Homeowners share about renovating bathrooms

It took five attempts to get the vanity mirrors right, after several were damaged and one model simply wasn't the correct style.  (Laurie Kline via Washington Post)
It took five attempts to get the vanity mirrors right, after several were damaged and one model simply wasn't the correct style. (Laurie Kline via Washington Post)

Bathrooms are some of the most utilitarian rooms in our homes. But they can also be the most relaxing -- scroll through luxury listings on Zillow and count how many times you read the word "spa."

If you want to turn yours into a private oasis, however, there's no simple answer to how much renovating it will cost you. Prices vary depending on where you live, whether you hire a designer, how much plumbing and electrical work is required, the types of finishes you want, and more. Every remodeling job is different.

This is why we asked three homeowners: How much did it cost to renovate your bathroom? These renovations, all completed within the last year, account for different budgets and locations. Here's a breakdown of what they spent -- and where they saved.

Bathroom 1

Total cost: $17,275

Total time: Six months

Location: Port Ludlow, Wash.

Completed: November

When Collene Funk bought her remote Washington state fixer-upper in 2014, the primary bathroom still had metallic rainbow wallpaper and 1980s-style carpeting (yes, carpeting). She and her husband did the "bare minimum" to make the room usable -- including replacing the too-low toilet and the carpet with tile flooring. "That was just a Band-Aid to make sure we could tolerate the bathroom while we did some renovations in the rest of the house," Funk says.

Her main goal for the renovation was to gain more storage space in cabinets, keep the aesthetics consistent with the recently renovated living room and primary bedroom, and stay within budget. Funk's husband, a retired contractor, constructed several parts of the project himself. She estimates that hiring someone else to do the work he did would have added a minimum of $6,000 to the total.

Even so, the budget was blown nearly from the start when they began re-tiling the shower and discovered rotted floorboards. This added to the timeline -- "we rebuilt for four days before a single piece of tile was laid," she says -- and more than doubled the original $4,000 estimate for the tile contractor.

Another splurge was the vanity. Funk's husband built it from raw mahogany and topped it with granite, for a total cost of about $3,400. Still, it was cheaper than the premade options they considered. One wrinkle: The old vanity was only 31 inches tall (fairly standard in the 1980s), so they had to move outlet boxes to match the new, higher countertop.

After a mistake with the shower tile order (which would have added time and money to fix), the couple wound up buying an off-the-shelf, beige option from Home Depot. Smaller fixtures such as towel bars, door handles and faucets came from Lowe's; Funk went with a brushed nickel finish for all of them.

Budget breakdown:

Countertop: $2,704

Shower tile labor: $8,200

Tile and grout: $1,757

Shower door: $1,500

Faucets and sinks: $465

Hardware: $270

Towel bars: $365

Vanity wood: $704

Drywall and plywood: $360

Other finishes: $455

Mirrors: $200

Light fixtures: $295

Bathroom 2

Total cost: $49,090

Total time: Eight months

Location: Richardson, Texas

Completed: January

When Laurie Kline bought her home in a Dallas suburb 20 years ago, she hired a painter to cover the primary bathroom's brown-swirled marble vanity. The paint "almost immediately started flaking," she says. Ever since, she'd longed to renovate the whole room (complete with leopard-print wallpaper and saloon doors to the toilet). Last April she decided it was time.

From the start, Kline says, she and her husband were surprised by how expensive the planned renovation was compared with a bid they'd gotten a decade prior. "We had 10-year-old money in mind, and it was definitely double that," she says. That's why the couple took eight months to finish the remodeling work; doing it in phases allowed them to save up in between.

The couple also saved by sourcing materials themselves, rather than through a contractor. They found tile at wholesale flooring chain ProSource and matching all-black, squared fixtures such as faucets, handles and towel hangers online from Build With Ferguson. She also bought a mirror with a rear light at Home Depot.

The demolition took three days, including ripping out a space-hogging jetted tub and adding a larger shower. Tiling was the biggest expense at more than $9,000, including materials and labor. Kline wanted to keep a wall of original glass bricks because they allow more light to come into the space, so she chose gray ceramic tile that she thought complemented that feature.

The vanity mirror that finally worked out was the fifth model ordered for the project -- two were smashed on arrival, another was chipped after installation and yet another was the wrong style.

Kline did task her contractors with sourcing the cabinets and countertops, since she wasn't sure how much she'd need. The result is an L-shaped, double-sink vanity painted taupe, topped with quartz.

Though her contractor tried to talk her out of getting heated floors, she insisted on them and says the addition was well worth it, costing less than she expected. The entire project went relatively smoothly, Kline says, although her biggest takeaway was that she was grateful to have been able to work from home throughout it. "There's always something," she says, "and I wouldn't want to come home at the end of the day and find out that the plumber had a question and left because there was nobody here to answer it."

Budget breakdown:

Designer fee: $2,250

Demolition: $1,594

Shower: $1,788

Tiling: $9,136

Painting: $4,532

Fixtures: $8,792

Countertops: $4,645

Cabinets: $5,742

Heated flooring: $2,405

Electrical: $3,089

Plumbing: $5,117

Bathroom 3:

Total cost: $74,082.

Total time: 15 months.

Location: Arlington, Va.

Completed: June.

Cheryl Conlin had an unusual goal for her bathroom renovation: to source as many materials manufactured in the United States as possible. "I wanted to highlight the beauty of American craftsmen," she says. "I didn't want, as I told my designer, that white marble bathroom that everyone has. ... I don't find beauty in that." As such, several of the materials in the final product are bespoke.

Conlin had planned for years to renovate her condo's only bathroom (which still wore its original 1980s style), so she'd saved enough to bring her specific vision to fruition -- even when that meant paying over $1,000 for a custom tile delivery. "I was just really impressed and carried away by the beauty of it all," she says. "It was a 'sky's the limit' sort of thing." Her original budget of $50,000 ballooned by $20,000.

She began working with a designer in March 2022, even though the renovation didn't begin for over a year, in part because of the unique materials.

Demolition posed a potential challenge, since contractors told Conlin to plan on her only bathroom being out of service for two to three weeks. Luckily, an out-of-town neighbor gave Conlin access to their unit.

The shower has tiles from California-based Heath Ceramics, a company founded by one of the first American female ceramicists. Builders also added a niche to hold bath products, plus a bench. The shower fixtures, some of the few items not sourced from the United States, arrived several months after they were ordered from a small factory in Italy. Conlin's cabinets, made by a custom builder in Washington, Va., were designed in an L-shape to maximize drawer space. Conlin had a preferred cabinet shade in mind, but it took several samples, paint cards and a handcrafted wood stain to achieve the olive/khaki tone. To highlight the woodwork, she opted not to include handles or pulls.

Conlin's old bathroom felt cramped due to bad design choices, such as a door that swung inward toward the toilet. She originally wanted to replace it with a space-saving pocket door, but when builders found the wall was too thin to accommodate one, she instead chose a sliding barn door with hidden hardware.

Despite a lengthy and pricey renovation, Conlin says she wouldn't change anything about it. "It's the nicest room in the house now," she says. "It's really exactly what I wanted."

Budget breakdown

Vanity: $7,952

Labor: $8,900

Plumbing fixtures: $5,213

Vanity lighting and mirror: $1,878

Toilet installation: $600

Shower tile: $8,771

Shower tile delivery: $1,238

Floor tile: $685

Shower doors: $3,500

Countertops: $4,900

Demolition: $10,450

Plumbing: $4,500

Electrical: $3,495

Barn door: $4,000

Project management: $4,500

Design fee: $3,500

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