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11 Ways to Take Your Bathroom From Blah to Beautiful Without Remodeling

Inexpensive, easy ways to make you want to skip to your loo

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Sharon DellaPiazza plans to sell her Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, home in a year or two and move to a one-level, forever home where she can age in place. So she doesn’t want to make any expensive changes to her current house’s dated decor, including her half bathroom.

Instead, she focused on smaller, cheaper changes. She added artwork and collectibles, replaced the light fixture, changed the hardware and hung a new mirror to refresh the look of her fairyland-themed bathroom.

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“It’s ongoing, but I haven’t made any dramatic changes,” says DellaPiazza, 54. “There’s still carpeting. I’ll live with it.”

Remodeling a bathroom can be pricey. The cost generally ranges from $6,000 to $18,000, according to data from Angi, with a national average of $12,000. But you can transform the space for a fraction of the cost simply by redecorating.

That’s key for older adults, many of whom need to decide at some point whether to age in place or downsize. Although most Americans 50 and older (77 percent according to AARP’s Home and Community Preferences Survey) want to remain in their home, it can still take time to make sure that’s the best decision and figure out how and where money should be spent. But instead of getting into a decorating rut while you decide, you can make minor, but still noticeable, changes — and bathrooms are a great place to start.

Since bathrooms typically are small, it’s not expensive to add or update certain features, such as by repainting, installing crown molding or hanging a new shower curtain, says Oscar Bravo, a “budget-friendly interior decorator” in the San Diego area.

“Spring is about awakening,” says interior designer Bob Richter, owner of Richter Design in Lambertville, New Jersey. “Changing one little thing can make you feel so much better.”

Here are 11 ways to beautify your bathroom without the expense of remodeling.

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Spin the color wheel

“Color is probably the easiest way to change a space or make a space look cohesive,” says Bravo, owner of Oscar Bravo Home. And, he adds, the way to make various items “speak to each other throughout a room is a cohesive color scheme.”Another reason to add color is to brighten dull or neutral tones in a room. Reds and greens  are popular choices, according to Bravo, and pastels are also hot among some designers.

One easy and inexpensive way to introduce more color into your bathroom is to repaint the walls. Go light or go bold with a bright shade. For small bathrooms, Bravo likes darker, moodier tones like violet, chocolate brown or navy blue.

Another option: Paint the vanity and the walls the same color, a technique called color drenching, or stain the wood darker than the current shade to change the look, Bravo suggests. Prices for stain start at $13 a quart and semigloss paint starts at around $15 a gallon.

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Swap linens

Replacing the linens — from towels and window coverings to the shower curtain and floor mat — can completely change the look of a bathroom. Richter especially likes to change linens seasonally to create a “completely different feel” without repainting.

Suzy Ahrens, 59, of St. Paul, Minnesota, plans to age in place and hopes to remodel her main bathroom soon. But in the meantime, she recently added a white shower curtain to lighten the beige room and green and orange towels for some color pops.

“We feel the small updates we made helped to freshen and brighten our small bathroom and made it a more comfortable and inviting space,” she says.

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Be artsy

“I love adding artwork to utilitarian places like bathrooms because it’s so unexpected,” Bravo says. But avoid putting valuable art there because the moisture can cause damage over time.

Bravo suggests buying inexpensive digital art prints online and then printing them at a retail outlet (they can be reprinted). You also can print your own photographs onto canvas or metal at many retailers, or frame them.

Another option is to create a gallery wall — a collection of items including artwork, photographs and tapestries arranged in a grouping — especially for large bathrooms. Try not to get overwhelmed, says Richter, by starting with a couple larger anchor pieces and then embrace different sizes.

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“People get really concerned about that — how to make it look right,” Richter says. “Treat it like a puzzle: All the pieces shouldn’t be the same size or frame color” to make it more interesting, he adds.

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Let nature in

The steam in bathrooms is the perfect environment for fresh flowers and plants, Richter says. Flora in unique vases or woven baskets add color, texture, scent and beauty. Be careful about the type of plant you choose if your bathroom doesn’t have any windows to let in sunshine.

spinner image bathroom with panelling painted blue and peacock feather pattern wallpaper
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Paper the walls

The wallpaper trend that began a few years ago continues. Cover one wall as a statement or, if it’s small, Bravo suggests wallpapering the entire bathroom. He likes landscape scenes that spread across walls or bold florals. Geometric patterns are also popular. The size of the room should determine the size of the wallpaper pattern — small room, small print and big room, big print.

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Use double vision

Mirrors can make a room seem larger, but less is often more. Consider replacing that dated giant mirror above the sink with a smaller one. Filigree shaped mirrors are popular, Richter says.

Bravo likes to hang two matching mirrors to break up the space, and to provide a nesting spot in between for art or a lighting sconce. He also likes to add frames around mirrors to create a finished look. To make a mirror frame yourself, buy an online kit or millwork from a home improvement store and glue it to a mirror.

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Get playful

Displaying some of your collectibles in the bathroom can personalize and add a little whimsy to an antiseptic space.

“You don’t have to be so serious in the bathroom,” says Richter, whose own World-War-II-themed bathroom boasts vintage items like a U.S. Navy poster and antique glass bottles.“It feels like a curious, inviting place to be.”

DellaPiazza displays many of her collections, including mermaids and fairies, perfume bottles and some of her late mother’s Hummel figurines, on a wrought iron wall shelf.

“It makes me happy,” she says. “It’s like I’ve stepped into a little fairy world before I need to step into the real world.”

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Soften the light

For a cozier bathroom, both Richter and Bravo suggest trying dimmer lighting. Add a table lamp or pendant lights to emit a softer glow. Dimmers are a nice feature because they let you adjust the mood, say for taking a shower at night.

“If I take a shower in the evening, I have very different thoughts about what the lighting should be like: I want the lights to be dimmer,” Richter says. “A table lamp is a nice feature if you have the space for it. I use one as a night-light.”

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Update your hardware

An easy update to your bathroom’s appearance is to replace the knobs and pulls on cabinets and drawers. It’s inexpensive and DIY: You may only need a screwdriver.

“Updating your hardware makes a huge difference,” Bravo says. The current trend is “black or gold brass hardware,” he adds.

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Beautify your storage

Upgrade bathroom storage containers, especially if they’re on open shelves. Bravo suggests buying containers that look nice and are functional. Instead of plastic, opt for wicker. Buy glass bottles and decant store-bought items like shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash into them.

If you need extra storage, consider adding a floating shelf to a wall as Ahrens did to hold small items like cosmetics and toothpaste.

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Do a deep clean

“Cleaning the heck out of your bathroom — from baseboards to lights — will make a huge difference,” Bravo says. “Make it sparkle.”

For caulk around a shower, tub or sink, he suggests using a bleach pen. Let it sit for a while, and then rinse. Removing caulk with a butter knife and installing new caulk can really brighten a bathroom.

For floor tiles and grout, Bravo suggests scrubbing them with powder laundry detergent and water on a toothbrush.

Overall, Richter suggests following your heart, not trends. “Buy what you love and it never will go out of style,” he says.

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