Since well before the bathroom renovation plan, we’d been hearing from guests that the bathroom lacked storage. I started looking on Craigslist for deals, and found a listing for some items from an impending demolition.
When we got out of the car at the location in Long Beach, I thought we were in the wrong place! The home displayed sorority letters, Gamma something something, and I wasn’t even aware we were near a school. The seller’s contact (I’m not quite sure what to call him, as he wasn’t the seller personally, but seemed like the head of the work force beginning construction on the home) met us and confirmed that this was indeed the place. It turns out the 1920s multistory home (as well as the house and gameroom/garage in the back) was about to be gutted and totally revamped. The cabinet I’d originally had my eye on from the post turned out to be a new particleboard reproduction, so we almost walked out disappointed- until the seller’s contact pointed to another mirrored cabinet on a different floor. Both cabinets had been painted into the walls, and we’d brought tools as advised. This cabinet appeared to be original to the home, and was about to be destroyed- so for $20, we removed it! Jon enjoyed trashing the wall while removing the cabinet (and unfortunately damaging some of the cabinet’s trim along the way).
We don’t have a before picture of the cabinet in its original wall, but here‘s a similar-looking one (the one on the left, all painted over).
This restoration happened in several chunks:
Restoring the door
I used a heat gun to strip off all the layers of paint, which actually came off pretty easily before I sanded the door. Unfortunately, I scratched the glass a bit with my Dremel while sanding the smaller sides. Hopefully I can remedy some of those scratched areas.
The stripped wood looked fantastic, but finding matching wood for trim proved difficult. Without knowing what type of wood the cabinet was originally made from, we couldn’t know how well a stain would penetrate or what color we’d end up with. In terms of grain choice alone, red oak seemed like the best option, but its color varies from light golden brown to deep red- even on one board! After spending nearly an hour at Home Depot with the existing mirror, trying to choose a board that matched, we left victorious with a 10-ft red oak board, a light stain, and crossed fingers in hopes that the color would make the boards match.
Matching the colors was a bit tricky, especially considering the hardness of the new oak compared with the soft original (not to mention absorbent) cabinet door wood. I knew I could sand off any layers that didn’t work and possibly buy a second color of stain if I didn’t like the effects of the first one, so I just went for it. Three coats on the new wood matched one on the vintage piece. However, the semi-gloss stain+varathane became much more glossy with three coats than with one, so I added a clear polyurethane on the door itself. Though the colors of the new and old don’t exactly match everywhere, neither do all 4 sides of the mirror to each other!
Paint so caked the hardware that it wouldn’t even latch or move. The inside of the cabinet contained glitter (remember, sorority) and stains, and the back had serious water damage. Jon popped off the back, replaced it with some luan, and repainted the inside and shelves. Meanwhile, I removed the paint from the hardware using a crock pot and laundry soap (more on that in a separate post soon). I got the hardware to function normally and look brand new!
Installing the cabinet
Here’s where we ran into some real problems. It turns out that inside this wall (which used to be an exterior wall before the bathroom was added on) the builders had installed the PVC waste pipe vent in that exact section of the wall. The wall also contained a bunch of thick and sturdy “true twos” (2x4s in their original measurement- now they usually measure only about 1.5×3.5) in the way of the intended cabinet space.
Jon devised and installed a waste pipe vent solution by routing it out through the wall (into the basement stairwell), up a short amount, then back inside the wall over the cabinet. A few PVC connectors made this connection easy. Since all that work damaged the plaster wall in the basement stairwell, we just installed a simple board over the damaged area for now.
He also laboriously sawed through the existing true twos and added some smaller boards to create a partial wood frame for the cabinet to anchor into.
We mounted it somewhat higher than normal, both because of the existing electrical outlet and because we wanted the mirror accessible to both short and tall people; tall people like Jon couldn’t see into the mirror at all before, and the narrow bath doesn’t allow for any stepping back to widen the viewpoint.
We’re keeping the inside of the bathroom light to make sure it doesn’t look even smaller than it is with dark accents. Oh, and yes- we realize this doesn’t fit with the final bathroom plan, but many of the changes in that final plan will involve moving plumbing and spending lots of money, so we’re keeping it simple for now and only changing smaller items to make the space more functional and, of course, beautiful.
It’s finally all in! Enjoy!