replacing just the vanity
October 2, 2014 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to remove a tiled vanity (in one of those all-tile fifties bathrooms) without damaging the adjacent tile? I want to replace the vanity, but I don't want to redo the whole bathroom.

So my house was built in 1956 and still has the original bathrooms. I think they replaced the toilets and the upstairs sink, but that's it. Thankfully, it's blue, not pink.

The vanity is plywood, probably built on-site, tiled top and surrounded by walls tiled at least two rows up from where the vanity top is (higher on the side). Think this, this, or this. Except my sink doesn't protrude in front. Actually, almost exactly this, except medium blue instead of aqua.

I want to remove the vanity and replace with something like this, thereby gaining some floor space. I recently cleaned out the vanity, and I don't need all the storage space in the deeper one anyway.

But if you guys tell me I will inevitably damage the wall tile, I will settle for painting the existing vanity and trying to re-do the hinges so all the doors close, because I am not up to replacing all the tile in that bathroom.

Related: is it also possible to re-tile the floor without doing anything else (other than the vanity)? I suspect the floor tile does not go under the existing vanity. The current floor tile is the tiny style, and the grout (from the 50s, probably) is disgusting.
posted by timepiece to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Take these thoughts knowing that my expertise is only having re-tiled one of my bathrooms about a decade ago. It started as a much smaller project. I think we were just going to replace the toilet. When we did, there was a need to re-tile the floor because the new toilet had a different footprint than the old one and the tiles had faded somewhat. Once we decided to do the floor, we started but ended up breaking some of the tiles that abutted the floor. So, ex-wife readily said let us re-tile the walls too. (To this day I do not know if she broke those tiles on purpose or not.)

Re-tiling a bathroom sucks, but it is a reasonable project that can be completed nicely by DIYers. I suspect if you make the vanity footprint smaller, there will be floor tile issues that need be addressed. Mainly either matching existing tile or redoing the entire floor. I think you could be real careful and not damage the tiles around the vanity, but unless its wall print is the same as the old one, you will either need to add some tiles, cut some tiles or replace them.

I am not sure how high up the tiles go on your wall, but ours went only to about belt high. The rest was wall paper. Maybe if you replace the wall tiles you can reduce the amount needed and do some paint or wall paper.

Having said all that, a good carpenter can probably match the wall print and build a new vanity to fit in where the old one is. I still think the floor tiles will need to be addressed in some way.

If I really didn't want to do anything but change the vanity, no new floor tile or wall tile, I would paint it and not risk it.
posted by 724A at 10:11 AM on October 2, 2014

When you say "all the tile," do you mean you don't want to replace ANY of the tile? Because what I could see is changing out the vanity and then creating a border/backsplash of sorts with newer tiles that would go with your existing tiles.
posted by xingcat at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Is it possible to remove a tiled vanity (in one of those all-tile fifties bathrooms) without damaging the adjacent tile?

Possible sure. Just go r e a l l y s l o w l y. Use an angle grinder carefully with a very thin diamond blade or better yet a Dremel to remove the grout.

Once they are thoroughly seperated [more is better here and this is a pretty good first step] turn off the valves, unscrew the fittings, unscrew the waste, check for mounts [screws or nails used to anchor the vanity to the wall] If there are screws - unlikely given the age - unscrew them. More likely the vanity was nailed to the wall if it was even attached. Use a reciprocating saw [Sawsall] with the longest blade with small teeth here to cut the nails if they were there in the first place. Give it a wiggle. You should be able to to detect where it is perhaps still attached.

Tile is hard to match so don't get crazy when you remove the vanity in case you damage a wall tile in the process and need some replacement tile

It's definitely doable with the right tools. The most important tool you wield is patience.
posted by vapidave at 11:31 AM on October 2, 2014

Response by poster: It started as a much smaller project
That's pretty much what I'm afraid of - I don't want to end up having to re-tile or drywall the whole bathroom when all I want is a new vanity.

I'd be open to a border of different tile if my new vanity was smaller than the old one. Though I'm pretty sure I could match or overshoot height and width - depth would obviously be smaller.

Actually, I wasn't really intending to DIY this - though I can see how it read that way. I have very little DIY experience, and this isn't the project I'd start on. I just wanted to know if it was possible, or if every contractor would look at me with pity and say, "no the whole wall has to be re-done, pulling out the vanity will destroy the tile". And even if I got a professional - would he be willing to do the v e r y s l o w and careful removal to save me money, or would he go for fast and dirty and get himself a bigger job? Paint is looking better and better.
posted by timepiece at 1:03 PM on October 2, 2014

This is actually fairy easy to do, if you are patient and move slow. The right tool would be an oscillating multi tool with a grinding edge of it. There are specific grout grinding blades. You use the multi tool to slowly grind away the grout between the tiles. That way there is space between the tiles. Once you have the grout out around the edge of the area, you just work very slowly and carefully to pull off the old tiles and pull the vanity away from the wall. If you are careful, you can use the old tiles to cover any extra sport exposed. They will need to be cleaned and readied for that, but I have done this before. This biggest issue is going slowly and carefully. The multi tool with the right grout edges makes it much quicker and is more forgiving than other grout removal tools.
posted by Nackt at 2:13 PM on October 2, 2014

If your vanity is in anywhere near the condition of those in the links you posted, please consider keeping it! First, it'll be very difficult to remove without damaging adjacent surfaces. Second, it's just darned cool. Original, fifties & sixties bathrooms are disappearing so quickly. Check out Save the Pink Bathrooms - lots of info, pictures, ideas, etc. about pink and not-pink vintage bathrooms like yours.

Otherwise, it's great advice to hire a professional and to go slowly. Good luck!
posted by infodiva at 3:17 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

About the floor tiles - I think you're right to just tile on top of it, if you can. That original "mud-bed" base will be murder to pull up.

For a border, etc., to repair or fill in, use a contrasting color instead of trying to match the existing tile. If you decide to leave the vintage floor in whole or in part, it might be possible to clean the grout - a friend actually painted hers; it took some time, but it was inexpensive and looks great. Can you post a link to a pic of your actual floor?
posted by infodiva at 3:29 PM on October 2, 2014


Those are gorgeous bathrooms, except that last one, which isn't. (the one with the sink and vanity that you like.)

Check out Retro Renovation.

Honestly, I absolutely LOVE those retro bathrooms and frankly, it's a LOT easier to compliment what you have than it is to start over. Pam's blog has tons of resources and ideas.

If you have flat front cabinets, you can re-do the doors with fingertip molding to give them interest, you can also get new chrome hardware we got ours at Lowes for about .58 per hinge. Here's what we did in our kitchen (sideways, I can't figure out how to rotate that MF.)

I would love on your bathroom as it is SO HARD! The tile work from the fifties is so gorgeous. It really, really is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:13 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, just to reassure all those people who want me to save the bathroom - I actually like the bathroom. I like the blue tile (the milk chocolate tile downstairs, including all 6 surfaces of the tiny stall shower ... not so much). But the plywood vanity is so warped that one of the doors won't close anymore and is being held closed with a rubber band, which looks ghetto. That was the main reason for wanting a new vanity. Plus, a narrower one would mean I could actually get my face close enough to the mirror to apply makeup, so a narrower one sounded ideal.

But I have accepted it's not going to happen, so I just need to figure out how to redo the (exposed, surface mount) hinges on the doors so they close again. And paint. Actually, I could probably just get new doors and drawerfronts.
posted by timepiece at 6:18 AM on October 3, 2014

Excellent! Lowes and Home Depot will cut the doors out of a sheet of plywood for you, so you don't have to fool with it. Just give them the measurements.

Debbie Travis's The Painted House has a lot of great ideas and helpful hints on doing this.

Good luck! Save the Pink (and Blue) Bathrooms!

(Also, did you see the adorable toilet seat cover art featured on Retro Renovation?)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:25 AM on October 3, 2014

Response by poster: BTW, the counter in question (complete w/ ghetto rubber band holding leftmost door closed).
posted by timepiece at 8:31 AM on October 6, 2014

I love the built in cup holder and the soap/gadget holder.
posted by 724A at 9:11 AM on October 6, 2014

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