Simple Do-It-Yourself Bathroom Upgrades

Considering how much time the average person spends in the bathroom, you’d think we’d pay more attention to how it looks. But if you’re anything like me, you decorate the loo once when you move in, then promptly forget about it as you tweak and shape the rest of the home. What starts as a stylish space devolves into one that’s just serviceable, which is why nearly every guest bathroom I’ve been in has a bowl of dust-covered soaps and grids of mildewed caulk.

Thankfully, keeping the powder room looking as spiffy as the rest of the house is fairly simple and doesn’t have to blow your budget. As interior designers point out, it boils down to making certain upgrades that have major visual and textural impact. Here are some improvements to consider.


A bathroom is only as good as its lighting, so you’ll want to invest extra time to get yours just right. A mirror or two is a must, especially if your space isn’t exactly overflowing with natural sunlight. Show a standard-issue model a little love by adding a beautiful frame or repainting the existing one; this inexpensive upgrade can provide a showstopper of a piece. Strapped for space? Consider replacing an older mirror with a smaller, decorative one over the sink, advises Laura Davis, vice president of HPD Architecture.

Another big impact project? Swap out the light fixture — a beautiful one will double as a piece of “jewelry” in the room, says Christopher Grubb, president of Arch-Interiors Design Group. “An overhead linear fixture above a mirror can have frosted glass or individual shades that provide texture in the room,” he explains. “If you are undertaking a remodel, remember to use sconces on either side of the mirrors. Not only do they add a beautiful horizontal element to the space, but they are ideal light for women putting on makeup or men shaving. And always put your lighting on a dimmer.”

Soft Goods

It may come cheap, but don’t underestimate the power of a brand-new shower curtain. Or a nubby bath mat. Or plush bath towels. Luxurious (or luxe-feeling) soft goods not only make a bathroom feel more like a five-star hotel, but they also make your time there more enjoyable. Win-win.


Jazzing up hardware is a low-commitment, low-cost way to dip your toe in the renovation waters. These simple, inexpensive changes will breathe new life into a tired space. Some ideas: Chuck the tired towel rack for a neat row of smart hooks. Switch out boring cabinet pulls and doorknobs with something stunning— or just spray-paint your existing ones. Even changing from silver to copper can make a piece feel new.


Want your bathroom to feel more like a retreat? Cover the walls with stunning wallpaper — I’m a sucker for Scalamandre-style paper — or a new coat of gray or pure-white paint. “[The colors] keep the bathroom serene and subtle and provide a nice backdrop for other elements,” says Patricia Gaylor of Gaylor Interior Design.

One caveat: Because the powder room tends to see more humidity than other places in the home, stick with paints and papers that can withstand the moisture. “The best is something with a bit of sheen, just so the moisture doesn’t penetrate as fast,” says Joe I. Human of designs by humans. “If you want a flat sheen, make sure you get a washable matte/flat finish. Wallpaper is similar. I usually look for a paper that has some sort of vinyl in it, which will help reduce moisture. Make sure in both cases the walls are primed first.”


You may need an extra set of hands to help with this project, but freshening up the tile is a worthwhile project since it can singlehandedly transform the bathroom. “Use larger tiles for fewer grout joints to have to clean,” suggests Davis. “And skip expensive mosaic borders. Opt for a single row of the same field tile in a contrasting color.”

“Tiles are a worthwhile investment,” agrees Gaylor. “For tile, I always use non-slip in a simple modern or light traditional style. Concrete-looking porcelain tiles give an industrial look or an urban loft look and a neutral backdrop to build on. For a cohesive look, I use the same tile on the floor as in the shower surrounds.”

Fixtures and Fittings

Only have money for a small project? Earmark it for new plumbing fixtures. This easy DIY job takes years off your bathroom’s appearance but also makes washing hands much more enjoyable. “You want something you look at every day and use that is beautiful,” Grubbs says.

And if budget allows, splurge on high-quality bath and shower fittings as well. “[The investment] saves in the long run, as they have long lifespans and are backed by warranties,” Gaylor says. “And they can turn your bathroom into a spa.”


1 Response

  1. I feel fixtures with LED bulbs are becoming increasingly popular – thanks to their versatility, energy savings, and their impressive longevity. Furthermore, improved look and functionality of the room, along with the potential energy savings from the more efficient bulbs, the ROI will increase exponentially.


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