Master Bathroom: Vanity Makeover Plans

By Kate Riley October 7, 2014

I’m headed back to Las Vegas this week to work on the fixer house and the next project I’m starting is a remodel of the master bathroom vanity. Right now it’s one of those builder grade specials that has been there since 1989 and a refresh is so happening. This is the kind of project that’s manageable to update with a reasonable amount of money if I don’t let my starry eyed dreams of pricey marble mosaic tile send me over budget (see below and you’ll see how I’m in danger).

Someday we plan to sell this place so the goal is to not over improve it but at the same time we want to make it stand out with all of its modern upgrades when compared to similar properties. Here is the space right now, as you can see it’s that golden oak and ceramic tile combo that’s not awful but definitely dated. Everything will go except the vanity and flooring.

master vanity before

I had dreams of purchasing a new contemporary floating vanity for this space but I think it makes more sense to salvage this one because the base is solid wood and fits the space so I save a bundle by repurposing the vanity which also means I can spend more on a solid surface countertop and gorgeous tile on the wall which is really where I want to spend my cash.

A few months ago, I experimented with liming wax on a similar door from the kitchen to see if I could pull of a Restoration Hardware style gray/whitewashed look and at first it looked promising but when complete leaned too pink for my taste (dangerously close to 1980s pickled oak, yikes) but I believe that was due to the yellow undertones present in this kind of oak or perhaps first time error and not the liming process itself so I live to lime another day.

So now I’ve turned my thoughts to either a restaining process (dark of course) but I’m not crazy about the way oak takes stain, it’s very grainy so I’m thinking of having new cabinet doors made in a full overlay shaker style and staining the base and frame to match which could prove tricky but I think it could be done.

vanity cabinet

This door style is traditional which is fine so I could paint it and add new hardware but there is that lingering “oak is grainy” fact and even after two coats of primer and two coats of paint you can still see the grain which okay but in my head I have an intense desire to see a smoother finish so again I’m back to the idea of having new paint grade doors and drawer fronts made to accommodate hidden hinges.

I could live with it as is and patch the holes where the external hinges are and instead install hidden Euro hinges which doesn’t look too difficult. All of these things I’m considering. And perhaps overthinking.

bathroom vanity side view

And did you notice the floor tile? Of course you didn’t because it’s the definition of plain in the dictionary but here’s what happened with that. When we bought the house we found a few leftover boxes of this tile in the garage. This little vanity area used to have stained icky carpet and truth be told I think it’s a major crime to have carpet under a vanity so when we replaced all the carpet upstairs in August and installed the new tile downstairs, I had the installers add carpet back inside the closet and bedroom but not the vanity and we used the remaining 12 x 12” plain porcelain tile we found in the garage to fill in underneath because it matches the adjacent shower and toilet area (not shown) so now it all flows together and makes sense.

And let’s face it when you throw down a plush bathroom rug who’s really looking at the plain white floor tile, not me. As much as I adore a patterned tile floor I’m not about to rip this out for something fancier and expensive so it stays. Because again I plan to spend my cash on the countertop and wall tile and light fixtures, so let’s discuss.

First, the inspiration. These sink vanities I just love because of their dark stain on the vanity cabinet and paired with a white or marble countertop. Divine!

sarah richardson bathroom vanity

sarah richardson

warm wood gray tile bathroom vanity

vinci hamp architects 

dark stained bathroom vanity

mcgill design 


I also like the idea of painting the vanity a shade of gray since I have dreams of a marble mosaic backsplash and this is a design truth: gray painted vanities are delish.

gray floating vanity

austin architect

gray vanity

style at home

gray painted bathroom vanity

am dolce vita

So let’s talk backsplash because I’m thinking a gorgeous geometric and taking it up to the ceiling like the #2 inspiration photo. The big dream is to install a marble geometric mosaic but they are the priciest and well wouldn’t you know I have super expensive taste in tile and fixate on ones that I cannot afford.

These beauties are from the Talya collection by Sara Baldwin and I get breathless just looking at them. This tile is so expensive per template it would make your jaw drop ($150+) but hey a girl can drool dream.

talya collection tile

new ravenna 1

I’m also drawn to this Duomo by Artistic Tile which is $64 a square foot and never in my life have I spent half that on tile but I just can’t get it out of my head.

duomo tile

I’ll save on tile by avoiding installation on the wall space where mirrors will hang but I’m still trying to keep the tile cost below $25 a square foot so unless the Tile Fairy pays me a visit with a very generous gift I don’t think the Duomo will happen. Finally, as much as love bold pattern I do have to consider future resale someday and a tamer pattern of pretty glass might be more appropriate so there’s that to think about.

I’m meeting with a cabinet refacing specialist to see if refacing makes any sense for new cabinet doors and drawers. I’ve priced refacing before and it can be more expensive than replacement of new cabinets so I’m also getting a bid on just new doors and drawer fronts from a separate company too.

I’ll still have to find great lighting and fixtures and a countertop too. It will definitely be solid surface, something white or perhaps marble. You can get lucky with remnant leftovers in fabricator stockrooms so that’s where I’ll start because I really don’t want to pony up the cash for a full slab. But then there’s always engineered quartz like Ceaserstone or Siletone, much to consider! Wish me luck….


    • Thanks for the links on filling grain everyone, I’ll check it out, great idea!

  1. Hi Kate,

    I love your plans! We just bought a 30 year old home complete with a kitchen and 3 bathrooms of builders grade oak cabinets. There is a product called Pore O Pac grain filler found on Amazon that works wonders.

    Jenny from Little Green Notebook used it here:

    Can’t wait to watch your progress!

  2. I like the gray painted cabinets a lot. The nicest thing about them is that you are not going to have troubles matching stain! With replacement doors, you would have an easy fix. I do like a marble counter, but one bloop, and that white is a stained mess. As this house is going to be sold down the line, I am not sure if I would invest in anything too trendy for the backsplash, no matter how totally cool it looks today (and I absolutely love that look). I might think about why I liked that so much, and if it is the colors, look for that, the design, look for a less expensive tile with the same idea. I love my design notebook that is filled with beautiful things. I also love the hunt for things I will buy for a lot less money that answer the call of the far more expensive items! I love it.

  3. I am having a similar dilemma. I have tackled every room in our house except the master bath. I was actually looking at your old posts on painting cabinets to decide what I want to do. I love that tile and can understand why it is hard to get past. Sarah Richardson often does a plain subway tile for 75% of a space and then a long strip of the stunner as a focal point. Might be worth considering.

  4. Love your plans for this bathroom. I know it will be gorgeous when you are finished with it. I was thinking about you wanting a floating vanity but don’t want to spend the money to replace what is already there but I got to thinking that if maybe you paint the toe kick on the existing vanity either in a color that matches the tile floor or perhaps black it would make it “disappear” so that the vanity actually looks as if it floating. Just an idea. Can’t wait to see the finished results.

  5. I think the grey is something you could completely manage on a budget and make look very modern and liveable. It is so tempting to run away with all of the amazing finishes they offer out there! But I admire you for sticking to a budget in your head. Can’t wait to see what you make of the final project!

    xo Rachel

  6. Looks exactly like my Vegas master bath. Cookie cutter baths, a standard for new housing in Las Vegas. Looking forward to the end result. Whatever you decide to do will be great!

  7. Could you raise the whole vanity and add legs under it? It looks lower than 36″ to me. Also, if I were doing it, I’d replace the doors under the sinks with full height doors and use the middle section for drawers. I like the idea of grey paint; I’ve used it in my kitchen and one of our bathrooms. Can’t see getting tired of it anytime soon.

  8. We recently updated our existing vanity and made the new shaker-style door faces and drawer faces ourselves using MDF. I think they turned out great! We also poured a concrete countertop which looks awesome and saved us oodles of dough. Ours is quite “unfinished” looking, but there are options to dress up the concrete and really make it look impressive. Just some thoughts! Looking forward to checking back on your progress, you’ve got such a great eye!

  9. I just redid my 1980’s golden oak kitchen cabinets with walnut gel stain… they came out fabulous, my cleaning lady even asked me if I got new cabinets. She went home and did her 1980’s golden oak stair case and she loves it. It’s super easy, plus you don’t have to put a poly top coat on. It’s been 5 months and my cabinets still looklike the day I did them. The trick is very, VERY light coats DRY brushed on, if you don’t like the brush marks you can rag it off (wait a few minures) after you brush it on. If you email me I can send you a picture :)

    • Sure send me a pic Linda! I used gel stain on my oak bannister years ago and I agree, that stuff is great!

  10. Are those built in medicine cabinets I see? I could see those being super handy and a good selling point. Have you ever seen the trick of removing the glass cover and screwing on a nice picture frame or art instead so the cabinets aren’t creating a ‘crazy mirrored fun house’ effect – and you’d still have the function. Just an idea. :)

  11. I like your plan to keep the cabinet and just upgrade the doors, I’m sure it will make a world of difference. Cant wait to see the process! -Cat

  12. Overstock currently has tile I love so much that even though we won’t redo our bath for a while, I am thinking of buying some and hoarding it. Kind of along the lines of your inspiration pics/tile:×7.75-in-Thirties-Crest-Ceramic-Floor-and-Wall-Tile-Case-of-25/9183118/product.html?refccid=X7CXRL5JHMBL2QKBX6ZZUAL2HM&searchidx=0×7.75-in-Thirties-Vertex-Ceramic-Floor-and-Wall-Tile-Case-of-25/9183120/product.html?refccid=X7CXRL5JHMBL2QKBX6ZZUAL2HM&searchidx=2

    I’m thinking black 2x2s on the shower floor, this stuff or something like it on the rest of the floor, and white tile (either 4×4 or subway) up to chair-rail height. But those are just my own musings…

  13. Love the am dolce vita inspiration picture – perfect in every way. We redid my mother’s oak bathroom vanity with the Rust-Oleum Transformations Dark-Color Cabinet-Kit in Espresso and the dark tone almost eliminated any grain. The product was very easy to use and the vanity now looks like a new piece.

  14. Oh, Kate, you’re a transformation genius. It’s such fun to see the “befores” and to see what inspires you. And now it’ll be really fun to see the “afters”! Hope the renovation process is proving to be a blessing to you.

  15. I agree with Lisa the am dolce vita inspiration picture is my favorite as I’m a big fan of gray which looks beautiful with marble. I’m wondering if priming with Kiltz stain blocker would address the grain problem also? I also like the inspiration photos with the open shelving. I could see making the center open shelves with nice rectangular baskets for towels and nice hardware on the two end cabinets. I think woods, metals, natural fibers and textiles are a winning combination. Your decision to work with your existing vanity and to splurge on the tile is definitely a smart one.

  16. I just had the nicest time browsing the Saltillo site. What about a porcelain mosaic in grays? There is one, Botticino that is beautiful, and I am sure is higher than a cat’s back. But, mixed with something, could be the accent that you were wanting.

  17. I’m eager to see your choices for the counter top and back splash. I’ll be sourcing the same things shortly for my master bath and will need to spend wisely.

  18. If you want to replace the doors/drawer fronts there are many places from which you can order custom doors in a variety of woods. I have a linen closet in my hallway that is in need of some new doors and the prices did not seem too bad for the large size that I need.

    Good luck!

  19. More wood grain fillers to check out…

    Benjamin Moore Benwood Interior Finishes Wood Grain Filler
    Sherwin Williams Sher-Wood Natural Filler

  20. How about a dark gray almost black counter with the last tile option that has the same tones. I’m loving dark colors and antique brass for the moodiness but probably wouldn’t work with that tile.

  21. Love the idea of gray cabinets though I prefer green-based grays. And I really dig the Talya Dolomite Skyline gray & white diamond pattern tile – it’s almost luminescent and jewel-like, very elegant, rich and luxurious and yet it’s “simple” enough that it wouldn’t be so specific as to turn off a future buyer. I wouldn’t give up on it – instead I’d rethink how to use a smaller amount for a big effect. The #2 inspiration pic is great with that very small tile and the very large mirror. That same amount of Talya tile up the wall might end up overwhelming you and make you run out of the room screaming “what was I thinking?” (Even the pic with the subway tile up to the ceiling with the grey grout turns me off – I really do feel as though I’m in a subway bathroom.)

    I think what you did with the tile floors and your idea of reusing the vanity are very smart and practical ideas and going with a very plain but pretty countertop is a good idea too. I would keep the medicine cabinets because although we generally don’t like the look of them, they are very useful storage. I like Julie’s idea of installing art prints over them – better if they were centered on the wall but still workable – kind of like the canvas art you can hang over your mounted flat screen TV in the bedroom. Matching prints with a bit of quiet, sophisticated color – maybe botanicals? or similar – not too bold. Then you could go back to figuring how you could afford to use some of that beautiful tile. Good luck!

  22. I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing what you do with this project. I will be sprucing up my master bathroom and have a similar set-up. I’m dealing with a few dilemmas and am beginning to feel frustrated. Maybe your project will give me the inspiration I need. Good luck!

  23. Have you considered stripping the vanity and using a product called Rubio Monocoat? I’m considering for our orange oak kitchen cabinets. The product line is a zero VOC hardwax oil system used for floors as well as furniture. It has a matte finish which I love as it really brings out the wood grain (why try to fight it with the oak). Best of all – there are so so MANY colors! Also, there is a neat tannin reactive product called “fume” which gives a gray look to the wood (which looks to cancel that pinkish cast from liming wax). I would think you’d find a color combination you’d like.

    Here’s a link

  24. I’m grappling with the same issue. Half bath and smaller vanity but it is still the 1986 special. It’s boxed in on both sides. I was thinking of just refacing with plywood to get rid of the toe kick and reduce the grain issue. Paint it white and tack it on.

  25. Can’t wait to see what you do! I was wondering if you were familiar with Popham Design? You have such an eye for patterns and color that I’m sure it would be easy for you to use their product to customize exactly what you want! I just came across them on the internet so I have no idea about quality or price but it might be worth a look?

  26. Haven’t read all the comments so don’t know if this has already been suggested, but how about using mirror for the kick rail under the vanity. This would reflect the tile and make it look like it’s floating. I’m also not a fan of marble counter tops as it’s just too porous and stains too easily – one drop of hair dye and you’ll never get that spot clean – I do however like the idea of a stone or concrete counter top with a marble feature tile on the wall. Good luck with the contractors.

  27. I used Benjamin Moore Advanced paint in a lovely grey on our old oak kitchen cabinets. I used one coat of primer and then painted on 3 coats of the Advanced. The oak grain was almost completely eliminated because the paint self levelled so beautifully. With new hardware the cabinets were totally transformed and the cost was crazy low. Think what you could then spend on that beautiful tile!

    • Exactly Sharon, thanks! I love BM Advance paint for cabinets too, it’s fabulous!

  28. We completed a DIY update of a bathroom that had a large formica vanity that, like yours, was wall-to-wall. We refaced it with stained maple veneer and replaced the doors and drawer fronts. We ordered doors and drawers from Lowes, as well as the refacing veneer. My husband viewed a video showing how to apply the veneer before starting the project and it turned out great! It was WAY cheaper than what it would have cost us to have it done by refacing professionals. We did pay professionals to reface our kitchen cabinets which were much more complicated than the bathroom. The professionals did stain the inside of the cabinets (which were also formica…1990s Florida kitchen decor) giving them a woodgrain appearance and they replaced all the shelves with wood replacements. We didn’t do that with the bathroom, but were very happy with our DIY results. It was a little challenging, but not too bad. Just the right cutting tools and enough hands to apply the veneer.

  29. Oh Kate……I am just drooling over those tiles!!! Dag why did I visit today?!! LOL
    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the tiger stripped cabinets in Sarah’s photo and in Vinci Hamp’s photo….couldn’t you paint/stain them and then use one of those decorative tools and drag it through the paint/stain? I’m sure you could figure it out!
    Can’t wait to see the results!!

  30. I have a 1989 built house (in Northern Nevada) with all oak cabinets. I would love to paint, etc the cabinets in the kitchen, etc, but the husband LOVES the oak. Oh, and we just pulled out the carpet from our shower/toilet bathroom and put tile type flooring down. Not sure if I will ever convince the husband to remove the carpet from the vanity section since it is part of our bedroom though. Will definitely be interested to see all the final changes.

  31. My comment may be a little too late but I give it a whirl anyway… If you love a marble countertop go for it! I was able to purchase a remnant for my bathroom and love it! If you go for a honed piece instead of polished you won’t have to worry about stains. I have left toothpaste and all kinds of makeup, coffee, etc. on it until I was able to clean later… and no problem! You wouldn’t be able to do that with polished marble, though. As long as the honed is sealed you are fine. And it looks high end!

  32. I have expensive taste in tile too….but a little bit in an accent somewhere, surrounded by something more affordable, sometimes is the ticket. I’ve never gotten into “gray” myself, so I probably shouldnt comment,….but I will! I need some color…..even if it is subtle, like a grayed green, or a grayed blue, still neutral enough, but not blah.

  33. Kate I used the gel stain on my sisters bathroom cabinets and it works pretty good. It isn’t very workable and takes a long time to dry, and I’d say it gives it more of a painted finish. I think you should try more ideas on how to get that RH look, that would be an awesome tutorial for all the people out there who live with those red oak cabinets.

  34. I am looking to re-tile a bathroom floor and love the idea of using unique patterned tiles. If you have any site recommendations, I’d love to check them out!

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