I | 5. Linen Stripe Roman Shades | 6. Shower Curtain | 7. Behr Truly Olive | 8. Vanity (existing) | 9. Towel Bar | 10. Towel Hook | 11. Square Brass Knobs ]

That was the plan. And here’s what happened:

I Painted the Whole Room Russian Olive and I Did Not Love It

Bathroom painted Behr Russian Olive

Lesson 1: Flat is Best for Dark Colors and Plaster Walls (and Trust Your Gut, the Lady at the Paint Counter Doesn’t Know Your Walls)

I try not to fail in the same way more than once. I’ve made the mistake of buying paint without ever testing on the walls,  so when I went about picking a paint color for the en-suite, I did it the right way. I started with paper swatches then purchased lil tubs of paint, painted little squares, and then looked at them throughout the day, made Andy look at them too, and landed on Behr’s Truly Olive. I went to Home Depot ready to buy my paint when out of the corner of my eye I saw a deeper shade of olive that I had missed the first time around. I grabbed the paper swatch and brought it home instead of a gallon of paint. That color is Russian Olive and it will either the be hero or the villain of this story and I don’t know which it is yet.

Andy and I decided Russian Olive was perfect and I went back to Home Depot to purchase the paint. I learned a long time ago (and the internet will tell you the same darn thing) that flat/matte paint is a plaster wall’s best friend. It used to be that flat/matte paint wasn’t as durable or as easy to clean as shinier paints and that stigma lives on despite advancements in paint technology. I know this. AND YET. I let the paint counter lady talk me into a shinier sheen. She suggested satin and I negotiated her down to eggshell – my need for a stranger to approve of my paint sheen is a discussion for another time. I love dark and moody colors but in this small room, the dark olive shade was a bit overwhelming on every inch of every wall.

Lesson 2: Do it the Right Way and Patch Your Walls Before You Paint

Diagram of plaster imperfections

Once the eggshell paint was on the walls, all the imperfections really popped (the image above is a little overexposed to show you how things looked IRL). Every plaster imperfection, every knick, and every bad patch job of the past caught the light and visually screamed at me. And when my sweet husband said: “Maybe it’s time to do some patching,” I knew it was bad.

So I started again and did it the right way: I removed all of the hardware and anchors and patched the holes and began smoothing out plaster imperfections small and large. I used patching compound (specifically Easy Sand 5 which only allows for 5 minutes of working time, and I’d highly recommend not doing that to yourself) and sanded using a vacuum sanding attachment with sanding screens. This takes absolutely forever and looks WAY worse before it gets better but is extremely worth it.

A note on patching plaster: before patching plaster damage caused by moisture, you need to be sure that the source of the moisture has been fixed and eliminated.  

Joint compound patches on plaster walls

The photo above is probably round 2 of patching and sanding out of… let’s go ahead and say… 1 million. The thing with being a perfectionist in an old house is that I could probably spend the rest of my life patching and sanding these walls and each day I’d find one spot that could probably be better. So it’s best just to draw the line at one point and say “that’ll do.”

Why Just Paint When You Could Also Wallpaper?

After the painting debacle and after I went back to doing things the right way, I couldn’t shake a nagging sense that the walls above the tile needed to be lighter. I grabbed some natural linen-toned paint swatches and considered just painting the walls a nice neutral shade (in a flat sheen this time) and leaving the tile green and eggshell. But something else was nagging at me and its name is texture. I love the look of wallpaper above tile and when I saw that the Anthropologie Home Outlet here in Pittsburgh was running a 40% off wallpaper sale, I took it as a sign. I masked up and made the trip to the store (something I have been doing next to not at all since March) and found three rolls of the perfect wallpaper. Sometimes you find the right thing that lets you see the vision for a room more clearly and that makes all other decisions easier to make. That’s what the wallpaper did for me.

The New Plan and Moodboard

The flooring stays and so does the vanity but you’ll notice we’re now looking at purchasing a new mirror and a toilet, and, well, a few other things. This all escalated quickly.

Modern Traditional Bathroom Moodboard

[ 1. Landscape Art Print | 2. Toilet | 3. Blue Roman Shade | 4. Sconce | 5. Ribbed Glass Canister | 6. Cloud Formation Wallpaper | 7. Wood Frame Mirror | 8. Hand Towel | 9. Vanity (existing) | 10. Round Knobs | 11. Behr Russian Olive | 12. Towel Hook | 13. Towel Bar ]

What’s Next?

  1. Finish patching and sanding the walls
  2. Prime walls and prep for wallpaper
  3. Learn how to wallpaper and then hang wallpaper
  4. Probably take the baseboard radiator covers off the wall and clean and paint them the right way
  5. Find a new mirror
  6. Order roman shade
  7. Find shower curtain or fabric from which to sew a shower curtain
  8. Source/make art
  9. Replace toilet

Removing Wallpaper Behind MIrror

I have been toiling away on this tiny bathroom since July and it feels so good to finally tell you all about it – get ready for so many Instagram stories. And don’t worry, when this is done one day, there will be a fabulous reveal post. I can’t wait.

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