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In Renovator’s Notebook, homeowners open up about the nitty-gritty of their remodels: How long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what went wonderfully, serendipitously, it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end right. For more tips to nail your next project, follow @reno_notebook.

Square footage: 55

Budget: $47,250

Timeline: 10 months

Top priority: Create a zen, family-friendly bathroom (hopefully) before baby arrives. 

Jess and Fabian Molina had the ultimate motivator when they decided to renovate the primary bathroom in their 100-year-old Portland, Oregon, home: the arrival of their first child. Shortly after refinancing their house to secure the funds for the project, Jess found out she was pregnant with their daughter, Max. If they didn’t have a hard deadline before, they definitely had one now. “We called my mom up and were like, is this crazy to try and do?” recalls Fabian. “In the end, we all agreed it would be easier while Jess is pregnant, as opposed to having our baby live through all that stress, anxiety, and dust.” 

The bathroom, before.
The bathroom, before.
The bathroom, after.

Another reason to do it before they became a family of three? The existing space was far from kid-friendly. The tub was a shallow 16 inches, there was no storage for all the bath-time products they’d have to buy for Max, and the old window was letting in an unpleasant draft. The Molinas initially called on local building firm Aforma to oversee the remodel, but when the company’s founder, Will Pritikin, told them it would likely cost around $80,000 if they wanted to be hands-off, the couple decided to get involved. Fabian stepped into the role of general contractor, while Jess (“She’s the CFO of the family,” he says) naturally oversaw the lead times for products. Luckily, they had already paid Aforma $5,000 for the design plan and renderings, and Pritikin answered their logistical questions throughout the process. “Will said, ‘I will just be a text away.’ And to his credit, he really was,” says Fabian. 

By November, they had taken the bathroom down to its studs. All the essential plumbing ($9,300), electrical ($3,875), and carpentry and drywall ($7,600) took place in December and January. Then, on February 2, Max arrived—three weeks before the reno wrapped up. “Getting to enjoy the bathroom and the tub (it’s 22 inches deep!) has been amazing postpartum. It has been all worth it,” shares Jess. Ahead, in their own words, the new parents walk us through the transformation.

Save: Straying From the Renderings

Rendering courtesy of Aforma

Jess: Drawing by our travels abroad and hotels we’ve stayed in, we were going for a moody spa vibe. 

Fabian: The green we chose for the renderings was a seafoam color, but when we actually painted that shade on the wall, it didn’t feel right. We had also considered vertical shower tiles. Then we realized that if we were to install them ourselves, there would be more room for error—it’s triple the amount of tile than the large square ones we ended up going with. 

Rendering courtesy of Aforma.

Jess: We also imagined the showerhead and diverter (the valve that allows you to go back and forth between the tub faucet and showerhead) would be placed on the same wall as the vanity…

Showerhead and Diverter, Crosswater London; Shower Arm, Faucets N Fixtures; Shower Door, Glasswarehouse.

Fabian: Then the plumber told us it would cost us a lot to move the plumbing (think: another $10,000). We said we couldn’t do it. This change of plans meant that our shower wall could no longer be a fixed divider—it had to swing open so there’d be enough room for us to get in and out. That small tweak forced us to call the framer and have the main door flipped around so that it opens toward the hallway, away from the shower. 

Splurge: Redialing the Tilers

The bathroom, under construction.
The bathroom, under construction.
The bathroom, after. | Tile, Clé; Tub, Americh.

Fabian: My dad flew in from California to help me install the shower and wall tile. We accounted for three days of work. I had no idea until we got started that it would really be a one- to two-week-long process. Once we reached the niche, I realized this is beyond us—I don’t know how to do these little cuts. Will from Aforma advised us to just take down the sections I wasn’t happy with. My dad cleaned up. We returned our tile saw. Then I called the pros who had put in the concrete backer to finish the job for an extra $5,000, bringing the final tile labor and materials cost to $7,550.

Save: Post-Bath Coziness

The bathroom, under construction.
The bathroom, under construction.
The bathroom, after. | Green Paint (in a satin finish), Behr; Towel Warmer, IBMirror.

Fabian: The idea to add a towel warmer stemmed from our Italian honeymoon—we saw them all over Europe. Plus they’re fairly cheap (there are some you can just plug into an outlet). Ours was $259.

Jess: It’s not a bad thing to have when you’ve got a newborn who hates being cold. Max loves it, especially on dreary days here in Portland. 

Splurge: Freeing Up the Floor

The bathroom, after. | Toilet, Quality Bath; In-Wall Tank, Amazon.
The bathroom, after. | Floor Tile, Architectural Surfaces.

Fabian: We have dogs, so there is a lot of hair. Being able to sweep under the toilet was a practical goal. The wall-mounted fixture was only $200, but in order to install it, we had to extend the wall by 2 inches to allow for the pipes. 

Jess: When we got that news, I freaked out: Wait a second, is the space getting smaller? It worked out in the end. In fact, it actually feels bigger because it all flows now. 

Save: A Vanity That Makes Parenting Easier

The bathroom, after. | Sink, Concretti; Frame, IKEA; Fronts, Tailored Designs; Counter and Pony Wall Surface, Caesarstone; Faucet, Decor Planet; Drawer Handles, Royal Design; Sconces, Lumens; Mirror, CB2.

Fabian: We nixed the idea of a fully custom vanity and opted for an IKEA frame (measuring 40-by-19 inches) with a Caesarstone countertop, Tailored Design fronts, and a vessel sink from Concretti—something that’s been really handy when Max has a blowout (she fits perfectly in there right now). 

Jess: Living the new-parent life, it’s the little things, like the fact that Fabian and I can brush our teeth at the same time, that makes the space feel like a retreat. The bathroom is so cozy in the evenings when we’re putting Max down (she’s actually got a whole little skin-care routine). 

Fabian: That makes me happy, as a new father, to take something like this on and see her use it.

The bathroom, after. | Mat, Hay.

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