Old houses and bathroom remodels

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses

One of the most daunting remodels to tackle is the old house bathroom. In most cases, old house bathrooms are dishearteningly small, with fixtures that were new decades ago and little quirks that almost overcome the charm. Speaking of charm, those old bathrooms can have plenty of it -- clawfoot tubs and original tile are the norm, and so are old-fashioned faucets.

Small bathrooms in an old house can become a remodeling nightmare. You want to keep the character but incorporate modern conveniences; you want to make the most of a tiny space but don't want to give up things like the clawfoot tub in the process. Small bathroom remodels become an exercise in compromise.

Old house bathroom remodel ideas

I once had the bright idea to combine the two tiny bathrooms and one small bedroom in an old Victorian into one large, luxurious space with a deep soaking tub, spa-like shower and double-sink vanity with plenty of storage space. I also wanted to install a skylight. But when I saw the utterly shocking price tag on the estimate, I realized that my small bathrooms would have to do.

What other options were there? Several, in fact. Here are just a few.

Get creative with storage. One of the biggest gripes I had about my small bathrooms was not the room itself, but the lack of storage space inside it. I hated going to the hallway closet to get something as simple as a new bottle of shampoo. By installing shelves around the top of the shower, working with a contractor to create built-in shelves or drawers or even revamping the vanity to include room for essentials, you can find space you didn't know you had.

Make good use of unused rooms. Think you don't have the space to add a new bathroom to your old house? Take a good look at places you might not consider, such as the attic. A friend of mine despaired over the tiniest master bath imaginable until she realized there was prime attic space beside and above the room. Knocking down a wall meant she had more space and -- finally! -- a very pleasing bathroom remodel.

Dormers can expand your space. Depending upon the architectural style of your old house, adding a dormer to an existing room could expand it by several feet. That might be all you need to fit in that big whirlpool tub of your dreams! But keep in mind that no matter how you expand the upper floors of your house, you must ensure that the load-bearing walls can handle the weight of new fixtures above. If not, more extensive construction might be required.

Downsize what's in the room. If you want more room to move around in your small bathroom, opt for a pedestal sink, a toilet that is on the smaller side and get rid of the tub altogether in favor of a space-saving shower. You can also combine the clawfoot tub with a shower attachment to get the most out of your small space.

In the end, I did combine the two bathrooms into one, but I also went with a much smaller tub and plenty of built-in storage space. The result was a bathroom I could actually move around in and enjoy, without sacrificing too much of my restoration and renovation budget in the process.