When A Bathroom Remodel Turns Into Something Else Entirely

Reader Contribution by Rusty Duck

Large scale house renovations are not for the faint hearted. It’s hard to avoid some interruption to ‘normal’ life, even if it’s just the tradesman’s dusty size 11’s trampling up and down the stair carpet. Or the ubiquitous builders’ radio. Or the doors left constantly open. Most especially in winter. If you really want to up the ante, tackle the kitchen or the bathroom, the most disruptive projects of all. And if that’s still not enough adrenaline to satisfy the ultimate decorative thrill seeker, take on all of the above in an ancient house.

The Bathroom. The old ceiling turned out to be too weak and had to be removed. At this point, ‘first fix’ plumbing had just begunPhoto by rusty duck

But for all of its stresses and strains, for me anyway, old house renovation is exciting. It’s all about the discovery. The peeling back of the layers. Think about it. If a house is 500 years old, just how much has changed since the way we lived back then? And as their lives became increasingly sophisticated, successive generations added their own modifications to the basic structure of the house. Partitioning of rooms to fulfill different functions, the addition of fireplaces and ranges for cooking and, ultimately, the incorporation of ‘modern’ conveniences like water, drainage and electricity.

Smoke blackened beams and thatch. Photo by rusty duck

In the course of renovating an old house we open up a window onto what has gone before. Taking down our bathroom ceiling opened a window on a completely different world. The original cottage would have been little more than a single room with a basic hearth in the center of the floor: a fire to provide warmth and a means of cooking away from the worst of the winter wet. No chimney, just maybe a small opening in the roof to let out some of the smoke. But we can see how murky the room must have been from the soot deposits still remaining on the inside of our roof.

Simple living, medieval style. And thank goodness we don’t have to go to quite those extremes to get back to basics today. It couldn’t have been very healthy!  

Pipe City. Photo by rusty duck

In keeping with tradition I’d like to think we’re making some improvements of our own. When radiator central heating was originally installed the then owners took the path of least resistance and bolted the plumbing to the surfaces of the walls. With careful placement they managed to hide the majority of it behind heavy drapes. But if you favor a simpler window treatment, like roman shades, what do you do? Pipe City, as it became ‘affectionately’ known, would have to go.

Hiding the central heating pipes. Photo by rusty duck

Not only would it have to go, it would have to go now. As luck would have it, or not, the new bathroom sits right above the heart of Pipe City. Work to reroute the plumbing, channeling it into the walls and underneath the floorboards, would have to run concurrently—because once that bathroom floor is tiled it ain’t never coming up.

The decibel level raised exponentially. Along with the mess. In the two main living rooms large furniture now lies hidden beneath dust sheets, everything else dispersed across every other room. And was that the end of it? Of course not.

Husband’s study floor was the next to come up. An electrician on a treasure hunt in pursuit of a single wire. And there’s no longer a hand basin in the downstairs restroom. Why is there no longer a hand basin in the downstairs restroom? Because someone in her infinite wisdom decided to use the toilet and basin which were coming out of the bathroom in the downstairs room because they were so much nicer than what was already there. Only then to discover that the bathroom basin didn’t quite fit…millimeters can be significant, believe me.

Six weeks in and a whole house in chaos. All for a ‘simple’ bathroom makeover. Just the kitchen remains unscathed. And only then because I’ve bolted the door!

The bathroom last week. It may look like a bunker. But it’s progress. Kinda. Photo by rusty duck


Jessica shares with us her first-hand experience of moving to a simpler life in rural South West England, renovating a 500 year old thatched cottage and restoring an overgrown garden. She also authors the rusty duck blog, a lighthearted diary chronicling the ups and downs along the way. You have to laugh or else you’d cry. After all, as Murphy’s Law states: If It Can Go Wrong, It Will.. 

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