By Natalia Hook
Whether you’ve just bought your home, or you’ve been in the same place for years, the itch to change something is bound to pop up. Sometimes, it’s sooner rather than later, and rarely financially convenient. Last year, within the space of a month, my husband and I had closed on our house, replaced the roof, and invested in new bedroom furniture. (Dressers that match… a first for us!) These were carefully-considered and worthwhile investments, but took a big chunk out of our wallets. At the end of that month, renovating a shoebox sounded above our price point.
But… our bathroom. Well, nothing was really wrong with it. I loved the pebbled ceramic floor. I liked the colors. I was OK with the subway tile. And, after all, the glass accent tiles matched. But for Pete’s sake, considering all the fixtures were stainless steel in a sea of blues and grays, why on Earth was the vanity brown? Why? And more importantly, what I could afford to do about it?
For the record, Bob, my husband, was fine with our bathroom. Since it wasn’t joint thumbs-down, renovating our bathroom was out. So I came up with a plan for a low-budget redecoration project. It can be easier and cheaper than you think if you follow some sensible guidelines.
1. Determine Your Budget Boundaries
If you’re redecorating because renovation is too pricey, don’t get caught in the trap of overspending. At the time I decided to face off with the bathroom, I figured I shouldn’t really be spending over $100. Yup, one hundred dollars. If what you’re able to afford sound like it’s not enough to do much of anything, remember that you can always come back with embellishments later. Give your creativity a chance and see what your budget can do. You might be surprised.
2. Identify the DIY Elements You Can Change
There are lots of alterations you can make to a space at a fairly low price point. Painting is the simplest way to achieve a new look, and one of the most affordable if you do it yourself. If you’re handy, you can swap out lighting or plumbing fixtures. Sometimes you can find them on letgo or craigslist for a song, or discounted in big box stores or online. Full disclosure: I am not handy, and neither is my husband. But there are still lots of options.
Window treatments, lamp shades, linens, and decorative pieces are all easy to do. For $15, you can buy an accent bowl at any number of stores, or an accent bowl, a frame, a tea tin and a couple of drawer pulls at a garage sale. For $20, you can get a pair of pillowcases to add a splash of contrasting color to your bedroom, plus a switch plate. With a store coupon, you can probably get it down to $15. For zero dollars, you can rearrange furniture to alter the flow or focal point of a room. Take a good hard look at your space, and figure out what is possible without renovations. I looked with fresh eyes at the bathroom, and I saw walls and shelves full of possibilities, and the windswept ocean colors that I liked.
3. Target One or Two Changes You Can Achieve in a Short Time
Focus on executing one or two central ideas. A reachable goal will reward you with a feeling of accomplishment. If you’re having trouble narrowing down your list, prioritize what will make the greatest impact on your opinion of the room.
For me, it was making peace with the vanity. It drove me nuts because it matched absolutely nothing. It was a java brown island in a sea of gray, blue, and white. What if it weren’t? I couldn’t take the dark brown out, but I could bring more in. With no linen closet, the addition of a compact espresso shelf unit serves two purposes. It makes the existing vanity color make sense, and provides sorely needed towel storage, with a price tag of about $60. I found a dark brown bamboo mat for $7.99 that looks great in front of the bathtub. Wet feet? No problem. We keep a hand towel tucked in the door handle to lay over the mat before a bath or shower. For under $70, I stopped hating the vanity. Not bad.
4. Reassess the Space
Once you’ve made some progress, pat yourself on the back and revisit your other ideas. A lot of them will still make sense. Some may not simply because the space is different. Curtains instead of blinds might not work if you hung something decorative above or next to a window. The little vignette you thought about putting together may be too rustic for the modern shelf you chose. The benefit of tackling one or two design elements at a time instead of attempting a full overhaul is seeing what works as the new space unfolds, instead of in hindsight. Once you know what’s working, run with it at your own pace.
Even after my dark wood additions, the bathroom still had a decidedly ocean feel. The colors were great, like sea glass and storm clouds. It was the competing styles of the pebbled floor and busy wall tiles that I found frustrating. There was a lot to take in, and that wasn’t changing.
The best way to accommodate the existing visual load, I realized, was to keep decor simple. I focused on basic items and ideas, making selections based on what worked, not necessarily what I liked most. The toothbrush holder, cup, and soap dish are all matched stainless. The pearl gray plastic wastebasket draws no attention to itself. These purchases put me just over $100.
Adding natural elements was easy. An upcycled olive oil bottle filled with tiny pebbles, a pale aqua bottle my husband had found on the bay, and a glass jar full of shells we had beach-combed found places on a high glass shelf. My white ceramic snail, previously in the bedroom, and a jar candle went to the shelf under the window. I already owned all these things. I just had to realize it, find them, and in some cases, clean them up. What’s in your attic?
5. Take Your Time
As you add to the new look of your space, remember that you set the pace and make the rules. If you take your time, you have a good chance of both enjoying the process and making choices with confidence. Another bonus—the cost is easier to shoulder when purchases are spread out.
The white towels we already had were just fine until I hit a department store sale a few months later and picked some up in charcoal gray. I discovered a pale blue sea salt bar soap and repurposed a pressed paper bowl that potpourri had come in as a catch-all for headbands and jewelry. Eventually, my biggest investment in the room, at $250, was a beautiful canvas pelican print (PureNaturePhotos, etsy.com.) My test for whether or not I should buy it? Would I want it, love it, and display it, even if I had never seen the bathroom? Yes, yes, and yes.
The total cost was about $400. The base cost before the towels and canvas was just over $100. By drawing the process out over several months, I avoided a major wallop on my wallet, and was able to splurge on something special. And now, I am much happier with our bathroom.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Natalia Hook and www.shutterstock.com