Wayne Stephens is deeply immersed in a do-it-yourself bathroom remodel that he’ll probably remember as his “coronavirus project.”

He purchased his 1,900-square-foot split-level home in Shoreline two months before the stay-at-home order took effect, and he’s had time lately to laser-focus on its basement bathroom, where he is putting in a new vanity, new lighting, new toilet and new flooring.

His goal is to complete the job using upcycled or recycled materials he locates at Second Use and Ballard Reuse, as well as online from Craigslist, OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace. So far, so good.

Stephens is a real-estate broker and businessman who has owned five homes and completed DIY projects in most of them. He’s made his share of mistakes along the way, he says.

“A whole bunch of mistakes!” he says. But he has learned from each one and moved forward.

The makeover of the basement bathroom is one in a series of DIY projects underway at Stephens’ home.

He estimates that he will spend between $3,000 and $5,000 to redo the bathroom, a figure he says could easily balloon to $20,000 or more if he weren’t doing his own labor and using carefully sourced materials.


Stephens says his motivation isn’t purely financial. His many DIY projects over the years have given him a sense of purpose and an opportunity for lifelong learning.

“There weren’t many times over the years when I wasn’t embroiled in some DIY project,” he says. “I’m sure this one is not my last.”

The big picture

Sales of home improvement products and services in the U.S. reached $394 billion in 2018, and are on track to hit $680 billion in 2025, according to IPM, which compiles data and market research for the property-management industry.

While there is no way to accurately track how much of that market belongs to do-it-yourselfers, there is plenty of evidence suggesting it is huge.

Contractor Jon Shelton, known professionally as Seattle Bathtub Guy, has plied his trade in residential bathrooms around Seattle for 20 years. He has seen all manner of DIY outcomes — many that went right, some that went wrong and some that were simply aborted.


One trouble spot he recognizes is in materials — both the wrong ones and the inadequate ones.

“What we see a lot of is where they just didn’t have enough of what they needed to really have a nice job,” Shelton says. “They say ‘I’ve really got a mess on my hands now. Can you fix it?’ ”

Shelton’s advice for homeowners, whether they do their own work or hire a professional:

• The tub, toilet and sink should all match, but they don’t need to match the tile or flooring.

• Get off on the right foot with an architectural rendering that shows every dimension of the space before looking at any fixtures.

  Always find and shut off the main water supply. Don’t rely on the smaller valves near the spigots. They can be rusty and malfunction, resulting in an unexpected geyser situation.


Life in the trenches

When Stephens was working as an insurance claims adjuster about 15 years ago, he sometimes had to deny claims for long-term water damage in bathrooms. That experience still shapes his DIY philosophy.

Homeowners who choose to upgrade a bathroom themselves are actually committing to a full-time job, according to Stephens.

A bathroom upgrade can be all-consuming. The second week of May found him driving to Portland to acquire a dual-flush toilet, revising his plan for the bathroom floor, finding new flooring materials and discovering a tool to help him drill holes for blowing insulation inside the bathroom wall. He writes measurements on a piece of sheetrock in the back of his car, and takes detailed photos on his phone for reference.

Finishing touches will include a medicine chest and overhead light, topped off with a coat of fresh satin paint — new from the store, not secondhand.

“Paint is one of the places I don’t compromise on,” he says.

When it comes to bathroom style, experience has taught Stephens to tread lightly.


“Go with what fits the house,” he says. “You would not put a modern bathroom into a log cabin. It’s a controlling room. It has to remain homogenous, so everything fits.”

It’s also easy to strike the wrong note when choosing colors, he says.

“In colors, ‘trendy’ isn’t always the same as ‘popular,’ ” he says, citing eggplant, periwinkle and black as colors whose times have come and gone.

“You won’t see an eggplant wall in this city because it’s just too much on the eyes. It was popular for a minute, but it faded,” he says. “Stay towards neutral colors as much as possible.”

“If I was going to pick one room to invest in, it would be the bathroom. It’s the most personal place in the house, even more than the kitchen,” he says. “You’re going to be in there every day. Don’t go in there thinking, ‘I’ll just put in a new light and a faucet.’ It’s the most important room in the family ecosystem.”