A DIY Bathroom Makeover and Marriage Encounter Workshop

Dear diary,

The DIY bathroom makeover was intentional, the marriage encounter workshop was accidental and resultant of the aforementioned.

I know, I’m as surprised as you.

Here is a photo of the bathroom before and after;













I wish I could provide a before and after of the marriage encounter, but we look the same on the outside. Only the dynamics changed.


Enough time has passed since the completion of this project so that I can revisit it without a divorce attorney. I’m kidding of course! Sort of.

So here goes.

My bucket list is comprised not only of places I’d like to go, but things I’d like to do. A DIY project placed high on that “to do” list.

I always promised myself after I retired that I would undertake making over rooms in my house for several reasons;

Save money. A reliable end result that resembles what I envisioned. Enrich my skill set. Work as a handy partner with my handy hubby who can do anything (MacGyver style).

Ah…how naïve I was. If I knew then what I know now I would run not walk, to the nearest contractor and gleefully hand over my hard earned savings.

But I was blissfully ignorant.

It started out simple enough. A small remark made offhandedly after dinner when we sat in our respective places in front of the TV on our iPads (I’m not proud of that but I have promised to always keep it real). He was doing whatever it is he usually does, and I was coveting admiring on Pinterest all of the luscious photos of what other people have done with various rooms of their homes.

I came across one where some other handy soul had framed a large builders mirror (late 80’s/early 90’s) in such a way that it made it look like like separate mirrors. I shall use our finished product as an example here because I no longer have the one that inspired me.





Big generic builders mirror before. This is our guest bathroom that used to be our kids bathroom. If that isn’t enough said to illustrate what this bathroom has been through, you’ve never had kids. Not to mention the headquarters for my niece’s wedding party, and at least 5 proms worth of girls. My son was easy. Lots of fond memories, but I was over the look.

Big generic builders mirror after. The shelving unit is hiding the middle section of mirror.

I told you he is handy.

Ahem, back to my story.

I was showing him the before and after similar to the photo above and at right, and here came the reply that started it all….

“I can do that”.

He began to get a clue of what that statement started when I began asking 7,000 questions (I didn’t really count, it may have been more) about what a room makeover entailed, where to begin, what supplies we would need, etc. etc. etc.

He said we would need to remove the carpeting first.

I would later ascertain that what he meant was “someday when we get ready to take on this project”. He would shortly find out that by virtue of asking, I was creating an action list.

Imagine his horror when he woke up the next day to what I had so proudly accomplished, which was pulling up the carpet and exposing this layer of linoleum underneath. I restrained my gag reflexes when I was so proudly showing him what I’d done, like a little kid that had just cut their own hair.

That’s glue on the linoleum, by the way. Yuck.


In hindsight I suppose something inside of me knew that this was a calculated “no going back” move, but I was consciously driven by my optimistic “can do” attitude and a very loose grasp on exactly how long a true make-over takes.

He was furious, and I couldn’t figure out why. I was willing to do all the work, he just had to give me verbal guidance on the steps. What was so hard about that?

He went out to get a scraping tool for me (he is Tim the Tool Man Taylor in this regard) and after a short demonstration, I began to bring up the linoleum. I made good progress even though I can promise you I would have rather been doing anything else. The small bathroom without a window instantly smelled like the dank concrete in a basement. Yuck. I was feeling better and better about my abilities when I powered through the eeby geebies of it.

When he came back to check on me (it was still early in the game, he would know better than to do this later on) I just happened to be using this tool to pry up the wood tack strips (don’t be impressed, I had to look up what those are called) along the wall.

He. Came. Undone.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING”? (Oh yes, he was shouting) He posed this as a question, but since he didn’t give me time to reply…I can only assume it was rhetorical.


Is he serious? I’m going to ruin this heavy metal tool by prying on some little old wood strips? I suspect this is a gross over exaggeration, but I was still willing to be his whipping boy in order to get the job done.

He rolled his eyes and turned to go get the right tool, all the while muttering obscenities under his breath. What was the big deal? Why didn’t he just bring me the right tools to begin with? This question went through my mind, but I knew better than to actually ask it. Even rhetorically.

He finished the floor in a huff.


In hindsight, this should have been a huge red flag that while opposites attract, they probably don’t work well on DIY projects together. More on that later.

My hubby suggested I be the one to remove the cupboard doors and drawer. I struggled even with that. Who knew there are two kinds of Phillips head screwdrivers? I didn’t. He nearly lost it again, but I had not “rounded out” his screwdriver yet, so I survived. Sheesh.

I’m not going to lie. I was not removing the toilet. He did that. And put some sort of cover over the hole. Did you know there is a wax ring around the base of toilets? Very messy. Very very messy. And gross. Very gross. But I hung in there.

I did an exceptional job of cleaning up at this point (notice the supplies neatly arranged on the saw horse thingy). The hub remained unimpressed.

bathroom paint ready

Already I was feeling a tinge bit under-appreciated. I should have paid more attention to that.

We removed the huge builder’s mirror and safely tucked it away. The hubster suggested we cut a pool noodle and use it as a foam edging to protect the mirror. He’s hard to be mad at when he’s this brilliant. You feel me?

We had to turn it around since our little Lucy was having no part of the doggie in the mirror. She’s funny.


The next step was to paint. I don’t need any help with that. I had already decided that the walls and counter top would be grey, and the cabinetry would be white. I set out to get a sample of the grey I thought I wanted.

As it turns out, there are more than 50 shades of grey – and I went through quite a few of them before I found just the right one. I spent one whole day prepping to paint. Being an anal retentive does not mesh well with DIY.

dexterized bathroomI started painting and after I was almost done with the walls, the hubby came in and said, “Can I give you some advice”?

This was not rhetorical since he was giving me time to answer. So it must be a trick question then. Yes that’s it, a trick question. I was going to have to bite here because I didn’t have a trick answer.

“Yes” I said. He replies, “Why didn’t you start with the ceiling”?

This is not advice. This is another question. He is waiting for me to answer. I don’t know why I didn’t start with the ceiling. It sort of makes sense now that he’s asking me, but I am beginning to resent his tone.

“I don’t know why. Why you didn’t offer the advice BEFORE I started to paint”? I replied with a tone of my own.  This was totally rhetorical on my part.

“You don’t need to get defensive” he says.

“I’m sorry, I’m just tired” I say.

He replies, “So am I, I already have a full time job remember”? Totally rhetorical on his part since he is walking away while still talking.

There it is. An aha moment for me. Had just this short time of retirement already made me insensitive to impinging on the valuable time of others? This silenced me in the moment, but was a preview of upcoming attractions with sharp exchanges that are out of character for us most other times. I say most.

I sanded and painted and sanded and painted and sanded and painted (3 coats) the vanity both inside and out. When my hubby came in to replace the water pipe doodads to a higher quality, he said I shouldn’t have spent so much time on the inside since nobody would see it. Really?

I would know it, therefore I would see it.

But I kept this comment to myself. Evidently he doesn’t know how far a “good job” would have gone. All those years of management school and all I can use it for now is to a critical end with my talented but communication challenged other half.

Before this project began, I logged countless hours researching the best method of painting cabinets. I finally settled on an acrylic alkyd based paint along with Zinsser primer. We invested in a paint sprayer since I knew this would probably not be my last painting project.

Just for the record, there is more than 50 shades of white too. I finally settled on Swan White from Benjamin Moore who I have to thank for making me a paint snob.

I couldn’t use the paint sprayer indoors though, so the vanity was done the old fashioned way. With a brush.

Pay no never mind to how beige that tub/shower looks next to the new white vanity. Since it was not in our budget to replace, I had a plan.


I commandeered the shed in a corner of our yard and moved everything out while transforming it into my temporary paint room where I would paint the vanity doors, drawer, faux drawer fronts, and bathroom door.

paint shed

We had to have the insides of the vanity doors cut out by a friend (in exchange for some valuable spirits) and my husband put bead board in it’s place. The hubby removed the bathroom door because I was reluctant to beat on the long pin with a hammer. That’s what I told him anyway. The real reason is I just didn’t trust myself with a weapon at that time.  We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt. Right?

More sanding.  It doesn’t take long for those finger tips to scream “enough”! I used to have nails…


I had painted two coats and had sanded in preparation for the third in just under 2 weeks time. When I turned on the paint sprayer and pulled the handle to spray, it sputtered and spit large chunks of paint all over the cabinets and when I brought it up to look at it (while nurturing a healthy disbelief) it managed to spit on the door too.

Aaaaaaaargh! I had to start all over.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I were taking turns being the whipping boy for MacGyver. It became a joke between us, when he would call for one of us, that person would tell the other one, “you owe me”. When a string of cuss words would precede the calling of a name…the stakes were higher and no words needed to be said by the unlucky one chosen to go into the fire that time. There was no flying under the radar for this build.

His framing and shelving were coming along and I knew when he would drop something off at the paint shed, it was my duty to paint it and give it back for his next step.

Since it was my project, it fell on me to pick out the counter top at a builder’s surplus warehouse which was quite a distance from my house.

It took a whole day, but mission accomplished. Exactly the color and style I wanted at a bargain price. Woohoo! It took all three of us and a pulley system my hubby rigged up to get it in, but what a difference.

My daughter literally ran back to college from Spring Break at home with Mom and Dad.

He walked me through how to adhere the backsplash and I managed that one without supervision.

sink top

Now we were firing on all cylinders, except for one thing. See how hubby put up that pretty bead board on the walls?

He forgot to have me paint it first (this photo was taken after I painted the bead board).

Really? If I didn’t know better I would think he was torturing me intentionally now. Do you know how hard it is for paint to self level (I learned this the prior two weeks with all of the other painting I’d done) when it’s not laying flat? PLUS now I had to worry about getting paint on my pretty gray walls.


This is beginning to be like a bad Laurel and Hardy movie. A silent film, because we were barely speaking at this point.

Luckily the end result was so stunning, it propelled me to keep going with the vanity doors again. What a difference eh?

by toilet

I didn’t use the paint sprayer anymore. I couldn’t trust it, so we weren’t friends at all. I used the old fashioned way, and in another two weeks (Before you judge how long it took me, I still have other chores to do remember)…voila.


Finally done.

The tile floor was next, and oh how I dreaded working that closely with the Grinch who had stolen my make-over joy. As he explained to me how to ensure we were getting a straight edge on a crooked floor (it’s amazing how many things are crooked and slapped together even in an upscale track home), and how we had to lay out each tile with the spacers, I began to get a deep appreciation for what he had gone through when he laid the tile in our master bathroom while I was at work. I had no idea.

He also created a tool that would enable him to cut such small tiles in whatever size we needed. Of course he did, ’cause he’s MacGyver. I was still mad at him though. Especially when he kept hitting the vanity with grey tile grout and I was endlessly touching up. After 2 days we finished and I had to hand it to him…he knows his stuff. And yes, I put shelf paper in the vanity to temper the affects of him setting his tools on my beautiful paint job.


Next up was the mirror back onto the wall (whew…intact) and the frame. This was the origin of much colorful language as he worked on and around the mirror.  While most people on pinterest glue their frames right onto the mirror, he insisted this wasn’t safe and actually built a frame for the frame. Yes, those are 5 gallon stir sticks on the side. Hey don’t judge, we didn’t have to pay California’s “wood fee” (WTH?) on those, and they were precisely the width we needed.

frame for frame2

At this point we had to rewire the light bar for two light bars, one over each sink. While this is not new for him, I am terrified of electricity so believe me when I say this couldn’t get done fast enough. He hung the new light bars and I could finally throw away that tired old broken thing. When I asked my kids who broke the end bulb holder, they of course didn’t know. Someone must have broken in and done it while we were gone. Kids are funny.


The photos are taken at various stages so please forgive. I am shocked I remembered to take any at all since we were pretty focused on the finish line at this point. The actual frame  and shelving unit still had to go up so the cussing was not over.

Once again, he focused on safety and rather than rely on the mirror to hold the weight of the shelves, he cut it perfectly to contour the backsplash so that it was self supported but covered the mirror behind it.

shelving close up

He added molding and bead board for aesthetics and it was ready for final paint. Frame and shelving unit photo below. Notice all of those tools under the sink on my beautiful vanity shelf with no shelf paper in sight? Notice the light bulb and globe that was collateral damage? Nope, me neither on both counts. There is no place for anal retentives here, believe it.


The only miscalculation was the slightly larger bottom shelf which I assured him was fine. I would make a floral bouquet to fit and nobody would be the wiser. See how  agreeable and supportive I am? Management school charm I tell ya. My hubby would probably disagree.

The larger reality however, was that although I had claimed this as my vision and project, the dramatic transformations were as a result of MacGyver’s time and talent.

The new faucets I had picked out to match the overall 1920’s theme were put in and I added the decorations I had made and purchased along the way to the shelving unit and sink top. The vanity doors were put on with the new handles (he was mad that I got them at Hobby Lobby, I guess they were more fragile than ones you might find in a hardware store. Who knew?) and after cussing and a couple of replacements (like the globe), we were good to go. Did I mention that he dropped his drill down the front of one of the vanity doors and it had to go back to paint? No? It must have slipped my mind.

As for framing the medicine cabinet, that was purely his idea and not part of my original vision. Credit where credit is due.

I had found and spray painted an old frame, painted a piece of plywood with chalkboard paint, added some flowers, and I wrote how I was feeling on it before it was hung.


The original bouguet I had made that inspired me to choose the 20’s theme went onto the new toilet my hubby installed (more cussing and yelling, and me cleaning up after a wax ring. Not my favorite.). I embellished the old soap dispenser to match the new décor. I picked up curtains at WalMart to hide the buttercream colored bath/shower. New throw rugs from Target added color to the floor.

It was almost done.


I chose artwork from magazine covers (off of the internet) from the 1920’s depicting how women were changing after the 19th amendment. All in yellow, white, grey and black. My hubby put up the new towel rack and we were finally, finally done.


I love those before and after shots don’t you? The medicine chest is visible here.

Bathroom ipad22

Stay with me…this is the last one I promise…

bathroom ipad42

How could two people who have raised two terribly wonderful children and built a life together for 23 years, struggle to work harmoniously on a DIY project? I am going with the theory that like Hemingway and Picasso, he is a talent that works best alone. As for his tortured muse? I just don’t fit into that roll so well. But having successfully gone through the fire, we are richer for it. Would I go through it again on another room? Not on your life.

So if you are wondering what your relationship is made of, don’t bother with opinions. Just take on a sizable DIY project together. Who knows? Something beautiful just might come out of it.

Until next time dearest.