Katie’s House: brightening up the upstairs bathroom

A few weeks ago I set out to brighten up our upstairs bathroom. Fortunately the previous owners had done the hard (and expensive) work for us – they hired terrific local contractors to add the bathroom to the house in 2006 – so I didn’t need to tear anything out or build anything up (which, considering the piles of construction debris in our laundry room and guest room right now, was a huge relief).

The bathroom with its original yellow paint job

The original paint was called ‘Suntan Yellow’ which is among the worst color names I can think of. Sunshine Yellow, yes. But Suntan? Pretty sure if your skin is this color it’s called jaundice, not suntan.

The angles of this bathroom, with its window seat and skylight, are beautiful. I really like the materials they used in the room – the slate has lovely texture and color variation – but the combination of grey tiles with the fir built-ins and trim made the room skew pretty masculine and serious, and I felt like the yellow walls competed with the color of the wood and tiles.

The skylight is north-facing and the window faces west

The skylight is north-facing and the window faces west, so though there is natural light it’s pretty diffuse

My goal was simple: to make the space lighter and brighter without spending much money. The first thing I did was polish up the cabinetry and trim with my favorite combination of neutral Restor-A-Finish and Howard Feed & Wax. Then I painted the walls white (Mountain Peak White by Benjamin Moore), which brightened things up immediately and really highlighted the beautiful clear grain fir woodwork.
This room was a bear to paint. The high ceiling and multiple angles meant that my wildly optimistic estimate of a half day project (which impossibly included dry times, mind you) extended out to two and a half days. By the time I was finished my painting hoodie had Mt Peak White on every side because I couldn’t seem to turn around (or move a ladder) in that room without brushing up against a freshly-painted wall. It took three coats of paint to cover up the yellow, and even now I obsessively run my eyes over the walls looking for any hint of that ‘suntan yellow’ trying to make its jaundiced escape.

wide view of windowseat
window seat close up

We have a lot of plants in our house, if they ever go all ‘Day of the Triffids‘ on us, we won’t stand a chance. Laughing in the face of danger, I brought a number of plants into this room too. I love plants in a bathroom! It’s easy to water them and they bring such a fresh and vibrant feel to the room.

I got the two hanging planters at a thrift store, but they are originally from Ikea

I got the two planters hanging from the towel bar at a thrift store, but they are originally from Ikea

Oh those tassels! If you remember, I had fallen hard for this Anthropologie shower curtain that I couldn’t afford. My version lacks the elegance and *ahem* uniformity of the Anthro curtain, but it’s festive and playful – just look at those riotously colored ghosts marching cheerfully along – and that suits me fine. My shower curtain knock-off – after purchasing the plain white curtain and the embroidery thread – rang in at about $30, a savings (spend to save folks, spend to save) of almost $90.

from behind pink curtain

long view of room This room has plenty of storage, so it’s nice to use the open shelves to display a few of my favorite treasures, relatively safe from the destructive and ardent affections of Fat Bunny (Dean) and Tiny Tiger (Carl). The little clay box is vintage, my friend John carved the raven for me and those are shells from a gumboot chiton taking wing up the wall The little clay box is vintage, my friend John carved the raven for me and those are shells from a gumboot chiton taking wing up the wall The striped planter, the little yellow vessel and the fish plate are all vintage from the thrift store.  I have mixed feelings about the fact that one of my favorite vignettes in our whole house is on the back of a toilet. The striped planter, the little yellow vessel and the weirdo hand-painted fish plate are all vintage from the thrift store.
yellow ceramics


succulents and turtle goddess The succulent planter is from a thrift store and the turtle goddess was a gift from my mom when she and I took a trip to Crete together last year.window seat curtain I sewed this curtain from a curtain I hijacked from our guest room which in turn was made from a shower curtain we used at our previous house. Who knows what its next incarnation will be? Probably something with tassels.

Toward door

All the light fixtures and hardware in this room were installed by the previous owners and are from Restoration Hardware

I’ve been coveting these towels for a while, for reasons both aesthetic and ascetic. You see, because we’re cheap (thrifty) – and also because most of our living takes place downstairs – we pretty much refuse to heat the upstairs of our home. Now, I can bravely soldier on through brushing my teeth while standing on glacial tiles, but I can’t abide a towel that doesn’t dry out all the way between uses. These Turkish towels – called peshtemals – are, despite their thinness, very absorbent, yet they dry really quickly. They aren’t inexpensive, but we’ve been using them about a month now and I’m a total convert.
window seat with curtain

Thanks for reading this post! Have any of you given a room a little facelift recently? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

22 responses on “Katie’s House: brightening up the upstairs bathroom

  1. Carol Crump Bryner

    You really did brighten it up, and I love the splashes of green from the plants. It’s such a sweet little room. I’m especially interested in those towels. I hate a fluffy towel that doesn’t dry. I’ll have to look into the kind you got. Good painting job! There are so many angles in that room. I always enjoy reading about yours and Mera’s projects. Carry on!

    1. k80bennett

      Thanks Carol, I appreciate your comments so much! I totally recommend checking the towels out; I don’t think I’ll ever go back to fluff.

  2. Marlene Miller

    I LOVE that room, Katie. Love all the angles, and the wood is gorgeous! My eyes and mind have totally stolen your striped yellow planter with its bright yellow friend. Reading this post was just a wonderful way to start my day, smiling.

    1. k80bennett

      Thanks for reading our blog and for the nice comment dear Mar! I am drawn to all things bright yellow right now (maybe it’s the advent of spring?)

  3. Katy Gilmore

    Oh Katie your house has such great bones – I love the window seat (what a sweetheart), and the drawers(?) and cupboard built into the eaves ! I bet it WAS a bear to paint, and you have done such a wonderful job! Your little pot scrubber tassels are a perfect color hit in here. You make these projects look so absolutely doable with your lively writing – it’s inspiring! And I can hardly wait to watch you spend that $90!

    1. k80bennett

      Thanks Katy! This house does have great bones–it makes it fun to fix it up. Man I wish that $90 were in my pocket instead of my imaginary piggy bank…

  4. Heather Quarles

    Emily gave me one of those towels for my birthday last year – I am also a convert, for all the reasons you point out. Plus it does triple duty in the summer as a beach blanket and a dress (start back, wrap to front and then tie behind neck – keeps you covered bust to knees). So it is pretty economical, really. And I love that your favorite vignette is on the back of a toilet – it IS perfect.

    1. k80bennett

      Come hang out any time Sydney! I’m so glad to have art you’ve made in my home–when I get around to working on our living room and posting pictures you’ll recognize some things πŸ™‚

  5. Nina D

    I recently discovered your blog through a link from Apartment Therapy (I think) and completely devoured the entire thing in one sitting. I love it! Aside from your style (and Mera’s), which I love, I think I am drawn to it because I so miss my best shopping and decorating girlfriend since moving from NJ to NH. (Every time I buy anything or redecorate any space, I shoot her some pictures, craving her input.) So I really relate to the connection between you two.

    Oh and I totally dig the toilet top vignette, too! I’ve already copied it into my “things that I love” folder!

    1. k80bennett

      Thanks Nina! I’m so glad you found us and so glad you commented. Mera and I were (and are) constantly sending pictures and ideas back and forth, and that was definitely the impetus for the blog. Also – I get a special joy that my toilet is in a ‘things I love folder’ πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

  6. Mary

    Can you tell me how Mountain Peak White reads in your bathroom? I’ve been thinking of using it in one of the rooms in my house. Unfortunately, my husband is not a fan of white so I’ve been looking for something that’s not too bright or stark without veering into a shade that is too yellow or too blue. It feels impossible, but this looks soft if you know what I mean.

    I’m enjoying your blog very much so far!

    1. k80bennett

      Ah the difficult quest for the perfect white paint! Mountain Peak White has some yellow undertones, but reads as a soft white unless it’s up against a really bright shade (like the Pure White I used in my laundry room). Two other whites I have my eye on for our living room are Dove White (which has kind of muted grey undertones that keep it from going too stark) and Mascarpone (which has yellow in it but reads as a soft cream – not dingy – in rooms with decent natural light). Hope this helps and good luck!

      1. Mary

        Yes! Thank you so much. Dove White was/is another possibility so your feedback there is an unexpected bonus. I plan on painting the ceiling a bright color (to placate the husband) so color swatches are a necessity, but I’d like to keep my test painting down to a minimum.

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