Affordable Bathroom Upgrades That Take Your Space From Lackluster to Luxe


While a bathroom renovation can create the spa-like bathroom of your dreams, it can be expensive. But luckily it’s not the only option for bathroom upgrades. Sometimes just a few changes can transform a ho-hum bathroom into a more stylish space that you’ll love to spend time in.

We talked to a handful of top designers to get tips on affordable bathroom upgrades that revitalize your space.

Before and after

We’re starting this list with before and after photos of a primary bathroom in the 1897 home of designer Bethany Adams, owner of Bethany Adams Interiors in Louisville, Kentucky. “The bathroom had been poorly updated through the years but was otherwise in its excellent condition, still boasting the original tile floors, marble wainscoting, and cast-iron clawfoot tub,” Adams tells us. She swapped out the light and plumbing fixtures for more modern chrome and Lucite versions from Pottery Barn and Delta, which completely changed the look of the space. “Rather than use typical shower curtains, we used a waterproof liner with silver-and-white drapery panels from West Elm for a more luxe look.”

By hanging the liner high, Adams was able to take advantage of the high ceilings, and she notes that it also looks more glamorous than your typical 72″ shower curtain. “A builder-grade vanity from Lowes got an upgrade with Lucite and chrome handles from Etsy.” Adams also swapped out the light switches and receptacles (outlets) for sleek new ones from Lutron as an easy and inexpensive way to subtly modernize the room. “Finally, a fresh coat of paint (Paper White by Benjamin Moore) was the last step to bringing this elegant bathroom into the 21st century.”

In the rest of the article, we’ll focus on specific hacks you can use for your bathroom upgrades.

Swap out the mirror

It sounds simple, but just changing the mirror in your bathroom can completely transform the space. Designer Stephanie Brown in Vancouver tells us that this is a popular hack because it’s a relatively cheap building material, yet it can have a huge design impact if used more creatively. “For instance, rather than doing a standard, smaller mirror over a sink, consider putting a mirror across a whole wall to expand the space – or stretch the mirror out horizontally from wall to wall.”

Here’s another idea to switch up a boring bathroom mirror. “Opt for a mirror with a beautiful frame around it to give your space loads of personality,” says Amy Peltier, founder and creative director at Peltier Interiors in San Marino, California. “Not only does it add some glam, but it will almost act as a piece of art for your bathroom.”

According to Josie Abate, founder of Ambience Design Group in Woodbridge, Ontario, mirrors can also make a small bathroom seem larger. “If you’re going for a more traditional look, consider purchasing a framed mirror with an ornate border or elegant frame,” she says, “which will look great in almost any setting.”

And don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when choosing a mirror as the focal point in your bathroom. “Add a statement mirror: Something bold, antique, or unexpected will make your bathroom stand out,” says Mary Patton, owner and designer at Mary Patton Design in Los Angeles and New York City.

Change out the lighting

Lighting is another relatively inexpensive hack for updating your bathroom. However, Brown recommends steering clear of bath-bar lighting (or linear light over the mirror). “For an upscale look, we always try to use special or unique vanity lighting installations,” says Brown. “More unique installation options include unique sconces overhead or directly onto the mirror on either side of the sink, or pendant lights on either side of the mirror.”

Another designer in favor of upgrading your contractor-grade lighting is Megan Hersch, cofounder and COO of interior design platform RoomLift in Los Angeles. “I recommend a statement sconce—try one that has a drop if the location of your electrical box allows it,” she says. Hersch explains that lighting is considered the jewelry of your bathroom. “Lighting is also focal and in your line of sight, so giving some good thought to what you want to look at when you walk into the room every time will be worth it.”p

In another lighting example, Peltier switched out the dated light fixture to add more depth and interest to this bathroom.

Experiment with tile

Tile can be used creatively to make an impact and doesn’t even have to be expensive. “Consider mixing large-format basic tile with a fun smaller mosaic tile, rather than using one tile everywhere,” recommends Brown. “Contrast in size and color instantly gives a bathroom more depth and interest.”

Another idea is to use a bold stone countertop with a simple subway tile. “This classic look is inexpensive and looks good in any bathroom,” says Patton.

In this design, Sharon L. Sherman, founder and principal at Thyme & Place Design in Wyckoff, New Jersey, used larger tiles in herringbone patterns. “They are a great ‘eye candy’ visual feature,” she says.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with color in your bathroom tile project. “In this bathroom, we played with the colorful tiles and grout inversion and the mirror infinity effects,” says Laurence Beysecker, design director at Maison Amarande in Lisbon, Portugal. “It creates a joyful and warm feel.”

For another project, Amarande tells us, “This angle of the powder room is the first view that you get entering the house through a glass door, and the client wanted us to create a wow effect.” Amarande used geometric black-and-white impactful hexagonal cement tiles from the Popham design brand. “This pattern contrasts perfectly with the Geronimo color paint from the Mercadier brand in the hall.”

Lauren Sullivan, owner of Well x Design in Kingsport, Tennessee, decided to use longer tiles (2x 8″) with a handcrafted look in place of traditional (3×6″) white subway tiles. “It’s an instant update on a timeless classic, and we installed them in a vertical stack for a modern yet organic upgrade that works well in a variety of spaces.”

Heather Mastrangeli, principal designer at Innovatus Design in Downers Grove, Illinois, also decided to switch it up with tile choices. “Instead of using 1×1″ mosaic tiles in a shower, use penny tile or hexagon tile, which will have more longevity and still prevent falls and slipping,” she says. “There is no cost difference, but the aesthetic is much more elevated.”

Add wood effects on the walls and ceilings

There are also easy and inexpensive ways to add some architectural features to your bathroom. In this design, Sherman used shiplap millwork painted a bright contrast color to add interest in the bathroom.

In addition to the ceiling, you can also add architectural effects to the walls. “If you’re craving a deep hue on the walls, explore contrast by introducing wainscoting or beadboard to the walls,” says Mastrangeli. “Wood trim detailing always makes a space feel more luxurious.”

Change the color of the walls

Painting the walls is one of the easiest, most dramatic, and most cost-effective ways to easily transform your bathroom. “Ditch the white (or Swiss Coffee as it may be) for a bold color that makes your bathroom space feel more like a destination,” advises Hersch. She recommends painting your walls—and maybe even your ceiling—your favorite jewel tone. “Or consider a soft, subtle green that may invoke a spa—or a calm, cool grey to start your day off right every morning.”

Esther Dormer agrees that changing the paint color can transform the bathroom. “Add either an accent wall or create a two-toned wall with a darker color on bottom and a lighter color at top”, she says. “Keep within the colors of the house but go a few shades darker, which will add drama and give it a fresh feel.”

And don’t be afraid to go too dark. In fact, Patton says a very dark color can elevate the space. “A moody color feels more expensive and it can hide imperfections, like old cabinets and trims; my go-to paint brand is by Farrow & Ball.”

Add interest with wallpaper and artwork

Instead of tile or paint, some designers are choosing to utilize wallpaper. “A beautiful wall covering makes the space feel finished—whether it’s a minimal textured linen or a bold pattern with a pop of color, this is your opportunity to make a statement,” says Brittany Farinas, CEO and creative director at House of One in Miami.

In this project, Mastrangeli also decided to forgo paint. “Use a patterned wallpaper since interjecting patterns on the walls leads to a more curated space and has a higher-end look than simple paint,” she says.

Emily Del Bello of Emily Del Bello Interiors in New York City also recommends adding wallpaper when possible for a high-end look that is more impactful than paint.

Joe I. Human, founder and principal designer of Designs By Human in New York City, also uses vinyl wall coverings instead of painting in some of his projects. “Depending on the space (and wall space), a wall covering is such an easy way to upgrade a room because it adds another element of touch and curiosity,” he says. “In a bathroom space, stick with a wet-rated wall covering such as a vinyl. There are so many options available, and I personally love almost all of Elitis vinyl wall coverings.” He also recommends nicely framed, strategically placed artwork as a way to enhance a plain space.

Upgrade fixtures and hardware

Instead of keeping those off-the-shelf cabinet knobs, Hersch recommends finding a pull that you really like and one that is easy to hold and pull. “My go-to shopping destinations for knobs are Anthropologie and Etsy, and I used an iron Klaviyo knob in this Rancho Valencia Resort, which sets the tone and style of the space immediately.”

Here’s another example of hardware used to update a space. “Choose that perfect cabinet hardware now if you’re planning on keeping the existing cabinets in the next big remodel,” says Robin Burrill, CEO and principal designer at Signature Home Services in Keller, TX. “There are so many options out there today, especially in the perfect finish you instantly fall for – selections like sleek, unadorned brass pulls are timeless and easy to maintain.”

However, Farinas warns against using yellow or faux-brass finishes. “Upgrade your bathroom with fixtures that speak to the palette in the rest of your home,” she says. “Brizo’s Luxe Gold finish is a beautiful option when looking for a warmer metal finish.”

Upgrade the vanity

A vanity can make your bathroom look new; however, replacing it can be expensive. If you want to make more of a statement, try painting it a fun pop of color, which will provide a personality boost to the bathroom.

But if your vanity has seen better days and painting it won’t make a difference, Del Bello says you can get a store-purchased vanity instead of an expensive custom model. “There are a lot of new great options on the market now,” she says.

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