From shocking to subtle: Bathroom re-do dos.

Dear friends,

I mentioned to you we recently completed a re-do of three bathrooms at our house. Truth is, only two are actually finished: 1) the powder room, which you saw in this post, and 2)  the kids’ bathroom, which I’ll show you today. The master bath is still a work in progress, stalled because I have been unable to make a decision about cabinet hardware. And of the five new light fixtures I needed for that room, only four were in stock. So — just a heads up that “bathroom re-do tres” may not show up for a while. (I have no idea why I have suddenly adopted a Spanish counting theme since I studied French in college, but I’m rolling with it.)

And, I regret to say a technical difficulty (darn computers!) has prevented me from retrieving my “before” photo of this bathroom. But you know what? You’ve got the gist of it already. You saw my kitchen before.

Blue Formica, white walls, golden oak cabinets.

And you saw my powder room before.

Blue Formica, white walls, golden oak cabinets.

The kids’ bathroom was a whole lot of the same.

But unlike the kitchen and master bath where I sprung for new marble counter tops, and unlike the powder room where I painted the counter tops, I decided to live with the Formica in the kids’ bathroom. It was a darker shade of blue that I didn’t find quite so hideous. And I figured the problem was not really the counter tops. It was the contrast of the counter tops against the plain white walls, made uglier by a cabinet finish that is two decades out of date.

I had a hunch that if I painted the cabinets and wallpapered the bath with a print that took the emphasis off the counter tops, the expanse of less-than-lovely Formica would “recede”  and the counter tops would go from shocking to subtle. (Or at least more subtle.) And I was right. Take a look.

See how much painting the cabinets black and giving your eyes something interesting to look at on the walls make a difference? (By the way, that’s a new light fixture above the mirror. I can’t stress enough how cheap or outdated light fixtures drag a room down instantly.)

You may argue that my wallpaper is awfully busy — and I won’t disagree with you. But I’m okay with busy in small spaces. Especially small spaces like bathrooms and pantries where the door is often shut. And I chose this wallpaper because it has the exact shade of blue in the counter tops as an accent color in the sea shells — well, that and the fact that red is one of my favorite colors and I’m digging on coral lately. (I’m considering a white “coral” chandelier for my dining room as I type.)

With no before photo, I can’t show you how ugly the previously installed, fake-brass shower doors were. I took them down immediately and replaced them with a neutral — and very updated — linen colored shower curtain.

You can’t really tell from this photo, but the custom Roman shade is the exact color of the shower curtain. It looks lovely in real life. Next time you need a custom Roman shade, shop JC Penney online first. Their fabric selections are limited, but their prices can’t be beat on custom orders. I got this one for anywhere from 30% to 75% cheaper than the other online retailers I sourced. By the way, the previous owner of this home spent a fortune on custom Hunter Douglas shades for every window in this house EXCEPT this bathroom. What’s up with that? Maybe she ran out money, given I priced Hunter Douglas replacements and determined she spent $2,500 on a single window in the dining room. I guess I’m kind of glad she skipped this room because the blind likely would have been blue and I likely would have despised it, too.

I had fun shopping for “art” to spruce up this room. I found this linen framed coral illustration on deep discount at Pottery Barn.

And I found these inexpensive beach-themed canvasses at Home Goods.

I still despise the cheap, white vinyl flooring in all my bathrooms. But that’s not a problem I have the money to fix right away.  And since I have lovely oak floors through most of the house, bad flooring is a lot more tolerable in small doses.

I feel compelled to note I’m not one of those women who normally like “themed” rooms, such as seashore baths and rustic cabin dens. This room ended up this way because I was trying to solve a counter top problem on a shoestring budget — and the wallpaper that met all my color and design needs just happened to be beachy. Since it’s the bathroom my kids use, I was a lot more flexible with my approach, and that flexibility saved me a ton of money. And, I think I ended up with a bath that is reasonably fresh and attractive, despite the overt theme.

By the way, if you are ever unfortunate enough to buy a home with unframed mirrors stuck to the walls, do not attempt to remove them. I speak from experience when I tell you that you’ll create enormous headaches (in damaged sheetrock) and spend more money trying to remove and replace them. Simply hire a carpenter to frame them, then paint or stain the frames. I spent $300 to pay a carpenter to frame five bathroom mirrors in this house, and it’s the best $300 I’ve spent to date. (Compare this to the $250 I paid a frame shop to frame and hang a single mirror in a bathroom renovation in our last home.)

So that’s the extent of my inexpensive bathroom reno tips. Paint, wallpaper, new light fixtures and hardware — and a few decorative touches will get you a long ways. In our former home, we took a bathroom down to the studs for a total renovation. Needless to say, I was incredibly pleased with the result and it remains the best bathroom I will have ever been fortunate enough to live with. But it cost 30 times what I spent on this one. (Yes. 30 times, which equals a big diff.)

And sometimes, less is more.

With gratitude {for a new home that came with “good bones” despite its ugly cosmetics},

Joan, who is pretty convinced she would rock on one of those home renovation shows where the budgets are extremely modest


  1. IrishJenn says:

    I LOVE IT! Wow. You’re really good. I’m terrified of wall paper. I wish we lived closer. I’d pester you for decorating advice.
    Also, you’ve convinced me to hire a guy to frame the giant mirror in my master bath. I hate it so. Yours look so classy with the dark frame. Thanks for the encouragement.
    Can’t wait to see the master bath!

  2. Hurrah, that’s what I was searching for, what a material!
    existing here at this web site, thanks admin of this website.


  1. […] owner’s proclivity for shades of blue. (I’d always been a green girl.) I immediately banished her blue Formica counter-tops but decided to live for a while with her high-end, blue shades in two rooms. Over time, I realized […]

  2. […] perfectly coordinates with the guest bathroom I redecorated a couple of years ago and featured in this post. Guess I’m more drawn to the black-blue-red combo than I […]

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