The $1000 Bathroom Reno Challenge - Can it be done

When you live with something long enough, the story goes, you get used to it. In the case of our small, tired 70’s bathroom 15 years of living with cramped dingy finished and outdated fixtures only gave me more of a drive to fix a room that was one of the most heavily used in our 90 year old city house.



The previous owners had renovated the original home in 1972 so what was probably stylish and hip back in the days of bell bottoms, seemed out of character with how we live today. But learning from other projects we have done over the years, the quality of the installation left a lot to be desired. Everytime we looked to update something, we had to fix mistakes that they’d made including sloppy installation and quick fixes including one that took cardboard packaging to repair a hole in the floor!

The main feature of the bathroom was a grey plastic laminate freeform counter and vanity that looked like a funky shape, but had seen better days. And besides, the vanity underneath was the same grey but definitely needed some TLC or more. On the wall was more grey laminate, this time as a door to the admittedly spacious medicine cabinet.

What was on the floor gave me the most pause – electric blue 2″ x 2″ ceramic tiles. They must have got them on sale because they used them in the other bathroom as well.

When we moved in 15 years ago, all we could think of doing was to paint over the grey-ish wall paint with a yellow we thought would brighten the room up. Now in our more ‘mature’ phase we realized that it wasn’t providing the clean spa-like atmosphere we envisaged seeing each morning.

But what took the longest was how to figure out how to remodel the room without spending a fortune. The shower tile was solid, but again that dated grey shade. The tub and controller worked fine and the plumbing and sink also worked.

So the strategy became updating the fixtures like the faucet and toilet and changing paint lighting and other finishes like the flooring without breaking the bank. With a lot of research online it seemed like it could be possible, but could we do it under $1000?

I looked for sales at the big box stores on the web and scored the Kohler toilet and Pfister single lever faucet for almost 50% off because of an online promo. The same store was having an Eco-energy savings event which brought the cost of the LEDs down significantly (thanks in part to government rebates). And finally the other big move was the flooring which is a composite product from Torlys (Evertile Elite) that is cork backed and can be installed in damp areas right over tile! Sign me up!

And of course much of the research was done online – especially for the paint. I heard all sorts of stories about paint and tile, but people do it and while not the most long-lasting solution, it gave the flexibility to keep the existing tile rather than rip out the wall. I will keep you up to date on how it holds up, but in the meantime it is still looking good.


Here are the videos where I walk through each step of the process. Warning! Some of what you will see is not for the faint of heart (or those who have just eaten)

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Why did we make the change?

When we moved in 15 years ago, all we could think of doing was to paint over the grey-ish wall paint with a yellow we thought would brighten the room up.

Now in our more ‘mature’ phase we realized that it wasn’t providing the clean spa-like atmosphere we envisaged seeing each morning.

Describe the process

Looking back, it took the better part of 15 years to think about it, because my first instinct was to gut the whole space and start from scratch.

But pricing that out came in way over our budget, so we looked for more creative ways to approach this problem.

Finally setting a budget of $1000 made this something that we could live with and brought out the creativity in solving the design questions, but also minimizing what we would get rid of and what we would re-use.

It took me about 2 1/2 weeks from start to finish, working pretty much every day. There were setbacks (see the videos above), including the fact that the existing vent fan was not only undersized, but used dryer vent that was just shoved into the wall cavity and didn’t vent to the outside. (You can imagine the mould and creatures living in that!)

And the most disgusting thing happened when I was cleaning the sink (to re-use it vs. throwing it out). I will save you the gross details, but the previous owners used it for their cigarettes…

Yes, the project came in a little over $1100, but some of that was fixing the problems that came up (like the vent fan) that I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) cover over.

What do you love about the after?

It would have to be the clean open feel of the room. The wall color definitely helped, but its the details that finish off the space that really count.

The trim around the mirror finished off what used to be an ugly silicone joint that made the room feel dirty because your eye was drawn to the that rather than the overall feeling of the room.

Additionally, the simple baseboard again finishes the wall/floor off simply and because it’s painted out the same color as the wall, it doesn’t compete for attention, but just completes the plane of the wall.

Finally covering the medicine cabinet door with an art poster gave a sense of focus to the room. Finishing it with EcoPoxy resin means that its protected from dampness in the air as well as daily use.

In this case I don’t think I would do anything differently, because within the goals we set for ourselves, any additional work would probably have caused big impacts in time and dollars!


What is your advice to others thinking about this type of project?

Do lots of research!

Not only can you find the look you want, but there are ways to get it without breaking the bank if you think creatively.

Also, just because someone recommends rewiring your room doesn’t mean you should attempt it. Many of the tasks involved require specialists like electricians or plumbers. What I like to think about is what would a homeowner or professional think of my job when they get to remodel it in 40 years? I’d hope they don’t have the same feelings I have to those who remodelled this house 40 years ago.




Kohler – Santa Rosa Toilet

Pfister – Fullerton Faucet

Toryls – Evertile Elite Composite floor tile

Benjamin Moore – Aura Bathroom and Spa paint

EcoPoxy – Resin for Art Poster

Bazz – Slimline 11w (700 lumen) square LEDs

Broan – LP80 vent fan