Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to Stage an Old Bathroom

No two ways about it, our master bathroom was o-l-d.  And small.  And yellow.  Yikes.

When it comes time to sell your home, bathrooms and kitchen are of utmost importance and will get lots of scrutiny.  There is quite a lot of home staging you can do yourself when the time comes, and since we're all about DIY over here at ZenShmen, taking care of the bathrooms would be no different!

So when we were getting ready to sell our house, we were faced with a major decision:  should we do a quickie renovation job just to sell it (the old, "you have to spend money to make money" school of thought)?  Or save ourselves the hassle and expense, and try to salvage what's there?

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

Consider this:

Before adding a bathroom in the $15,000 to $20,000 or more price range, consult a professional to make sure the upgrade will pay off with the appraised value. If a home has depreciated due to location or market values, you might break even adding on a brand new bath addition, but you might not.
- From 10 Factors in Your Home Appraisal

What about if we did a 1/2 reno, with just a new tub?  But what would that mean for the tile wall that goes all the way around the room?  Hello, 1950's bathroom design.  (At least we weren't alone - most of the houses in our 50's neighborhood had these same bathrooms in a rainbow of different colors.)

And if we did renovate, could a contractor we've never met deliver the goods on time and on budget? (A quick note on being DIY lovers considering going with an outside contractor:  I was 7 months pregnant and we had about a week or 10 days to do everything we wanted to do!)  We were short on time and cash... this wasn't the time to start experimenting.

After conferring with our real estate agent, we concluded that doing a half-assed reno was not the best use our of resources.  It was very likely that the new owners would tear it all out to build something that suited their needs or style better, especially if they're younger and coming from a more 'urban' and modern place.  (In retrospect, this turned out to be the right decision for all the above reasons but also because the new owners planned to tear out the tub and put in a giant walk-in shower, thus negating the whole point of updating this room!)

So our job was clear:  make this little yellow budgie of a bathroom the cleanest and most well-cared for little yellow budgie of a bathroom in the neighborhood.

Also, we needed update the things that were easy for us to update ourselves: lighting, medicine cabinet and caulking.

Here's how we did it:

The toilet and sink had been updated by the previous owner, but the floors and banana-yellow tiles (with fancy-in-the-50's black trim, no less!) were intact.  Here's a breakdown:

Tub:  original.  Yellow.  Perfectly functional, just very dated.

Floors:  original:  black and white tile.  Pretty good shape.  Actually back in fashion now!  Bonus or scapegoat... who's to say?

Lighting:  needed updating.  O-l-d and tacky lighting fixture.

Ventilation Fan:  already there + we had added a timer on it in our Home Greenifiying efforts.

Medicine Cabinet:  original, of the metal-framed-mirror-door persuasion, too small, too shallow.


Overall look:  As it can happen to very good people (ahem), with little kids around and nobody taking pictures of their bathroom to put them on a blog (let alone on the housing market), our bathroom was overflowing with stuff -- our everyday bathroomy clutter.

Wait a minute - Do I really want to be putting these online?  Yikers!

Here's a tip: When you're selling your house, nobody wants to see your everyday bathroomy clutter. Not your weird creams for your weird ailments, not your medications, not your lady products or 12 kinds of dandruff shampoo.  (I list these because I've seen them all on home visits.)

They also don't want to see goopy toothpaste clumps and your husband's whiskers on the sink.  In the case of bathrooms (but not in all your home staging efforts), I'm a believer of the make-your-home-look-like-a-fancy-hotel-room school of thought.  (Except perhaps for the basket of tiny toiletries and take-home plastic showercap ;-).  Clean and bare.

Meanwhile, downstairs, we had another old bathroom (a blue one) that also wasn't going to get remodelled for the sale.

Its key features:

  • Tiny.
  • Small old-school mirror / medicine cabinet.
  • Boob ceiling light.


Have nothing in the bathroom unless it's absolutely essential.  Take everything out.  Here's what you can add back in:

  • Nice lush white towels, arranged nicely in a manner of your choosing.  Folded or rolled up = easy.
  • Artwork, if the space calls for it.  Nothing that will get damaged by the humidity of the shower - but something nice to look at.
  • Maybe a candle.
  • Hand soap (bottled, not a bar)
  • Toilet paper and its holder; tissues.
  • A plant or small flower arrangement, if space allows.  Ours did not.
  • A nice jar/container of cotton balls or cotton swabs, if you use that sort of thing.
  • Maybe - just maybe - a really nice bathroom mat.  White is best.  But I draw the line at toilet-seat covers!  Specifically shaggy ones!


We opted to re-caulk the tub and surrounding walls because the caulking had become so gross.  No matter how thoroughly we cleaned it, it was permanently black.  Ewww.

In fact, we had assumed the entire window frame in the shower had to be torn out and replaced, but after re-caulking and repainting it, it was actually in great shape.

Re-caulking is a time-consuming but very easy and inexpensive way to refresh the whole space.   Highly recommended.

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY Re-Caulking

Re-caulking is only a matter of removing the old caulking with a utility knife and scraper (and patience).  Then, using a caulking gun (under $10 at a hardware store), line the edges using a tube of bathroom caulking (also under $10).

Tip: for a nice smooth finish, put green painter's tape on either side of the line where you will apply the caulk.  Don't overdo it when squeezing it out.  Dip your finger in water and run it along the line of caulk. This removes the excess.  Remove the tape.  Real profesh like ;-)

Still too chicken to try DIY?  Start somewhere less conspicuous and you'll get the hang of it quickly.

Replacing the Medicine Cabinet

This is a pic of us closing up the medicine cabinet hole in the downstairs bathroom.

1.  We removed the old medicine cabinet (it was simply screwed in).
2.  Added tight-fitting wooden supports to hold the wood panel we would use to close up the hole.

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

3.  Secured the panel in place, closing up the hole.
4.  With a drywall patching kit and hole filler, sealed up the cracks/remaining gaps.

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

In the guest bath, we chose to replace the minuscule medicine cabinet with a very large mirror.  This brightened the tiny space and made it appear larger.

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

Note:  The fact that the medicine cabinet in the guest bath had remained empty for 5 years gave us the confidence we needed to replace it with a big flat mirror instead of another cabinet: we just had no use for one in there.  However, in the process we did learn something important:  when updating a bathroom, you shouldn't remove any of its functionality.  The mirror (but not necessarily the little cabinet behind it) is what was considered a basic part of this bathroom's functionality.  

In a main bathroom, by comparison, storage is absolutely essential!  That's why we replaced the yellow bathroom's cabinet with a more modern and spacious one.

Meanwhile, in the upstairs bathroom, we hung the new cabinet:

 How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY 

Updating the Lighting

Sorry, I didn't take a good before shot of the old fixture but believe me, it was old and hideous!

Below is a shot of the new fixture, simple and cute.  There was no overhead light, as that's where the ceiling fan is, only this light above the sink.

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

In the guest bath, we put in a modern, semi-flush-mount black drum fixture.  The black was a creative risk, but one that paid off well.  The black worked perfectly with the black tiles and black-and-white floors.

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

The End Results

Below are the end results, culminating in the realtor photos where you really get to see these old bathrooms looking their shiny best.

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

How to Stage an Old Bathroom from ZenShmen - Home Staging - DIY

If I'd had more time and more money, these bathrooms surely would have been very different.  But in the end, I'm happy with the results... and so were all the people who came and visited the house.
They loved the retro vibe, and how "well-maintained" they were.  The real story will remain our little secret ;-)

More Home Staging posts:


Curious to know more about the sale of our home went?  See:

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