Why I Love My Bathroom-in-a-Box

Lisa Kaplan Gordon's new basement bathroom
Go from zero to bathroom in just a few clicks with Lowe's "bathroom-in-a-box" -- a great option for folks who love good design but hate making all the decisions. Image: Lisa Kaplan Gordon for HouseLogic

If you love good design but can’t get there yourself, Lowes’ ready-to-go bathrooms could be for you. They were for me, and this is why.

Organization is my strong suit; design, not so much.

I recognize beautiful finishes when I see them, but I panic before a gazillion types of tile, granite slabs, and cabinets, trying to pick the ones that go together best. Add paint color choices and I start breathing into a paper bag.

Lowe’s, apparently, feels my pain and has put together two complete bathrooms -- from floor tile to faucets to drawer pulls -- that take the angst out of decision-making. I call them "bathrooms-in-a-box."

This concept was a godsend when I recently added a bedroom and bath to my unfinished basement, looking to increase the house’s sales appeal when we put it on the market in the spring.

When we built the house 17 years ago, we didn’t have the money to completely finish the basement. But we did have the foresight to rough-in plumbing for a someday bathroom and an above-grade egress window for a someday bedroom.

That day had come, and our goal was to construct a potential nanny or in-law suite -- functional, not extravagant. I could have hired an interior designer at $125/hour to make the space shine, but, since we won’t be living here much longer (fingers crossed!), the bathroom didn’t need to be fabulous, just inoffensive.

Related: The biggest energy-sucking air leak is in the bathroom. Find out what it is.

I’ve built houses, so adding a bedroom/bath was no biggie. Well, I don’t do hammering, but I hire the subcontractors and kept the trains running on time, which saves money on hiring a general contractor.

My bathroom-in-a-box turned out beautifully; it's soothing and expensive-looking. Who knew it could be so easy?

Related: 5 Kitchen and Bath Remodeling Trends That Will Last

Here’s How It Works

Bath in a box website

There are two designs featured on the Lowe’s site under Bath Collections --  Ballantyne and Norbury. I picked Ballantyne, with its Mediterranean-y dark wood cabinets, oiled-bronze fixtures, and earth-tone tile.

I measured the space, and ordered the bathroom online. The computer walked me through the few decisions I had to make myself. Did I want:

  • One or two under-mount sinks? (One, please.)
  • Beige-family or grey-family tile? (I like beige.)
  • Oil-rubbed bronze or polished nickel fixtures? (Ooh! Oil-rubbed!)
  • 3-lamp or 4-lamp light fixture? (4 works for me.)
  • Redstone Blue Spruce or Perfect Storm or Cliveden Sandstone or Tagsale Linen paint? (Too many choices -- send me samples of all of the above. I wanted to defer the paint decision until I could put a sample of each on the wall when everything else was installed.)

I spent about 30 minutes making the decisions, and another hour on the phone with Lowe’s customer service, adding a toilet that wasn’t included in the Ballantyne collection, deciding that a glass shower door wasn’t worth the money ($300), and arranging delivery.

Going My Own Way

The tile in Lisa's basement bathroom
Image: Lisa Kaplan Gordon for HouseLogic

There was one minor problem with the Ballantyne collection: The 1-by-1-inch floor tile didn't float my boat, so I drove over to my local Lowe’s and selected tile that went with the rest of the collection. Par for the course, I spent an hour trying to pick the right tile.

While I was there, I checked out the Ballantyne collection vanity to make sure the color matched the online picture -- it did.

Then I passed another hour in the paint department as the guys dipped a stick into each of the paint samples so I could get an idea what each looked like. I didn’t like any, so I asked my designer friend, Lynne, to pick a neutral that would go with both the bathroom design and the bedroom carpet.

In fact, Lowe’s wants customers to do a little riffing on their all-in-one designs. The collections are meant to “inspire customers and give them a starting point,” says Kelly Connelly, a spokesperson for Lowe’s.

“This is how we envision a bathroom, and these are the products we used to make it a reality,” she says. “However, we hope the collections will help customers start thinking about other options for their bathrooms.”

More bathroom designs, Connelly says, are in the works. Which is great, because I didn’t see any pre-designed bathrooms -- with tile, paint, the whole nine yards -- on other big box store sites.

Installation Ease

For $75, Lowe’s delivered and schlepped the order into my basement. Everything fit and looked great, except for the medicine chest (I mistakenly ordered a wall-mount cabinet when I needed a recessed); and the mirror, which looked better online than in person.

Related: Makeover Your Bath with a DIY Medicine Cabinet

I returned the cabinet, mirror, and sample tiles to Lowe’s, no questions asked. Materials for the entire bathroom cost about $1,800. The entire project -- bath and bedroom suite -- cost just under $13,000 (including labor).

Bottom Line

The completed bath in a box basement bathroom
Image: Lisa Kaplan Gordon for HouseLogic

My bathroom is lovely, but it’s not unique. As far as I know, there are thousands of bathrooms just like it -- and that’s the downside of buying a bathroom-in-a-box.

“The risk is a cookie cutter solution that applies to everyone,” says Kevin Mulvaney of the American Society of Interior Designers. “If you’re trying to offend no one, you’re probably going to impress no one either.”

But actually, my Ballantyne bathroom has impressed everyone who’s seen it. So there.

Housing And Real Estate Expert Lisa Kaplan-Gordon
Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer who contributes to real estate and home improvement sites. In her spare time (yeah, right!), she gardens, manages three dogs, and plots to get her 21-year-old out of her basement.