10 Easy Bathroom Upgrades
By my estimation, an "easy" bath upgrade could include virtually everything in the room except replacing the tub or shower, tearing up and/or replacing floor or wall tile, and relocating plumbing fixtures. That still leaves the faucet and sink, walls, lighting and many more options that can make a surprisingly big difference. Here are 10 of those options, as promised by this article's title. (Actually, you'll get 11, because I'm going to mention paint right now, but that's only so you don't have to read it as a "brilliant" tip for the 10-million-and-oneth time.)
Replacing a bathroom faucet (a.k.a. lavatory faucet) really is a pretty easy job. If you haven't done it before, it'll take you a while, but it's not hard work, provided the old parts aren't rusted onto the sink (see item 2, below). For such small fixtures, faucets can really date an old bathroom, so this tends to be a high-return improvement.
2. Sink and/or vanity top
If you're replacing your faucet, you might considering swapping out the sink, too, depending on its type. Drop-in sinks, the kind with a heavy rim that sits atop the counter, are easiest to replace. Also, if the retaining nuts on your faucet are fused with corrosion and crud, it might be easier to remove the sink to get at the faucet; thus a good opportunity to put in a new sink. Another option is to replace the old sink and vanity top with an all-in-one vanity top with integrated sink. You just screw and/or caulk these to the vanity cabinet, and can add a new faucet before mounting the top.
Sleek water-saver toilets used to be somewhat of a novelty and thus carried an unnecessarily high price tag, but now they're far more commonplace and affordable. This is a relatively easy improvement that not only updates the look in your bathroom, it also saves tons of water over the years (that's if you still have an old-style toilet).
4. Storage cabinet
The right piece of bathroom furniture is both good looking and hardworking. Freestanding cabinets with glass-panel doors are the mainstays of this category. Glass doors lighten the visual impact of the piece and are good for storing linens and the like. If you need something to hold a mess of medicines and makeup containers, a solid-door cabinet or one with some drawers probably is a better option. Shop carefully for just the right size, style and color, and the cabinet will look like it was made for your space.
Beadboard wainscoting and a molded cap rail is so Pottery Barn, but the fact is it's a great treatment for bathroom walls, especially if the décor is traditional or neutral. You can use real beadboard planks or grooved sheet-good paneling, which is pretty convincing when it's painted. The real stuff may end up with cracks along painted seams due to the humid environment. Be sure to include a nicely proportioned (and washable) baseboard that visually carries the weight of the entire treatment.
This upgrade idea may be as obvious as painting the walls, but keep a few things in mind. Fabric features in a bathroom can include not just towels but also bathmats, window treatments and some shower curtains. (I don’t include toilet seat covers in my list, but you may in yours.) You might take a matchy-matchy approach or go for a more dynamic but complementary color mix. Any design can add a lot of pop with little effort.
When it comes to linens, don't buy cheap towels. They look cheap, feel cheap, and don't last. If you can't afford good towels for everywhere in the bathroom, splurge on some guest towels, and buy cheaper sets for your own use. That way your bathroom will look nice when it needs to, and you'll be motivated to make more money so you don't have to put up with scratchy towels for the rest of your life (I use scratchy towels, by the way).
7. Shower curtain or doors
Apart from the necessity of regular cleaning, glass shower doors are really nice to have, and they can add an upscale look. They can also add a "builder-grade" look, depending on how much you spend. Frameless doors are beautiful but expensive, and they should be professionally installed, so perhaps this disqualifies them as "easy upgrades" (you decide). On the other end of the spectrum, shower curtains may be inconvenient to use, but they can be a powerful design feature. And even a really nice curtain is much cheaper than doors.
New hardware is a super-easy upgrade. Think: towel bars and hooks, toilet-paper holder, cabinet knobs and pulls, showerhead, shower curtain rod…basically anything metal. All hardware should coordinate well with the sink and bath faucets and support the overall decorating scheme.
Adding or replacing light fixtures may seem like a no-brainer, but if that's the case, why are so many bathrooms poorly lighted? Most builders get bathroom lighting completely wrong; they shove in a couple of recessed fixtures over the vanity mirror and call 'er good. But overhead fixtures, especially recessed cans, shadow your face when you look into the mirror. What they're really good at is highlighting male pattern baldness (I speak from experience) and dark roots, so who wants them? The right lighting for vanities is side lights. A nice wall-mounted fixture on each side of the mirror does wonders for your viewing pleasure. You can also go with strip-style lights, if you want to feel like a star.
New flooring is an easy, affordable upgrade if you can cover the old flooring with new sheet vinyl or linoleum or if you install one of these after tearing up old carpet. For super mod folks, consider sealed concrete, like the floors that Atlanta flooring contractor Amazing Improvements builds. Resilient sheet flooring can go over several old surfaces but not all; be sure to check with the flooring manufacturer. The relatively small area of most bathroom floors makes it easy to buy better-quality flooring for greater impact and a longer lasting improvement. Personally, I wouldn't use anything in the bathroom other than sheet flooring or grouted tile. Any material with seams is prone to water damage, and carpet in bathrooms is just plain gross.
Updated August 20, 2018.
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