Houston, we have a problem

I don't think I've mentioned all the issues with the vanity, mostly because they are one of the more unsavory parts of this renovation. But it's a good dose of reality for anyone considering a renovation or building and certainly bumps in the road are part of the process. It's disheartening, however, when the finish line seems so close. When we started planning for this renovation, well over a year ago, one of the instructions we gave the designer was to use standard sizes whenever possible. We knew that custom anything equals big bucks. Unfortunately, we just couldn't get the bathroom design to work in a way we were happy with by using standard sizes. And that's how we ended up with a custom shower and a custom vanity.

The benefit of the custom vanity was that we could design whatever our hearts desired and not be constrained by having to find something pre-made. So Mr. Much More Patient and I spent a lot of time designing a vanity and linen unit (I call it a unit because it's more like a bookcase) that would give us the style we wanted and lots of storage (in a small house you have to take every opportunity to find storage where you can).

Our general contractor suggested a woodworker who he frequently uses and I gave him our Google SketchUp drawings and told him to tell me the things that wouldn't work or could be done better (I'm not a furniture designer). The cabinetmaker had recently experienced a horrible family tragedy so I wasn't surprised or upset when it took a few weeks for him to get back to me. Unfortunately, when he did, he had essentially redesigned our design. What followed was a sort of bizarre exchange about why did he change it and the price, etc. He clearly hated the design. He said from the get-go that it wasn't his style and used the phrases "Euro-trash" and "ugly" more than once. It's not worth getting into, but in the end I said, just please make what we designed, and if you don't want to or can't, just let me know and I'll have it made elsewhere.

The side note to this is that the cabinetmaker who made our kitchen banquette (a different guy) is a great person to work with, fairly priced, talented and NICE. The only reasons we didn't go with him were because he has a full-time job as a cabinetmaker so projects like this are side jobs for him and therefore it can take a little longer and at that point we thought the bathroom would come together much more quickly than it did and because any time we don't go with our contractor's chosen subcontractor, we end up managing that aspect of the job, and I just couldn't take on managing one more thing.

So we stuck with the original, if unhappy, cabinetmaker. After all, our contractor, who we trusted, told me over and over again that he trusted this man and knew he would do a good job. And in the end, that's what matters, right?

Fast forward a few several weeks to install day for the vanity and linen cabinet. I took a quick peek at the vanity and was very happy with what I saw. It looked beautiful. Then I went to work, leaving Mr. Much More Patient to stay at home in case there were any issues. I got the impression by this point that the cabinetmaker really didn't like me much and I was afraid that me being around would stress him (and me) out.

Two hours after I left the house I got a call from Mr. Much More Patient.

Him: "There's a little problem."
Me: "Oh no, what? And how little?"
Him: "Three-sixteenths of an inch little."
Me: "OK, well that's not much."
Him: "It is when it's a leg. And it's too short."

It's not much, but the leg closest to the camera is shorter than the rest. You can also see how the one drawer can't go in because the plumbing is in the way. On the far right side of the photo you can see where the heating vent comes out of the bottom of the linen cabinet where there was supposed to be a toe kick. Looking at this photo I see another little thing that bothers me. The outlet and light switch on the wall was supposed to be tucked up right next to the linen cabinet but since the vanity got longer, it's not. Minor, but still irritating.

OK, so I'm no woodworker, but can anyone tell me how one leg ends up 3/16ths of an inch shorter than the other four? Because that sort of seems like woodworking 101. The easy solution, of course, would be to cut 3/16th of an inch off the other three legs. Unfortunately we had planned the entire bathroom based on a certain height. And that height determined where the stripe of accent tile was in the entire room. The entire, already tiled room. We think we can solve the problem by raising up the top a little and putting the counter on there, but we're not positive.

Unfortunately I would find out later that that wasn't the only problem.

Here's a quick summation of the other "minor" issues:
1. The vanity will end up cutting into the window trim because it is apparently too big. The countertop will cut even further into the window trim. This is ironic since we actually moved the bathroom window to avoid something like this.

3. The shelf on the right side of the unit goes directly into a light switch. How this happened I have no idea since I actually spoke with the cabinetmaker about this and he even told me we had to change the height of the linen unit to accommodate the light switches and have all the shelves be equal in height.
4. There appears to be no plan for how the recessed puck lights will fit in the top of the unit.
5. There is no toe kick under the linen unit which would look a little odd normally but is truly ugly since we have a heating vent coming out of it.
6. All of the lighting was designed for a 48-inch long vanity. Unfortunately the vanity is 53 inches long, which is nice to have a few extra inches, but the pendants that will flank the mirror were in the wrong place and had to be moved.

The shelf on the right where the paper towel roll is sitting is a stand-in for the glass shelves. You can see how it lines up with the light switches.

Functionally, it actually works, but if you ask me it looks really stupid. That shelf should be between the light switches and the thermostat for the floor.

I'm sure there are solutions to all these problems, and these are all things I would expect to have to work around if we had started with a stock piece and worked from there. But I thought avoiding these things was why you got custom pieces to begin with?

We're at something of an impasse with the cabinetmaker. I've stopped going in the bathroom because all of these little things—things that by themselves wouldn't bother me too much but when there are so many of them it drives me nuts—make me a little sick to go in there.

At this point, I've presented three options to our general contractor (who is forced to play the role of the mediator now):
1. Fix it to our satisfaction for the original fee we agreed upon. This may not be possible anymore. The vanity into the window trim is a major issue for me and that cannot be fixed without a complete rebuild.
2. Walk away now and give us a lien waiver for the other 50% of the project that we still owe him. We'll hire someone else to fix it if we deem that's possible.
3. Give us back our deposit and take it away and we'll hire someone else to do it and build it from scratch.

Frankly, none of the options are great. No. 1 will still be a compromise for use. It won't be perfect. I'll know that forever. Whether it will bother me forever, I don't know. No. 2 also means a compromise. No. 3 isn't great either because it further delays the project and on top of that, it sticks the cabinetmaker with a piece he'll have a very hard time selling to someone else. I truly think this is a nice guy going through a great deal of personal turmoil. Everything we've been told about him tells me this is not typical behavior for him.

In hindsight I should have heeded the alarm bells going of in my head and hired someone else to do it. But hindsight isn't worth much right about now.

Of course now this is holding up everything. The electrician can't finish everything up until we know what we're doing with the top of the linen cabinet because they have to install the puck lights. The plumber can't finish up until the countertop is in so he can put the faucets in. And the countertop can't be measured until it is in place and not moving.


  1. Well that sounds like a stressful situation. I do have a couple of positive things to say though...

    1. I love your Euro-Trash design. If that's ugly, I don't want to be pretty no more.

    2. The leg can be fixed pretty easily. Interestingly, it happens for more reasons than you might think. Sometimes the floor, sometimes a wall on one side... sometimes, however, it's the Budweiser.

    But it can be fixed... it can be extended and finished in a way that you probably would actually forget about that.

    The window... that's a different story. But, since you asked, maybe a different trim set-up around the window would integrate with the cabinet and tie-in to your euro design? Just an idea.

    The light switch can be moved more easily than the cabinet, just up or down a little?

    Sometimes when the drawer hits plumbing, you can build a short drawer. Or install a door with a small cabinet box.

    The toe-kick... my omniscience ends there. Custom finished grill to match? Maybe?

    I'm sure they can make the hockey-puck work out.

    Too many things to fix?

    I hope you don't mind my input, I was just fascinated reading your story. Sounds like a flashback to a past life.


  2. Boy I wish I had some suggestions...but it sounds like the commentor above has you covered:)

    ps...I am having a give-away on my blog if you have a minute to stop over!!!!!!

  3. Remodeling Guy, thank you so much for your comments. It's so nice to get some ideas on options because I really am in a fog about the whole thing right now. I really appreciate you taking the time to offer some ideas on what can be done.

    Thanks for swinging by Simpledaisy!

  4. You're right, this does not sound like a custom piece at all. Weird. What now? Is the question. Hope you figure it all out, and the end result will be great!

  5. Did I tell you that the lighting guy put the wrong re-cessed ceiling lights in and the guys who did the attic insulation realized it. They told us that our lights were not code and then the lights started turning off automatically from getting too hot with the insulation. They lighting guy had to go get the right lights (look the same but critical safety differences) and cut the old ones out and re-install the new ones from below since they couldn't get into the now-insulated attic. I only mention this to make you feel better.

    I do think there are fixes as remodeling guy mentioned. But it is pretty demoralizing when these things happen. But once it's all done and you love it, you forget the problems except as party stories!

  6. Oh my gosh, ELW, that sounds scary. Thank goodness the insulation guy noticed that!


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