Trying Not to Ruin the Wallpaper

It's done! It's done! The powder room is done!

Wallpaper is "Mountains" by Miss Print courtesy of Wallpaper Direct, soap dish & hook are from Signature Hardware, and mirror is from Homegoods

If you’re confused because you saw me finish the wallpaper 4 months ago, then that makes two of us. What feels like an eternity in blogging years was double that IRL (that's 8 months, in case it's too early to be doing math where you are). And yet the powder room was still not finished! What was the hold-up, you ask?? 

Gardenia soap dish form Signature Hardware & "Mountains" by Miss Pixie wallpaper

A spot for the soap & hand towel. A small thing, I know – & yet so important. I should probably be embarrassed, but I’m too busy being relieved. It was like running the race of my life and then crawling the last 20 meters in Crane Pose. Anti-climactic much?

I've never given much thought to the soap & hand towel sitch in other bathrooms. The soap goes on the counter, the towel goes on the towel bar. #NoBrainer And yet suddenly it wasn't so obvious once I found myself with a doll-sized bathroom, a doll-sized sink and wallpaper that I'm terrified of putting holes in. What I really wanted was this mirror from Anthropologie (or this one!) with an attached shelf for soap because that would be a 2 birds 1 stone scenario – but I couldn't bring myself to spend $300 on a mirror for the powder room. Maybe someday...

I was driving myself crazy looking at affordable options & liking none of them when I stumbled upon these little cuties on Signature Hardware’s website. They were simpler and more rustic than anything I'd considered before, but I think that’s what I liked most about them. The wallpaper is the true star here, and these guys are perfectly happy to be out of the limelight and revel in their understated charm.

      Gardenia Soap Dish

      Gardenia Soap Dish

 Solid brass hook with porcelain knob

 Solid brass hook with porcelain knob

I was gonna have to suck it up and put some holes in the wall. Four to be exact – enough to nearly give me a heart attack! So I did what any normal person does when they think they're having a heart attack – I consulted the all-knowing interwebs. Obviously. Experts seem to agree on this method for protecting the sanctity of your wallpaper: cut an upside down V in the wallpaper, peel it down and put your nail hole directly in the drywall. Then, when you decide to move whatever was hung there, you should be able to paste the paper flap back where it was for a seamless repair. It sounds pretty clever – but I'm hoping I never have to find out if it actually works. I just went with it, and so far so cute.


Signature Hardware's Gardenia soap dish & solid metal hook in oil-rubbed bronze

All the success stories I’ve read to date talk about using this trick for itty bitty nail holes. I, on the other hand, needed some big honkin’ craters for drywall anchors and screws. That complicates matters because any repairs would require me to remove the anchors, spackle the gaping hole where my heart used to be and sand it down to be level with the drywall I can no longer see – all without messing up the wallpaper. Should be fun! This is either a really dumb idea, or it’s a perfect example of "scaling up." Don't worry, guys. I have some spare paper lying around if things go totally bananas.

If you have wallpaper and feel like taking a leap of faith with me, here’s how I hung these fixtures:

1. I started by choosing a position on the wall. This gets its own step because what's usually a simple task feels like a high-stakes gamble when wallpaper is involved. I wanted the soap & towel to be convenient to reach when standing at the sink so guests don't have to bend down, reach up, or smush their arms like a T-Rex to dry their hands. I also wanted them to sit at a point in the pattern that would help me camouflage future hypothetical repairs.

Powder room complete with Signature Hardware soap dish & towel hook as well as Miss Pixie's Mountains wallpaper

2. Next, I leveled the hanging plate and just barely marked my holes with pencil. When I say "just barely," I mean my mark could have been confused for a microscopic dust particle. It’s a miracle I could see it at all.

Use a level to mark the position for a soap dish

3. Then I held my drywall anchors up to the wall & centered it on the microscopic-dust-flake-of-a-mark to determine how big of an upside-down V I needed to cut. The answer, to my dismay, was “Really big.” : [

I held the drywall anchor up to the wall to mark the size of the cut in the wallpaper

4. Then for the “Here goes nothing” moment — I used an Exacto knife to cut the upside-down V big enough to comfortably surround the drywall anchor on all sides....... What's done is done.

5. Gently, carefully, nervously I peeled the wallpaper back from the wall and bent it down. My two cut-outs looked like evil Jack-o’-lantern eyes saying, “What have you done?!”

I peeled back the wallpaper to make room for my drywall anchors

6. Then it was time to bring out the big guns, and by guns I mean drill. I drilled 1/4” holes on my original marks and then screwed in the cool drywall anchors that came with my soap dish. Those eyes just got a little creepier...

Drywall anchors in

7. From there it was a matter of attaching & adjusting the hanging plate so it was level. I screwed it in most of the way, checked the level and then tightened it down. The actual soap dish hooked onto the plate with a little screw. 

I used my drill to drive screws into the anchors

It was essentially the same dealio for the towel hook, but with smaller holes and cutouts. Thank god. So there you have it. This room is fully functioning now! And my little Low-Cost-And-Found stool that I made from a lampshade is doing a fine job holding that extra toilet paper!

The powder room is finally finished after adding Signature Hardware fixtures for hand soap & towel.

This entire powder room makeover cost me less than $150, and the results are not too shabby if I do say so myself! It wins the honor of being the first "finished" room in the house. Also the smallest. ; ] Huge thanks once again to Dana Miller of HouseTweaking & Wallpaper Direct for gifting me this awesome wallpaper. The pattern is "Mountains" by Miss Print. 

From the Window, To the Wall

Last weekend I finally worked up the courage to install the medicine cabinet that's been sitting on top of the dryer for about a year. I was so excited to score it for $25 at Second Look Consignment – less excited about cutting a big hole in the drywall to install it. I could have mounted it on the wall, but a mirror jutting out 4 inches from the wall felt like an invasion of the little space we have. I put it off for a long time for fear of what lies beyond the wall (GoT, anyone?). There could be any number of things: pipes, wires, electrical boxes, or wall studs to name a few. I finally faced the uncertainty last week, and it turns out reality is stranger than fiction. 

Do you see what I see? A bow, a bow, dancing in the night!

I discovered a secret window. Apparently when the extension on our house was built, no one bothered to remove the original window…or the blinds... or the Christmas bow from 1949 (actual year unknown). I was sawing away at the drywall and discovered it while Eli watched World War Z on surround sound downstairs – so I was pretty sure I'd just unearthed a portal for the undead. My only defense was the saw in my hand, but it's been a week and I still have a heartbeat, so I think we're in the clear. Any zombie-like resemblance or behavior can be blamed on a lack of sleep and dehydration ; ]

For about a second I considered opening the adjoining wall in the bedroom so we'd have a window and natural light in the bathroom, but then I regained my sanity. Clearly no good could come from a drive-thru window to the loo. If only I'd found something more useful – like a wall of gold bars or a suitcase full o' cash! The last person who lived in this house grew up in the Great Depression, so there's still hope.

According to a This Old House tutorial I read, installing a medicine cabinet should be a pretty straightforward process. In my case it was what I like to call "an opportunity for creativity." The window wasn't going anywhere easily, and its rock-solid frame was butting into the space we needed for the cabinet. Let's say it together, "Bummerrrr."

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's go back to the beginning, so I can show you the whole process from soup to nuts. Rest assured, this story has a happy ending.

Before: Builder-grade mirror looking less than wonderful
After: A thrifted medicine cabinet brings a bit of elegance to a small bathroom

I started by measuring the back of the cabinet, which would need to slide into the wall ( 12" x 16" x 4" ), and then I used a measuring tape and laser level to mark the position so it was centered over the faucet. I had Eli hold the cabinet up to the wall so we could determine a height that worked for both of us. It turns out our happy place is about 11 inches between the bottom of the mirror and the countertop.

Once we had our placement drawn on the wall with a pencil, I used a studfinder to mark wall studs in the vicinity. This is the point at which I rejoiced because – YAY – the studs were perfectly centered around the faucet! I should be able to slide the cabinet in between them easy peasy. Ha ha, joke was on me. You know what they say: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. See my reflection in the hole below? Let's call that foreshadowing.

I carefully cut a small hole with a jab saw to check for wires and pipes.
I cut a small hole to check for pipes or wires

I used a jabsaw to carefully cut a 4" x 4" hole within my mark to do some reconnaissance. This Old House recommends driving a long screw thru the drywall to use as a handle for pulling it out once it's cut, which I thought was pretty clever idea. I did my best not to jab beyond the drywall (since I didn't know what was back there), and then I used a flashlight to look for pipes, wires or electrical boxes. Finding none of those things, I cut over to my actual mark and made my way around the larger rectangle. Clearly visible was the glint of glass, but I was too intrigued to turn back now!

This is where things got hairy. While I was busy laughing about the window (or zombie portal...?), the lil Christmas bow, and how lucky we got with the studs, Eli was keenly noticing the issue with the window frame. Typically, studs are 2" wide and 4" deep, so it makes sense that medicine cabinets are 4" deep to take full advantage of that space in the wall. In our case, the stud on the left was rotated because the window frame was all up in its grill, making the stud only 2 inches deep. Including the drywall, we had about 2.5 inches of usable space for our 4-inch deep medicine cabinet. Ughhhh.

The medicine cabinet won't fit all the way into the wall
The 2x4 was rotated to accommodate the window that was in the way of the stud

We had a few options. We could have slid the whole mirror to the right of the window frame, but that would make our mirror off-center and we'd have to cut the stud on the right. We also could have stuffed our valuables into the wall, re-attached the original mirror, and pretended like nothing ever happened ("What hole in the wall? ... Oh you mean our safe!") I didn't like either of those options, so I decided to build a new wooden frame around the outside of the hole that would make up the 1.5 inches we lost.

But first, I had to add 2 x 4s at the top and bottom of the space to support the cabinet. I cut them down to size and secured each piece one at a time. I lined it up to be flush with the opening and drove 1.5 inch drywall screws thru the wall and into the wood. Then I pre-drilled a hole going through the new wood and the original stud at a 45-degree angle and followed up with 2.5" decking screws. I secured each block to the left & right wall studs, so those suckers are SECURE. 

We screwed in new 2x4s at the top and the bottom of the hole

In a perfect scenario, we could have slid the cabinet in at this point, driven a few screws through the sides and called it a day. Alas, the window necessitated a few extra steps before any days could be called. Next up: building the outer frame. The edges would be visible when the cabinet was open (or by looking at it from the toilet...but why?), so I went with select pine board with nicely finished sides...none of that knotty bizness. I picked up a 6 foot piece of 1" x 2" select pine board (measures 0.75 in x 1.75 in) and cut it into 4 pieces to make up the frame. We used a triangle and 1" screws to fasten the sides together at right angles. 

Pine trim cut to create a frame
We used a triangle to make the corners of our frame square

Next we had to attach the frame to the wall. We lined it up with the hole and checked to see that it was level before we pre-drilled thru the frame, thru the drywall and into the studs. The drill started making awful screaching sounds, which we learned is the sound of wood rubbing against wood. To make it stop, we had to pull the drill out every so often and clear the bit of wood before going in for more. We used a countersinking drill bit so that our screws wouldn't stick out on the face of the frame. Each time we drilled a hole we came back with a 3" wood screw, and continued like this every 4 inches or so around the perimeter (the photo above is before we had all our screws in). Then I used wood filler to cover up the screws. Below you can see the difference between a basic pre-drilled hole and a countersunk hole.

What the pre-drilled hole looks like if you don't countersink
What the pre-drilled hole looks like after you've countesunk

While the wood filler was drying, I applied a waterproof, paintable, silicon caulk along all the seams. When caulking, I lay down a thin line of the stuff and then drag my finger down the edge to smooth it out. I let everything dry overnight and then applied two coats of paint the next day to match the walls. In a previous post (or two??) I said the color in the bathroom was Drizzle by Sherwin Williams. That's wrong. It's actually Sparkling Spring by Behr (730E-2) – my bad! 

After the paint dried, the frame looked like an extension of the wall. Obviously the mirror wouldn't be flush like I'd hoped, but a 1.75" bump-out is much more palatable than a 4"  bump-out (had we just mounted it on the wall).

We removed the mirror to make it easier to install the cabinet and then used four 1.5" screws & four 3/4" screws to secure it in place. Why the different lengths? I'm glad you asked. The holes closest to the back lead to wall studs and the holes in the front lead to the new wooden frame. I used longer screws in the back for extra security and shorter screws up front so they wouldn't poke through the outside of the frame. Once the screws were in, I gave it a few hard yanks to make sure it wasn't going anywhere, and then reattached the mirror. Tada! ... Almost ...

After painting the frame, it looks more like an extension of the wall than anything else.
With the mirror door on, you can see how small the actual medicine cabinet is by comparison

There was still one minor detail: shelves. I didn’t notice they were missing until very far along in the process – not that I would have cared since I got the cabinet for such a steal. Luckily the nubbins for holding shelves were still there, so I just had to make something to rest on them. I decided on glass, cuz I was feelin' classy & dangerous. 

I picked up a piece of replacement glass & a 3-piece glass-cutting kit from the hardware store. I measured the distance between the shelf-holders on the left & right, and the distance from the back of the cabinet to the front. Then I followed another This Old House tutorial to make the cuts. In short, you mark your cut, tape down a straight edge along your mark, and use your cutting tool to score the glass in one fell swoop. Then you tap the back of the glass behind the line you scored until you hear it *crack* and then slide it over to the edge and *snap* it. If you want to try it out I fully recommend watching the TOH tutorial for further deets and safety precautions (like wearing gloves on both hands the whole time...tsk tsk). 

Using a straightedge and glass cutter, the first step is to score the glass in one fell swoop
After scoring the glass, I tap the opposite side of the crack to make the break
Next, I slid the glass over to the edge and fold it cleanly to break off the piece I needed

The glass shelves are now in and lookin' sharp (literally and figuratively). Eli has voiced apprehension about his big paws getting sliced, so we'll see how long they last. I haven't had an issue, but it's a valid concern that I think can be addressed by adding a thick line of clear caulk to the edges – to be continued. It feels great to get the toothbrushes and toothpaste off the counter, and my contact case and floss have happily relocated from the metal bowl over the toilet. The "after" shot below was my debut in Real People, Fake Arms. At least now I know I've got a fall-back career modeling for mannequin arm makers. 

Finally! I can get my toothbrush off the counter

At the outset, I guessed this project would take less than 2 hours. HA! That was a gross underestimation. The window really threw me off, and it wasn't until the end that I realized the shelves were missing, so I had to make a few surprise trips to the hardware store. We had the cabinet duct taped up for about a week (as seen on instagram), but I'd estimate the actual project time was more like 6 hours (drying wood filler and paint included). That said, the whole project cost less than $50 and the bathroom definitely looks & works better – so it was totally worth it! Hopefully I didn't scare you out of installing one of your own. Plus, who knows? Maybe you'll find a fortune in your walls instead of a stinkin' Christmas bow.

There are just a few things left to do in the "master" bathroom now. I still need to pick out a new light fixture & a paint color for the vanity, and I want to swap the door swinging into the room for a sliding barn door. Upgrading the mirror and getting stuff off our small counter sure feels good, though!

Here's where we are now, with some final to-do's in the master bath

I hope you all have a fab holiday weekend!  Is anyone tackling a project they've put off for too long? I'm hoping we can stain our deck and get some pool time before summer abandons us. 

Finding Storage in a Small Bathroom

When we first moved in I was blown away by the master bathroom – what with it being so spacious and luxurious and masterful and … I … can’t … keep this up. Eeeet's a joke. There’s nothing grand or masterful about it. It's really quite teensy – the wide-angle lens is doing it a lot of favors here.

Our small master bath utilizes smart storage to make the most of the space.
We used a shower curtain in a similar tone as the tile in our small master bathroom, but eventually I'd like to build a walk-in shower that's partitioned with glass instead of a curtain.

There's zero natural light, and the builders chose literally the cheapest light fixture they could find at Home Depot. The towel and toilet paper racks were also discount finds; they were installed so poorly that the towel bar would fall off whenever it had to bear the burden of a towel and the toilet paper holder would tip uneasily toward the floor, sending the TP roll tumbling like a ribbon dancer. (I replaced them immediately) We have a single vanity that's all sink no counter and the plumbing cuts into a lot of the storage space below. That's a big deal because we don't have a linen closet or medicine cabinet 'round these parts. But enough of my kvetching. Let’s talk about the good: everything is new (!!!), there’s running water, I can take a shower or a bath, the tile is a neutral color, it’s attached to our bedroom, there's an identical one a few feet away. Tons to be grateful for! 

For me, the mission in this bathroom is twofold: make the room feel bigger/brighter/more masterful AND find space to fit all my toiletries. So far I've only accomplished the latter.

I may have told you at some point that I don’t like to have a lot of stuff because stuff takes up space. I probably neglected to mention my guilty exceptions – namely, toiletries (andclothesandshoes). I’ve been collecting all sorts of beauty products over the years and it’s hard to let go of them. How could I possibly choose between the sea salt hair spray for beach waves and the moroccan oil for silky straight locks? I simply can't! And so my beauty collection begins to spiral out of control. Some of you must experience the same thing, right? (Right???) Then there are super basic items – towels, wash cloths, toothpaste, hand soap, q-tips that also need a readily accessible home. Without a linen closet all these things start to feel really daunting, so here's how I handled them.

Stick to a simple color palette 

I chose a simple three-color palette to minimize visual noise in our small master bathroom

I wanted a light and airy bathroom that would feel spacious even if it isn't spacious. One good way to expand a room is by seriously limiting the number of colors that appear. If everything is similar in tone, lines start to blur and your eye can flow from one thing to the next without stopping, making it feel less crowded. The tiles selected by the builder were a warm sandy color – so if I was really following this rule I might have chosen a very light tan for the walls. Unfortunately in this scenario, I personally prefer cool tones (that skew blue – if you haven't noticed) over warm ones (that skew red...or tan), so I chose a light gray (Drizzle Sherwin Williams 6479) to play up the gray undertones I spied in some of the tiles. Our third color was set by the toilet, sink and tub – white. After I had my color trifecta – gray, white, and sand – I moved on to the actual problem: storage. 

Remove the beauty stuffs from the equation

I know, I know! I was just saying how I needed room in the bathroom for all my products. But then I thought about it – the reason I get ready in the bathroom (and thus store my stuff there) is because there's usually a bright light, a big mirror, and a counter to set my products on. This bathroom has pretty 'meh' lighting (though it looks positively blinding in these pictures...lies, all lies) plus there's no actual counter space around the sink, so things just get knocked over and next thing you know your favorite mascara is rocketing into the toilet. No bueno. So I said, "screw that!" and created a separate vanity (in a loose sense of the word) in the corner outside the bathroom. Seems like cheating, but if you have one square foot to spare somewhere, you could too. I went to Homegoods and picked up a tall, narrow cabinet and an interesting, equally narrow mirror to hang above it. Now it just needs a fun light fixture and it will be my jam. It feels great to have all my beauty supplies in one place, and it makes the bathroom storage conundrum way easier.

A very small vanity outside our very small master bathroom
Use compartments to store makeup and toiletries
Storage for hair products is made easier with compartments in the vanity.

Sort the rest by how often you use it and how well it fits into the color palette

With everything I hoped to store in the bathroom in front of me, I picked out the stuff I use everyday: hand soap, toothpaste, q-tips, face wash, lotion, contacts & glasses for my vision... These things need to be really easy to reach and they're generally small enough or come in enough colors that I can work them into the color scheme. Then there are a few things that I don't use every day but that happen to be the right color and visually very basic, e.g. white wash cloths, cotton balls, bath salt. I set those two collections aside as things that could live out in the open if I ran out of closed storage. Everything else is generally hideous and needs to be hidden in shame. Naturally.

Compartmentalize storage

In every place before this one, I've played Jenga under the bathroom sink (wikipedia describes it as "a game of physical and mental skill" which sounds about right). I would just stack everything as high as I could, with one precarious stack leaning on another precarious stack, and if I ever needed to find something odds were 9 to 1 that it would all come tumbling down. I took a new approach this time and can't believe I waited so long. Compartments, guys – compartments! I picked up a few small wire baskets from Ikea and screwed them into the back of the cabinet doors to hold common (read: ugly) stuff. Now I don't have to go all crouching tiger hidden dragon to find the one small thing I need! I also picked up some drawers, baskets and trays that can be stacked and still easily accessed. The same principle is working for me in my new beauty corner, which sports small storage containers and a second shelf installed by moi to store more without slipping back into my old ways.

Compartments and baskets make all the difference under a small sink!

Utilize vertical space

You've heard this one from me before, but it holds true! The walls are your oyster. I miraculously fit almost everything in the cabinet with a lot of help from new compartments, so I turned my attention back to the things I previously set aside (contacts, q-tips, etc) I installed wall shelves and disguised my everyday things as decorative objects. Sneakay, sneakay.

Shelves help utilize vertical space in this small master bathroom

Make the ordinary look special

If I'm gonna have to look at the stuff on the shelves every day it sure as hayyyyyl better look pretty! I picked up some attractive containers from Homegoods (sticking to my strict color palette, of course) – a dispenser for hand soap, a cup for q-tips, a pitcher for bath salt... The white feather cup is hiding a few weeks' worth of contact packets but you would never know! I stole the oblong metal dish from another room to be a catch-all for glasses, lotion and a lighter for the candles. Yes, candles. Who doesn't want to feel like they're at the spa every day? The white candleholders on the top shelf were on clearance at CB2 for like $2 each, so I bought six. (I should have bought 10) And that pretty clock was another Homegoods find that is handy for telling me I'm running late to work (oops). These lil add-ons also keep the shelves from looking like a pantry.

Contacts are disguised in the cup to the left, while bath salts are sittin' pretty in a pitcher on the right.

Do you really need 6 towels?

Maybe you do. We don't. The master and guest baths each get 2 (+ a hand towel). I simply don't have space for loads of extra linens, guys! When the towels get dirty, I wash them! No biggie. If two ever becomes too few, I can rest easy knowing there's always the option of expanding onto the second bar of my new double-barred towel rack

Double bar towel rack leaves room to expand my linen collection

Install a medicine cabinet if you can

I left this tip for last because it's probably not an option for renters and because I haven't actually done it yet, BUT a medicine cabinet is a great way to create hidden storage and get small things off the counter. (I'm looking at you, toothbrush/toothpaste) I picked one up for $25 from a thrift shop in Alexandria, Va. called Second Look, but we haven't gotten around to installing it yet (you probably saw it in the laundry room pictures). We could mount it on the surface of the wall, but I'd prefer to have it inset. I'm still trying to convince Eli that it won't be all that difficult to do, but in the meantime it waits on top of the dryer.

This set of super simple changes has made all the difference in this teensy bathroom. I've got storage that works for us, so now I can move on to the far more exciting changes that will kick it up a notch or 20. And of course what you've seen today is by no means an "after," but let's look at a couple befores, just for giggles:


Those tan walls are making that toilet look extra creamy, and the gray brings them back to a fresh white. But still, blehhhh…


Future plans include a new light fixture and installing the medicine cabinet (obvi), painting the sink cabinet, swapping out the traditional door for a sliding barn door, and – if we can swing it – converting the tub/shower to a walk in shower with glass instead of a curtain. Might have to lose the bath salts if that happened. How do you guys feel about walk-in showers vs. shower/tubs?