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Introducing My Never Been Seen Basement Bathroom (And My Plan To Make It Awesome With Basic Pieces + A Lot Of Vintage Styling)

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I’ve been sitting on a secret bathroom that we haven’t touched since we bought the house three years ago and it’s time to fess up and show you (obviously I have no secrets. I just realized I don’t think you’ve ever seen it because it’s just meh). It’s in the basement of the guest room/office and it was VERY low on the list of priorities to design. I rarely saw it, never went into it and when Brian was down there working I gave him that space as ‘his’. Well here it is:

It was super generic but functional and since it wasn’t gross or offensive we just left it for years. Brian certainly didn’t complain and he wasn’t going to add to my workload to have a better bathroom.

The challenges are as follows:

  1. SUMP PUMP ACCESSIBILITY – Wake up. DID SOMEONE SAY SUMP PUMP?? Holla. This is exciting stuff. Inside the vanity, under the floor is the sump pump that the previous owners put in to make this bathroom usable, and just in case it needs repair we would need access to it. So no cute pedestals for us and the size of the vanity needed to be very specific, with easy access to a big square hole in the ground that housed something I want nothing to do with ever.
  2. Weird angle near vanity – see overhead drawing below.
  3. Odd Cement “bench” – I’m sure it’s purposeful, but it makes it awkward and I for one do not want to hang out and read on that “bench”.
  4. Sure, all the finishes needed to be changed, but that’s not really a ‘challenge’.

So last year, after the mountain house was wrapped we decided to tackle this little bugger. We had a fantasy about turning the main space into a podcast studio, and listen, our list of podcasts guests included Dax and Monica, Matty Matheson, Lin Manuel, Oprah, Michelle and Barack, Beyonce, and we needed an impressive throne for their use before our hour of laughter and unhinged honesty.

No. It must be redone. At first, Brian and I were going to “do it ourselves” (talk about unhinged laughter) and I think I even made a big speech about it to my team – how “I want to be more hands-on”, I want to “learn to tile” and Brian chimed in with his desire to demo something. Also, we truly didn’t want this bathroom to turn into something insanely expensive – sure, KB might make an appearance, but we didn’t need to spend $25k on this. YES. We would save money.

Then it sat there for 3 more months. Meanwhile, the entire basement flooded due to those epic flash floods last year so Brian moved his office into Birdie’s old room. We forgot about it, (we had to tell Lin-Manuel to cancel his flight), even though this space was one of the best selling points of the house – a separate guest suite/office is HUGE in LA (and likely even more now so).

So knowing that this wasn’t something that Brian and I could DIY, I shifted gears (while slammed with shooting the book) and thought it would be “fun” for Julie to take over the design. My bandwidth was strapped and she is looking for more portfolio work. No pressure. Just design your boss’s gross basement bathroom – on a budget – for millions to see. So she came up with this plan:

Let’s break this design down:

  1. Walls – Roman clay. YES. A pretty texture on the walls in a soothing moody blue.
  2. Vanity – We would do a custom floating vanity and engage that weird corner (aka more counter space) and made from one slab.
  3. FlooringZellige Octagon & Buchon from Cle in the same color as the wall tile. I just asked her what was her solution for the sump pump and she said that at the time of drawings she didn’t know where the access panel was (because it was under the vanity that hadn’t been demo’d yet) so she hadn’t planned that in, but we would have likely tiled a removable access panel on the floor.
  4. Shower surround – We had enough leftover Zellige from Cle (that we used in the kitchen and master bath) so we wanted to use that to save money and not create more waste.
  5. Lighting – Right now there are just overhead cans so she planned two sconces – one on the mirrored wall, the other on the sidewall with a pretty mirror in between.

It was all a go. I loved it. GREAT! We thought it would cost about $15 – 18k for mostly labor (guys, it’s always labor) and since we didn’t feel that we could do it ourselves, at the time seemed like a good investment for this house. We started the demo a few months ago and then guess what happened? Miss. Car. A. Rona came to town, and all of a sudden the demo’d basement bath that no one ever used anyway became priority #12560.

So it sat there for months without me knowing how to proceed. And now spending $15k – $20k on this tiny little dark number felt, well, highly unnecessary and indulgent. The world just feels too unsteady to be throwing around that in a BASEMENT even if you are an IFD (internet-famous designer – I hope you realize that I’m making fun of myself when I say that – it’s definitely just different.)

Then a month ago I thought to myself, What if I did this AS INEXPENSIVELY as possible? With the least amount of labor, subs, and materials possible??? What if I made it cool JUST through the styling??? Lord knows I’m not the only one with a basement bath that needs an upgrade. Plus it would be so fun for me to do something super basic that I amp up through styling – what I love to do most, anyway.

So let’s see how little we could spend and how fast it could be done.

Here was the plan:

  1. We’d extend the same Cali Bamboo waterproof vinyl flooring from the bedroom into the bathroom. Keeping it simple and not buying hardly any more material. No tile floor. Just good old wood-looking vinyl that looks GREAT for being totally waterproof.
  2. We’d LEAVE the acrylic shower surround but take off the glass door with the chrome handles and instead install a cute shower rod and curtain. You heard me – that acrylic molded wonder is staying. Is it offensive? Well, that really depends on your definition and your taste level. It’s acrylic and has hilarious ‘grout’ lines between the ’tile’ but it somehow doesn’t offend me as much as it should – it’s just white and maybe 15 showers a year will take place in that acrylic hug. To replace it we would need to demo it out, see what lies behind, likely waterproof it all, wet mop the floor, put in a dam, order tiles, and then tile the walls. This hardly-used-shower didn’t deserve that kind of time and expense. We could simply put a really pretty curtain in front of it and call it a day.
  3. We’d switch out the shower faucet and the sink faucet trims for something with the exact same specs as was currently there, just changing the style and finishes. I’d shop for something super inexpensive that looked as good as possible. And save a lot of money by not replacing the valves – the plumbing pieces in the wall.
  4. We’d put in an inexpensive readymade vanity that could cover the footprint of the sump pump. This was after weeks of me trying to find an awesome vintage wall mount sink that I could put a little skirt around to hide the removable panel. But ultimately being up in the mountains gave me little ability to find that sink unless it shipped from across the country and while buying ‘new’ does create waste, flying a 60 lbs sink from upstate New York seemed unnecessary, too (wasting carbon and way more expensive). If times were different I would have thrifted to find a piece that could be retrofitted into a vanity, but without in-person shopping, I was just so limited in the used/thrifted sink department. By the way, if I could go back in time I’d just paint the one that was there, but it was given to Habitat for Humanity months ago and not a possibility.
  5. We’d just paint the walls! No tile, no wall treatments, no paneling – just good old fashioned MF paint.
  6. We would put down a primed waterproof baseboard to paint and that’s it.
  7. No new electrical. We’d work with the cans and instead, I’ll style out a cute plugin sconce or swag a pendant – but no hardwired sconces or new pendant lighting.
  8. I’d style it out with fun art, vintage accessories, and a lot of quirk.

The idea was no need for plumber, tiler, or electrician – we’d just be swapping out fixtures (using the old toilet) and change as little as possible.

At the time of publishing aka today (I really should start with that sentence every day – we are breaking news journalism!!) we are ALMOST DONE. You Insiders will get a sneak peek on the community platform. The only bad news thus far is that we DID need to hire a plumber to move the faucet because the center of this vanity is different than the original (even though I checked measurements like 9 times). So I didn’t succeed in not hiring any subs.

As far as what we are using, product-wise? Here you go. All of it is super affordable and seems FINE in person.

1. Kingston Brass Faucet in Matte Black | 2. 30″ Vanity in Gray | 3. Clare Paint in Good Jeans | 4. Moen Shower Set in Matte Black | 5. Baseboard Moulding| 6. Cali Vinyl Longboards Flooring in Seaboard Oak

It should be done in the next few days and then I get to style it out which I’m INCREDIBLY excited to do. Again, without much in-person vintage shopping or thrifting I’m going to pulling from what I already have, but I have a lot of cool art, smalls, shelves and even stools that I think will be cute, and I’m even toying with the idea of sewing together scraps of vintage plaid for the shower curtain.

It’s 2020 designing and while there are a lot of limitations (HAHAHAHAHAHA IS THERE EVER) the budget ‘make it work’ mentality is contagious and frankly inspiring. I like to style. play. every day, and that’s what I’ll do.

Questions. Comments. Concerns?

Fin Mark

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Molly

Were you able to find out about the flooding and fix it so it won’t flood again?

Mk

Yes, sounds as if this sump pump did not do the job! I would be more concerned with figuring out the water issue before renovating. You may need French drains outside your home.

We have more products on the website: https://wallcorners.com/product-carget/wall-art/. In addition, we also have our own printing factory, similar products, you can visit and we can make products as you like.

Tara

Thanks for sharing. I have a small attic bathroom in need of a revamp, and the idea of bringing in contractors and full demolition is not appealing when you are in the house all day. Sometimes you can work with what you have. I look forward to seeing the styling.

ellen feeney

using a dimmer light switch is helpful and even makes canned lighting much more appealing.

patricia blaettler

I have canned lights which all emit a very low (high-pitched) whine when they’re not on high. I can’t be the only one with this issue?

Fooky

We had the same issue! A friend commented that we had an old dimmer that did not function well because we put LED bulbs in it. We replaced the dimmer since then with a new LED dimmer and the problem was solved. Not very cheap though, LED dimmers cost more in The Netherlands than normal dimmers, but the flickering drove me bonkers. A cheap solution would be dimmer full always and a bulb with a remote.

Kelsey

Yes, it is a compatibility issue between old dimmer switches and LED bulbs. Swap out the switch and your problem should be solved :).

K

Glad you decided to go the budget route! I’m also curious about the flooding – can you prevent it from happening again?

Amy

Looking forward to seeing how you bring personality to this bathroom. We just finished part of our basement and added a powder room, so I can’t wait to see how you style it. We have the vanity and toilet on one wall, then nothing on the facing wall and I need some ideas for art/accessories to inject some personality!

Jessica

I’m sad that I can’t post this in the EHD community, but someone needs to buy this chair: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/87424363_antique-thonet-style-side-chair

Susan

Just fyi, a sump pump is used in most of the houses here. It has nothing to do with toilet or bathroom waste. It’s there to collect excess water that pools around the foundation of a house and pump it outside and away from the foundation. It pumps out clean water. At our house we use the water on our outside plants. I’m surprised it didnt help you with your flooding.

Susan

It should have prevented the flooding you experienced in the bathroom if it was working properly. When we get heavy rain the pump kicks on several times an hour pumping water off our foundation. Anyone with a basement and rain or snow can benefit from them.

Betsy

Sump pumps are great, but they have to work in order to do their job. I’ve learned this lesson not once, but twice. Fortunately, I’m on a crawl space, so no basement with water damage. But having to pay $400 to have the water pumped out is painful. Then you still have to fix/replace the pump. To add insult to injury, the pump is right under my bedroom. I can hear it going off. I should have realized I had not heard it in some time, and it may need to be looked at. All this to say, I’m sure Emily covered all of her bases with experts.

Judith

You can get a gizmo to connect to the back up battery of the sump pump and add the corresponding app to your phone. When the power goes out, the pump reverts to the back up battery. If the battery then goes out, you get a notice on your phone. Then, I suppose you switch out the battery. This is the system I just got and I hope I never have to deal with it not working.

I am SO EXCITED to see you just style a simple bathroom. These types projects will always be my favorite 🙂

Blake

NEED to see the rest of the basement! Please share.

Blake

NEED to see rest of basement. Please share! 🙏

patricia blaettler

I believe you need “an impressive THRONE for their use.” No one’s volunteered to be your copy editor yet?

I’m always without words when someone goes out of their way to make unsolicited editing/copywriting corrections or suggestions on a site offering amazing, free content. That is all.

CB

Totally agree. As someone whose job it is to write and edit copy for the web, I’m always in editor mode—I frequently correct signs, menus, etc. in my head—but *I keep those edits to myself*! Ask yourself: do you understand what is being communicated? If so, great! Move on! If not, it’s appropriate to politely ask a clarifying question. What’s not appropriate is to offer a snarky correction just to make yourself sound superior to strangers on the internet.

mockginger

I love that you ended up going in this direction since this is the direction 90% of your readership can afford also, ESPECIALLY now. Very relatable and I’m here for it!

Sarah

I’m completely serious when I say that I’m more excited for this reveal than a total gut renovation. What a fun challenge!

How are you liking your flooring so far? I need to choose some waterproof vinyl wood flooring for a new enclosed porch, and I’m having trouble finding some that looks “real” enough or “nice” enough. Do I need to chill out?

Kelly

This is very cool to see! I am also struggling with finding the energy to freshen up a bathroom that I know is really a total gut job (hello 1950’s cast iron plumbing…). But I WOULD like it to look better while we save up for the ultimate job. This just might inspire me to pick up a paintbrush 😉

Dee

Really looking forward to the “after pictures”! Love a “work with what you have” content especially in these circumstances!

I have a hall bath that needs updates, think brown cabs and beige tiles! Will get started on that soon!

Ashley

I am weirdly so happy for the change in direction! You always do beautiful bathrooms but given my own limitations with design (rental/tiny budget) I get so much more inspiration from the more basic/styling improvements! Yippeee!

Rusty

I. Love. This. Real. Life. Stuff!
Very cool Emily! Sooo walking your talk in keeping the cost andcarbon down. Yaaay.
These projects are so very relatable and I’m sure people are gonna love it as much as I do.
Fab-u-lous work!! 🤗

I’m so excited for this project! I have two bathrooms in need of help and it doesn’t feel like the time to rip them apart! Enter new fixtures and paint!!!
Also, I love a wood floor in a bathroom so I’m psyched to see the vinyl in there. Adds so much warmth!!

Virginia

This is the first post in a LONG time I’ve actually been interested in. More of this. Making it work. I am about to “redo” my bathroom and this is what “redoing” my bathroom will entail. I cannot spend tens of thousands of dollars gutting it. I may actually buy that vanity and fixtures and I will use your links!

Sarah

Glad to read this interesting post. Thanks to https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/

Ella

Thank you, I love this so much! I have a house with two bathrooms that are boring/dated/ugly, but totally functional. We won’t be ripping them out any time soon (we already spent all our $ on the house, and it feels wasteful to reno things that work just fine) but I’d love to make them more attractive with superficial fixes. Can’t wait to see what you do here!

Susannah

All those ridges on the beautiful baseboard are dust and grime magnets. Happy cleaning.

Diane

Go over them with your vacuum brush attachment once in a while and they’ll be fine. Everything gets dirty. That’s why we clean.

Kd

Hope this is OK to post here. Maria Killam is hiring an edesigner, and I thought one of your readers might be interested. The info is here: https://mariakillam.com/careers/

kelly

Love Maria and her blog!

Ashley

I’m going to tag in and agree with everyone else that it’s good to see a relatable, work-with-what-you-have kind of project. Thank you!!! Can’t wait to see the results!

Beth

Love seeing this! We have a bathroom with terrible pink tile on the counter and about a quarter of the wall around the bath, then even worse textured surround of some sort another quarter of the way up the wall, and glass blocks forming a wall to let light in along the side of the tub with plumbing. The flooring is that gray and beige vinyl meant to look kind of like tile, with beige plastic baseboards. It’s just all sorts of bad but I’ve been wondering what I might possibly be able to update myself for now before we can afford a full remodel. I’m excited to see you working with what there and see if I can gain any insight for my own space 🙂

Vicki Williams

Beth I’d love to see a picture of your bathroom. I’d love to have a stab at it.

LisaSays

I would love to see more of this! You have to be creative and it’s good for the planet.

Hilary

So excited to see this – much more so than an $18K renovation of a basement bathroom! I think the majority of your readers will be so happy to see a return to more realistic budgets and renovations on the blog – over the years projects drifted more and more towards things only very, very wealthy people could do. It’s fine for eye candy, but I didn’t even bother reading anymore. But with posts like this I’m actually excited to sit and read again!

nora

Yay, love this! When we bought our first home in May, we had biiig plans… some we followed through on (painting the living room walls and ceiling dark blue! new ceiling fan in the master bedroom!), and some we decided weren’t worth the trouble, for now (removing wallpaper in kitchen and refinishing all the cabinets). Great to hear your thought process – seems pretty reasonable to leave the shower be and just hang a nice shower curtain over it.

Ann

Put in a damn? I mean, dams are annoying, but that’s too far. Who proofs your material, because no one sits on a thrown, either.

Lee

Ann: I hope your arm doesn’t get too tired patting yourself on the back for spotting a minor typo.

P.S. You and Patricia up thread should get together and form your own Mean Girls group. Sheesh.

Le

THANK you for doing something like this. THIS is so relatable, and so helpful for those of us that can’t do a complete, expensive gut job.

I know the MOTOs are supposed to lean that way, but with sponsored/gifted items, the projects still can be out of reach.

This feels so so real and relatable. Can’t wait.

Ginger

So excited for this! I get more inspiration from and can relate more to simple “work with what you have” posts then big renovations.

Maggie

I love this post! You might want to check how slippery your vinyl floor will be when it has water on it – as in normal, bathroom splash water, not a flood. We replaced the floor in a vacation cabin with vinyl and discovered that it is REALLY slippery when it’s wet. We ended up putting a rug in the bathroom, which would not have been my first choice, but the slippery floor was a hazard in the small bathroom.

Amanda W

I’m so proud of you! Even being upper middle class but from the Midwest, sometimes it’s shocking to see posts such as $300 and up dresses for “everyday.” So thank you for being relatable and kudos for embracing the talent you have!

Fran

Can the bench thing have a cushion/squab for sitting and drying the footsies? An opportunity for some colour/pattern.

Karen

Love having some more budget content for a space like this!!!!

Lisa

I LOVE this. While I love all the beautiful EHD not-budget-friendly designs, THIS is the actual world 99% of us live in. It’s nice to see it here sometimes … it’s super inspiring and maybe it will end up being both beautiful AND attainable. I can’t wait to see the reveal!!

Sara

YES! This is so much more thrilling than a full huge gut job. Keeping it real for your peeps.

Our master bath in our rental was my least favorite room until I decided to make it my favorite — styling to the rescue! It’s like magic. So excited to see how yours turns out!

SARAH

Is the plaid idea from Emily Bode? Just curious. I’m seeing her pop up everywhere

Alexandra Rose

Thank you for bringing up the carbon that would have been released into our air had you ordered something from across the country. Local is best! I hope to see more of this language in the future 🙂

Jennifer

When we moved into our 1970s ranch house last year, the previous owners had updated some of the finishes in the main 5′ x 8′ bathroom with an IKEA sink and what we think is a “bath fitter” where an acrylic tub and wall was placed over the existing tub. We didn’t want to invest in a massive renovation either. So we repainted the entire room a warm white (including the hideous mustard-colored accent wall); upgraded the light fixtures with 2 Jonathan Adler Parker pendant lights; removed the oversized metal medicine cabinet that jutted out in an awkward way and replaced with a smaller, light gray wood one with a mirror from Lowe’s; splurged on a stunning shower curtain from Quiet Town Brooklyn and a Chilewich woven mat; and added framed artwork that all have deep personal meaning. Is it a luxurious spa bathroom? No, but that would feel so out-of-character with the rest of the cool but modest house. We love it! And practically-speaking, that bath fitter is so easy to clean–no mold or grout to reseal ever.

Jennifer

Oh, and we also replaced the rickety tension rod for the shower curtain with a fixed, curved brushed nickel rod. It’s honestly the little things that can make such a difference.

Lydia

Really looking forward to the reveal! I think you made some really smart choices for a basement bathroom. Makes me think I could improve my bathroom without a total overall 🙂

Emily R

Hallelujah to an update that is realistic for most homeowners! Please do more ‘making it work’ updates like this for the blog! Insanely relatable and helpful!

Kim

This is great inspiration for some dated bathrooms I’ve been wanting to tackle. We also have shower doors. Did you need to “plug” any holes when you removed the doors? Looking for info for how to do that! Thanks.

Tiffanie Hall

Super excited about an actual use-what’s-here-budget-friendly-makeover in a space that we usually see completely redone.

Looks like the new sink and walls will be two different shades of blue? That will be a fun tonal look. The vanity space still looks so tiny; any options to shore up that open triangular space and extend the counter top?

I’m looking forward to the shower area. There’s so many cute shower curtains that could double as statement art and yet I never want the curtains completely closed because I’m scared what may be behind them.

Tara Greenfield

Would love to know more about this flooring. Are you happy with it? I just ordered a sample. We are doing an ADU and wondering if I could use this in the whole 500sq feet. Does it look cheesy?

Ali

FINALLY something that’s doable for middle America! This is super inspiring and way more relatable. hough I love all of your content, so very much of it is out of reach.

Nicolette

I am so excited about this! Yes we come here for aspirational inspiration, but seeing what budget fixtures you actually will be using is exactly what I would like to see more of. I was too late to comment but I was so thrilled you included actual number for the built ins at Sara’s. I saw in the comments it made a lot of people realize that quote wasn’t so crazy after all 🙃

Jenms

I love the idea of a cheap bathroom! I think it would be worth it to splurge on a custom vanity, though, to make use of that awkward corner.

Appreciation to my father who informed me about this
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