My husband fell in love with me over drywall. Seriously.
You could be forgiven for assuming that the foundation of our 30-year relationship must have been mutual interests, shared values, or our virtually identical sense of humor. Or that my quick wit, kind heart, and cute little 22-year-old figure (remember those?) were responsible for sealing the deal. But nope. It was drywall. And also, a bit of ceramic tile. Blue and white, if I remember correctly.
Let me explain.
Peter and I met back in the Pleistocene Era while working for the same newspaper. (Remember those?) He had a girlfriend and I had a boyfriend, but we made each other laugh and quickly became pals. In fact, I liked him so much that when his relationship ended, I tried to set him up with my sister. (First and last time I ever played matchmaker. Apparently, it doesn’t work so well if you end up marrying the guy yourself.)
I was living at the time in the suburbs of Boston, in my first-ever solo apartment, which I will very generously call a “flea pit.” It was a basement unit in a two-story house, located right off the laundry room. The rooms that had windows — and not all of them did — faced north, and I cringe to think about what one of those special UV lights might have revealed about the carpet. (Insert full-body shudder here.)
Among its many other charms, the apartment sported a large, rectangular protrusion in one corner of the living room.
A little higher than a counter and maybe 5 x 3 feet, it was put there, presumably, to cover something. (Part of the foundation? Sewer pipes? A dead body?) And at some point, somebody had made the horrifying decision to encase the thing in vinyl. Like you would a kitchen floor. A cheap kitchen floor. On what was essentially a wall.
I hadn’t been there a month before I decided the vinyl had to go. What we needed was a wall. Mind you, I was 22 at the time and had no idea what walls were made of. It wasn’t something I could google — this was loooong before God created the Internet. So I headed down to the local hardware store, asked the hardware store guy what walls were made of, and ended up with a nice big piece of Sheetrock.
I covered the protrusion in Sheetrock, put metal trim along the edges, and taped over the seams. I spackled and primed it, and then I did some kind of decorative paint job on it. (No judgment, please. It was the 80s.) I also taught myself how to lay tile while creating a backsplash in the teeny-tiny kitchen. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could do to improve the place without a wheelbarrow full of dynamite and one very large dumpster.
Mission accomplished, I artfully arranged my futon sofa in the living room, plumped the pillows on my futon bed in the bedroom, and settled in for the short haul.
Several months later, after I’d met Peter, he saw my place for the first time and made a favorable comment about the decorative paint job on my protrusion.
(Best pick-up line ever.) So I told him all about the vinyl and the drywall, the spackling and the priming, and even showed off my newly tiled kitchen backsplash.
Well, apparently, that was the moment my husband fell in love with me. It seems that my glass-half-full, cockeyed optimist, why-live-with-just-okay-when-you-can-make-something-better,-even-if-it’s-just-a-crappy-little-rental approach to life was irresistible to him. Go figure. He did a full-court press, I broke up with my boyfriend, and the rest is history. (Sorry, Bob.)
Moral of the story? That place you’re living in right now is your home.
Even if it doesn’t belong to you, or you’re only planning to be there for a year, or you can’t afford a pricey renovation, there are steps you can take to make it just a little bit more beautiful. And that little bit of beauty is going to make you just a little bit happier. Every single day.
How much happiness will that add up to at the end of one calendar year? I have no idea. But it’s more happiness than you’re experiencing now, right?
That’s not to say you have to master drywall. (Unless you’re looking for a spouse, in which case, I highly recommend it.) Some of my favorite quick fixes involve temporary wallpaper (the honest-to-God Eighth Wonder of the World! Line the back of a bookcase with it; pop it on the front of your kitchen cabinets; slip it onto the risers of your stairs. It’s miraculous!).
I’ve also been known to salvage a depressingly dull kitchen with colorful cabinet knobs and drawer pulls. And, of course, there’s always paint, glorious paint. A mere twenty bucks can make the difference between despair and delight every time you walk into your living room.
So that’s my spiel. Be kind to yourself. Feed your soul. Renovate your bathroom. You will be amazed at the joy it can bring to your life.
And who knows? It might even get you a husband.
There’s more where this came from…
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SKIP TO THE LOO
Outdated bathrooms are one of my favorite spaces to beautify. Fortunately for me, the world is full of them.
What’s the attraction? For one thing, they’re small — which means you can scratch that instant gratification itch and transform them in a day or two. Also, the furniture has pretty much already been decided for you. (Think about it.) So that’s one less element to figure out.
Most of the time, we’re really just talking about a fresh coat of paint, a new shower curtain, a rug, and some accessories. And that, my friends, takes a weekend.
As with any design project, the key to success in bathroom updatification is knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing to the space. In other words, what is your plan? This is a key concept and one that research shows is only grasped in any meaningful way by a mere 4 percent of the home-dwelling population. (And by “research,” I mean my own personal perusal of property listings on realtor.com. Oy!)
But think about it: You wouldn’t try to shop for dinner ingredients without knowing what you’re making, would you?
Well, some of you might — like my friend Alison, who can just pick up whatever looks fresh at the farmers’ market and then brainstorm her way into some kind of James Beard-ian masterpiece. If you’re one of those, then it is not you to whom I speak. (Except to say, can you make me dinner sometime next week?) It’s the rest of us, who typically need to know what ingredients a recipe calls for before we start tossing things into the cart.
So how do you plan the ingredient list for your bathroom?
Step One: Identify what’s good (or at least salvageable) about the space and what’s not-so-good (or downright horrific).
Step Two: Come up with a strategy for how best to play up the good/salvageable.
Step Three: Make a plan for minimizing the not-so-good/downright horrific.
Allow me to illustrate:
Here’s a small, outdated bathroom in a rental apartment that I once had the pleasure of “refreshing.”
The “good” list for this space is pretty darn short: namely, the grey tile. Neutral, inoffensive, versatile. I can work with that.
The not-so-good list takes up a bit more screen space.
First off: that peachy pink tub and matching floor tile from the 1950s? Just . . . no. Also, the space is rather small by modern bathroom standards. And the cabinet sink practically screams “generic rental apartment on the cheap.”
So how would you perk up this space?
You might be tempted to put all your energy into finding a colorful shower curtain to deflect attention from the icky bits, but that’s just going to make the room feel even smaller.
How can you make it feel larger? One word: Monochrome.
Extending the grey color of the tile all the way up to the ceiling and continuing it onto the shower curtain will eliminate any horizontal and vertical lines that would chop the space up into little pieces and make it seem excessively Lilliputian.
And here’s another miraculous trick for giving the illusion of size in a bathroom: Raise the shower curtain rod. Did you know that you can buy 84” shower curtains and liners? (A standard one typically comes in at 72” high). You can find scads of them on Amazon or Etsy. Try it.* If you don’t think it makes your bathroom look bigger, I’ll eat my shower cap.
Okay. Now that we’ve hidden the hideous bathtub, covered up most of the ugly floor tile (with a neutral rug), and made the room feel as large as possible through the magic of monochrome, it’s time to create a focal point, a.k.a. a beautiful fabric shade on the window.
You know who can do that for you? Smith & Noble. You just order a bunch of free swatches (do not skip this step!), pick one that both fits into your color scheme and makes your heart sing, and you’re ready to roll.
For this bathroom, I chose a delicate floral pattern that doesn’t overwhelm the neutral scheme, but adds just a touch of color. How did I know what color to choose? Well, there was no way in Hades I was going with the dated peachy-pink of that bathtub, but I did need to use a color that complemented it and didn’t feel like it was coming out of left field.
So I went with persimmon — for both the Roman shade and the towels. A glass shelf over the toilet keeps things light and airy (a.k.a. not small-looking) and new glass knobs for the base and medicine cabinets class things up a bit.
And there you have it. One perfectly serviceable bathroom that also happens to be a lovely place to … er, um . . . “spend time.” Doesn’t that feel better?
* If you’re a renter, be sure to use a tension rod for this, rather than one that’s attached to the wall. That’ll keep your landlord happy when it’s time to move. Just slide the rod back down to standard height on your way out the door and no one will ever know about all the crazy things that have been going on in your loo.