Agile in the Bathroom

Pamela Hoevel

When my husband and I bought our house a year and a half ago, we knew we’d eventually have to renovate all the bathrooms in our house, but most importantly, the master bathroom. Somewhere along the years the original 1960 speckled blue shower tile had been epoxy painted a shiny cream; the vanity had been replaced with a big box store MDF special; and I suspect (we will see when we start the demo) the original floor tile had been covered up with a faux marble ceramic tile. If you could squint past the unsightly yellow wall color it wasn’t horrible. It was livable. All in due time, we thought.

We forgot about our kids.

In a matter of months, they’d treated all three towel racks and the toilet paper holder like chin-up bars and ripped them out of the drywall. One of them (and I’m pretty sure I know which one, but I’ll protect her identity) thought it would be fun to peel the laminate off the tiny little MDF vanity, leaving behind jagged flaps of loose plastic.  And because what good is a cabinet door if not to swing on, they broke the hinges on the right door (which I hastily tried to fix when company was coming over, but now sits like a crooked tooth). But that’s not all. In using the bottom drawer as a step stool, they tore off the drawer front, exposing jutting finishing nails that stab me like little daggers in the tips of my toes if I don’t approach the vanity with an air of caution.  Just recently, the toilet, which flushed on willpower alone, decided it’d had enough and let go.

Suddenly the yellow wall color was giving me a tick. The cracks in the drywall looked like chasms. I desperately wanted the vanity sconces to be placed at a height to illuminate my face, not my shoulders (though, on rough mornings I don’t mind this so much). It’s due time, we thought. And, hey, the demo was already started.

First Step: User Stories

The hubby and I completed our user stories for our dream bathroom:
• When showering, I would like my nose not to hit the shower wall in front of me.
• When using the vanity, I would like to have enough counter space to fit my toothbrush and hairbrush at the same time.
• I would like the vanity to be made of a material that can’t peel, chip, or be demolished by 38 lbs. of body weight.
• I’d like a closet big enough to store my winter clothes and summer clothes year-round. (And maybe some of the hubby’s clothes.)
• I’d like the design to be timeless and blend with the Colonial style of our house.
• And since we’re talking about a master bathroom and dreaming big, I’d like a bath tub! No grimy -though-cute kids allowed! No My Little Pony bath toys! No globs of caked shampoo!
• I’d like to expand the teeny tiny master bathroom into the tiny unused attached bedroom.

Current bathroom vs. expanded bathroom:


A Throne Room Fit for a Queen

How much could this master bathroom cost? we thought. $15,000? Go ahead, laugh. We can, too, now that the shock has worn off.

No, in getting quotes from five companies, the cost ranged from a Nissan Maxima to an Audi S5 (read: $60,000). It’s 155 square feet, people! We’ve got three kids! That’s three sets of braces, three proms, three college tuitions, three weddings (if they so choose that path). You get the idea. That wasn’t going to happen.

But let’s talk about one of the Audi S5 bathroom quotes for a minute just because it’s so audacious. (We’ll also use it as a bench mark.) This was a gold marble plated product: floor to ceiling marble, a custom built 57” double sink wood vanity, expanded shower, a free-standing bathtub, and quality (but not top of the line) fixtures. In addition to all the shiny features, this company priced in all the possible failures of the environment (aka, the house) that they may have run into, as well as their failures in planning.

Price: Audi S5
Customer delight: BLISS!
Customer financial burden: Huge life-sucking black hole of debt

So, the hubby and I refactored:
No tile on the wall, only where necessary and not in marble.
Marble only as an accent in the shower.
Less expensive floor tile.
Price: Audi A4
Customer delight: Still bliss!
Customer financial burden: Still a huge debt, only slightly less of a life-sucking black hole. Maybe like being on the outer edges of a black hole praying you don’t get sucked in.

And refactored again (all the above, plus):
No bathtub, but the bathroom still expanded into the extra bedroom.
Price: Audi S3
Customer delight: Resigned happiness (I really wanted a bathtub)
Customer financial burden: Heart palpitations while awake and asleep. On the far, far outer edges of affordability, but doable. I guess.

And refactored again:
Replace existing fixtures and re-tile our teeny tiny bathroom.
Bust a door into the extra bedroom which we will make into a closet.
Price: Audi A3 Sedan with a few upgrades
Customer delight: Nil
Customer financial burden: In comparison, affordable (still expensive!), but with no value proposition.

I get it; the construction companies need to make money, too. They have designers and contractors and workers and a store front and marketing and insurance that need to be paid for. They deliver a beautiful finished product with little involvement from the customer. But they also get to keep all the what if money, even if there are few what ifs. (They get to keep all the learning opportunities, too.)

Hold Your Breath and…Flush

If we want to be happy, and if we don’t want our children to be fangle toothed and uneducated and carry around life-long resentments about not attending prom, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. At the very least, we have to act as our own General Contractor. Somehow, by a miracle of my mother, she persuaded my uncle, who is a very talented, precise jack-of-all-trades, to fly across the country with his extremely handy wife, and help us remodel our master bathroom.
Yes, our hands will get dirty. (It’s okay, we’re DIYers!)
Yes, we will have to manage it ourselves. (with what else but a Kanban board!)
No, it will not be as easy as writing a check.
But we will get an expanded vanity, a larger shower, a stand-alone bathtub (!!!), and a large closet for far less than the price of an Audi S5, A6, or S3. Girls, you’re going to college!
Stay tuned, in the next post I’ll talk about organizing the product delivery and Sprint 0.

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