When I moved into my house, I took one look at the bathroom, and reassured myself that I could fix it. It was functional, but yucky—another of those technical terms I like so much. A three-quarter bath, it had a generous shower stall in a corner, alongside the toilet. There was also a thirty-inch vanity, and a gray marble-tile look vinyl floor. Sadly, it also had flat white, mildew-stained walls. White walls have just never worked for me, and because the room was quite damp, flat paint practically begged mildew to move in and set up house—and townhouses, condos, and apartments.
The vanity was usable, but aside from being painted a dull blue color, the drawer runners had rusted in the damp room, making them nearly useless. Non-functional drawers would not have been quite so bad, if there were some other storage available. With no medicine cabinet, toilet paper holder, or towel rods, living with the little bathroom was tricky. It didn’t take me long to make changes.
First, I scrubbed away the mildew. It wasn’t the dreaded “black mildew.” I checked. It was garden variety mildew, but it was ugly, and it made the bathroom smell bad. When I have painted things that were greasy or dirty, I’ve wiped it down with alcohol. For mildew, I used vinegar. Bleach would also work, but not together. Like ammonia and bleach, vinegar and bleach can produce toxic fumes. I scrubbed the walls down, rinsed thoroughly, and left them for 24 hours to dry.
I ran into a puzzling lack of studs, which seemed to exist only at corners, and alongside doors and windows. Normally, builders put studs every 16 inches. I tapped, thumped, used commercial stud finders, pushed nails through the sheetrock walls, and even drilled holes. I could not find a stud. What I did find were a number of nails popping out of the sheetrock. The thing is, nails should not have popped out like that unless they were not solidly anchored in wood.
I knew, though, that I would be hanging towel racks and coat hooks for robes and towels. I also knew that anything nailed or screwed into the wall was going to fall down as soon as any weight was put on it. I had to figure out a way to provide support for the things I needed to hang.
A 1” x 4” board can be fastened to studs with screws, so I bought some to reach from corner to corner—or door frame. Even with those few solid connections, weight was distributed evenly enough to allow me to hang shelves and towel racks.
With no windows, the room tended to be dark as well as damp. I wanted to paint it a color that would make it feel warm and cheerful, and I decided on pink—a lot of pink, in a lot of different shades. I had never been able to have a pink bathroom while I was married, but I finally could. At a local hardware store, I used money received as a birthday gift to buy semi-gloss paint in three shades of pink. In a damp room, semi-gloss was a good choice because it repelled moisture and wiped clean easily. A simple paint job was not enough for me. I am tragically discontented with quick and simple.
I started by marking a line 12 inches down from the ceiling. Everything above the line, including the ceiling, was painted light pink. I know white is standard, but people are more adventurous with ceilings now—and I’ve always been more adventurous than most. A light pink ceiling was fine with me.
Below the line, I painted the walls a slightly darker pink. The lack of fixtures was convenient at this stage, because it made painting the walls that much easier. I had to work around a set of vanity lights, and the vanity itself, but that was about all. With the walls painted, I hung the 1 x 4, which I had painted a bright, even darker pink, at the line I had marked. It divided the light ceiling and upper wall from the medium-pink lower walls.
Before I hung anything else, I painted polka dots all over the walls. I had used sponges before to paint repeated patterns, from leaves and flowers to puppy footprints. A simple kitchen sponge works just fine, and can be cut to shape with scissors. This was where I let my imagination go. I considered using the sponge to stamp cherries, strawberries, or even flowers. For some reason, though, plain polka dots appealed to me. Maybe it was because polka dots are so innocent, and made me think of times when life was simpler. At any rate, I cut three round pieces of sponge for stamping polka dots on my walls. Small dishes of paint allowed me to use all three shades of pink, as well as white, to randomly place dots of different sizes on the walls. The real trick to doing random patterns though, is to be very organized. I established a pattern that looked very random. If I had been really random, I would have ended up with clusters of the same color, or areas missing one color. It takes a lot of planning to do a random pattern. Finally, the walls were done, and the polka dots, and the shades of pink, made me smile every time I went into the bathroom.
I had found a small white antique-style medicine cabinet at a garage sale, and I hung that from the painted 1 x 4, right above the vanity. I hung two oak towel rods, and a decorative oak shelf with another towel rod. Because I used a hot tub several times a day for therapy (a cheap, inflatable, flat-bottomed one, not a glamorous but expensive stone-look contoured one) having places for a lot of towels was essential.
Of course, I couldn’t hang the toilet paper from the 1 x 4. That would have been incredibly awkward. Hanging one at the appropriate level was a challenge. Screws pulled out, because I couldn’t find a stud. Molly screws, which have expanding wing-like pieces intended for this kind of thing, didn’t work either. I’m sure it was my fault. Finally, I put wood glue on a molly screw and tried again. That seemed to work. I just hope I never have to take the toilet paper holder down!
I still had the vanity to worry about. The dull blue was not appealing. I’m not fond of dull colors, and it was done with flat paint. I just really wanted semi-gloss paint on everything. I scrubbed the whole vanity down, having learned over the years that skipping that step leads to trouble, and then I painted it with a primer. Next I painted it with the lightest of my three shades of pink. It looked a bit too plain, but covering it in polka dots seemed like too much. Instead, I got out an old bath sponge I have used for dozens of projects over the years. I put a little of my other pinks in a glass pie pan, dipped the sponge into one at a time, and wiped off the excess so the texture would show. I touched the sponge lightly to the vanity, covering it with one color, and after that dried, with the other. I considered trying to make it look like marble, but decided (for a change) to leave well enough alone—thought I did play with a little smudging. I found that the drip marks from the previous paint job were very obvious when painted over, so one day I will need to sand or shave the edges of the drawer fronts to get rid of those. The vanity is bright and pretty and doesn’t show the spatters of mud that sometimes mysteriously appear after I’ve worked in the garden.
The pink towels I bought didn’t quite match the pinks I had used on the walls. Towels are available in a limited number of colors, so the only way to get a good match would have been to buy the towels first, and find paint that matched them. I decided that if it bothered me, I could buy white towels instead, but my first priority was to have as much pink as possible.
I had already hung one oak cupboard near the vanity, for hand towels and a few other things. I hung another one—a tall, narrow version of the oak shelves with heart-shaped cut-outs that were popular for a while—above the toilet.
So far, I only had four shades of pink: my three paint shades, and the towels. To expand the pinkness, I brought in a few of my favorite pink-themed knick knacks. I had a small metal canister set with pink roses, and a ladybug planter that had held a miniature rose (which I promptly murdered), and a few other pink things. I filled the tall, narrow shelf with those. A porcelain light switch plate with pink and blue flowers went up next. I hung a pink jeweled wall clock, and kept a pink swim suit (for the hot tub) on a coat hook. Some people might say I got carried away, but a pink soap dish in the shower, pink throw rugs, pieces of rose quartz, and even pink wastebasket liners added to the overall pinkness of the room. If I looked hard enough, I suspected I could find forty or fifty shades of pink among all of those things. Frankly, I prefer that to any number of shades of gray anyway.