I recently shared the pictures of our beautiful finished bathroom and WC with you. And while we’re delighted with it, you know I like to keep things real, and we all know that renos are rarely smooth-running and stress-free! So while there were some hiccups behind the scenes, I thought sharing what we learned from these might be useful information for anyone about to embark on their first reno too. So, read on for my top learnings from the experience, warts and all!
- There is SO MUCH involved in a bathroom reno. From the amount of decisions to make (starting with who will do the work and ending with things like grout colour and whether or not you want a robe hook!). It is totally overwhelming. And by their very nature, bathrooms are pretty permanent so you want to get it right. Don’t rush anything!
- The more planning you can do the better (see above!) to help you finalise your style, the practicalities and your fixtures and fittings. Plan, plan and plan some more to minimise the chances of things going wrong. Use Pinterest, rip things you like out of magazines, make lists, whatever works for you. The more you get down on paper, the better. Make sure you look carefully at any 3D renders or builders’ drawings you’re provided with where you can see it all come together in a more finalised way. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes (and more changes) to get what you want.
- Get everything in writing. Make sure you have a contract, a scope of work, a cost, your builder’s licence details, every decision/change you make, all in black and white. This not only saves confusion but covers you if something goes wrong. Likewise, at the end, make sure you get the all-important waterproofing certificate and a certificate of completion (your statutory guarantee period starts from the date of this).
- No matter how much you love interiors, you need expert advice with a bathroom. Listen to your trades, engage an interior designer (or be lucky enough to have them as friends!) and be open to their advice because they know what they’re talking about. I’m an interiors blogger, not an interior designer, and I know it, so I was always asking for a second opinion from someone who really knew their stuff.
- Don’t choose fixtures and fittings online without seeing them in real life. We nearly did this with taps. When we saw them in the store, we changed our mind. If you’re getting a bath tub, actually get in it at a showroom to make sure it is big/comfortable enough. Things like the angle to lie back and read against are important!
- Not all trades are created equally. Make sure you get three quotes (I think we got five!). Ask your friends for recommendations, use online services like HiPages and make sure you check licences. The company we went with were extremely professional in terms of the paperwork and managing our expectations which was important to us. Likewise, when you see a plumber spend hours making the plumbing fit in your tiny WC vanity you will have a new found respect for what they do. Seriously, it’s a work of art in there!
- If, like us, you haven’t done a reno before and you don’t know any trades, it is a great idea to find a company who can manage the entire job for you. We wouldn’t have known where to start and I’m sure I would have had a nervous breakdown had we not gone down this route.
- Try not to be too trend-driven. While there’s always something new and exciting out there, remember bathrooms are with you for years! I looked at so many great tiles, but when I kept coming back to to the white subway tile and marble penny round combo I’ve loved for years, I knew there was a reason for that. And I’m not sure I wouldn’t use the same tiles in my next bathroom too! The same goes for furniture; if you love something for years, you won’t regret investing in it.
- Renos rarely finish on time. We were quoted four or five weeks and ours took eight. And even then there were a few outstanding things. Everyone (and their wife!) will say things to you like “Four weeks?! Really?!” and “We did in ours in three days and did it all ourselves,” and “But why does it take so long?!” and it wears really, really thin! Every reno is different but what they all involve, if done properly, is a lot of different tradespeople and processes, some of which need literally days of time (like waterproofing). Add to this the fact that everyone else’s jobs are also running over time and you’ll find the chances of your plumber, waterproofer and tiler all lining up perfectly are seriously unlikely, no matter how good the planning or project management.
- You may well have to move out. We did, for four weeks, then lived through the last four weeks with a half-finished bathroom and WC. Be realistic about this from the outset. Can you live with your in-laws? Can you afford to rent an AirBnB? Even if you have a second bathroom, if you have small children, is it practical and safe for you to continue to live in your home during the reno (I work from home so the answer is no, definitely not during the noisy bit!).
- You need to consider your neighbours. Renos are really noisy, messy things. There’s no getting around it. But you can’t never renovate because you’re worried about annoying the neighbours. It’s just one of those things. What you can do is make sure you, and your trades, are as considerate as possible. We put a note through every mailbox in our apartment building informing people when the renos were starting, when they were expected to end and a contact number to call if they had any concerns. You then need to make sure your trades (and there will likely be contractors involved so you might want to leave this information printed out in your home) know any building rules, where they can and can’t park, etc, etc.
- In addition to the above, if you live in a strata building, like us, you will likely need to get a bylaw before you can commence work. Effectively, this means asking permission from the owners’ corporation. It is really just a piece of paper, but you have to have it. If you don’t, you could get in a lot of trouble, especially if, for example, your trades damage common property or, for example, there’s a leak into the apartment below you. You’ll need a strata lawyer and it costs around $1,000. Make sure you leave enough time for this to go through strata; I’d advise at least two months before you intend to start work.
- Bathrooms renos are not pretty in the between stages, they’re actually quite brutal! As a total neat freak, I hated looking at our bathroom during demolition stage. Stripped back to bare brick, you soon realise there’s no going back and think: “God, I hope these guys know how to put it all back together again!”
- Make sure what you ordered for your bathroom is actually delivered. Open boxes, check, check and check again. We learned this the hard way. Our bath arrived without a waste, we ordered one of our taps wrong and we didn’t realise our rain shower wouldn’t come with an arm to attach it to the ceiling. These were all small mistakes which led to delays. They all add up.
- Think practically, not just about what will look nice. I wish, for example, we had not centred our bathroom basin. This would have given a large space to one side for hair straightener, hand soap etc, rather then two smaller benchtop spaces either side.
- Make sure you consider the basin/vanity relationship. We slipped up twice here. Firstly, we left it to the last minute (because we were busy with other things and it seemed like it was a simple job) to source our WC basin and it proved to be pretty stressful because hardly any basins were small enough to fit it! We love the extra storage we have in the WC vanity (12 toilet rolls and counting, Toilet Duck and air freshener, compared to no storage at all before!) but finding the right basin? A nightmare! The one we got in the end is beautiful but let’s just say I wasn’t planning on having a $700 tiny basin in a room which is pretty much just a toilet! And did I mention we ordered the wrong tap so it wasn’t tall enough? Gah! Amateurs! When it came to the main bathroom vanity (also custom timber from Ingrain Designs), when it came to installing the original countertop basin it would have meant cutting so big a hole out of the top it would have damaged the integrity of this beautiful (and expensive) piece of furniture. Was it worth the risk? No way! So off we went (last minute again) to source a more suitable basin. Sigh.
- There are some things you just can’t plan until the very end, like exactly where to put your towel hook. But that’s okay!
- Sometimes you have to compromise on your dream bathroom as a sensible financial decision for the longer term. In our case, we knew we planned to sell our apartment in the next year, so I couldn’t have the brass tapware I wanted. I love our bathroom, don’t get me wrong, but I would have made some less safe choices if this was our forever home. And I don’t regret it. Bathrooms are expensive things and if they’re going to help you sell your home for the best price, you have to be smart about it.
- Styling will make all the difference. A plant, great towels (a new bathroom demands brand new towels!), fancy soap (even my husband invested in new American Crew body wash, shampoo and conditioner!) and the odd brass crab (in my case) are the things which finish it all off nicely; the icing on the cake!
- Communication is everything. With your trades, or whoever is managing your project. The fact that I could pick up the phone and speak to one really helpful and articulate person, kept me sane and calm (ok, most of the time!). It’s also smart, and just good life advice, to be friendly and respectful to your trades.
- It will all be worth it in the end. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time!
I know I’ll feel a lot more confident going into our next bathroom reno thanks to taking on board all the learnings from this experience.
–Our bathroom and WC were renovated by Integriti Bathrooms. Their MD, Andrew Stenos, regularly shares his bathroom advice on our sister site Reno Addict. You can see the finished rooms here.
Katrina Lockhart says
Oh my gosh Jen! This is so encouraging for me, although I wish I’d read this before my reno haha. I finished mine about 2 months ago and it took 8 weeks also. And I had just about all the same issues you had! I know my husband thought I was a total stress head as he didn’t have any involvement at all and couldn’t see all the decisions I was having to make on the fly. I love my bathroom but way over budget mainly due to labour costs blowing out. I’m now planning my kitchen and will be checking every single detail I can possibly think of. Thanks for your blog and for being real 🙂
Jen Bishop says
So glad it was useful! Good luck with your kitchen!