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Remodel Residency with Hannah Freedner

Hannah Freedner has been an avid DIY’er since she was little–from sewing her own clothes to redecorating her childhood bedroom on the regular, the Texan has always found fulfillment in doing it her way. Most recently, she and her partner Dustin Coffey tackled a big pandemic project–renovating the second bathroom in their 1940s home in Austin. It was an undertaking full of personal transformation, a couple hiccups, and a lot of love. We chatted with Hannah about the process and her thoughts on what you need to succeed when you start your DIY journey.

Hannah and Dustin removed a closet to expand the bathroom, and framed out a previous doorway in the spot pictured.

Plaster supplies — and a look at the waterproofing membrane on the shower walls.

Plaster mid-progress. You can see the plaster lightens as it dries.

The finished shower niche.

The dry lay out of tile to play with designs

A detail view of the tile floor.

Hannah in the bathroom after completing the floor.

A Renovation Story with Hannah Freedner

Hi Hannah! Thanks so much for talking with us about your gorgeous bathroom reno. To start, can you tell us a bit about Studio Bookmark and what you do there?

Hi! Of course. Studio Bookmark is a multidisciplinary design studio. We do branding and interiors, and we also have a line of home products and architectural hardware that we design and fabricate ourselves. My partner Dustin Coffey and I started Bookmark in the fall of 2020 after we lost our jobs due to Covid in March. We’d always wanted to start our own studio, but we just needed that push off the cliff!

When did your passion for creative projects start?

My mom and stepdad built our house when I was a kid, and seeing that process likely inspired me. When I was in college I had a summer job painting houses with some friends, and that was my first real experience with manual labor. I found that I enjoyed it, and still find working with my hands very rewarding

Hannah at work!

What about more recently? When did you decide to start working on your current home?

Dustin and I began our DIY journey in the winter of 2019 by designing and remodeling our kitchen. We completely gutted the kitchen, drywalled, plastered, built a custom island and shelving, all of which we designed and fabricated ourselves. I’ve been doing smaller projects throughout the rest of our house for a few years, the biggest of which was learning how to use a lime plaster finish in our main living spaces. I definitely needed that experience before taking on the tadelakt process in our bathroom.

What did you feel going into this bathroom reno project?

Going into this project I felt pretty scared, although I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself into to be honest! If I had known, I don’t know if I would have taken it on. I think that’s part of doing anything difficult for the first time.

A hand cast brass electrical outlet cover by Studio Bookmark

Can you tell us a bit more about this bathroom reno?

Our house is from the 1940s, and it had been updated in the 1990s with some pretty ugly finishes. We’ve slowly been replacing things, but that bathroom in particular was a real eyesore. Also, I’ve always been really into skincare, and enjoy the process of getting ready to go out, or having an at-home spa day. I was craving a spa-like space in our home, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. I think this was a huge driving factor in taking on this project.

Logistically speaking, it’s our second bathroom (we have another one off of our bedroom), so it made sense to tackle it as soon as I had the time, knowing that we had another bathroom to use while we renovated.

“After” of the shower/sink view.

What were the biggest takeaways you learned while working on this renovation?

My biggest takeaway from this experience is the importance of humility. If you’re learning how to do something for the first time, you’re going to make a mistake. Related to this is the importance of asking for help. I found this especially difficult at first as a woman treading into spaces like the plumbing Reddit board (enter Matriarchy Build!), but you have to put yourself out there and talk to the experts. They might pick apart your job, but taking criticism is an important skill to develop. This leads me to the importance of being kind to yourself; it’s all a learning process.

What are you most proud of with this renovation?

I’m most proud of myself honestly. I quit drinking in January 2020, which was a real “face the music” moment. At that point I was sort of starting over, relearning what I was capable of. Taking on a project like this was very therapeutic. Proving to myself that I could stick with something for this long, problem solve, execute a vision, create something with my own hands–I highly recommend it for anyone going through something similar.

What’s the one feature you love the most?

I love the lime plaster finish on the walls. It took five coats, and about 70 hours of labor, and it is water-resistant! I used a process similar to Moroccan Tadelakt, which is what you see in Moroccan hammams for reference.

The bathroom “After”

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting, what would it be?

It takes triple the amount of time you would expect for each step when you’re doing something for the first time, and research research research. And don’t be afraid to ask questions!

What is some advice you’d tell someone else who is starting their first renovation project?

I read this in an interview Ben Sinclair gave somewhere, and it’s really stuck with me: 

“Good, Fast, Cheap: Pick two.”  You can have something good and fast, but it won’t be cheap. You can have something good and cheap, but it won’t happen quickly. And most things that are fast and cheap aren’t very high quality.

“I think you have to have a bit of that “if they can do it, why can’t I?” attitude to get into DIY-ing, and I’ve always had that, for better or worse,” Hannah says. Hard work and a dash of stubbornness–we love to see it!

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