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Lessons Learned: Bathroom Reno

The New Bathroom Revealed

Here are some of the biggest lessons we learned when doing our bathroom renovation. Enjoy, Mari & Paul

Demo & Planning


  • Turn off the water to the bathroom and be careful not to nick the pipes when demolishing
  • Invest in a reciprocating saw (aka Sawzall), especially if you have a fiberglass tub/surround to cut up
  • Wear long sleeves, a mask, and eye protection during demo, again, especially if you are dealing with fiberglass and/or popcorn texture
  • Enlist the help of friends!

Installing Backerboard/Cementboard


  • You don’t need to use that much thin set/mortar under your backerboard/cementboard
  • Mix small batches of thin set/mortar at a time so you don’t waste it (that goes for grout, too) and use warm water to make it easier
  • You don’t necessarily need thick board – opt for a 1/4 inch if you can to make install easier
  • Predrill the holes in your board if you’re having trouble installing it
  • If you are not using a waterproof barrier underneath the board then you should paint a waterproof membrane on top of it (the green stuff)

Tiling the Surround


  • Plan out your tile pattern before starting and determine the best placement for your shower niche if you are including one
  • If installing a niche – consider buying a plastic one instead of building it yourself and screw it directly into the studs
  • Invest in a GOOD tile saw (ours was not and it caused many headaches)
  • Keep your area clean and wipe down tiles as you install – don’t wait until later when the mortar hardens
  • Wear gloves! I didn’t and my hands suffered for it

Grouting the Surround


  • Wear gloves for this part, too!
  • Sponge down the tiles as you are grouting, again, don’t wait until later when it will be much more difficult (we know from experience on this one)
  • Cure the grout by spraying it with water twice a day for a few days
  • Seal after curing – it might take a few passes with the sealer

Tiling the Floor


  • Plan our your design and start with the most important/visible area – in our case we wanted to control the look of the tiles abutting the tub
  • Clean as you go
  • You can reuse spacers as each area dries
  • Use knee pads – they really do help!
  • Cure and seal as you see fit

Installing the Vanity & Fixtures


  • Enlist the help of a professional – in our case we hired a plumber to install the tub and fixtures
  • Make sure your vanity and toilet and tub are the correct distance from one another according to code in your area

Installing the Toilet


  • Read the manual for installing your toilet ahead of time
  • If you opt for an apron type toilet (see above) know that it will be a more challenging install
  • Invest in a GOOD diamond bit to drill through your tile – we broke several economy diamond bits and would have been better served with buying the expensive one off the bat

New Bathroom Reveal

The New Bathroom!

We’re finally done with renovating the bathroom! We did everything but the plumbing ourselves (and even then Paul and his dad had to pitch in). That included ALL of the tiling – the new shower/tub surround in addition to the floor.

I have a newfound appreciation for any person who has ever tiled anything – who knew a shower niche would take so much time and energy and that I would literally lose the skin on my hands while laying tile.

Some of my favorite parts of the new bathroom are:

  • The hex floors
  • The Delta shower and tub faucets (partially obscured by the blue whale in the photos)
  • The metal bead on the shower niche (that was the easy part)
  • The beautiful handmade wooden stool gifted to us from our realtor
  • The Joe Hill poster and the Jane Mount Ideal Bookshelf 364 print

The New Bathroom Revealed

New Bathroom Before and After

New Bathroom Before and After

Enjoy & Happy Renovating!


Brook’s New Room!


We’ve been hard at work getting the new house in shape and it’s coming along little by little. The first room we have finished is Brook’s room. Below you can see more before and after pics as well as additional detail shots. She loves her new room including her two closets – one for clothes and one for playing in! Pics of the play closet coming soon.

I had so much fun making this room into a special place. I especially love:

  • The awesome frames wallpaper we bought here.
  • The chevron blackout curtains we bought here.
  • The cascading metallic circles that I made with silver contact paper cut out with 1.25″ and 2.25″ button punches.
  • The black frame on the circles wall, which is actually a mirror that I rescued it from the downstairs bathroom.
  • The school desk from the 70s we found at the recycling center.
  • The bookcase from my own childhood I transformed with black paint and yellow chevron contact paper.
  • The gallery wall with frames we’ve collected through the years, including hand painted ones from Ecuador.

Enjoy! Mari





More Detail Shots

This Old Dollhouse


My parents got me a dollhouse when I was around 9 years old. I wish I could say I decorated it and played with it for hours on end but the truth is I was never that into it and the only decorations it had were some wallpaper samples on a few walls and one bedroom of Victorian furnishings that came with it.

Recently, I found this old dollhouse in my parent’s basement and decided to take it on as a project. I joked to Paul that I was in the mood to renovate a house so why not start small! As we embark on full-scale renovations of our new house (more details to come) I thought I’d share the after photos of the dollhouse. Unfortunately, since one of my cameras was stolen and my external hard drive broke (don’t ask) I no longer have the before images. Click on the pics above to see larger images.

While Brook is still too young to play with the dollhouse she loves to look at it and name the things she sees. Her favorite thing is the rocking horse probably because she has one in her own room. You’ll notice the dolls are the I Am Elemental action figures from this blog post here. I think they look quite at home!

Some other highlights from the remodel:

  • Miniature books I bought from Jo-Ann Fabrics that I covered with some of my favorite children’s books including Little Women, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, Matilda, and To Kill a Mockingbird. You’ll see the books all around the house.
  • Decorations from board games: Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Scrabble, Bananagrams, Lotería, and jacks.
  • Most wallpaper is scrapbook paper from Michaels and most fabric I either had from previous projects or I also bought bandanas from Michaels for $1 each.
  • I made the rugs from hand stitching plastic canvas with yarn – took forever but I love the rugs.
  • Framed family photos I created by finding digital images of frames, placing family photos into them in Photoshop, printing them at home on our photo printer, and then laminating. I also recreated my favorite calendar, Massimo Vignelli’s Stendig calendar, printed it, laminated it and mounted in the living room.
  • I found a few other favorite artworks and paintings online and printed them, as well. You’ll see an image from Cindy Sherman’s Untitled series, a painting from an artist I saw in Quito, one of the portraits from Ellen Heck’s Forty Fridas, a Nikki McClure print, and the same hallway image by Nathan Rohlander that is featured on Modern Family (not pictured). Other images I cut out of magazines and design annuals.
  • I made the mobile in the nursery from buttons and I spelled Brooklyn’s name out with alphabet bracelet beads on the wall. I also sewed the beanbag chairs using fabric scraps and a pattern for hacky sacks.
  • The two miniature reproduction designer chairs I splurged buying them on eBay: the Eames lounge chair with ottoman as well as the Eames RAR rocking chair. I also got the kitchen set on eBay. The rest of the furniture I either had from the original set (basinet, bed, lamp, side table) or found the rest of the furniture for free.

Now that we’re starting to renovate a full-scale house I’ll be updating the blog with progress. I hope it’s as fun as the dollhouse!

Enjoy, Mari

Sharing My Grown Up Gigs

I am so grateful to Michelle Ward over at When I Grow Up for having me on her podcast, “Grown Up Gigs.” We talk about creative careers, juggling passion projects, serving in the Peace Corps, and my latest side project: Dear Daughter Love Me. Find the podcast here and while you’re there check out the other podcasts and interviews. I am really proud and honored to be included in this group of amazingly inspirational women!

Enjoy, Mari

Celebrating Five Years!

Wedding Image by Kristen Leigh Conklin

Commercials Leading the Way

Wells Fargo

I recently saw the above commercial for Wells Fargo and after I wiped away a tear, I thought to myself, I wonder how many ads there are that feature gay couples. I looked it up and found that there are quite a few commercials out there representing brands and companies who weren’t afraid to be inclusive, even before the recent landmark Supreme Court decision extending marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples. Here’s some more proof that #lovewins.

Enjoy, Mari

Honey Maid



Coca Cola





A Few of My Favorite Free Web Apps

New Apps




I learned about Medium at the Hopscotch Design Fest last year from Elle Luna, who gave the keynote at the conference. It’s a great online magazine with a clean design and interesting topics contributed by writers both known and obscure.



Described as “Instagram for audio” this brand new site has a lot of potential to catch on. I’ve listened to a few entries and it seems even more intimate than podcasting – like listening to meaningful voice mail messages from strangers. Each one is less than 4 minutes long and the topics are as diverse as the contributors.




I’ve used Trello for over a year now and I love it! From web development projects to marketing campaigns it is an excellent way to organize information, share the status of tasks, and collaborate with teams. There are paid versions available but the free one has worked well for me so far.

Morpholio Board


Morpholio Board

I’ve recently discovered this app for my iPad and iPhone. While Morpholio has many different productivity apps, the one I use is Morpholio Board that facilitates making inspiration and mood boards. I used it to make the boards for my last Favorite Things post below (and here). It allows you to clip images from the web and apps like Pinterest. It’s free with optional in-app purchases.



InVision is an amazing app that lets you prototype a website so easily and seamlessly I recently had a client who didn’t believe what I sent her was a mock-up. Sign up for free here.

A Few of Our Favorite Things…

Mari’s Favorite Baby Buys

Mari Loves

When you have a baby, lots of people give you advice not just on child rearing but on what you “need” to buy. I’m from the camp that you “need” very little so it was quite a shock when family and friends gifted and handed us down enough clothing, toys, accessories, and gadgets to raise five kids!

Not only were we so fortunate that we didn’t need to buy a lot and we could give new life to old things but we could be especially choosy about the few items we did end up purchasing. In no particular order, here’s a list of some of the baby stuff I’m glad we bought.

1. Chewbeads

Created by a mom, these silicone beads are stylish and functional, serving as a safe piece of jewelry that a baby can chomp while teething. I’ve been wearing my red Chewbeads necklace since Brooklyn cut her first tooth. They are easy to clean with soap and water or put them in the dishwasher! See their website here.

2. Charlie Banana One-Size Cloth Diapers

If you’re interested in cloth diapering we have found Charlie Banana’s One-Size diapers to be the best for us. We didn’t want to invest too much in a particular size (new born, small etc.) so the one-size variety pack (we chose the gender-neutral tutti fruitti colors) has served us well. When we decided to buy more diapers we tried another, less expensive one-size brand and although the designs and patterns are cute, they just don’t do the job as well. We reach for the Charlie Banana’s first and that says something. Find them here.

3. Oxo Tot Roll Up Bib

This is our favorite bib – not only does it actually catch everything that Brook spits out or drops but it washes easily, rolls up for easy travel, and has stood up to over a year of use and still looks brand new. Find it here.

4. Handkerchief Style Bibs

A mom from a mommy’s group I used to belong to recommended these handkerchief bibs. They are adorable and even better at catching drool than a regular bib because they bunch up, are triangularly shaped, and are lined with absorbent fleece material. We loved them so much we bought two different sets from two different sellers on Amazon mostly to vary the adorable cloth designs. I would recommend either one. Find them here and here.

5. Ikea Antilop High Chair

One of the best pieces of advice my sister gave me about buying baby stuff was to get this high chair because it’s easiest to clean (and cheaper than most others – it’s $15). We have also found it to be pretty portable since you can detach the legs and take off the tray. Easy to clean, cute, and inexpensive? What’s not to love? Find the Antilop High Chair here.

6. Sassy Suction Toy

Brook is a curious gal and while she is very well behaved in restaurants and at the table, she often grabs at silverware, plates, glasses…basically anything she can get her hands on. To keep her at least a little occupied, I got this toy that suctions to any hard surface from her high chair to a restaurant table. It spins but thankfully doesn’t make any annoying noises – no batteries necessary. Oh yeah – it costs under $6 on Amazon as an add-on item! Find it here.

7. Munchkin White Hot Spoons

When I first bought these spoons I didn’t appreciate just how useful they would turn out to be. Not only does the color of the spoon change with a temperature change – turning to white when the food is too hot – but they are also designed and weighted so that when they fall the spoon part rarely hits the floor. Genius! Also available on Amazon for $5! Find them here.

8. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band Set

This was Brooklyn’s holiday gift from her Mimi and Popi and she loves it! This set comes with enough wooden instruments to hold your own music class. I also appreciate that the instruments are actual instruments not just toy models of instruments and aren’t made out of plastic. Granted, the recorder doesn’t work so well but everything else in this set feels substantial and it comes in a nice wooden tray. Find it here.

And now, Brooklyn weighs in…

Brooklyn Loves

1. Any Electronic

2. Reading Books

3. Discovery Kids Bubble Gun

4. Eating Oranges or Clementines

5. Eating Bread

6. Hide N Squeak Eggs

7. Reading (Ripping) Magazines

8. Eating Plain Greek Yogurt

9. Melissa and Doug Alligator Push Toy

Free Find: Painted Wooden Blocks

Paul and I found these delightfully painted wooden blocks during another trip to the recycling center. I’ve never seen these childhood staples with quite the same designs, which harken back to the 60s or 70s. My favorite block is the Town Hall and I also love the little trees. In the photos you’ll see a mix of the blocks that we found (skyscrapers, trains, trees, houses, tow truck) mixed with our Spanish wooden blocks and a few other goodies from our toy chest. Brook had fun knocking everything down once I had taken the photos!

Enjoy, Mari

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