Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report—Special Edition

Today’s report is considerably closer to home than usual, as I am reporting on the renovation of our own master bathroom. This is a project that, although it was years overdue, came up very suddenly. After months of calling contractors who’d left their cards, only to get no return call, we finally got one to get back to us, and, since he had immediate availability, we had less than a week to choose tile, fixtures, etc. If we had had more lead time, we might have made some different choices, and some compromises were required just because ours is an old house, but we are reasonably well satisfied with the results.

I can’t overemphasize how impressed we were with our renovators, Jason Ile and Jonathan Barnhart, partners in J Squared Construction (shown below when they appeared on the first day of work). Although they are both relatively young, both have many years of experience in construction, beginning in childhood (when he was 10, Jason said). They are both perfectionists, so everything was done right. Jason was endlessly patient with our dithering and our unreasonable requests, and the job was finished pretty much within the estimated time despite setbacks that no one could have predicted. They are hard workers, too, working straight through the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and till 6:30 or 7 many evenings to get to a stopping point. We hired J Squared with no references other than the recommendation of our next-door neighbor, but I would heartily recommend them to anyone for a similar job. I have urged them to put up a Facebook page where they can post photos of their work, but since they seem to be fully employed with only word-of-mouth advertising, perhaps this is unnecessary! [Update: They have put up a Facebook page here.]


In contrast to the master bathrooms in all the houses I usually write about, ours is about as small as a bathroom can be and still contain a tub/shower, toilet, and lavatory. So there was limited scope for grandiosity in our design. As can be seen from the photos below, the spacing is quite compact.

The previous owners did build a “dressing table” in an alcove of the bedroom outside the bathroom. We added the built-in drawers, and this “dressing area” largely compensates for being rather cramped in the bathroom.

The current color scheme was off-white, and we were very tired of that. We knew we wanted very neutral colors—mostly white with perhaps some black or grey. When we renovated the hall bath in 1991, we got grey-speckled white tile for the floor and walls, paired with dark grey paint and a dark grey Formica countertop. This color scheme has worked well, permitting use of practically any accent color (hot pink until recently).

Our search for tile was confusing and frustrating, but at least the choice was somewhat limited by the fact that the current vogue is for earth tones, and we knew we wanted white/grey. We looked at Hood’s Discount Home Center in Foley, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and ultimately Wade Distributing Co. in Foley. There we saw some porcelain tile that we might have liked (shown below), but the Wade location there is just a showroom; tile has to be ordered and takes a week to come; we didn’t have a week. So we settled on white subway tile for the tub surround and white mosaic tile for the floor, with a mosaic border in the tub.

Jason had emailed us several photos of ideas, and this one was one we kept going back to and saying, “Yeah, do that.” This shows the tile I actually wanted for the floors, though what I got was okay.


Construction began the day after Labor Day, September 6, and was completed on September 15. During that time, Barney and I both took photos obsessively at times and sporadically at others. In the end, I had over 150 photos of the process, not to mention dozens of photos we’d taken in stores. Needless to say, I haven’t included them all, but I did select quite a few, so if you are impatient, just scroll down to “After” to see the end results.

Here is the bathroom cleared for action (except for removing the toilet lid cover). Barney had removed the solid brass toilet paper and toothbrush holders.

The first order of business was to rip everything out. In this photo, the old vanity and toilet have been removed. The vanity had been junk from its inception (homemade—not by us), but we salvaged the toilet, as it was still perfectly good (in some ways better than a new one).

Our tub/shower was a one-piece precast fiberglass unit that had been installed during construction of the master bedroom addition. In order to remove it, Jonathan had to cut it up into pieces.

Ultimately all the walls were stripped back to the studs, but the disheartening first-day discovery was that there were no actual studs in the back (north) wall of the bathroom—just 1×4s to which the wallboard had been tacked.

What is behind these “studs” is what was once the back outside wall of the house, and between this old wall and the new one, a lot of assorted junk had been used as “insulation.”

We knew that a large part of the floor was rotten. That had been one of the reasons for needing the renovation: some years ago, our toilet had threatened to fall into the laundry room below and had been temporarily shored up with a square of OSB (as shown in the first two photos above). Since that time, the bathroom carpet (originally an extension of the white carpet in the bedroom) had been missing its pad, which had been ripped out during the repair. In order to create a smooth and secure surface for the floor tile, part of the floor had to be replaced.

One of the odd conveniences of our house is that our bedroom has a door leading out onto the porch roof. The story we were told was that the previous owners (who built the bedroom addition) had planned to build a deck but hadn’t gotten around to it before the breadwinner was transferred to Tuscaloosa. Since both our front and back staircases are narrow and twisty, it has been very handy to have this alternative access for bringing in large objects (double dresser, box spring), and in this situation the porch roof also doubled as a workbench.

The guys had also brought a trailer (Jason later said he wished he had brought his larger one) to dump their trash in. At the end of the job, this was taken to the dump.

In this photo, Jonathan has constructed one of the needed studs. The absence of others did make it easy for him to install a new exhaust fan from above!

This photo, taken a little before 10 on Wednesday morning, shows the old plumbing.

By 3 in the afternoon, Jason had completely replumbed the bathroom (using PEX tubing), now with Jonathan’s new studs in place, and insulation was being installed. Also, during that period, Jason had been able to replace the faulty shower valve in the hall bathroom (which backs up to this one), giving us a shower that finally, after all these years, actually works!

A major leap forward: the last act of the day is to bring the tub in. This really was an achievement because so much prep work had been required to get the room ready for it.

This photo shows the door previously mentioned. The plastic “path” remained in place during most of the construction, as both Jason and Jon were in and out frequently (also up and down the back stairs to their trailer).

Here’s the new tub in place Thursday morning before beginning of work.

Moisture barrier has been installed, followed by the cement board for the tile.

These clever plastic inserts facilitate creation of “cubbies” in the tile wall.

The cement board installation is complete, along with PURPLE® XP® drywall. We ended up having new drywall all around. Jonathan had started stripping wallpaper off the remaining walls, but when it got to the point where he was pulling off smaller and smaller pieces, Barney commented that he’d rather pay for more drywall than pay him by the hour to pick off wallpaper!

Jonathan has created the ornamental tile border (using a scrap of the drywall as a temporary guide) and started applying the subway tile.

Jason starts work on the floor tile.

In our back yard, Jonathan cuts tile. He actually cut a lot of it unnecessarily, but that’s a story for another day! We were blessed with perfect weather during almost the entire construction period, which was important because so much of their work was done outside.

The finished tile (before grout), at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. On the right, notice the towel bar. This was one of my “nonnegotiable demands,” and although Jason claimed to be unable to locate this obsolete fixture, I was not willing to take no for an answer. I searched online and found that the Daphne Home Depot had three in stock. He reported that it was very dusty! You can see from the “Before” photos that the cabinet over the toilet had a towel bar where we hung washcloths. We never actually used them, but I figured if they were hanging actually in the tub, perhaps we would. In any case, in losing the cabinet, we were going to lose the towel bar in that location, so some replacement was necessary.

Beadboard paneling and molding have been installed.

The tub enclosure has been grouted—it doesn’t look very promising!

This was something new Jason was trying—and liking. It’s special ceiling paint that is tinted pink so you can see, when you apply it, where you have painted and where you have missed. It dries white. (I thought the name on the can was Sherwin-Williams, but the only thing I can find online like this is Glidden.)

Dark grout on the floor—again, requiring a leap of faith!

Dark grey wall paint makes the finished tiling and painted wainscoting pop.

The light fixture has been installed.

The vanity and countertop/lavatory are in. Although the countertop is marble, the sink is vitreous china. This was another of my requisites. Our previous countertop had been molded cultured marble, and, although it had given us quite a few good years of service (probably at least 25 of the 36 years we’ve been in the house), for quite a few years the sink had been worn down to the underlying chalk in places, making it difficult to clean, not to mention unsightly. We opted for a 31″ countertop and larger vanity to replace the 24″ one. I’m not sure we need the extra storage space we gain in the cabinet, but the extra countertop space will be very welcome.

Jason installs the curtain rod, a curved one, which we’re actually not crazy about but will get used to. After this photo was taken, it had to be relocated because we determined that a standard 72″ ×72″ shower curtain would not reach the tub, and the shortest “extra-long” one (84″) would drag on the floor.


These photos were taken when construction was complete but before the room had been “dressed.”

These were taken after furnishings had been added.

In this photo you can glimpse the new solid panel door (with brushed nickel lever lockset) that replaced a flush hollow door. Jonathan worked hard at getting this squared up (the old one was poorly installed) and perfecting the threshold.


For those who are interested in such things, the paint color (from Home Depot) is Antique Tin (PPU18-03). The vanity (Kountry Wood) and the Carrara marble countertop are from Hood’s. The vanity light (from Lowe’s) is Kichler Oxby. The wall cabinet (also from Lowe’s) is Glacier Bay Lancaster. The lavatory fixture is Delta Everly from Home Depot. We had wanted the widespread model but had to settle for the centerset because that’s the way the marble vanity top was drilled.

The shower fixtures are a combination. The Delta hand shower with slide bar came from Lowe’s; the valve, faucet, shower arm, and flange are Delta Celice from Home Depot (the “rain”-style shower head was not used).

The accessories—26″ × 23″ pivoting wall mirror, 24″ double towel bar, towel ring, toilet paper holder, tank lever, and double robe hook—all in spot-resist brushed nickel, are all Moen Banbury, from Home Depot.

The Better Homes and Gardens waffle stripe pieced-fabric shower curtain is from Walmart; the other furnishings—Antique Pewter soap dispenser, Antique Pewter tumbler, black marble toothbrush holder, brushed nickel shower curtain hooks, Flat Gray 20″ × 34″ rug, Flat Gray contour rug, and Flat Gray toilet lid cover—are from Target. The shower curtain, in addition to being quite attractive, has the bonus feature that it can be hung with the stripes running either horizontally or vertically.

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