You’re … so vain [about your vanity]

I know, corny title.  The song seemed appropriate though…painting this vanity was purely an action of vanity – with wonderful results.  Our vanity was perfectly functional but was extremely oak sitting next to a walnut-stained oak counter.  But, it fit great in the space and was made of actual wood, so we decided to keep it to save some $$ and test our counter making methods.  Here’s where we left off after tiling and painting the bathroom:

photo 3

See? Even the iPhone refused to take a good picture of it. I assume that all Apple products have good design skills programmed into them and refuse to take pictures of ugly things.

I opted to paint it white for a few reasons:

  1. The blue is the only accent color we need in there
  2. The kitchen cabinets, which are much higher quality than these, are also white.
  3. I already own Ben Moore Advance paint in Decorator White from painting baseboards.  The folks at Young House Love liked this white too.

Ben Moore Advance is a water-based alkyl (very specific word for organic chemistry group of carbon+hydrogen) enamel (in this context, vague word for hard) paint, which means that in dries hard, like nail polish, instead of latex-y like most wall paint.  Centsational Girl uses it for a lot of furniture refinishing, and if it is good enough for her, it is definitely good enough for me.  She has also used it for repainting several vanities.

There are a million tutorials on painting cabinets on the web.  I only read two of them (Centsational Girl and Young House Love), and I’m quite happy with how ours turned out.  Therefore, I believe this method must be quite forgiving!

1.  Unscrew hardware from cabinets.

2.  (Lesson #1) Realize that if you clean and reuse this hardware, which matches all of the stainless steel in the bathroom already, you don’t have to patch or redrill any holes or readjust any springs to get the doors to lay right since they are poorly-made doors.  Clean hardware with keyboard cleaner spray and isopropyl alcohol.  Clean the one drawer track that has 50 years of grit stuck in it the same way.

3.  Take doors and drawers outside and gently sand them with 100grit sandpaper because that it what I had.

4.  Gently sand cabinet, especially areas inside of cabinet that are damaged.  Wipe down with microfiber cloths (or tack cloths, if you have them).

5.  Tape around cabinet edges in bathroom and put paper down on floor.  Set up painting pyramids for doors and drawers.  What an excellent invention – thanks again, CG!

6.  Prime doors and drawers with primer. I used a foam roller for flat surfaces and a $0.77 paintbrush for places the roller couldn’t reach.

Lesson #2:  Most people like Zinsser Cover Stain primer, alcohol-based, but you can’t buy it in or ship to it California so it is probably pretty bad for us.  The BIN can says that it “Sticks to all surfaces” & “Seals knots”, so it sounded like a winner to me.  Plus, we already had it from painting closets!  One complaint is that it dries super fast, even faster if the surface underneath has some varnish on it.  This can leave brush strokes, even with a Purdy brush.  Also, it is pricey, smells strongly and it does not wash out of brushes with water.


I have also used Zinsser 1-2-3 primer, which also sticks to all surfaces, but does not claim to (or appear to) seal knots.  Can anyone else comment on a good alternative furniture primer that is legal in CA??

16f08d03-740f-47ef-9e7b-c5343b7733a8_10007.  Prime cabinet, inside and out with primer before the primer dries on your one-time-use brushes.

8.  Allow everything to dry

9.  With ~200 grit sand paper, lightly sand the primer to remove defects.  I also do not recommend leaving them outside on a covered porch because some crud can get stuck in the paint, but I didn’t have a better option.

10.  Paint cabinets.  For specifics, there are better people to tutor you than me!!  I used the Ben Moore Advance paint with a foam roller on flat surfaces and a purdy brush for corners.  Because I was doing white on white primer, 2 coats was enough.  But, our garage/house door came pre-primed with a beige primer and that took 4 thin coats to cover with the same paint and a foam roller.  This paint is thinner than latex paints.  Resist the urge to do thick coats because that will only end badly with runny paint – the advance is thinner than most latex paints.  I sanded lightly between coats because some small bubbles formed.

Lesson #3: In thin paints or polyacrylics, sometimes shaking them can cause bubbles in the paint leading to bubbles in the finish.  For this reason, stir sticks can be a better option.

11.  I think the key is to make sure you give it plenty of drying time, even days, before putting humpty dumpty back together again.

12. Put humpty dumpty back together.

photo (2)

You will also notice we got a new mirror.  This is just a basic white mirror that I ordered from Home Depot for about $50.  Not a thift store steal, but didn’t break the bank either.  Definitely much better than the original builder’s mirror or the little temporary one I put up:

photo 3

And in case you just joined, here’s the original before shot of the bathroom:


I have one more post coming on the bathroom and tying it all together with some custom shelves.  In the meantime, please comment on the quality of furniture primers that are actually legal in all 50 states!  I am trying to refinish a table and chairs and don’t want to botch the primer.

Want to read more about our guest bathroom?  Check out the links below!

Tiling: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Bathroom countertop and the dud

Painting the bathroom (They say the tortoise wins in the end, right?)

Hello world!  Happy new year!  With this delay, you probably thought that all of my tile fell off the wall and I completely gave up on the bathroom, not to mention the many other projects that await me.  In fact, the bathroom has been basically done since October, with the last pieces (shelves) taken care of in November.  I also did some landscaping and undertook yet another furniture refinishing project, but I digress.  Today’s topic is painting the bathroom, which took it from construction zone to almost-done.

The tiling was finished in early August, and Mark the contractor kindly came back and installed the shower fixtures in the nick of time for our friends from NYC to come and visit.  They got to use a freshly tiled shower in a completely hideous bathroom (imagine it with fixtures):

…at least there was a wall hanging…

Not as good as where this post is going:

photo 1

Paint’s done! Yay!  Curtain is from West Elm.


But still, that’s better than this original bathroom from last January:


The next most ghastly thing to do, after installing a shower where there was none, was to paint the bathroom.  Masking off my fresh tile and the counter and the toilet without having plastic flapping around proved to be a pain in the butt.  Such a pain in the butt that I apparently did not take a picture.

Figuring that my tiling would be a bit rustic and I had a wooden countertop, I decided to theme this bathroom after a vintage Yosemite poster and even pick an object from which to pick a paint color.  Yosemite is quite possibly my favorite place on earth and appears in many places in our house.  This is the poster I liked, found at

yosemite poster

An aside on what this poster means: Camp Curry was (and is) basically a village in the park at the back of the valley with tons of campsites and tent cabins.  When the park opened, if you weren’t rich enough to stay in the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel, you stayed in Camp Curry (named after the Curries, the couple who managed it).  The cliff you see behind it in the poster is Glacier Point, where there was another mountain house you could stay in (ironically: has since burned down).  In 1872, the keeper of that joint would put out his evening fire by kicking it over the edge of a cliff, right into a giant pine forest.  The campers below starting viewing it as an attraction to watch the fire fall off the cliff, and it remained a Yosemite practice until 1968 when the National Park Service put its hiking boot down and said no more.  (Read more.)

So, I admit a little scary that fire safety was that questionable, but it’s a cool piece of history.  I decided to paint the bathroom light blue (this was the last bucket of paint I bought before I got interested in whole house color schemes, like this method or this method), but I had a feeling that a dark green bathroom would be out of place and a bright orange bathroom would just be absurd – so I went for the blue of “Camp Curry”.  Our greenish wedding towels would also fit in well I thought.

Lesson #1: Yes, I frikkin’ learned it again: test the paint on the wall before you buy!  You see, this time I thought I had it figured out since I was just matching a poster.  I decided to try out Sherwin-Williams paint in Liquid Blue since they advertise mold/mildew-deterring paints and our old house didn’t come with bathroom fans (and I didn’t want to pay to add one in a guest bathroom).  I sprung for a quart of eggshell Emerald paint (answer to BM’s Aura) for the ceiling, this time going a shade lighter than the walls (instead of bright white) to test out this effect.  For the walls, I originally choose their Duration line because it was much cheaper. (Read the next lines really fast while I turn pink with embarrassment that no one but myself has caused….I’m choosing not to lie to give you, the reader, more confidence – you can’t possibly second guess yourself as much as I did!) Then I started putting it on the wall and it looked a whole shade lighter when wet.  I panicked.  The guy at the store offered to darken the paint a shade for free, so I took him up on the offer.  I put it on the wall.  I panicked again.  It was way-too-dark-neon-blue and the bathroom was claustrophobic.  I didn’t take a picture because I loathed the thought of revealing this publicly.  (At least I didn’t paint my garage doors pink, right, Dad?)  I crawled over to Home Depot in shame and bought Liquid Blue again (HD has all the famous brands’ colors in their computers) and slapped that on the walls, giving us this:

photo 1

This is pretty true to color on the left side of the photo.  You can also see our lovely Moen Caudwell fixtures.  The tile looks a little pinker than reality.

So, the color’s pretty cheerful (sky blue – like waking up in your Yosemite tent), but I think if I did it again (and I am not doing it again for a long while) I would’ve gone a little more teal to stay with the whole house color scheme or a little lighter so as not to shock sleepy guests!

 It may be ok to pick a color off of a thing to match the room to, but the house can end up looking like an easter egg if you tend to like very colorful things!  Fortunately, I can keep this in mind when I eventually repaint our hazelnut cream hallway and red office…oops.

Lesson#2: Of course, paintbrushes do not fit behind a toilet.  I am sure there is more than one way to deal with this, but I found that using an edger (which I did not like for actual edging) worked well.


An edger from Home Depot. There’s a little fuzzy, washable pad that snaps into the other side.


Start at the bottom and work your way up, moving the edger back and forth behind the toilet by sliding it from hand to hand.  This way you don’t cover your arm in paint.  Probably a paint stick duct-taped to the back would do the trick nicely too.

Lesson #3: Painting your bathroom at night is a great reason to consider green energy.  The guest bathroom was the one room we hadn’t changed out the incandescent lightbulbs for LEDs or CFLs yet, and the plastic that I wrapped the fixture in sort of melted around the heat of the bulbs.  You’d think it wouldn’t take more than a PhD to figure this out, but apparently it does…  In case we forgot, that’s an awful lot of electrical energy getting wasted as heat.  I have since replaced the electricity-and-plastic-burning bulbs with CFLs.

I actually bought CFLs enclosed in globes, like these, which look just like regular lightbulbs (instead of funny curled up fluorescents).  These look great in the fixture, but do take 30-60 seconds to warm up completely to have full light.  I was surprised because this is the first time I have seen such significant delay.  My dad loved it when he visited: he said that when he got up in the dark to go to the bathroom it was great because it gave his eyes time to warm up to the light.  I find it minorly annoying since I’m impatient, but then I again, I’m also one of those people who type 33 seconds into the microwave because it’s faster than typing 3-0.  Anyway, once the bulb warms up, it looks great.

Lesson #4: I had more trouble with the SW Durable paint leaching under blue painters tape than Behr or Ben Moore Regal paint.  This paint seemed a bit thinner than these others.  Maybe this same property made it a bit more mold resistant?  Personal preference.  I’m not anti-SW though: The SW paint store has better hours, discounts, better brushes and a little sprayer thingy you can load any kind of paint into (not used for this project).

To check in after the paint job, we went from this:

No way around it.

To this:

photo 3

still more to go…


The vanity does not belong, the mirror is just in place so our guests could see themselves while I bought a new mirror and I ended up adding a few more features for convenience.  Stay tuned (or rather, tune back in):

Want to catch up?

Tiling: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Bathroom countertop and the dud


Make your own shower – grouting and sealing for the long haul.

This is it!  The home stretch!  Here’s where we left off:

photo 2 (2)

After the tiles are up, the shower was still not waterproof, nor was it very elegant.  To be functional and pretty (and to hide my mistakes), the gaps between the tile need to be grouted, which then gets sealed.  I noticed a lot of internet sites that point out the risks associated with grouting, but honestly, I thought this part of the project was actually pretty fun.  It’s more artistic and forgiving – no square corners, precise cutting or measurements.  There are several other good references (and multiple articles within each) on how to do this, like Young House Love, Bower Power and Lemon Grove.  As usual, I have several different solutions for the unexpected (and expected).

First lesson: it was time consuming to scrape up all of my rogue thinset from tiling and clear extra thinset out of the grout lines.  I recommend avoid this in the first place if you aren’t battling the tiles to stay in place around an awkward window.

Second lesson: Grout, regardless of how its mixed, is dramatically less removable than thinset!  It does not scrape or scrub off nicely once dry on tubs, tiles or windows.  It is a liquidy form of concrete (which contains cement, the stuff that chemically bonds).  Therefore, I thoroughly prepped the area with two cheerful picnic table cloths (with the plastic lining):

Before grouting

Before grouting – nice rustic tile spacings :)

At this point, Bryan wandered by and said, “Wow it looks like a mob scene in here.”

I responded, “What do you mean?”.

“Haven’t you ever seen a movie where they do a bathtub killing?   You want to line the tub for easy cleanup later.”

“I doubt they used ‘Sunshine Yellow’ tarps.”

In short: before grouting, confirm that your tub would be featured in a bad sequel to Good Fellas.  You can also see most of my supplies aside from the grout: two water buckets, two sponges, grout float, trash bucket, paper towels, clean/lint-free/white towels and buddy for lugging water (or tarp on your floors between bathroom and water supply).

Third lesson: by this time, I started learning things the easier ways rather than the hard way…I read that there is sanded and unsanded grout.  You want to use sanded grout when the grout lines are greater than 3/16″ thick and unsanded grout for thinner lines. Although I haven’t used anything but the sanded, reports are that it is a little more annoying to work with (and can scratch marble tile), but tends to shrink less with drying, especially if it is mixed too thin (the sand takes up space and does not shrink if the grout itself does).  Our tiles are spaced 3/16″ apart, so we went with Bostik sanded grout in white (not bright white) that I purchased at a local tile shop along with matching caulk.  I didn’t find the sanded grout bad at all.  As others have learned, Home Depot has a slightly more limited color selection in grouts, but the real downside was that the guy on staff couldn’t offer me as much advice on what I was doing.  I ended up purchasing 425 all-purpose latex admixture to use in place of water.  I figured anything that lowered my chances of grout shrinking was a good idea.

Next, I mixed up the grout.  Again, you can buy premixed grout, but frankly grout was easier to mix than I thought the thinset was.  To mix it, I once again used a clean bucket (this was a 5 bucket project) and a putty knife – no drill attachment was required for this one.  The motion is roughly what I imagine it takes to mix color into store-bought frosting.  I mixed no more than a quarter of the grout bag at a time.  The admixture had appropriate ratios of liquid to grout listed.  It was pretty different than mixing thinset, even though there was still a resting period.  In the case of the thinset or ardex feather finish, I learned not to add liquid after resting or the concrete will start to seize up.  On the contrary, each batch of grout required a little splash of liquid after resting to recover the appropriate peasnut-buttery thickness.  I also found that it thickened quickly as I was using it, so even my methods of application and time waiting before wiping changed slightly as the grout batch thickened.

There are many warnings about mixing it too thin, the consequence of which is that the grout cracks more easily.  What I discovered was: if the sanded grout was thick enough so that it could be pushed into the cracks, it was sufficiently thick for the project.

Grout application was basically three processes: dampen wall with sponge and put grout on wall, wipe down with sponge, polish with dry cloth.  I would grout a small ~2x2ft area, sponge it, then scrub the previous 2×2 area tiles (not grout lines) with the dry cloth to polish the tile.

To apply the grout, I pretty much used the grout float the way everyone else does.  I eventually found a rhythm once I struggled for a bit.  It was important to keep the float clean too since dried grout on the float makes the rubbery surface less effective – more use for the putty knife.  Re-stirring even ~15 minutes helped keep the grout consistent.  Similarly, I took periodic breaks from applying to wipe it off with a damp sponge.

Fourth lesson: the time you wait before wiping varies quite a bit based on your brand of grout and how thick you’ve mixed it.  My first batch was ultra thick and it was difficult to wipe after even 10 minutes.  Later batches gave me up to 20 minutes leeway.  I rinsed the sponge in two buckets to keep the second one (and thus the sponge) cleaner, which seemed to help reduce the haze compared to other reports.  The grout adheres nicely to the tile, which means that wiping at a ~45 degree angle across the line with a sponge actually did a nice job shaping the grout in the lines.  Some dried caulk could barely be scraped off with a putty knife – which I would generally try if I ran my hand over the tiles and it felt gritty or sandy.

Fourth lesson: This is where the thinset shows through if you were cheap and bought grey thinset and had some squeeze up through the grout lines.  I mitigated this problem by scraping out set thinset with this grout saw:

tiling tools

The thing with a blue handle is a grout saw.  Non-first timers should think of it as a demo tool, not a tiling tool. ;)

Eventually, I got the whole shower grouted.  This went pretty fast (with water lugging help) and was fit into about 2-3 long evenings.

photo 5 (2)

post-grout, pre-caulk

Fifth lesson: don’t grout the corners.  That’s why they sell matching caulk.  Apparently it also helps if there is any slightly expansion or contraction over the years – the caulk has more give than hard grout.  After the grout dried for two days, I taped the corners that would receive caulk, as in this tutorial.  I applied caulk, then dragged my damp finger over it while still damp to shape it and immediately removed the tape.  Worked like a charm…until I ran out of caulk.  Twice.  This project, which required caulking the tub, two back vertical corners, all around the edge of the quarter rounds to the wall and that dratted window took just over two bottles of this matching caulk.

Then I had a real shower!


After it all: prep, tiling, grouting and caulking (no fixtures yet).

To seal the grout, I bought tile sealer at the same tile shop.  There are many schools of thought on how to apply it, but: 1. I wore a respirator.  Scary stuff.  2. I used a thin brush to apply from a Solo cup, and 3. wiped it with those lint-free cloths from OSH.  I mainly wanted to avoid sealing any stray grout that I hadn’t found to scrape off.  The sealing led to zero change in appearance and took an hour or two.  Although the tiling is a little imperfect (adds character), it was about $3K cheaper than quote by the contractor and this little shower appears to be robust and a far cry from where we started!  Our guests approved 2 weeks after this project ended. :)




The tiling is over!  Still required in the bathroom remodel:

  • Fixtures
  • Painting the walls
  • Painting the vanity
  • Towel racks
  • Decor
  • Shelf
  • Baseboard




JK Rowling’s commencement speech

“I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination…I was set free, because my greatest fear [failure] had been realised…. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

JK Rowling, May 2008, Harvard University

-by far, the most eloquent language on this blog-