Friday, February 20, 2009

Budget Fixes for Ugly Bathrooms

One of my favorite features on mega-blog Apartment Therapy is its House Tours, which showcase the homes of its readers. I like these tours because they're usually of homes you don't see in design magazines. The often space-challenged homes are rarely decorated by professionals and, more often than not, are reflective of their owners' (or renters') limited budgets. Rather than inhibiting the owners' creativity, I've often found these constraints can result in some seriously impressive problem solving.

This week I was particularly impressed by Nicole and Colin's "streamlined salvage" DC home. Bizarre (and kind of annoyingly alliterative) dubbing of their style aside, I loved the couple's solution to a common problem many homeowners face: ugly bath tile. Unable to undertake a massive bathroom renovation, Nicole and Colin found a shower curtain that included a similar tone to their pinky-yellow tile and allowed them to bring a second color (the grey-blue paint) into the space to help tone down the tile. The result is both retro and pretty. In fact, I almost like the tile.

If you're facing a similar problem of your own, the homeowners' shower curtain (the Dobby-stripe shower curtain from Restoration Hardware) is available in a variety of colorways and, like any patterned fabric, is a great jumping off point for a room design -- just stay within the fabric's color palette and you'll be set! Random aside: I actually have the same curtain in Ash hanging in my upstairs bathroom and I love it.

Seeing Nicole and Colin's house got me thinking, what else can you do (on a budget) to spruce up an outdated, ugly bathroom without actually having to resort to pulling up tile and starting over?

Distract yourself with color: As with Nicole and Colin's bathroom, the right paint color can rescue even the saddest bathroom tiles. And, since the amount of wall space in most bathrooms is tiny, you won't even need much paint to completely transform the space. The oatmeal-colored tiles in the bathroom pictured above could easily read as dingy or just plain boring (they don't even have that fresh and clean feeling that white tiles would have) when paired with the wrong paint color. Max Chamberlain's (AT's resident color expert) decision to paint the walls coral manages to make the tile choice deliberate rather than simply what the homeowners inherited.

Cover 'em up: So far, my suggestions have focused on keeping the existing tile as-is and trying to make it work with color and fabric. But what if your tile really is that hideous? Since replacing the tile would be out of our imaginary budget and painting tile can have some seriously nasty effects, why not just cover it up? Available from 2Jane, Mibo's "tile tattoos" are an inexpensive and impermanent (perfect for the renter!) way to disguise ugly or or even just jazz up boring tile. The "tile tattoos" are really just opaque stickers, cut to fit standard 4" or 6"-square tiles or even standard subway tiles. Prices range for $16/set of 6 to $18/set of 6. Their options range from retro to Scandinavian to Tuscan and I think most of them are adorable.

Go for the grout: While you may not be changing out the tile in your bathroom, you may want to consider the grout. Dirty, greasy grout can make even nice looking tile less appealing. With a little bleach and elbow grease, you can get most grout looking almost like new. Doityourself has a very thorough post on cleaning grout yourself here. If you've scrubbed and scrubbed and your grout still looks like Hades (or if you've inherited the ill-advised predilection for light tile and dark grout of a prior owner's), you can always try your hand at restaining the grout to the color of your choice.

Don't forget the finishing touches: As in the rest of your house, sometimes it's the little details that can make a bathroom go from bleh to great. A word of advice though: avoid any sort of themes. Having a shell-shaped soap dish won't make you feel like you're in Tahiti any more than a zebra bath mat will make you feel like you're on safari. If you can stand to wade through all the "Bear necessities" and "Jumpin' Dolphins" bath collections, Target has some nice budget-friendly options (like Isaac Mizrahi's collection, pictured above, which looks very Jonathan Adler to me -- speaking of, his druggest bath accessories are to die for, but less budget-friendly).

Of course, bathroom accessories don't have to be made specifically for the bathroom. I love the idea of keeping cotton balls, q-tips or hair ties in one of these beautiful oak lidded cups by the British company (with Swedish roots) ISAK. And of course, I love the idea of a coordinating birch wood tray to corral all the cups (I'm pretty anal like that).

If you're budget allows for it, I really adore almost everything India Rose does for the bath. Her amara bathmat ($58), argyle shower curtain ($100), and pintuck shower curtain ($110) are all pictured above.

Does anyone else have any other suggestions for how to fix up an ugly or outdated bathroom without major renovations? If so, please share the wealth and leave your words of wisdom in a comment below.


Anonymous said...

the stager did such a great job on the house we bought, we never realized the bathroom was so outdated. To cover scratches in an older sink, they put river rocks in it, and then had a bunch of candles, low lighting, and a really fabulous shower curtain!

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