Editor’s note: This Milwaukee couple has taken on their second home renovation project, dubbed the “Midwest Malibu Cottage,” and has invited us along for the ride! Stay tuned for all those ups, downs and delicious before + afters! Check out the first installment here.
Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine.
Why, hello again! Back ‘atcha again from the Midwest Malibu Cottage, this time with a project that, to us, is maybe the wildest thing we’ve ever done. We’re going to show you our Powder Room renovation. It’s the smallest room we’ve ever overhauled, but the effort was definitely not proportional to its size, which, if we try to look at this optimistically, equals a high yield in satisfaction! And, yes, we’re totally aware that it’s all relative, eye of the beholder, etc., but we think you’ll agree that this will be the boldest approach we’ve allowed in either of our houses. It might be a small room, but it’s definitely not lacking in detail!
We’re working with less than 3’x5’ here – we’re talking darn near airplane bathroom scale, folks, and this is not a mile-high kind of place, ok! This was the only room in the house that still bore its original wallpaper (remember way back at the beginning we told you that in EVERY room we’ve touched, we’ve found wallpaper remnants), and the stuff was way yellowed by its years of service. Replete with a golden oak vanity and its ivory cultured marble top and must’ve-been-a- BOGO medicine cabinet, plus bright brass faucet and sconce, we had a little time capsule sitting here. While the finishes weren’t what we loved, we maybe could have refinished some items, but we had an issue of poor condition atop their appearance; water damaged and dysfunctional, it was time for all-new in here, so that at the end of this entire remodel we had a house full of all-new-condition parts and pieces.
This is not a space with a lot of margins to express a significantly huge idea. So far, we’ve always attempted to add some architectural interest into the rooms in this house while freshening up aesthetics and improving functionality, but in a volume this petite, we didn’t feel that layering on architectural components was a smart idea if we were trying to preserve what little dimension with which we had to work. Ultimately we looked at this closet of a space, which is not highly-trafficked, as an opportunity to deploy a bit of surprise and delight. We thought back to our travels in Scandinavia last summer, to the smaller-scaled spaces that were minimally-furnished and often featured amusing little quirks, and decided to explore an approach to keep it clean and cute in here.
We never thought we’d be saying this, but wallpaper quickly became our solution, as we found it to be the most logical manner to add visual interest without dimensionally impacting the room. And we decided that if we were gonna go there, it had to be a go-big-or-go-home kind of thing. The wallpaper marketplace is huge today, with advances in removable materials making it possible for so many players to offer up their graphic designs, so we had a lot of fun (read: wasted a lot of time) browsing vendors all over the place and manically ordering samples, ultimately settling on our final selection, a mid-scale graphic of jewel-toned organic silhouettes, which we felt was a modern nod to the Scandinavian adoration of nature. When we maybe somewhat hyperbolically cry out that we’ve gone wild, it’s because we can’t believe we’ve not only fallen in love with color, but we’ve mounted it (semi-permanently) on the wall!
Rarely has there been a scope we couldn’t handle as we’ve remodeled. (We do contract out paint, and heavy electrical or plumbing for our own safety and sanity.) So when it came to installing wallpaper we thought, “Oh, we’re logical people and have the patience and endurance to work slowly and make this happen,” but we were quickly proven wrong. The material came in 26”-wide rolls, which meant in a room this small, with the cutouts for door and window openings and plumbing, there was only going to be one sheet installed in full without even having to wrap a corner, so we got one full sheet up with ease as practice, feeling then that we had it figured out. About five minutes into the second sheet, though, we started to wrap a corner and completely lost our plumb line, wrecking the whole thing, and we just stopped right there and walked away, literally leaving the sheet hanging recklessly off the wall. This new stuff on the market might say “peel and stick,” implying that it’s adjustable, but there are definitely limitations! Long story short, a friend made some calls and found us a paper hanging crew and it was $275 and three hours well spent. The ladies applauded our effort but said there was no way novices could have even pulled this off. We humbly accept the defeat.
Since wallpaper is kind of the headliner here, we think it’s important to talk about how we got from not to hot. We thought we’d get lucky and be able to just install this new peel-and-stick stuff over the existing material, but found that the new vinyl was too thin and its white background allowed the former pattern to show through. So we made the obvious attempt at removal by peeling and got the obvious not-gonna-happen results, and, given we were in the middle of a kitchen remodel alongside this effort, we got real lazy and decided to seek outside counsel. What we ended up finding was a workaround that saved so much effort: just paint over it, duh! We ended up having the painter spray over the existing wallpaper while he was doing our kitchen, which simply color-coated over the existing pattern. Atop the base coat of paint, per recommendation from our Sherwin Williams representative, he then applied a product called Draw Tite, a primer that seals the surface below and works incredibly well to accept vinyl wall coverings. It was magical to see the old wallpaper disappear and the new stuff just tack right on. No stripping the wall with countless tools after spraying the old stuff down and hours of tedious (read: profanity-filled) work in a tiny room! 10/10 would recommend.
We consider this room an extension of our kitchen, so wanted to continue the flooring finish in here to suggest as much. Easier said than done, though! The fifth flooring material type we’ve eradicated from this house, a 2” white-glazed mosaic tile, was easy to demo, but if you recall from our kitchen project, there were five layers of flooring in the kitchen, so at the end of demo there was a 3/4” differential in the subfloors so we had to pause to throw down and level some plywood to solve for that. The concrete-look tile from the kitchen is also great in here as a neutral foundation to the room and we love the continuity. And while we’re talking about the floor, sitting on the floor in here is another new efficient toilet, which required a fun lesson in flange spacers to build up the height at the waste line, but we pulled it off with zero issue and conquered another install without the need for a plumber – we’re still slowly adding abilities to our skillset!
Part of what made the original conditions in this room so squeezed was the sink vanity that sat in this room. It was a full-depth piece that blocked the accessibility into the room from the door and left less-than-optimal room in front of the toilet. The solution we found for this room was a very affordable big box store piece with an integral sink-top at a shallow depth, only 10.5”, which added several more clear inches of space in the middle of the room. The cabinet itself actually hangs off the wall, but to give it a bit more character we added some sofa legs that we adapted into the bottom of the cabinet structure, and the natural wood finish gives a little more interest to the white cabinet body. At the sink we utilized the same faucet hardware from our main bathroom, but did decide to splurge on the matte black finish, this time taking a gamble with our difficult-to-manage well water, in hopes that the lower usage of this room will keep this one not spotty. We plumbed the entire setup ourselves this round, feeling pretty talented, and with that install, we now have all- new plumbing fixtures through the whole house!
Continuing our can’t stop/won’t stop love for matte black hardware, we chose a new wall-mounted sconce which matches the ceiling fixtures in the kitchen, thereby eliminating the last of the brass light fixtures in this house. Then for the accessories, we took our own advice from the kitchen project and decided to up the game on top of our cheap-o vanity selection, and selected the Rejuvenation Beckett Finger Pull to add a bit of punch and texture with its black leather. On the wall, we chose the Rounded Rectangle Yaquina Mirror for above the vanity, which gives a bit of a retro touch but the oil-rubbed bronze mounts at top and bottom throw in a modern, industrial touch. Then the West Slope Towel Ring and Toilet Paper Holder come together to round out our functional needs. We took a risk in blending so many different, non-family fixtures in such a small space but feel that they all come together and complement one another well, and the well-made pieces are the right investment in the right place. When we moved in, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to throw in the Organic Gauze Candlewick Hand Towel to add a bit of soft sweetness, and rounded out the experience for our guests with the Lightwell x water street Teak Hand Soap. While we wanted to remodel this room to look and function better than we found it, we wanted to create a lovely experience for our visitors and so far we’ve received rave reviews so think we aced this one!
With the walls already pretty busy, we decided to keep it simple and not try to fight the graphic of the wallpaper itself. We’ve had a special print in storage that we found from a Wisconsin-based artist at a West Elm Local in-store pop-up that we knew would be just the right touch, and we’ve left it at that. You know by now that we love a gallery wall, but we repressed the urge this time around in favor of simplicity. Since we only had horizontal surface at the window sill here, we again turned to a Foundations Vase to hold some dried naturals, then picked up (another) air plant at our local West Elm store and mounted it in a little black geometric frame that we suspended from the ceiling on a thin leather string. We’ve kept all of the decorative focus in here on organic objects and motifs, and for a room whose function is to serve hygiene, it feels great to us!
Nice and neat, huh? Another one in the books, and with this we finish up the main level of the remodel at the Midwest Malibu Cottage! We’ve finally touched every square inch of this floor, which is just mind-blowing to us, such a milestone in our work here, but we aren’t done yet! There are still two rooms left, as we hop down the stairs and begin the overhaul of our finished basement, where we’ll be overhauling the Family Room and Workroom spaces, so stick around and we’ll be back in no time flat with more reveals. Between then and now you can always find more details and background stories on Instagram (@florals4spring / @kielaaron) – be back soon with our next project!