Undoing the Powder Room

This was the worst room in the house.

I think it had originally been a pantry. Kitchens in the late 1800’s did not have cabinets on the walls, like the kitchen of today. There was a stove, which might have also heated water. There was a sink, for homes with running water, or a dry sink for those who didn’t. Packaged foods started to become common in the 19th century but it was nothing like today where everything – even vegetables – are packaged. There would have been an icebox for perishables like milk and meat. There would have been a separate storage area for preserves, probably in the basement. Staples like flour and sugar were kept close at hand. Most women went to the market several times a week to buy the ingredients for meals.

I found an image from a 1906 catalog that shows a modest kitchen with an adjacent pantry. I think mine was probably like a miniature version of this:


In the late 1890’s a cabinet now known as a Hoosier was invented, then popularized under many names. This was an invention of astonishing modernity – in that it kept all the necessary cooking components in one place, with labour saving devices – and a countertop work area:



I’ll bet this house had one, eventually. Anyhow – there was small room off the kitchen, with a window. The plumbing for the toilet and shower and sink had been added in the 1970’s or 80’s. This room had previously had wainscotting around the perimeter. There were very old holes in the floor from where pipes had been. My guess is that there was a small wall mounted sink in this room, with shelves for food storage. The window could be opened or closed to regulate the temperature. I had lived in a turn of the century rowhouse in Toronto, which was probably built as worker housing for the Massey Harris plant, a few blocks away. It had a similar pantry off the kitchen, with a window. Thus, my pantry theory.

This powder room was so awful. There was a ceiling fan, which turned on automatically when the light was turned on. I hated the sound, so used the bathroom in the dark.

After the bad shower was removed, I could see the tiles which had been applied in proximity to the shower. They were 12 x 12″ tiles, from two different lots so they didn’t match. They had been adhered to chipboard – not greenboard as would properly be used in a damp area like a washroom with a shower. There were exposed ABF pipes that ran from the floor through the ceiling. There was more of the horror turmeric yellow paint, copiously sprayed on the walls and ceiling, with overspray all over the pipes. The walls were very very lumpy, with no effort made to scrape off the wallpaper.

But – a second toilet is practical – and the window faced south, so this little room was bright in the late morning. There was hope.

I bought a small prybar that summer, to get the ceramic tiles off the wall. Not only were they unsually thick, they were also intensely stuck to the chipboard. I had to smash them with a hammer before I could even pry off a few chunks. A large piece bonked me on the head and it hurt. (Later I would see these same tiles at the ReStore, and I cursed whoever donated them.)

I scraped away at some wallpaper lumps. The pattern below looked like it was early 20th century, with metallic ink, and lots of hot pink, sort of pre-Deco. There was a busy floral border on top of this. This room had been a fancy pantry ?


The floor and subfloor were pulled up. This room was not so lucky, and a couple areas had more serious rot. The floor could not be painted, as is, and a new sub floor would have to go down. I suspected this would happen, so I had more than enough ceramic floor tiles.

Here’s a typical wall:


Ancient paint, some DIY repairs using Plaster of Paris (no, no, no – this is much harder than joint compound and therefore more difficult to sand). All bad.


During the summer I replaced the lower window with privacy glass. The window was a little high, and there was zero pedestrian traffic outside, but it made me feel better once it was in. There’s some of the hateful tiles still attached over and beside the window.


John got the trim up. The seller had a pair of odd square rosettes so they went in here.

The plumber roughed in the new locations for the bathroom and kitchen sinks.

John installed an antique medicine cabinet. I had been looking for one like this for ages, then one day while I was in my friend’s car, about two blocks away from the Nightmare Apartment, we drove by a 1920’s apartment building that was being renovated. One of the worker dudes had it in his hand on the way to the dumpster. We screeched to a halt and the surprised guy gave it to us. When I opened it, it had one live roach, too !


This room was tiny, but full of dilemmas. It was decided that both 1/4″ and 3/8″ drywall were needed. While the Home Depot (Canada) lists 1/4″ drywall on their site, the local stores didn’t stock it, and neither did Lowes. Some staff acted like such a thing did not even exist.

A sympathic staff person made me a list of where I might find such a thing, locally.

The thinner drywall was really necessary as I was so neurotic about not burying the trim.

The powder room was probably the most labour intensive room in the house. While every day it looked worse, it was also so much better.


Did I mention that the heat vent was disconnected, and that the hole from the fan hadn’t been filled in yet ? Not only was this room ugly, it was also freezing,

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