Bathrooms often come up last in remodeling considerations. Since these rooms tend to be tucked away out of public view, it’s easy to let your budget go to the more visible parts of your house first. But a lack of remodeling funds doesn’t mean you can’t update your outdated bathroom and make it worth spending time in.
We talked with six bathroom designers to get the scoop. Here’s how you can refresh your bathroom without breaking the bank.
1. Play With Paint
Painting walls, shelves or a vanity can be an inexpensive way to update your bathroom without having to make any other big changes. But before you start slathering a bright new color on your walls, take a few things into consideration.
Designer tips: “If you have obvious moisture problems that are so bad that paint is peeling or tile is falling off the wall, it’s time to bring an expert in for a new remodel,” says designer Linda Evans. “Moisture problems can lead to possible plumbing and ventilation issues that need replacement.”
If your walls are in good shape, then you’ll want to keep them that way. Use a water-based primer, recommends designer Kevin Wild. This will help keep moisture off your drywall and prevent mildew. You’ll also want to look into a mildew-resistant paint — many designers suggest using semigloss paint because it repels moisture and is easy to clean. “I love the look of matte walls, though,” says interior designer Barbra Bright. “Now it’s possible to have them in the bathroom too. Companies like Benjamin Moore make matte paint designed for high-moisture areas — no more shine.”
For those who think their bathroom ceiling is too high, designer Jan Neiges recommends painting the ceiling the same color as the walls — as long as they’re not white. This makes the bathroom feel warmer, because the color visually lowers and disguises the ceiling’s height.
Designer tips: For a quick design element with a custom look, contractor Leo Lantz suggests adding PVC wainscoting around the room and then using a different paint color above and below it. “This breaks up monochromatic walls and adds charm while being impervious to moisture,” Lantz says. A new paint job can help make an outdated vanity feel much more modern, too. No matter where you decide to paint in your bathroom, prepping the surface correctly is vital.
2. Lighten Up
Even a great bathroom can feel drab and depressing when the lighting isn’t right. Start with the least expensive lighting fix. Trim thick shrubbery covering your windows from outside or replace thick curtains with some that let in light while retaining privacy.
Designer tips: Add a few mirrors or bright, large pictures to reflect existing light around the room. A room-length mirror can make an instant and impressive change. Designer Laura Pollardrecommends covering the entire wall length all the way up to the ceiling. “For a traditional or transitional look, leave a gap to glue trim around,” she says. “For a contemporary or modern look, go with no trim.”
For those willing to make a few minor structural changes, do what you can to take advantage of natural light. Evans suggests replacing a solid door with one with etched glass, while Bright says adding a solar tube can be an easy and affordable skylight alternative.
3. Upgrade Your Accessories
Changing hardware and bathroom accessories may be the easiest and most inexpensive way to spruce up your bathroom. Choose drawer pulls in bright colors or unique materials to make a bold statement on a plain vanity.Designer tip: “The details are what matter,” says Wild. “Sometimes you don’t have a lot of wall space for art and accessories, so the gem in your room is the drawer pulls. This is where you splurge a little.”
Use temporary accents — like your toothbrush holder, rug, art, soap dish and shower curtain — to add color and texture, since they can be switched out fairly easily.
Designer tip: Neiges often suggests putting the shower curtain rod higher up than the client had planned. This sometimes means buying a longer shower curtain or having one custom made. Neiges uses it to automatically bring the eye up and make a bathroom look more spacious.
4. Simplify Storage
Half-empty bottles of shampoo, abandoned beauty supplies and perfume samples pile up fast, taking up valuable space in bathrooms. Storage solutions aren’t always attractive, so save yourself time, money and space by editing your bathroom supplies. Take a realistic look at what you really need each day, and store or get rid of the rest.
Designer tip: If you still need more storage, look to your walls for the answer. Bright and Pollard suggest installing something above the toilet tank, as it’s a space that’s often unused. High cabinets often work well for items used less often. Want even more storage? Switch out your pedestal sink for a vanity or place a few well-chosen baskets (with lids) in an empty corner.