Dark to Light
This is really a story about THREE makeovers, all of the same windowless, tiny bathroom…
…because you already know how much I really like painting. It’s never enough to do it once: I must do it wrong first, even wrong a second time, before I do it right.
So below is how my “blue bathroom” looked when I moved into the house. When I say tiny I mean tiny. And windowless. And dark. (We have two tiny bathrooms actually, but in 2010 I had never lived in a house with more than one bathroom so I was super happy about them both.)
There was only a single light fixture working back in 2010 so I had to use a flash for these photos. You can see how the previous owners kindly left us their pink polyester decor to go with the primer-white cabinet and the blue sink, tub, and toilet. Just look at those towel racks, calling out to you from the eighties. And the floor! I can only assume it had to have been “white” at some point. It was… aged now:
So the very first thing I did was trash the awful pink curtains and chrome towel racks, but I was still left with the fact that I had no money to change out those blue fixtures, or the ugly floor, or the hideous cabinet that was difficult to even get into with those levered doors and hinges full of white paint. I really didn’t know what to do - how to paint a windowless dark room with light blue sinks and a darker, turquoise blue bathtub?
I’m sure you already know what happened next. That’s right, I painted badly and without forethought. There was some leftover green paint in the basement, and I like to take risks so I thought to myself, “Hey, usually green and blue go together” and onto the walls it went. It still looked bad, especially with the beige floor and ugly countertop. Then to add insult to injury, since every other piece of trim in the house was painted dark brown at the time, I thought to myself, “Hey maybe the contrast will help and I hate that primer white anyway.” This was also clearly a bad choice, because of course chocolate brown is ridiculously dark, and no amount of paint was going to disguise that hideous cabinet anyway. (I’m pretty sure the thing was made with leftover construction materials.)
For almost ten years, the bathroom stayed in that state. I loathed it and stayed out of the room as much as possible, mostly to avoid the overwhelming desire to take a sledge hammer to that counter top.
Then in 2019 we bit the bullet and did some badly-needed upgrades to our little house: new roof, sliding glass door replacement, electrical work, a very small solar panel system. After much argument with my husband (he cares nothing for color, the philistine) I managed to slip a few bathroom upgrades into the budget too.
It was a small budget of course, so I had to get creative. That tub ($) wasn’t going anywhere so I still needed to somehow deal with the blue color. I spent hours looking at room design blogs online (okay, I do this for fun anyway) searching for a solution to a windowless, dark room. “How to paint a windowless bathroom” in Google. Most design blogs will tell you to just freaking paint it white already, but there were some others advocating a more dramatic, colorful approach - like beautiful jewel tones and paint the ceiling the same color, and romantic ideas like that, all with perfectly staged photos. It all looked so beautiful online!
So you know what happened next. I fell for that sweet talk and decided to paint the room “dramatically”, but adding my own flair of a “sky” ceiling and optimistically-planned painted birds too. I also upgraded to a real actual nice-looking vanity and new faucets. (That was Priority No. 1.) And a new toilet. The old blue toilet used about 10 gallons of water with every flush, and the water pump was now off-grid on solar (which was my winning argument. Sweet.)
So that’s what I did, I painted deep colors, but somehow (…somehow) I missed the whole point and instead of jewel tones I actually painted the walls a dark grey. And the trim black, to go with the black toilet. I had visions of making the blue stand out as a centerpiece color. (Stop looking at me that way. I had the word “neutrals” on the brain - “what will go with a turquoise blue tub?”)
But grey? Freaking iron grey? wtf Sarah.
It literally felt like a cave. A dark, dark cave with a beautiful (dark) new vanity and a lovely new black toilet that I could barely see. We had pulled up that awful 80’s vinyl flooring and put down plywood, so I painted that too. Dark colors of course. To make matters worse, I hung a galvanized head-banger-shelf that jutted out into the room, along with a towel rack that had no other place to go but… looming over the toilet. You know, just to make it even more cramped than it already was. By this time I had abandoned the bird-painting part so the ceiling was just this weird partly-painted cloud…. thing. I think my subconscious was just disgusted with me by then.
For pete’s sake we could hardly see in there:
In my defense, I did paint the door a most beautiful tomato red color which I loved, and I did find an awesome piece of fabric for a shower curtain that offset that blue tub and made it all sort-of work for a year or so:
So fast-forward to the present day. We lived with the Dark Cave for a couple of years (it was a fitting start for 2020), and of course husband was all, “I don’t see the problem”, while I was feeling the walls closing in every time I visited the room. (Or maybe that’s just because it was 2020, not sure.)
The decision was made to try again (by me of course, husband groaned “not again”.) I still couldn’t afford a new tub, so a re-paint it would have to be, and I would need to get creative again to have it look right with that god-awful blue. Off to the design blogs again, and this time I paid better attention: White, Sarah. White.
I can’t stand stark, “primer” white, it’s just so empty and cold, so I researched some nice, warmer whites and found one to try. The design blogs also advised using gloss paint in a bathroom, which I hadn’t used since the 80’s and never thought I would again. But okay. They said white, gloss, and mirrors, so I took the plunge.
Now, I’ve painted a lot in my life. I’m pretty good at the actual task, and I’m strong so I can get a lot done in a short time. I’m really good at “cutting in” too. Not this time. Gloss paint is a whole other animal, and it ain’t easy to keep it from dripping everywhere. I had to go slow, and ended up doing three coats. At first it looked such a mess, especially over the dark grey, like this:
After the third coat though, I stood back and noticed that White Dove gloss paint really is as nice as they said it was - a beautiful creamy white. I was very pleased.
Now at this point the design pros will say to paint every single thing the same white color in a tiny windowless room, including trim and furniture, but I just couldn’t do it… that’s just too clinical and boring. I did decide to paint the inside of the medicine cabinet gloss white, which turned out to be an excellent decision, and to paint the ceiling white too but then kept the slanted side-wall with some of the sky painting. (I deepened the contrast in it and made the blue go with the tub, and brightened up the clouds. I WILL paint birds like I did before on it later and post it.)
Then I painted the vanity. A bright red. Gloss red, even. And, since the toilet and vanity top were unavoidably black, I kept the black trim along the floor.
Painting a cabinet gloss red is an interesting experience. Part of me was whispering, “wait nooo, you are going to regret this!” the whole time (especially during the initial messy coats) and the other part of me was, “Oh come on it’s just paint, live a little” which is the part of my soul that won out. This time when I was done I felt like a real designer, it was so pretty! I did a really perfect job too, even updated the hardware. No paint on my hinges, baby:
I still wasn’t done. As you can see I changed the floor too. This is how I did it, very inexpensively, using Wall Pops peel and stick floor tiles. I am quite impressed with how they turned out. It changed the entire room, it was pretty easy to do, and they’ve stayed stuck perfectly since. Walking around on it I’ve already forgotten that they’re stick ‘em tiles.
In addition I added some thin molding all around my sky painting, to give it a “window” effect, and I painted the wicker hamper white and the towels are kept in there now, out of the way. I repainted the door white with red and black details. Even though it was already that really pretty red, it unfortunately clashed with the vanity gloss red. I even changed the shower curtain, because I was going for a light experience this time. Even the blue is no longer god-awful! Then I added two more mirrors, and the light was bouncing allovertheplace, just like the designer blogs said it would.
So now for the BIG REVEAL. Will you just look at those no-longer-dark corners? I mean looky:
Take a look at the medicine cabinet too. This thing is from the 1960’s and it was a horrible dirty, rusty beige before. The gloss paint hid that beautifully. I even changed my husband’s toothbrush cup to white. (“Really Sarah? I needed a new red-and-white toothbrush too?”) Like I said, a philistine.
As you can see, the room is utterly transformed, this time in a good way. A Dark to Light way!
Note by the way: I’m not one of those people doing Amazon links to products. I’m just linking them so you can try them too. I would rather people just buy a print or a poster from me, or throw a few bucks my way just because they love ❤️ me.