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Finding Zen In A Lockdown: A Beach House Bathroom

This last year put our homes to the test like never before. Work from home, home schooling, finding ways to connect with the world or hide from it, being home has taken on an entirely new meaning. So when my friend said she needed some zen in her bathroom, I knew it was about more than a bathroom.

Just like everyone else in the world, this past year has knocked me around. I mean, it's hard to believe it's been a year since all this began. But I'm grateful to be coming up for air and excited about new design projects to share!

This year put our homes to the test in all new ways. Working from home, home schooling, finding ways to connect with the world or hide from it, being home has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Smack in the middle of all of it, my friend Alison in Rhode Island called me to announce she was redoing her bathroom. I'm not sure if she was whining or yelling or crying or laughing, maybe a mixture of all when she said, “Brooke, do your design thing and help me with this bathroom. I need a little joy and we need a project to keep us busy. Help me.”

Girl, preach. Finding joy in the little things has kept me sane this year, so I totally got what my friend was saying. While this project is about a bathroom, this year, it's also so much more.

If you knew her, you'd say, of course Alison lives by the beach. When she first moved to Newport over 10 years ago, she decorated with a vacation theme in bright colors to create a beach house vibe. Here are some before photos:

A decade later, her daughter is almost a teenager and the style is feeling a little tired. Now is the time for a more sophisticated, coastal feel.

So, we facetimed and she was very clear: “Don't hold back. We're ready for a change. When I walk into this bathroom, I need to feel a little more zen.” (#preach. we could all use a little more zen in our lives these days).

Say no more, my friend! I didn't feel bad giving her a long to-do list. Alison is the kind of person that just gets things done, unafraid to get her hands dirty. I knew she'd tackle this project as quality time with her daughter but also to keep them occupied during the cold months and continued social distancing.

The first thing we did was determine a budget. This was a project to create calm, not money anxiety. Alison wanted to spend a max of $1,000 all in, so we decided against replacing the vanity or the tile. We also agreed to keep the same footprint, as construction costs rack up quickly. So this would be a cosmetic fix. As we know a little eye cream, bronzer and lip gloss go a long way. Oh sorry. This is about a bathroom…

The big challenges:

  1. Beige, beige and more beige tile and countertop
  2. Outdated fixtures
  3. Harsh colors and lighting bringing out orange tones in the wood of the vanity

The objective:

  1. Create a bright, calm space
  2. Maintain a coastal but sophisticated vibe
  3. Update and refresh the bathroom without spending a fortune

When she first painted the bathroom, Alison's original idea was to conjure the feelings of ocean and sand. But the bright aqua wall color was a tough combination with the beige and wood tones. Since we didn't have the budget to change the counter top, tile or vanity, we had to find a way to make it all pop and feel more modern.

To me, one way to highlight neutral tones is to combine beige with matte black. Alison was onboard, so, we agreed all fixtures would change to black to create contrast and a fresh feel.

Changing the lighting was easy, as we found a simple black and white light fixture that became the first of the black accents.

We were so excited to find faucets on Amazon – a great value for the price! Alison watched a bunch of youtube videos, called her dad for a little advice and installed them herself. They are traditional with an updated twist and were perfect for what we needed. And they came in wayyyyyy under budget, at $69 each with excellent reviews on Amazon.

Surprisingly, the mirror situation presented the biggest challenge. A mirror large enough to fit the space would have busted the budget. So we searched for two mirrors that would work well in the space. We tried so many, it was a case of Goldilocks. Some were too big, some were too small, but finally, we found just the right mirrors for the space. The simple, matte black frames look classic, yet modern. And together, all of the black accents work well to make the beige feel much more fresh.

As such a big part of the bathroom, the vanity is often a focal point. As you can see in the before photos, the orange rugs and yellow-y light bulbs were reflecting badly onto the vanity, making the wood seem 90's orange. This was the first thing to address, using paint and better lighting.

We chose a soft gray with a slightly warm undertone, which was a huge contrast to the cool toned aqua walls. Alison put her daughter to work on the painting, teaching her the all-important skill of cutting!

We changed out the light bulbs to a daytime LED. This helped to give a warm feel with less yellow, making the vanity look brand new. It's amazing to see how much a difference this made!

With the key pieces in place, we were ready for the inevitable pilgrimages to Homegoods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Marshalls, Hobby Lobby and every similar store you can think of. While she wandered the aisles, I was on standby for real time photo reviews and Facetime to debate choices of shower curtains, bath mats and towels. I'm sure her fellow shoppers were laughing (or more likely annoyed) at us and our remote, virtual shopping escapades. But hey, it's a pandemic. We do what we gotta do.

After only a few tries, we landed on materials that gave an organic feel to the bathroom, contributing to the zen atmosphere Alison wanted. Warm, dark gray tied in with the black accents, creating layers of texture and adding to the contrast.

Of course, we couldn't forget the toilet area. The structure of the bathroom creates a little nook for the commode. When I suggested shiplap as an idea for the back wall, Alison mentioned that she had some left-over shiplap wallpaper from a craft project. Perfect for our budget, she grabbed it from the basement and the wall was done in under an hour!

The space is ready for final styling touches like art and a few accents. Since the stores always get new stuff in the spring, we'll hold off for a few weeks. Stay tuned for more pictures then!

Incredibly, Alison finished this project entirely as a DIY. I helped from afar with the design, but the big assist came from her daughter! This huge transformation came in at approximately $500 including materials – wayyyyyyy under budget.

The neutral tones, textures and black accents work together to create the peaceful, coastal vibe perfect for Alison and her daughter. With some serious bargain hunting and a little lockdown creativity, we created a Beach House Bathroom and came in under budget! What could be more zen that that?

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