I have been doing home remodeling and handyman work for over 30 years. I've also built 2 wood strip canoes and restored an old wooden boat.
In this article, I'll break down the process of remodeling our bathroom vanity mirror. To begin, here are a few tips to consider before you start a similar project.
- Mirrors are sometimes hard to remove and, depending on the glass quality, they can be dangerous to handle. One slip and they're trash, especially since they must be lifted over, under, and around obstacles to remove from the work area. Once they are removed, it can be a challenge to dispose of them. So if you can refurbish with minimal effort, it's well worth the trouble.
- Enlist a friend or two to install a close-fitting countertop. It's just too heavy to try and "muscle" around.
- Measure carefully before ordering a countertop like this. If the clearance is too close, you'll gouge the wall trying to push it into place. It's easier to just caulk the gaps around the edges.
- Devise a way to slide the top into place instead of trying to lift on one side and drop it down. I used a table with rollers and slid it up close, then raised it up to clear the sink bottoms.
Salvaging an Old Mirror
I decided to start by trying to save anything that was still usable. In our case, the mirror really looked like it was ready for the garbage heap, at least around all the edges.
The corners of the glass looked as though they had detached from the back of the mirrored surface—almost like blistering under the glass—and this was also evident around most of the edges. The main view area was in good shape though. Mirrored glass is pretty expensive, however, especially for the size we needed: 3 x 6 foot.
To solve this unsightly problem, I framed the entire mirror around the edge perimeter with 1 1/2 x 3/4 inch MDF and attached the frame to the mirror edge using Goop glue. And because it was in an area that would always have the potential of getting wet, I thoroughly primed and painted both sides of all framing pieces. Framing around the mirror on both sides of the shelf unit also adds to the effect of looking like two separate mirrors.
Building the Shelf Unit
You could probably buy this shelf top, but I didn't want the hassle of searching for one with the exact dimensions of height, depth, and width that I needed. Additionally, I wanted to cap the unit with crown molding for an extra touch.
I bought enough MDF (medium-density fibreboard) to make the sides, bottom, shelf, and mirror frames. I then began ripping the pieces to the correct sizes.
If you're familiar with MDF, you know it's stable enough not to warp or shrink, and that's what I was looking for to build this project. The downside is that when it gets wet, it swells and becomes ruined. To make sure that doesn't happen, I primed with oil-based primer then painted and caulked meticulously.
In the next picture, you can see the the cabinet (without the crown molding installed), sitting roughly in the center, dividing the mirror. The idea here is to create the look of two separate dressing areas with the added benefit of shelves to alleviate some of the clutter on the countertop.
A Great Project to Do With a Partner
Working on this, my first bath remodel, was a great confidence builder. Remembering the fun of building the shelf unit, cutting the miters for the mirror framework, and securing the crown molding details (it forces you to think "upside down"). Saving that old mirror also gave me a great sense of satisfaction and allowed me to keep a few extra bucks in my pocket.
Additionally, working alongside my patient and whip-smart wife was a great way to build some lasting memories. I'm posting one last picture of the finished project. It's now been quite a few years since completion, and I'm happy to state that it's still holding up well and looks practically the same as when finished.
Anyone Can Do This With Proper Planning
This was my first bathroom remodel, and I learned three things:
- Don't be intimidated by all the steps. Take it in small steps and do regular internet searches. There's tons of information and videos out there to help you.
- Be prepared to get dirty and be willing to try some unfamiliar things. You're going to have to take a leap when it comes to plumbing, carpentry, and electrical. But again, there's plenty of videos available for free online to consult.
- When it's all done, pat yourself on the back. You just saved a boatload of money!
Thorough Planning Can Save You Lots of Time and Money
For the past several years, I've seen up close what storm damage looks like and what happens when people and insurance companies are forced to make repairs under pressure. It's helped me see the process from both sides, as a contractor and as an insurance company representative.
Some contractors can look at a project and immediately plan out every step of the demolition, construction, and rebuilding/remodeling process in their heads. In a few minutes of scribbling, they can give you a cost estimate that will be pretty close. I was never that good, but as an "adjuster" who had access to some of the coolest software on the market for arriving as cost estimates, I could bang it out pretty fast. That software is called Xactimate. When installed on my laptop, I could give a nearly exact estimate and write the policy holder a check while sitting in my truck in their driveway. Oh, by the way, that software cost $200–$300 a month, and you can only lease it.
In the real world now, I have to scribble and think, measure and re-measure, and run back and forth to Home Depot 8 to 10 times before I get all the materials I need for a project. The great thing about spending that much time at the home center is that you get to know all the real experts working there, most of whom were contractors or specialists in a past life. Plus, now I know where everything is.
Who knows, that may be my next job. If you may see me working there, stop by and say hi!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 19, 2020:
The before and after photos of your project are striking. You did a beautiful job! The extra storage is a plus, and I like the framed mirror effect.
Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on February 17, 2020:
That is funny. And thank you for the kind comment.
Looking more to more hubs.
Richard (author) from Texas on February 17, 2020:
That is really funny, (not the part you wrote to me), because before I read that, I read you bio in my email and said the same thing to you. I swear, I hadn’t seen this message until afterward.. Ha!
Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on February 16, 2020:
Just going off topic here. I've read your bio and you've led a pretty rich life. There's plenty of fodder here to craft good stories if you ever decide to branch out from DIY hubs. I'd be interested in reading tales based on your experiences.
Have a great day.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2020:
This article is a heck of a lot better than my first article on HP...well done....now email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll give you a few suggestions for the future.
Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on February 16, 2020:
This is a really good renovation. I particularly like how you installed a storage unit in the middle of the mirror. It's a nice touch for those like myself who aren't fully awake first thing in the morning and don't want to have to search for the toothpaste and such.
Richard (author) from Texas on February 15, 2020:
Thank you very much Rochelle, for the kind words. My first ever post.
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on February 15, 2020:
Looks really nice-- a great upgrade with practical attractive storage.