The saga of the Seattle bathroom

I bought the house in 2014. The primary bathroom was just fine. The tiles weren’t necessarily what I would have chosen, but I loved the big window in the shower, and I decorated with some eclectic things collected on travels.

The before – original

But there were hidden problems

Beefier long in started noticing mineral buildup along the grout lines. I ignored it for a while, and then started to investigate. Turns out it was a bad sign. That sort of buildup only happens when there’s water on the other side of the tile. No bueno.

Remodel #1 – you get what you pay for

I needed someone to redo the bathroom. But these were boom years for Seattle, and this was a small job. No contractor would touch it; they were chasing the $100k kitchen remodels. And then I got a job that moved me to London and the station became urgent—I couldn’t rent the apartmentwithout addressing the shower situation.

I got a referral for a tile guy from my property manager. He said he would do it for $10k and I thought that was exorbitant but had no choice, so I signed the deal.

It was a nightmare. It was my first time doing a remodel. I was green and made some pretty rookie mistakes, both in my materials selection and in my bee we life that this could be adequately managed from London. The situation turned out to be way more complicated than we had feared—discovered 4 inches of standing water, a tin of mild, and a shower pan that needed to be completely rebuilt. And the tile guy, while well intentioned, was just not that good at his job. The end result was ugly (I apparently didn’t even take any photos!)—but at least the water and mold problem was solved, right? Famous last words . . .

Worse than before

The new shower almost immediately started sprouting new mineral deposits—on a scale far beyond what we’d seen before. And not only mineral deposits. I watched it get worse every time I visited from London, and by the time I moved back three years later, there were literally mushrooms growing in the corners. Yuck.

Second remodel – the never ending story

That was literally right as the pandemic was starting, but in a stroke of luck I immediately found a contractor who was willing to take the job. He was replacing a window in my neighbour’s unit that was in the location as the one in my shower. They had discovered that the window had been installed incorrectly, so all the rainwater was running down the window and right into the house. In their case, the water went into their hardwood floors. In my case, well, now we knew where the water was coming from.

Having learned from my first low budget attempt, I was happy to learn that this guy was higher end, was much more experienced, and had rave reviews. I about died when he quoted me about $60k for the work, but this was the pandemic and I figured he was my only/best option. I signed the deal and picked out my materials.

That was March of 2020, and it’s obviously now March of 2023—and the work only just finished . . .

The good news? The quality of the work is top notch. The materials selection much better than the last time. And we feel confident that the water problems have been solved.

The downside is that the process was incredibly frustrating. The pandemic of course contributed, with significant delays in supply chain (8 month lead times for windows, for example), as well as work stoppages whenever one of the workers was exposed or got sick. But there was nothing I could do about that. More frustrating were the contractor’s lack of communication, planning, and management skills. I respect his desire to run his own business, but he didn’t have the skills to do it well. That led to unnecessary errors and delays. And more than once I was the one essentially running the show—even to the point where the contractor would be coming to me for notes on what was supposed to be done and when.

The worst error was the window. To address the water situation, we had to completely replace the window. After waiting an initial 10 months for the window to be made, the contractor discovered that his carpenter had missed by 1/4 of an inch—it couldn’t be used. By then the bathroom had been completely demolished, so I essentially had to shut up the bathroom, move to the guest bath (thank heaven I had it!), and live in a construction zone from the Fourth of July until Christmas.

The work resumes . . .

The new window came a few days before Christmas, and the work started anew.

Done at last!

Two months later, it was finally—FINALLY!—done. And it looked great.

Happily ever after?

I sure hope so! I was tempted to start from scratch for the decor—but was so tired of this project that I just put all the old stuff back. And you know what? It looks good.

Boy does it feel good to have a functioning bathroom again. It has been so long that I had actually started to forget that I even had that bathroom. So this feels like not just a remodel, but an expansion of the house.

And what’s even better? Not feeling like I live in a construction zone. And not writing that I have a major unsolved water problem that could lead to bigger damage or hurt the resale value. For the first time in years the house feels put together and solid. Gone is all the latent stress and cognitive load that came with the uncertainty and frustration of managing the project and living in an extended state of limbo.

The bigger picture

Completing this bathroom project is the last of the major projects I had set for myself since moving back from London in 2020. First was to finish forming our HOA. Second, to bring in landscapers and arborists to maintain the property and get the trees under control. Third, to completely restrain and repaint the entire exterior of the building (all seven units). Fourth, this bathroom.

To celebrate, I resolved to take the entire month of March off from any house projects whatsoever here in Seattle. And it has been lovely.


  1. Yay!! It looks great. I can’t believe it’s finally done! And the red rug looks amazing in there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    The end result is so pretty! …and FINALLY is the word… Good grief! I love the larger ledge on the window sill, love the lighter tile in the shower, and love that the new window opens for some airflow. I personally love that the decor is the same as before. Perhaps you were tired of it, but not getting to see it all the time, I think it’s wonderful.


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