Planning the bathroom, part two (the finishes)

The floorplan for our basement remodel wasn’t dramatically different than the old plan — just a much better use of the space that would make the room feel much larger than it is.

The room itself is incredibly small. About 6.5 feet by 9-ish feet. Not a ton of space to work with. On the bright side, that means relatively low amounts of material like tile required to purchase. On the negative side, well, it’s a tiny bathroom. But the space was never well used, and our new plan is going to make it feel much more spacious.

In the span of about a month, we made the plan, settled on design and finishes, and bought all the fixtures. It was a stressful, busy month, to say the least, involving multiple trips to multiple bathroom/tile stores out in the burbs on consecutive weekends and hours gathered around the laptop looking at possible finishes.

But after a stressful month, we had everything picked out and piled up inside our foyer. (Um, and this is only after about half of it arrived.)

bathroom supplies material delivered foyer

The vanity

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to find a vanity that’s 18 inches deep instead of the usual 21 (or 23 like our current vanity), but it might have been the hardest item to find. There are a handful of shallow vanities, but most of them are also very narrow (or TOO shallow). We wanted a vanity that was no deeper than 18 inches, at least 36 inches wide if not more, was white and/or had a white top, and had the smallest possible sink bowl — I couldn’t believe how much counter space gets wasted on enormous sink bowls that you could wash dishes in.

bathroom overall before

Seriously, though, why the heck do they make enormous sink bowls on vanities? For some reason, the smaller vanities had even bigger sink bowls. Do people need to give their toddlers baths in the bathroom sink? Are they washing clothes?

That vanity could have some nice counter space, but instead it has enough room to bathe both of our children. AT THE SAME TIME.

After going to a few bath and cabinet stores and being incredibly disappointed by both what they had available (either shallow or wide but not both) or could order from suppliers (OMG $$$$), Rachel was suggesting that I should just build a vanity myself and then get a top from some granite folks. I thought about it briefly, but we really just didn’t have the time. It was a week into January at this point, and we needed to have it here when we started. And if I needed to order one, it had to get here fast.

The best option I’d found was a special order model from Lowe’s online for just under $700. (Some of the custom options were $1500-2500 WITHOUT the vanity top. So, yes, those were not an option.)

Shop allen + roth Moravia Sable Undermount Single Sink Bathroom Vanity with Engineered Stone Top (Common: 48-in x 20-in; Actual: 48-in x 20-in) at Lowes.comWe loved it, but it was 48 inches wide — wider than the 36-43 inch range we were looking for, though it was the perfect 18 inches deep. After realizing out that we could take over a few inches from the radiator we were taking out of the corner, this new vanity would only end up a couple inches closer to the door than now. And Rachel was dead set on having all the extra counter space. Look at the sink bowl! Perfectly tiny!

The only drawback was that it was espresso brown, but we knew we could paint it easily enough. (I keep telling Rachel that after we put it in, I think we’re going to like the contrast of the dark vanity with all the white finishes we’re using. We’ll see.)


Though we knew what we wanted on the walls and in the shower before we ever started (lots of white subway tile), this was one of the most difficult parts of the process to nail down and order. We wanted to honor the original design of the house, even if we were making some significant changes. Original to the house was honed 3×6 subway tile halfway up the walls, and 1-inch hex white tile on the floor. Here’s how it looked in the cubby behind the shower where the new tile was not laid over the old.

original bathroom tile pattern hex subway

So part of our decisionmaking was easy: bright white (polished) subway tile in the shower, and then subway tile on the walls up to a chair rail. That much was easy.

Lowes dot tile accent. Shop American Olean Starting Line White Gloss Ceramic Tile Liner (Common: 1-in x 8-in; Actual: 0.5-in x 8.5-in) at

Rachel loved these dots. She picked up a strip of them at Community Forklift years ago, probably back when we bought the house and always wanted to use them in the bathroom. So we came up with a pattern (wait for the reveal on that one) that used the dots with the subway and the chair rail (pictured below). And then a cove base tile at the bottom.

American Olean Linea Gloss Ice White Ceramic Chair Rail Tile (Common: 2-in x 6-in; Actual: 2-in x 6-in)

I priced out everything at Best Tile in Rockville and while they were great for the most part, with all of their extra shipping and handling fees to move things between THEIR OWN warehouses, I ended up ordering all the tile from Lowe’s for a few hundred bucks less; all from American Olean.

I made an important discovery, though, so take notes for those of you thinking of buying subway tile from Lowe’s.

Not only is the white AO subway tile they stock at Lowe’s NOT actually their whitest shade, but it’s also a special low-grade “starter” line that they ONLY sell in store at Lowe’s. You can get good quality (great!) subway tile from American Olean through Lowe’s, but you have to order it and get it shipped to the store. It’s $5.60 a sf, but a much better product. (The starter line is closer to $2 a sf).

For the floors, we really bounced around between a few different options. The first thing we loved was a 3×6 subway white venatino (grey) marble tile from Best Tile that we were going to do in a herringbone pattern. But it was really expensive at around $12-14 sf, and when we got close to pulling the trigger, we had second thoughts about literally having subway tile on every surface in the room.

Rachel really loved the larger 2″ hex tiles at Best Tile when we first visited, but they didn’t have the white venatino in that size — only the smaller 1″ size. It was ok, but at the high price, we didn’t love it enough to justify it. (I did like the 1-inch hex tiles though.) Right as I was about to buy the subway tiles, I had an idea to check Amazon. We had purchased our toilet, bathtub, faucet and shower faucet on Amazon, but it hadn’t occurred to check into tile.

We found some great carrara marble 2″ hex tile right away, though there was no way we’d order tile we hadn’t seen before. Thankfully, they sell small samples as well.

We ordered this sample which showed up in a few days. We loved it. Rachel loved the two-inch hex and the carrara grey color was even better than the white venatino, which can have some brown streaking mixed in. So we ordered it from Amazon and it showed up in less than a week. I was still at work when the UPS guy came, and thank goodness he was kind enough to bring them inside for Rachel and stack them up inside rather than out on the porch.

At 8.99 a sheet for a little less than a square foot, it was cheaper than a lot of options we’d looked at, and it was EXACTLY what Rachel had been hoping for all along. Win-win.

The fixtures

We managed to buy almost everything else on Amazon for this job. Including the tub, which at about $70-100 in shipping costs that became free with Prime, singlehandedly pay for a year’s subscription to Prime. I wanted a tub that would be a little deeper. I’m a tall guy, and though my baths are mostly limited to whenever I’m sick or with achy muscles in some way, I wanted a tub I could actually submerge in without sticking my feet 5 feet up the wall with the shower head.

I found a great one that’s 19 inches deep from Kohler, but Rachel hated the idea of buying a tub we hadn’t tested out. So on one of our trips to the burbs, we stopped by some huge bath superstore (Ferguson?) that had this one in stock. We each climbed inside (separately!) to check it out, which felt a little weird in the middle of a fancy bath showroom with gallery lighting. It was huuuuuuuge. I loved it. Deeeeeeeep!

The toilet is the same dual flush model I bought for the basement, except this one is the higher (right-height, they call it) ADA-level toilet with an elongated bowl. We haven’t tested the other thing here out yet, but after six months of having to bend over to grab a toddler’s potty seat and put it up on the toilet a few times each day, we wanted to try out this great integrated toilet/potty seat. We’ll let you know how it goes.

The sink faucet and the shower head/faucet both came from Amazon as well. We relied on the good folks at The Sweet Home (same people who publish The Wirecutter) for their fantastic simple reviews on the shower head. SH and WC don’t review every product; what they do is test almost everything, and then review the best of the bunch together and then tell you what single item is the best. Polar opposite of sites like CNET or whatever. Highly recommend those folks.

Lastly, the lights! Rachel wanted as many bulbs as possible over the vanity, so we were looking for 4-bulb fixtures for the most part. With a wide 48-inch vanity, having a longer fixture would also look nice as well. And with the wall with the shower head in it now going all the way to the ceiling but with the overhead light on the other side of that wall, lights on the vanity will help illuminate the corner with the toilet in it.

We found a great vanity light that Rachel loved at Home Depot online, and wouldn’t you know it, we ended up getting it cheaper on Amazon. And we found a matching overhead fixture in the same line.

Since the bathroom doesn’t have a proper window (the window connects to the sleeping porch) we had always wanted to add a skylight to brighten up the room. But I didn’t want to go through the cost and hassle of opening up the ceiling and building a curb and everything on the roof for a bubble skylight like the one we installed in the stairway. So we looked into the sun tunnels and after reading a load of reviews and watching a bunch of videos online, got a Velux sun tunnel from Lowe’s.

That’s about it on the finishes. Stay tuned for some videos and photos of the progress, coming soon!

All bathroom finishes from Amazon available below.

Leave a Reply