Mera’s House: the Downstairs Bathroom gets a Cheerful Update

When I first moved in, the downstairs bathroom was painted a fleshy pink.  One of the first things I did was to paint it a light minty green and add an orange bath mat and new shower curtain.  It was a cheery and quick update at the time but, pro tip, you can’t just paint willy nilly without priming, and without knowing what type of paint you’re painting over.  I painted water based paint over oil paint.  Oops.  The paint peeled and cracked pretty quickly which just added to the overall yucky-ness of the room.

Downstairs bath with text

When a small leak in the upstairs toilet seal caused a moldy looking (but thankfully not actually moldy) HOLE in the ceiling I realized that it was time to take action.

bathroom ceiling text

I knew that I wanted it to be light, bright, and cheerful. As I mentioned last week this is one of two rooms in the house without a south-facing window. It gets decent light still, but I knew I couldn’t do dark and moody in here.  Also, there is only one junction box for a light fixture above the mirror and nothing in the ceiling or shower area.  I didn’t want to hire an electrician, so light-colored, reflective surfaces were the order of the day.

I also knew that I wanted to add furniture.  I love real furniture in bathrooms.  I subscribe wholeheartedly to Deborah Needleman’s “The Perfectly imperfect Home: How to Decorate and Live Well.” She says that a little wood table or stool adds personality and softens the transition from lived in rooms to the bathroom (where, frankly, a lot of living happens).  Plus, it’s an instant way to break out of the matched-set toothbrush holder/soap dish/kleenex dispenser Bed Bath and Beyond box store boredom that often happens in bathrooms.

I’ve carried around a free-standing cherry red cabinet for more than ten years.  I love its crazy color and grandma-y handle. It came out of a cabin kitchen on the remote island community where my parents have a cabin (and where Katie and I lived and worked together for many summers).  The cabin was changing hands and the innards were being gutted, so those who were around were invited to salvage what they wanted. The cabinet was covered in peeling vinyl, which luckily came all the way off without much effort. It was the perfect starting point for my bright and cheery bathroom dreams.

So this is what it looked like before:

IMG_6452 IMG_6451

And this is what it looks like now:

downstairs bathroom

I kept the towel hanger, which is actually an old luggage rack from a train. I love this thing, and I wanted it to stand out, so I stripped the paint off the metal parts and left the wood base and dowel white. I think it looks fantastic, but I’m not sure how best to protect the metal from rusting (suggestions welcome!).

shower curtain

This shower curtain had me at subtle 70s macrame bohemian fringe hello. I got it on sale, but it was still a mega splurge. The Anthropologie gods made it just for me, so how could I say no?


red cabinet

The red cabinet in all its crazy-color grandma-handle glory. I dearly love this little thing.

The cabinet was a little low next to the sink, so we took off the feet, which were horizontal, and turned them perpendicular to gain a few inches. We also added painted pine bead board to the walls. With so much wall exposed behind the new pedestal sink, it seemed like something of interest should be going on back there. Plus, what says bright and cheery better than white bead board?

floor and rug

I always have an adorable arrangement of color-coordinated ranunculus in the bathroom. What? You don’t? How terribly uncivilized.

The floors are pretty standard white hexagon tile. They are shinier than what I originally pictured, but I really like how reflective they are. After reading lots of white grout horror stories, I decided on a medium gray grout. I love the way it shows off the geometric tiles but will also conceal a tolerable level of grit and grime.

poem My sister, who is basically the most amazing and creative human in the universe, made this. She went through a poetry bookmark gift-giving phase 15 years ago or so, and I just recently found this one in an old journal. It seemed to fit here.

duck feet mirror

The mallard feet mirror called (quacked?) to me from across the great reaches of the interweb. It’s so shiny and funny and strange, and it cracks me up every time I look at it. The bosomy Fräulein planter is vintage, an Etsy find. Her coy face and saucy outfit give me a giggle, especially since she’s posing next to golden duck feet.

It all came together really quickly, and I am very happy with how it turned out. It matches the feeling of the house as a whole better, and I no longer cringe when guests ask to use the bathroom. Have you done a quick and cheerful update lately? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Here are sources for all of the non-vintage accoutrements:

Rug, Dash and Albert/Stool, Serena & Lily/Shower curtain, Anthropologie/Duck feet mirror, Rejuvenation /Artwork, Minted for West Elm/Hand towels, Anthropologie

42 responses on “Mera’s House: the Downstairs Bathroom gets a Cheerful Update

  1. mcncampion

    Oh my gosh … I am loving this blog! (I am new to them, but I love how you two friends are sharing this; sharing your creative ideas and fixing up your beautiful houses in the meantime!) The photos area beautiful, Mera (and Katie), I want to try some of your wonderful ideas, and I laugh out loud each time I read a post. (This time: “the creepy hand,” “don’t judge,” and your b-b-b-b-alliteration sentence: “break out of the matched-set toothbrush holder/soap dish/kleenex dispenser Bed Bath and Beyond box store boredom that often happens in bathrooms.”) !!! AWEsome. Thank you! Wonderful job.

    1. meramatthews

      I never realized before what comments mean to bloggers–what a nice thing to say, I really appreciate it! Day made. Thank you!

    1. meramatthews

      Thank you, Katy! And thanks for giving me a push toward bead board, the room would look unfinished without it I think. 🙂

  2. Susan Glassow

    Treasured little red cabinet. Old luggage rack. A mirror that quacks. Oh, my. You, Mera- Dorothy, are on the yellow brick road of self-discovery decorating. . .keep on clicking those red heels!

  3. Carol Crump Bryner

    I want to go back and read this again – so fun and terrific. What does the bottom matter? Alot, really. Bathrooms set such an example for the rest of the house. And your updating is so great because it’s so personalized. I remember that bathroom when the the “outdated” was considered the “updated.” I liked it then, and I like it now. Being a grandm-y type of person, I am especially happy to see beadboard, which I always associate with New England cottages. Thanks for another fun report. Can’t wait for more.

    1. meramatthews

      Thank you, Carol. It’s so fun to hear your memories of this house in its various incarnations. Thank you so much for checking in and commenting!

    1. meramatthews

      Isn’t that poem fun to mull? I’m not sure I understand it, but I like to think about it. Thanks for stopping by, Kevin!

  4. michellet2013

    Having seen the bathroom recently in real life I can truly say it’s a fabulous, cheerful transformation. I love the red and purple bits. So well done Mera—thank you for sharing it with all of us!

    1. meramatthews

      Thank YOU, Michelle! I’m a sucker for purple and red, and it was very satisfying to give that old cabinet a purpose.

  5. Bryn Boer

    Mera, I love this! What a great idea for a blog. I love your style, the photos are fantastic, and your sense of humor shines through as always. I will bookmark it, take notes, and dream of the day in the (probably distant) future when I have time to tackle projects like these myself.

    1. meramatthews

      Tuuuuuuuude! You certainly have your hands full these days. Full of adorableness, that is. Thanks for the kind words and for checking out the blog. 🙂

    1. meramatthews

      Thank you, Netzy! It was fun to bring all the pieces together and see that it was actually going to work. Despite Katy’s protestations to the contrary, she really was the impetus behind the bead board. 🙂

    1. meramatthews

      Thank you, Joanna, I’m so glad you found us! Your blog is a great find too and I’ll be sure to follow along! Between babies, the law, and a passion for decorating and guacamole we certainly have a lot in common!

  6. Kahli

    Love the color combo. Saw your comment on little green notebook and wanted to see the transformation. Great job. That red cabinet is so vibrant and you get such great natural light in there!

    1. meramatthews

      I always know I’m on the right track when Jenny Komenda uses a similar color combination! Thanks so much for checking out the blog, I hope you’ll stop by often! 🙂

  7. hollymagee

    So lovely!! Just what a bathroom ought to be. Are you sure I gave that poem to you? Is that not some Katy-ish handwriting? I don’t remember that poetic young lass. Hmmmm. I’ll take the compliment and shall try harder to deserve it. Love you.

    1. meramatthews

      It’s definitely from you, Species, and no one deserves the compliment more than you. I’m nuts for you. xoxoxo

  8. panda flannel

    Oh my god this is PERFECTION. It is my absolute favorite combination of a room feeling bright, clean, textured, and with just enough of the weird to not take itself too seriously (I love that duck mirror and the planter, ha). And purple and red is one of my favorite color combos. You nailed it dude!

    1. panda flannel

      Also your comment about carrying that cabinet around for a decade is going to be a very enabling influence on me, I have a terrible habit of stuffing the attic of our house with free and thrifted furniture that I know is going to be perfect someday/somewhere. Clearly it is worth it, right??

    2. meramatthews

      Bright and clean, with a hint of weird was exactly what I was going for, thank you! I’m so glad you like the bathroom, and I hope you’ll keep checking out our projects and room reveals on Red House West!

  9. nlatona

    So beautiful! I am glad I found your blog. 🙂 I love that you are using a wooden bucket as a waste basket. Do you know where I could purchase a wooden bucket similar to yours? Thank you!

    1. meramatthews

      We’re glad you found us too! Here’s the story of my wooden bucket: about a million years ago I had a boyfriend who lived on his teeny tiny sailboat in Washington. It didn’t have a bathroom, so he made this bucket to use as a loo! I’m not sure how I ended up with it in our end-days division of stuff, but it’s really quite pretty despite its original purpose (and I appreciate that it reminds me how grateful I am to, among other things, have indoor plumbing). I looked on Etsy and found a few similar buckets, like this and this Hope you find just the right thing!

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