A Plumbing Leak Becomes an Opportunity

Plumbing leaks can lead to all kinds of catastrophes – and wonderful opportunities.  A few years ago, we fixed a small plumbing leak in our main floor bathroom and made a few upgrades in the process.

I’ve shared a lot about our master bathroom addition, but this post is about our little main floor bathroom, which is original to our 1927 house.  At one time, it was the only bathroom in the house.


The original porcelain tile wainscoting is in pretty good shape for its age.  It has a fun black and white accent strip and, although it has a few fractures here and there, I would never dream of replacing it.


The floor has the hexagonal tile that was popular in the 1920s.

The Leak

We knew about the leak when we bought the house.  It was a slow leak, but somehow water was getting behind the faucet wall when the shower was running.  From there it leaked into the basement.  No big urgency in fixing this, but we knew we had to address it eventually.


Prima Shower Valve Mixer

The Ugliness

This was a cute little bathroom – except for the ugliness going on in the tub surround.

For starters, it was obvious that someone had tried to fix the leak before. They’d removed some of the porcelain tile work around the tub faucet to access the pipes behind the wall.  And then they patched over that hole using 4 X 4-inch modern ceramic tiles.

There were also some dingy laminate panels on the wall above the tile wainscoting.  The laminate didn’t look original, and my guess is that at some point (probably during the house’s 1950’s remodel) the tub fixture was fitted with a shower head, and the laminate was added to waterproof the wall.

The Opportunity

When Chris was ready to tackle the plumbing leak, he had to remove that modern ceramic tile patch and a panel of that ugly laminate to see what was going on behind the wall.

So I came home to this.

1920s bathroom - plumbing repair

Oh darn, I said, they don’t make laminate that ugly anymore, so we will just have to replace it all with something else.

But what?  We wanted something that looked original to the house.  And something subtle so the subway tile was still the main attraction.


There is an old Carrera marble transition strip between the hallway and the bathroom, so we decided on Carrara marble.  It is the same type of marble we used upstairs in our master bathroom addition.

The large marble tiles were easy to find and reasonably priced at a big  box store.


Now that’s more like it.  I love how the marble adds substance to the room.

What about those missing subway tiles from the previous repair attempt?  White is a tough color to match, so new white subway tiles, even porcelain ones, would not be an exact match for those old, original tiles.

Chris noticed that the manufacturer’s name was on the back of one of the original tiles, so he Googled it.  And amazingly, he found some 1920s tiles for sale that were made by the same manufacturer.

The only catch was that they were 3 X 3-inch square pieces, not the 3 X 6-inch rectangular pieces we needed.  But this was as close as were were going to get, so we used them anyway.

We felt a variation in the tile width would be less noticable than a variation in the color.

We also took the opportunity to update the tub and shower faucets and the curtain rod.

Shower head


We upgraded the shower caddy.

Bathroom before with laminate and old shower caddy



The old bathtub still looked pretty good but just needed to be resurfaced.

And other than a new coat of wall paint, the rest of the bathroom remains the same.


Oh, yes – getting back to the leak.  Turns out the old galvanized pipes were failing, and Chris was able to replace them.

Here again is the before.

Tub surround before update

and after.

Sometimes a plumbing leak can be a blessing in disguise.


Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

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Our Master Bath Remodel Series
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13 Replies to “A Plumbing Leak Becomes an Opportunity”

  1. Heidi, you just cannot get that type of character in a new bathroom. The marble looks fantastic and finding those old tiles is amazing. It was just meant to be. So glad you are back from your break. Thank you so much for sharing with us at Vintage Charm.

    1. Thanks Sharon, you’re right, the tiles were just meant to be. It’s good to be back from my little break. Had some fun adventures I’ll be sharing soon.

  2. Hi Heidi!
    First time here…just visiting a few links on the Sweet Inspiration Link party. Just wanted to say, y’all did a great job on the old bathroom! What a lucky find to come across the original tiles even if they weren’t the right size! I don’t think anyone would really notice. The marble is a nice accompaniment to the original tile. I used to live in a 1930’s house, so I can appreciate the charm of these old abodes.

    1. Thanks Florence! It really was lucky that those particular tiles were available just when we needed them. As you probably know, with remodeling old houses sometimes luck plays a key role. Thanks so much for visiting.

    1. True, Mary, plumbing leaks can be the worst. In our case, accessing the leak was the hard part. Hope your plumbing setback was resolved!

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