More House Like: Thrifty Bathroom Renovation

Here’s another thing that kind of sucks about 1960s ramblers. This was the first decade when people started to get creative with their bathrooms. With unfortunate consequences.

Now, your 1940s and 1950s houses usually just have black and white tile. A person can work with that. In 1960s houses, you get every weird color you can think of and topped off with brown, gray, or speckled grout. Really awful stuff.

Our master bathroom is about the size of a large closet. Maybe 4′ x 8′. It came outfitted with mustard-yellow tile, matching yellow floor tile with brown grout, a rickety, mildewed shower door, and no ventilation at all. In fact, it didn’t even have an overhead light. It had been “done” by slapping more clearance granite down on top of the original particle board vanity. And painting the walls flesh-color along with the ceiling (what were these people thinking??)

Groovy 1968 bathroom.
The original wall paper was behind the toilet tank. Really took me back to my childhood–very early childhood, of course!

First step: we had a ceiling light with a powerful ventilation fan installed. Phew, no more sauna.

Scary black mold keep appearing around the bottom of the tile until I decided I needed to find out what was going on back there. I had an idea I could probably remove a few tiles, replace a small piece of backerboard, then retile the spot with some authentic mustard-yellow tile from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. But the tiles just kept coming off. Several at a time. Because there was no backerboard. The builder had just slapped tiles onto ordinary drywall, which was now a mushy mess.

By this point, nothing could surprise me about the house. So, I pulled it all out to about thigh-level, sprayed the studs with bleach, let it air-dry for a couple of weeks, put up a shower rod and curtain to hide it all, and effectively turned the shower into a closet for a couple of years (because why do four people need three showers anyway??) until we decided to sell the house.


A couple of years later, when I couldn’t put it off any longer, I started renovating the bathroom. First problem: ghastly speckled fiberglass shower pan set in cement. (Speckled because why? So it wouldn’t show mildew?) There was no way that pan was coming out. I found instructions online for sanding it and painting it with epoxy appliance paint, and darned if it didn’t work beautifully!

Blinding shiny white 21st century shower pan.

So, I’d call that $10 well-spent. We have used this for several months with no scratching, chipping or staining whatsoever. Awesome.

I covered the yellow and brown floor with a vinyl remnant from Home Depot. OK, maybe not the classiest solution, but it cost about $30, including the glue.


I tried spackling and sanding the battered lower walls, but it was hopeless. I eventually gave up and covered them with moisture-resistant beadboard topped with a piece of trim.

I hired a handyman to retile the shower ($850) and found that I had the “crookedest house he’d ever worked in.”  Sigh. Tell me something I don’t know.

Spankin’ new shower stall.

Got a pedestal sink off Craig’s List for $30 and installed it myself with about $50 worth of cussing.

Found a neat light fixture at the Habitat store for $10, along with some shutters for the window that looks directly from the toilet out to the street for $5.

Made shelves that worked around the duct in the wall from scratch. Found a mirror and some pretty accessories at the thrift store for practically nothing.

The finished product.

Thrifty bathroom.
More thrifty bathroom–a nice shower curtain makes a big difference!

If I could do it all over again, here how I would handle it: I would immediately pay a handyman to retile the shower, the floor, and maybe halfway up the walls. I would also pay an electrician to install a ceiling light and GFCI outlet. Then, I could take it from there and do the light work: replacing the vanity light, spackling and painting, installing a mirror, shelving and towel rods, etc.  It would still be a very affordable bathroom renovation, and I’d have a tile floor now instead of cheap vinyl. Live and learn!


  1. You did m ore than I would dare to do. The toilet? No thank you. And the one time I tried to replace a sink vanity by myself, I ended up having to call a plumber to get the pipes to line up. I did not have a cue. Good work on working on your crooked little loo in your crooked little house!


    • You know, toilets are a heck of a lot easier than sinks, actually. Much simpler plumbing! But I intend to avoid most plumbing work in my next fixer-upper. We both hate it.


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