Before + After: Building a Master Bathroom from Scratch!

Before we moved into our home last summer, we had paid very little attention to the master bedroom in the walk-through. Basically, it was so ugly that we knew a remodel would be mandatory. And with that, the even creepier master bathroom (that really never deserved the term whatsoever beyond the fact that the door to it was within the master bedroom) was literally the only room I did not take a ‘before’ picture of (and was not photographed in the listing).

So with that, use your imagination on this small room below. You can see where we removed the toilet on the lower left, and you can see the quasi ‘wall’ created to fit the 1980s ‘ecru’ plastic shower (everything in the house was the shade of ‘cigarette-smoke-stained walls’ as my husband pleasantly described it), which behind it had a tiny alcove for a sink. Everything was a weird shade of teal/kelly green combined with the ‘country oak’ of the tongue-in-groove ceiling, all haphazardly thrown together when the back section of the house was oddly remodeled to bump out just the back section of the upstairs. Where they could have put dormers, they just, well, didn’t. Not that the ceiling is even in here- it angles up oh-so-slightly to make the eyes a bit confused. Anyhow, the old bathroom sink had a wall, and on the other side of that was an equally vinyl-rific  ‘built in’ green table for a supposed ‘office’ of sorts.

All of these things were thrown off the second floor deck gently deconstructed this past winter as I gutted both the master bedroom and bathroom. The picture below is the first stage. Old window, old tub (amen for a Sawzall to cut that baby out), and already-removed pastel vinyl sheet flooring. What you can’t see? That ‘country oak’ ceiling ultimately takes a sharp angle sloping upwards into a scary dark wooden cavern above the shower, where a tiny light was. Needless to say I never, ever showered in there – I stuck to the main floor bathroom and never looked back!


After doing 95% of the initial deconstruction myself last winter, my husband removed the particleboard layer that was over the subfloor (thanks to the former owner who locked her cat in the master bed/bath/office, everything was an intensely stanky cat-pee-stained layer of particle board we had to dispose of). We never expected the project to take this long after everything was gutted. A series of very bad and/or very flaky plumbers created some real hell for us, no-showing or screwing up the work (two we had to report and/or file claims on our credit card to get the money back), and then when some family tragedies occurred this past summer, everything went on hold.

After taking down the partial wall where the shower was, we made the decision to extend the master bathroom out to a longer, more open feel (yay!). Ultimately deciding to NOT go forward with an upstairs bathtub (I just don’t trust this old of a house matched with a shifty 1980’s bumpout remodel to withstand that kind of water weight, so moved that dream to the future-main-floor-bathroom remodel that I hope to do sometime next year), we decided to make a more non-traditional move and use the new back section (formerly ‘office’ space) as a walk-in closet. I went onto the Lowe’s website to use their archaic-but-workable design tool, and came up with what at least was the essence of my vision (minus the fact that we are an open shelving/console sink/walk-in shower kind of couple):


Due to the unique L-shaped nature of this new bathroom/closet, it opened up the potential to move the toilet so that you would not be sitting on the pot AND looking at your clothes at the same time! Of course, moving a toilet – especially an upstairs one – is not an ideal situation as any remodeler knows, but I had always wanted a composting toilet, and whaddayaknow, the Nature’s Head one did not require anything below the floor (and because this is technically the attic, it’s not that far of a distance to vent it through the roof). Sweet!

So with that, we outlined where we wanted to have our new, walk-in shower (see masking tape on left photo below) and decided the vanity would go between the huge windows you see there. Seems like a big move but honestly it was not as bad as we anticipated – they closed off the old toilet, and moved both the shower and sink plumbing a couple of feet over. In the grand scheme of things, it could have been way crazier!

So here’s how it looked during phase two of the deconstruction and plumbing changes:

Annoyingly, the plumber who did this, while compliant with code, did not do things evenly. The drain, for example, was well off center and we’d already had them come back because they did not center the sink plumbing between the windows as I’d asked  and then, ultimately never came back to fix the holes they put into the ceiling below or finish the rest of the shower plumbing. Finally, after talking to one of the city inspection guys, he let it slip the name of one particular plumber and voila! We found a nice, normal, knowledgeable dude to finish up the plumbing so that we could close up the floor (yay to my husband for doing that!) and get to the actual shower build.

So finally we were able to put in the plywood to “de-bounce” the subfloor, build a new doorway/wall to enter through since the shower is where the old doorway was, and o course  start collecting bids for building the custom walk-in tiled shower and floors. That was another cluster initially as well as the first three people I reached out to ghosted us (first two) or lied to us midway through (thankfully I fired him and filed a claim on my credit card – this is why you ALWAYS pay for home improvement work on your CC, y’all, little if any consumer protections if you pay cash/check), so when Tile Dude #4 came along at the recommendation of a contractor’s brother we knew, we were highly cautious. But

Big happy sigh of relief! Not only did he do a great job, he was very interactive throughout, with suggestions and total transparency about where our old farmhouse floors were imperfect, where the walls weren’t going to match with an unframed glass shower panel, and what local glass companies to stay away from…not to mention being a genuinely nice human being.

Because it is an L-shaped room, I’ll show you the “after” photos in two parts. First, the bathroom!

For the top two photos, you can see the “unlived in” versus the “lived in” shower. We painted the ‘country oak’ tongue & groove ceiling white to resemble shiplap, had the 3′ x 6′ walk-in shower and floors custom built and tiled (using the most economical yet eco-friendly tiles possible…glad we did not try to DIY this as we’d still be figuring out how to slope the shower floor, haha), bought the console sink online (I’m not usually into chrome but I loved the design so much I couldn’t help myself…it’s the perfect taller height and there is literally no grout or edges to get dirty!), picked up the ficus (with the hopes it will grow tall like in my design photo), found some wonderful organic white towels from West Elm on clearance (with hooks sewn in, so I didn’t have to find a place to have a towel nearby as the huge windows ironically made nearby wall space a premium!), scored an extra-long organic cotton bath mat, and installed a medicine cabinet on an exterior wall that was the least fun of the entire project 🙂 But let me tell you, that first shower? Bliss.

I also took advantage of the tongue & groove walls I’d built in the closet/entry area to put in a full length mirror and spot for a new bathrobe to be hung. And finally, the composting toilet! Not many people put these in ‘regular’ (non-tiny) homes but I gotta say, zero regrets! Our plumber used rigid vent pipe instead of the floppy one that was included and I spray painted it white so it fits in beautifully. If you look at the original photo with the old tub, that’s where the toilet is. The shower is next to it where the old bathroom door once was, and the sink is right where a wall ended the original room. Woo hoo!

PS – the vertical three photos are from a self-portrait series I did back in my 20’s while in photography school in Seattle 🙂

For the walk-in closet portion, I used the crooked side wall (the entire bathroom is a bump-out that was added in the 1980’s to this old farmhouse, and so the ceiling is very slightly sloped…super interesting to work with, let me tell you), and decided to, rather than have custom cabinets built (nothing seemed to be the height or width I needed), simply mount brackets on the wall (wayyyy cheaper too!), and then built and painted gray poplar shelves for the tops of each which not only stabilized them but provided a spot for his sweaters on top (husband had the idea that we’d have everything in the closet folded on shelves but I reminded him that a) I’m not having underwear on open shelving, and b) I remember how much of a disaster his bachelor pad non-closet was back in St Kilda, hahaha).

The harder part though was finding a dresser for the “foldables” – the jeans, the undies, the socks. You see, in our home in Portland our walk-in closet had everything built in, so I haven’t actually owned one in well over a decade! I searched far and wide for an antique that I could paint white and it didn’t happen, then I ordered one new and the freight truck driver refused to take it up the driveway and said he’d just leave it in the street one rainy day before I told him to go take a flying leap and refused delivery, then I ordered this one and when it finally arrived in it’s 86 parts to put together? It was missing ONE part, which took almost two weeks for them to send…to the wrong address. So yeah, the bathroom has actually been done for a while but our clothes? Sat in an old dresser in another bedroom for the last few weeks. Whew!

And with my favorite little Cuban oregano plant, my jewelry box, and a favorite dual photo of my sweetheart hugging a tree next to one of his dad doing the same? Feels like finally, almost a year later…we done!

Of course, within seconds of saying ‘finis’? I’m looking at the next project…


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