Don’t move the plumbing
A lot of people advise not moving plumbing to save money, particularly the drainage. That’s fine if the bathroom has a design and layout that suits you and or your family. If I am renovating a bathroom, I expect that it’s an investment that will be enjoyed over at least 10 years, so I do think the planning and layout is very important. The cost of changing the plumbing may not be that significant in the context of how it could improve the space and how long you’ll get out of the reno.
Once you’re happy with your brief, start with really broad strokes on paper and again don’t focus on detail or aesthetics at this stage. This is more about how you will move through and around the space. It was Louis Sullivan who first coined the phrase “Form ever follows function”. This simply means if all the functional aspects you require are met, the style and architectural beauty of the space will develop naturally.
Less is best
The less you replace the less it will cost. When you’re looking to do a bathroom makeover on a budget, be sure you don’t replace items and fixtures that still have good integrity. So often newbie renovators’ first step is to start demolishing. After the first day of hard labour and huge mess, you have removed walls and floor tiles, a bath and toilet that had years of life left in them but simply were not your style or colour choice. Before you spend big money on a full bathroom renovation, think about a mini low-cost refresh.
f you are happy to leave the plumbing fixtures (toilet, bath, shower etc) in the same place, there is a lot you can do on your own to really transform your bathroom. Let’s start by removing everything that doesn’t require a tradesman to replace and you can simply go to your local hardware store and get them off the shelf: toilet seat, shower screen, vanity, taps (yes you don’t have to be a tradesman to replace taps ad soap holders etc!
Look or style
If you’re looking to get another five years out of a bathroom that has integrity but you hate the look of it or the home’s for sale and it needs a refresh, there are some great quick-fix products on the market. You could consider painting the tiles with specialist paint or carefully removing the silicone around the bath and in all junctions and re-grouting the existing tiles. This will not only give a nice refreshed look, it will add years to the life of the bathroom. I recently had a bathroom that had been tiled to the ceiling with a white tile in a brick pattern with a terracotta feature about three-quarters of the way up. It was a very eighties look! I re-grouted the walls up to the feature with a product from Davco which only needs 1mm of existing grout removed and you simply skim the new polymer-based product over the top. I choose black but there are about 10 different colours. I then masked up the feature tiles and painted them with a tile paint in white to match the existing tiles. Lastly, from the feature up to the ceiling, I went for a very light mint and simply covered the junction between walls and ceiling with a timber scotia and painted that in white with the ceiling (which was dark). The bathroom now has a vintage or French chalet feel.
Vanities and storage
Some of the vanities you can buy off the shelf blow me away. When I think back 20 years, the choice of vanities was very limited and to go custom cost a fortune. But as good as the off the shelf stuff goes, I love getting an old chest of draws or a side table, giving it a revamp or paint finish and combining that with an off the shelf basin. It means you have something unique and cool. You may need a plumber to finish it off, but that would be the case either way.
Trades and critical path
Depending on your skill set you will need tradies for some or all of the work to be carried out. Whether your input is a little or a lot, you will save money by making sure you have a tight and achievable critical path. This is a document that sets out who will be doing what, in what order and how long it will take. The way I prepare my critical path is to carry out or build the reno on paper, i.e:
- Demolition and remove shower screen tiles etc
- Plumber turn off plumbing and remove taps and plumbing fixtures
- Install new powerpoints
- Patch walls
The important part here is not what you know, although that helps, it’s more about starting this document so when you’re getting quotes on the work you can’t do yourself, you ask that tradie how long will your job take and what needs to be done before that trade starts? The more information you can get before you start, the smoother the reno will be. And we all know time is money.
The most fun I have had in a bathroom
I once renovated a studio apartment in Potts Point which had an oversized bathroom (a common mistake in small apartments). I knocked down all the bathroom walls and left the toliet where it was. Originally the shower was in the bath which ran perpendicular to the toilet. I removed the bath and used the plumbing for a new shower. To block the view of these two spaces from full view of the apartment, I positioned an armoire with the doors facing the main room. Inside the armoire on one side, I installed a vanity basin and on the other, shelves for storage. It was a very unique space. I gained an extra 2.5 metres squared for for the living area (10%) and all the potential buyers went nuts for it.
The biggest mistakes I have seen
If I have seen it and said it once, I have seen it and said it a thousand times: nothing will drain the life and personality out of a space quicker than ill-considered lighting.
Last but not least, have fun, draw it 100 times before you lift a hammer and remember, every big job is just a bunch of small jobs added together!