You don’t have to spend thousands
of dollars and put up with
weeks of construction mess to transform
your bathroom. In many cases,
you can give your bathroom a fresh,
new look by replacing the dated
vanity cabinet, sink, faucets and light
fixtures. And with a little planning
and perseverance, you can get most
of the work done in a weekend. In this
story, we’ll walk you through the
steps for this weekend bathroom
makeover and show you a few tricks
to save you some money and speed
up the job.
We were looking for a way to radically
change the appearance of this
’70s-era bathroom without breaking the
bank. And after shopping around, we
settled on IKEA cabinets and fixtures.
They’re modern, moderately priced and
easy to install. To spice things up, we
splurged a little on the glass tiles, which added several hundred dollars to the cost. Altogether
we spent about $1,300 for this project.
Before you launch into a bath redo
like this, make sure the flooring
extends under the vanity cabinet. This
may take a little detective work. You
can usually tell by carefully inspecting
the intersection of the floor and cabinet.
If there’s no flooring under the
cabinet, you’ll have to either replace
the floor or find a new vanity cabinet
with the same or larger footprint. If
you’re lucky, you may find matching
flooring to patch in, but this is rare.
(For more details see: vanities; bathroom sinks; wall-mounted lights; and tiling.)
Tear out the old stuff
Every bathroom is different, and this
phase of the job may be quick and easy
or present a few challenges. Start by
closing the shutoff valves to the faucet
and disconnecting the plumbing under
the sink. If the drain parts are the old
steel type, don’t try to reuse them.
You’ll save yourself headaches by
simply replacing the trap assembly
with a modern PVC version. Buy a
1-1/4-in. PVC trap kit at a home center
or hardware store. If you have a plastic
laminate vanity top, look for screws on
the underside and remove them.
Cultured marble tops like the one
shown here are usually held on by
caulk and need to be pried off (Photo 1).
If tile surrounds your vanity top, you’ll
have to remove the tile first.
Next remove the screws that hold the
cabinet to the wall and remove the cabinet.
Complete the tear-out by removing
the mirror or medicine cabinet and
light fixtures. Turn off the power to the
bathroom light at the main electrical
panel and double-check the wires with
a voltage sniffer to make sure the power is off before you disconnect the light.
Mark the new plan on the wall
Drawing a full-scale plan of the new
layout on the wall will save you headaches
later (Photo 2). You’ll need the
dimensions of the vanity cabinet,
vanity top, tile and light fixtures. It’s
best if you have these items on-site to
make sure there are no surprises. In
addition, it’s important to dry-fit the
drain parts so you’ll know exactly
where to position the new vanity cabinet.
The IKEA cabinet we used
included a custom (and very unusual)
drain assembly that required us to
center the new cabinet on the existing
drain. Traditional vanity cabinets are
After you’ve determined the vanity
cabinet location and marked it on the wall, plan the tile layout. Lay a row of
tile on the floor to determine the exact
width and height of the tiled area and
mark this on the wall. Now draw lines
to indicate the position of the mirror.
Finally mark the location of the new
light fixture boxes. Hold the light fixtures
up on the wall to determine the
best height and make marks. Then
center them between the mirror and
the tile border. After you double-check
all your layout marks, you’re ready to
move on to the wiring.
Add wiring for the new sconces
Again, every bathroom will be different.
Maybe you already have sconces,
but need to relocate them for the new
mirror position. Keep in mind that the
National Electrical Code requires every
electrical box to be accessible. In other
words, you can’t connect wires in a
junction box and then cover it with
drywall or glue a mirror over it. But
luckily it’s OK to put a junction box
behind a mirror as long as the mirror
isn’t permanently attached. This allows
you some flexibility when adding light
fixtures. If the old wires won’t reach to
the new box location, you can simply
add a junction box as we show here
and extend new wires from it to the
new fixture locations (Photo 3 and 4).
In our case, the wiring was straightforward.
There was one cable extending
from the switch to the original
light fixture. We removed a section of
drywall to simplify the installation of
the junction box and new wires. Then
we chose an electrical box large
enough to accommodate the new wires
(see “What You Should Do with Crowded Electrical Boxes” for more information).
We nailed the new junction box
to the stud and ran the old wires into
the box. Then we cut holes for the
new remodeling boxes at the fixture
locations, drilled holes through the
studs and ran new cable from the
junction box to each fixture location
(Photo 4). We used remodeling boxes to
simplify exact placement and avoid extra wall patching.
Tile the walls
It’s easier to tile before you install the
vanity cabinet because you don’t have to cut the tile to fit around it. You can
save money on tile by omitting it
behind the vanity cabinet and mirror.
Just extend the tile a few inches
beyond the outlines of the mirror and
cabinet. Also, you don’t have to cut
tile to fit tightly to the electrical boxes
as long as the light fixture will cover
the missing tiles.
Rather than spread thin-set mortar
on the wall to adhere the tile, we
installed a sticky mat called Bondera
(Photos 5 and 6). Bondera tile adhesive
has a few advantages over thin-set,
especially for installation of glass
mosaic tile like ours. First, you can
grout right away. You don’t have to
wait for the thin-set to set up. And you
don’t have to worry about thin-set
oozing out from behind the tile and
into the grout spaces.
Bondera adhesive isn’t perfect,
though. First, it’s
way more expensive than thin-set. Also, repositioning the sheets of tile
was a little tricky. They won’t slide like
they do on thin-set. You have to place
them gingerly onto the mat and not
embed them firmly until you’re sure
they’re properly aligned. You can pull
off the sheet of tile and reposition it if
you haven’t pressed too hard. Follow
the instructions included with the
Bondera adhesive, or go to
bonderatilematset.com for an installation
video and more instructions.
If you’re leaving tile out like we did,
the trick is to make sure the tile meets
up accurately as you surround the
blank space. Run tile up one side to
just above the cabinet space and across
the bottom, making sure the side
column is perfectly plumb (follow your
layout line) and the bottom row is perfectly
level. Then extend lines from
these two points with a level.
Remember, don’t press too hard on the
tile until you’re sure it’s all lined up
correctly (Photo 7). When the tile is
lined up perfectly, embed it in the mat
by tamping on it with a grout float. As
soon as you’re done tiling, you can mix
up some grout and fill the grout spaces
Mix the grout to toothpaste consistency
and let it sit for 15 minutes. Remix
it and add a tiny dash of water if it got
too thick. See “grout” for more grouting tips and instructions.
Bondera Tile Adhesive: A New Way to Set Tile
To install the glass mosaics for this project, we
replaced the traditional thin-set mortar tile adhesive
with a product called Bondera. It’s
basically a mat that’s sticky on
both sides, allowing you to stick it
to the wall like wallpaper, and then
stick tiles to the face. Bondera
adhesive is available at Lowe’s in 12-in.-
wide x 10-ft.-long rolls. The main
advantages over thin-set are that
you can grout right away and that
you don’t have to worry about it
oozing into the grout joints.
It’s not perfect, though.
Whereas thin-set can take
up some wall irregularities,
Bondera adhesive isn’t forgiving. If your wall is wavy,
your tile will be too. And you can’t slide the tile around
to reposition it. You can nudge it a little, but for major adjustments you’ll have to pull off the tile and try again.
Mount the vanity cabinet and top
IKEA cabinets require assembly but
are easy to put together. After assembling
the cabinet, mount it on the wall
using temporary blocks to hold it up.
If you don’t have studs at the mounting
bracket location, use toggle bolts.
Regardless of what type of vanity cabinet
you’re installing, first locate the
studs. Then drive 3-in. washer head
screws through the cabinet hanging
rail into the studs to hold it in place
Next, mount the faucets to the sink
top and assemble the drain parts and
faucet connections. If you’re replacing
a single faucet with two faucets, you
can connect them both to the existing
shutoff valves by adding a “tee” as
shown in Photo 10. These IKEA faucets
included proprietary supply tubes with 1/2-in. pipe thread fittings on the end.
Your faucets may be different. Take the
faucet and any included tubes with
you to the home center or hardware
store so you can assemble them in the
store to find the right parts.
After you’ve mounted the faucets
and assembled the drain parts, you’re ready to install the sink. Spread a thin
bead of silicone caulk on the top edge
of the cabinet and carefully lower the
sink top onto it. Let the caulk set up
for a few hours before you connect the
plumbing to make sure the sink
doesn’t get jostled out of position.
Complete the job by marking and cutting
the PVC tailpiece (Photo 11) and
connecting the supply lines. Turn on
the water and check for leaks.
Back to Top
Add the finishing touches
Now you’re on the home stretch. In our
bathroom, we repainted the walls and
replaced the old moldings with strips
of flat birch to match the new cabinet.
Photo 12 shows how to drill holes in the
glass tile for the mirror mounting clips.
The mirror mounts we found at the
home center included a pair of spring-loaded
clips for the top and fixed clips
for the bottom. Measure your mirror
and mark the clip positions on the tiles
with a permanent marker. The top clips
have to be mounted about 3/8 in. low
to allow the spring clip to function
properly. Then use a 1/4-in. glass bit,
available at home centers and hardware
stores, to drill the holes (Photo 12).
The key is to go slowly and keep the
bit and tile wet to avoid overheating,
which would crack the tile and ruin
the bit. Tap a plastic anchor into the
holes and attach the clips with pan
head screws. Install the mirror by putting
the top edge into the clips and lifting
it up. Then let it drop down into
the lower clips.
Finish by mounting the light fixtures.
Make sure the power is turned
off. Then strip the ends of the wires
about 1/2 in. (read the instructions on
the wire connector package for the
exact amount). Electrical boxes can be
recessed up to 1/4 in. in noncombustible
materials like tile, but since our tile
was just over 1/4 in. thick, we added a
box extension set flush to the tile surface before attaching the fixture
strap with the mounting screws (Photo
14). Wrap the bare copper ground wire
three-quarters of the way around the grounding screw on the fixture strap
and tighten the screw. Then extend the
remainder of the bare ground wire to
the ground wire on the fixture and connect them with a wire connector.
Complete the wiring by connecting the
white neutral wires together and the
switched hot wires together.
Get the Look
Tile: Premium Glass Mosaics
Black and White Blend at
Home Depot. Sold in 12 x 12-in. sheets.
Light fixtures: Hampton Bay
No. 287451 Wall Sconce at
The following products are
available at iKea stores and
online from ikea.com:
Vanity cabinet: Godmorgon
two-drawer sink cabinet.
Vanity top: Bredviken sink.
Towel bar: Sävern. Article No. 901.625.97.