How to upgrade your bathroom for less than $1,000

During a year and a half of shutdowns, remote schooling and working from home, many of us have spent more time in our bathrooms – and more time dreaming of an all-out renovation. But despite the small size of a bathroom, a full makeover costs a significant amount.

Greg Maciejewski, owner of Villa Construction & Development in Schiller Park, Ill., says homeowners will spend at least $5,000 when hiring a contractor for a powder room renovation and upward of $13,000 for a full bathroom remodel. According to the 2021 U.S. Houzz Bathroom Trends study released earlier this month, 10% of bathroom renovations cost $30,000 or more.

But what if you only want to spend $1,000 or less?

Design experts say you can upgrade one or two aspects of your bathroom and still dramatically alter the space, especially if you’re willing to do most of the work yourself or hire someone handy to help with the installation.

Here are four changes they say can each be made for less than $1,000:

Upgrade your lighting

You can’t appreciate a bathroom if you can’t clearly see everything in it – yourself included.

Older bathrooms are particularly susceptible to poor lighting, says Kathleen Jennison, founder of KTJ Design Co. in Stockton, Calif. The culprit is often overhead lighting above the bathroom mirror.

“Having the light shine down on your face makes you look really bad,” says Jennison, winner of the American Society of Interior Design’s 2018 ANDYZ award for best residential bathroom design in California Central/Nevada.

Jennison suggests purchasing a mirror with side lighting, which is more flattering. Alternatively, you can replace an overhead light with an LED light bar that will brighten the room.

Lynn Schrage, manager of Kohler’s Bathroom Design Service, says Kohler’s Verdera series embeds LED lighting into the sides of mirrors. (The least expensive model is currently $959 on us.kohler.com.) A voice activation feature also pairs the lighted mirror with Amazon Alexa, so you can ask for jokes, news or the weather while shaving or applying makeup.

Miseno sells a variety of mirrors in oval, circular and rectangular shapes with LED frames that start at about $600 (miseno.com). Some LED mirrors also come with infrared sensors, so the lights only turn on with movement, cutting down on energy use.

Bring the spa to your bathroom

During the pandemic, people have increasingly viewed their bathrooms as places of calm, says Marine Sargsyan, a senior economist at Houzz.

“We’re seeing homeowners crave a place of serenity away from the chaos of the pandemic, where they can rest and relax,” Sargsyan wrote in an email. “In particular, we’ve seen an uptick in premium features, hygienic surfaces, and plants and other greenery, to create a spa-like atmosphere.”

Humidity-friendly and low-light-tolerant flora, such as bromeliads and snake plants, thrive in bathrooms. For greenery that requires no maintenance, check out the Sill’s mini preserved living wall of artisan moss, which never needs water ($215, thesill.com).

If you want spalike colors, Jennison suggests using mint green, coral, sky blue or blush pink, as well as classic white or ivory. Accent pieces such as baskets, towel racks, robe hooks and glass shelves provide organization and mimic the environment of a spa.

Jennison also recommends replacing a sliding glass shower door with a sweeping shower curtain.

“If you have a glass shower door, and it’s got the old-fashioned track, and the door is kind of crusty from water deposits or just old age, I would just take that out and put in a new custom shower curtain that goes from the floor to the ceiling,” Jennison says. “That would dramatically open up your space, because having a shower door that is opaque and that you can’t see through just makes your bathroom look really small.” You can remove a shower door and track yourself with a screwdriver, putty knife, scouring pad and a few hours of work; it would cost about $100 to pay someone handy to do it.

If you don’t remove the shower door and track, Jennison says, then even adding a shower curtain as a decorative piece to the glass door can “make it feel very cozy.”

Spice up the vanity

Want a whole new look for your built-in vanity without tearing it out entirely? Consider the countertop.

Schrage says replacing the countertop can make your bathroom pop, and doing so allows you to change the style of your sink or to transition from having two faucet handles to one.

“Just a top and a faucet update on the vanity is so smart,” she says. “If we want to create more counter space in our bathrooms, replacing that top and just doing a single-control faucet is cleaner in its approach.”

Ceramic vanity tops available from Kohler range in size from 25 to 49 inches and in price from $316 to $633. At Home Depot, single and double sink tops made of quartz or engineered marble start at $337. As for vanity colors, Sargsyan says blue, as well as medium and light wood tones, bring warmth and texture.

And don’t neglect the area above the vanity and up to the ceiling as a place for an artful backsplash or mosaic that can visually affect the bathroom.

“It fills in the area and composes the vanity,” Schrage says, “making a kind of design statement.”

Maciejewski, the contractor, says he tells his clients to Google images of tiles and textures they like and take screenshots of them to home improvement stores to match materials. “That’s how you’re going to save money,” he says.

Focus on faucets

Sargsyan says faucets are the most common feature replaced during bathroom upgrades and renovations, adding that more than one-third of new faucets have cost-saving or high-tech features, such as being fingerprint-resistant or touch-free.

Schrage says she is also seeing a minimal approach to faucets that favors clean lines and sleek detailing. Gooseneck or square spouts provide a modern look that aligns with a spalike feel, and a single-lever handle makes for easy cleaning, she says. Jennison points to Delta faucets for their style, longevity and value; some Delta faucets start at $55.

Shower updates can complement a sink faucet; for example, try the HydroRail-R Awaken Shift Ellipse by Kohler, which comes with dual rain and hand shower heads.

“Imagine taking one experience option into the shower and replacing it with two,” Schrage says. “It’s just nice to take a tired-looking shower and make it beautiful again.”

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