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Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Posted by gooster (My Page) on
Sat, Jan 18, 14 at 2:19

I've been active in a few other forums, but not this one. So, I don't know if this is better to post here or in Home Dec.

I have a bath (and a half) in an urban loft in San Francisco. It's a second home, but in an area with a lot of new builds and conversions using the latest in modern design. Resale or conversion to a rental is a possibility within a few years. My property is about 17 years old and has some dated elements. I'm thinking of updating the looks, but want to stay on a budget. Structural changes and updates are out of the budget and probably won't gain much in layout or function.

The tile probably is the most dated element; it is a mottled tan and cream ceramic that is on the surround and on the floor. It probalby is also the most expensive thing to replace. The rest of the floors on the main level are natural maple. The odd part of the loft layout is that the main bath is the one accessible off the main living area.

Here are a few photos....

vanity is natural maple shaker, absolute black granite top. Same cabinetry and counters are used in the kitchen and other half bath. Slightly dated (I think?, given the extensive use of lacquer and dark woods in more recent designs) but not exactly the latest example of modern design.
 photo DSC_0036_zpsc341c75c.jpg

The strong wall color helps detract from the mottled finish of the main tile. This was one change that I made when we moved in seven years ago. Lighter colors actually make the mottled finish stick out more.
 photo DSC_0035_zps2c4fbb6b.jpg
Nothing too terrible in terms of elements, which probably has me stymied. I thought about swapping out the surround and floors with an updated tile. Swap out the faucet, and maybe the hardware.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

I agree with you; the tile may be what needs to change to give it a facelift. It doesn't have to be extremely costly tile. Personally with that vanity/top I like the idea of tile that looks like linen. Very spa like. Can you possibly add a towel warmer somewhere? Curved shower rod with a waffle shower curtain -again to look more spa-like.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

You can use very affordable tile. Maybe choose a rectangular shape - Stacked horizontal or vertical or maybe running bond vertical will give you a very contemporary/modern look. Or choose a square tile - running bond either horizontal or vertical would look contemporary.

If you want to do 60 x 32 shower you can use an acrylic shower pan to save on tiling costs. Or there are really cool contemporary alcove tubs available - check out the Mirabelle Edmenton or Maax Rubix tubs. If you feel that you may rent, then you may want to go with a cast iron shower pan or tub. Is your current tub cast iron - it looks like a builder Briggs porcelain on steel tub. If your tub is cast iron and in good condition then keep it. If you need to buy a cast iron tub, Home Depot has a good price on the Kohler Villager (but buy your lav and shower faucets at a plumbing supply store or online). The Kohler Bellwether would be another tub to look at. Kohler has cast iron shower pans too.

If your vanity matches the cabinets in your kitchen then I would keep it. You could always replace the sink and or vanity top (I like them). If you keep the stainless sink and/or black granite top, I would try to balance it in the room with stainless fixtures and black accent tile and shower curtain.

Definitely upgrade the lav faucet. Keep your shower valve and just replace the trim kit to save on money. Hansgrohe has a new shower arm that has the shower head and handshower together, separate from the shower valve, and would be very affordable and look cool.

A contemporary Toto toilet like the Aquai is under $350. It would hold up well with renters and be economical with water. But that could be on your wish list if your current toilet is in good condition.

If you do the demo work yourself to save money and pick nice middle of the road materials and order your fixtures online or from a competitive plumbing store, you can get a lot of bang for your buck. Check the discount tile stores for tile. Check craigslist for tile too - many times there are pretty good sized lots left over from commercial jobs that end up on craigslist. Check craigslist and ebay for fixtures. I know that your part of the country is very expensive, but you are fortunate to have some of the best tile layers too. An alcove installation should be a breeze for a good installer. Also, an independent tileman can be a good resource for where to buy tile in your area. Make sure that you buy extra tile to keep around for repairs.

This post was edited by Anna_in_TX on Sat, Jan 18, 14 at 18:46


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Thanks so much for the great ideas.

sleevepresto: There is room for a towel warmer, though wiring it up would require a bit of work. The curved shower curtain is a great idea and an easy change..

Anna_TX: A good tip on conversion to a cast iron tub. RIght now, it is fiberglass. But adding a bath and replacing the surround really ups the ante on the budget. I have thought about swapping out the hardware and the faucet, and began looking today at the lower cost tile and Kitchen/bath shops today.

The vanity and top are repeated in the kitchen and the half bath. Frankly, I am not a fan of the black granite --- it shows everything. But swapping out counters is really starting to escalate the overall costs. I swap out the counters and the next thing I know, I'm redoing cabinets (or at least doors)

The toilet was replaced today (I forgot to mention). It was one element that was starting to have issues.

I've found some dimensional wall tile for the surround I like at less than $10 per square foot- the real issue in my area is the labor cost for the install. And I found some tile I like that was $60/sq ft but that is not going to happen in this bath (I've just completed a bunch of work at the main house). I also like the large format rectangular planks for the floor, although I read in another thread here they can be more expensive to install and be a visual problem in a small bath. I saw several through body porcelain tiles in linen look finishes when I was out shopping today.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

I guess I read in your post that the tile was really bugging you so I tried to suggest less costly approaches to replacing it. There are a lot of discount tile stores here in Houston that carry large selections with large volumes of recently discontinued tile straight from the large tile distributors, residential and commercial tiles. The commercial tiles can really give you a contemporary look. I just don't think that you are shopping in the right places. Maybe you can have someone else shop for you, maybe someone who has a penchant for bargain shopping.

Fiberglass tub is the cheapest tub and will give the property a poor impression, my opinion of course. You are better off installing a Sterling Shower/Bath Vikrell combo which is a very nice and durable product.

I can think of lots of ways to get a nice look on the cheap. Find a porcelain or commercial hard duty tile for the floor and a ceramic for the tub alcove. You can even use Daltile Rittenhouse subway installed on the vertical - get a color like Architectural Gray or Urban Putty. Mix it with stripes of 4.5 x 4.5. Home Depot has very good prices on Daltile ceramic bathroom tile. You may even find a nice floor tile there too. Shoot, there was an ad here on Houston Craigslist for the longest for over 20 cases of Daltile Urban Putty left over from a commercial job. Or replace the floor and install a Sterling shower/bath combo - you can get it in white or biscuit. Or just replace the floor tile and leave the tub/shower.

I just think you need to think outside of the box. Have you asked your recent contractor for cheap solutions?

The cheapest solution would be to paint the walls a very dark tan to act as an accent to give more of a contrast to the tile. Find a seamstress or drapery shop (on your own to save money - don't go thru a decorator) and have a bold geometric outside shower curtain made with the matching tan and black. Buy your fabric at a discount warehouse of course. Use white rugs to blend in with the floor tile so you won't notice how white it is compared to the contrasting mat you have now. Don;t break the white color up - keep it separate from the dark. Same with the dark - dark tan towels against the wall paint - no white or rust color. Or paint the walls the EXACT same white color as the tile. White towels and mats. But you do need to get a black shower curtain across from the vanity to balance it.

Good luck. You just need to decide how much you want to work this fix up.

This post was edited by Anna_in_TX on Sun, Jan 19, 14 at 10:34


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Sterling shower/tubs are inexpensive and require a good handyman or carpenter to install.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Thanks, Anna_TX, for detailed tips. I'll reconsider the tub, and as you said, how much I want to get into this.

I also had not considered going darker with the wall color or removing the rust accents. I'll look at darkening the wall color if I choose not to redo the tile.

I've used DalTile in the past, and the basic series are a great value. I find the Dal-Tile warehouse will beat out HD in our area. I have not tried CL or Restore yet, but I see plenty of tile there, and I'm very much a discount shopper. My main concern is actually the labor costs, and getting an appropriate look relative to other properties in the area.

I should have mentioned that labor costs here I find are 25% higher than in surrounding areas. And permitting costs for a tub swap add a bunch of fees --- even the possibility of required retrofits to other element to bring the lighting, etc up to the latest regulations.

The tile actually reads a bit more mottled beige. The floor also is getting some dirt in the grout lines... overall, not a nice look To me, it actually seems like it is from a time period before when the building was actually built.

Lots to ponder.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Gooster -

I agree with Anna that changing out the tile would be a big difference, and I guess I'm lucky to be in Houston too since we have super affordable tile stores. On my recent bathroom renovation, all of my tile except my shower floor was under $2.50/sq ft and even the shower floor was under $10.

Can you post an example of the styles of bathrooms of the other homes in your area that you would be competing with for resale?

Given your vanity color, I think a modern take on a traditional color like this one: here might be a fun way to blend it all together. Plus, under $2 a sq ft would help offset some of the elevated labor costs you reference.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

What if you just replaced the floor tile and tweaked the wallcolor? The reason I am saying this is that one of the more recent Silestone offerings sort of reminds me of the wall tile, so there is a certain current-ness to it.

This post was edited by ineffablespace on Mon, Jan 20, 14 at 16:11


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Thanks kjo_tx, ineffable.

kjotx: Attached is a montage of what is available from recent sales comps within a small radius. The new builds are actually nicer than this. And guess which one sold for 20% below the others with similar square footage.
I like the tile you linked; this was actually similar to what I was looking at. I've purchased stuff from that store before -- and I've seen similar procelain tiles locally from $3 to $6 per square foot.

ineffable: It is a good idea to replace the floor tile (probably here and in the half bath -- the exact same tile). It does have a tile baseboard that will need to come out as well. The main thing that dates the tile is that it is that mottled color with a gloss finish. There are also some cracked threshold tiles in the half bath, which is probably the only huge sign of wear.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

I am trying to upload a picture of Silestone Pulsar but it doesn't show up when I post it. So I'll link it

Here is a link that might be useful: Silestone Pulsar


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Hey Gooster,
Down the road from you…

What jumped out at me was the rust color accessories and the black countertop. That combined with the beige and white gives you four colors competing for your eye in the space. And they don't visually connect which also is something that I believe your eye is picking up.

I actually think your tile wasn't that bad from the pictures. I would try changing out your towels and rugs first and see how you like that. Going with something that is similar in tone, a warm golden brown, or opposite on the color wheel, like a teal or turquoise which are still very much in.

It is also possible to do something with your countertops that I have seen elsewhere on GW, a spray paint epoxy that covers countertops. Hoping someone else here knows more about this product.

You could also changeout the cabinet pulls for something with a bit more pizzaz or modern look. It is possible to putty up the hole and drill new holes for pulls if you want that look. Even as expensive as those can total up to be, that would still be cheaper than a new tile job.

Pop over to your nearest HD/Lowe's to pick up some of the paint cards and just have some fun seeing what you think of various colors before going to the trouble and cost of changing out the tile or visiting BedBath & Beyond for new bath accessories.

Good Luck!


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Thanks, ineffable: I see Silestone is coming out with some really interesting colors. Maybe you all can make me tolerate this tile more -- actually, I know it is not so bad, and perhaps I should try the changes first.

earth_pal: howdy, neighbor.

I guess I should get rid of the rust. It ties in with the rest of the loft, and the thought was to draw attention away from the tile. I'll have to experiment with the different combinations of tan and white, and bring in another black accent.

No matter what I do, I am going to replace the faucet, the cabinet hw and possibly the towel bar, toilet roll holder and hooks. We came to the realization also this weekend (and after viewing more photos of new builds and comps) that perhaps a kitchen refresh is even more important than the bath.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Before going through the cost and mess of re-tiling, consult an artist on paint color and what color would work with the tile you have to make it look more contemporary. Paint is a heck of a lot cheaper than tile! My father has an income property. One of the baths has the most hideous purple tile on the walls, but instead of re-tiling, he consulted an artist, who advised him to paint the walls a blue. It looked amazing, and the purple tiles were no longer offensive, even kind of cool. I couldn't believe the difference the wall color made. Leave expensive renos to future buyers (renters don't care) because they might not like the new, expensive stuff you put in and pull it out anyway.

Meantime, yes, change out the hardware .The maple is nice. Get an arched shower curtain rod (I have one called "The Arc", love it! There are others which are more spa-like or "hotel" like. They're a huge improvement to baths), and get a nice shower curtain, maybe linen (it hangs nicely).

Maybe change the window shade to a set of plantation shutters or wood "Venetian" blinds (give it a beachy, Cape Cod look?).

Personally, I'd take the shelf you have over the toilet down and put towel rungs inside the vanity cabinets to hold the hand towels. But that's personal taste as I've never liked cabinetry or stuff over toilets. Leave the nice photos you've got there up on their own, or replace with another more to scale with the wall.

Finally, the stainless steel sink is a bit odd for a bathroom. It looks like a kitchen sink. can you change it out for an enamel sink?


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Hi again,

Suggestion: Paint the walls a very rich chocolate brown. It'll be gorgeous, very contemporary. It'll work in the small room because there isn't a lot of wall area. It'll make your existing tile look a lot better. Remove the red bath mat and towels and use only white. I have a friend who asked me for help with wall color for her kitchen, for which there was very little actual wall area. She was thinking neutral, beige kind of thing. Her kitchen cabinets have kind of a gold-leaf accent (thin line) trim in the cut-out areas, and it looked totally dated, 1970s-ish. But replacing the cabinetry was out of the question. I immediately saw chocolate brown on the walls, so we set about finding a good brown. Ended up with Benjamin Moore's "Midsummer Night" (she and I both, purely by coincidence, chose that one. What are the odds?). It's VERY dark, so don't be put off. They had it painted, and it is absolutely gorgeous. They are thrilled .Their friends all commented on it. And lo and behold, it makes the gold in the cabinetry look beautiful, not dated at all. Again it's amazing the effect paint can have, both good and bad.

Give it a try. If you can afford it, get Benjamin Moore "Aura Bath & Spa". The Aura paint is rich and satiny and luxurious - really nice paint, but it's expensive. However you don't need much for that bathroom. The "Bath & Spa" part means they put an additive in it that prevents mold and mildew. If they only sell the Aura Bath & Spa in gallons, you can get a smaller can and add the additive. I think with Aura, you need only one coat, but don't quote me on that.

Put a nice fake (I know, cringe, but there are some good ones out there) orchid or something in there for a splash of color - beautiful.
The stark contrast, with the richness of the chocolate brown, would be really stunning in your bathroom. And the nice thing about paint (versus re-tiling/flooring) is that, if you really don't like it, you can always change it.

This post was edited by Tibbrix on Tue, Jan 21, 14 at 9:40


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

"the thought was to draw attention away from the tile"

This doesn't seem to work how one thinks it would. Sometimes the best way to diminish something is to make everything work With it.

Sometimes this means making the deflecting element stronger than the offensive element--but what doesn't seem to work is trying to ignore it or do the opposite.

For example, I know someone who had white countertops that looked yellowish compared to the cabinets, and they painted the walls pink, which made the yellowish cast stronger. Once they painted the walls something with yellow in it, it made the yellowish tint less, making them look whiter in comparison.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

A lot of great ideas since I've been away from this forum.

Wow, permit/labor costs are your limiting factor. I know San Francisco is beautiful, but I sure do like the costs here in Texas. Hopefully, replacing the floor tile will not require a permit. And hopefully, replacing the lav faucet and shower trim won't either. I like the idea of a curved shower rod too.

I think the idea of reducing the number of colors is good too. You could replace the stainless sink with a white sink which would be very affordable. The black granite too - your vanity is small enough to give you lots of premade options or fabricated granite/quartz remnant options. Or you may want to hold off on the sink if you you have long term plans to incorporate the look with the floor and shower/tub.

I really like this forum. I get so many good ideas myself.

Good luck.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

I think the tile looks current. Personally my changes would be more cosmetic.
I would remove the unit on top of the toilet and place hand towels in the cabinet. You can get a large painting for that space.

Secondly, I would replace the countertop and sink. A white sink always looks fresh and contemporary. Stainless is very harsh next to the black countertop and looks like a kitchen cabinet. Granite pieces for a 30" or 36" cabinet should not cost more than $500 for the most expensive granite or marble. You may have to shop around but many places advertise granite under $50/sq.ft installed.

The ideas about the curved shower rod are great but how about a hidden trac in the ceiling? This would draw the eye upward and focus the attention on the shower curtain being used. These are used for curtains but also in bathrooms. You can have long shower curtains made.

What is the lighting being used over the mirror and in the room generally? Lighting fixtures can really make a small space. Have you considered a medicine cabinet instead of a mirror for more storage above counter? Adding a light fixture in the shower area would make it more contemporary and also brighter

I like the idea of live plants and I see you have a window.

What is your budget for a refresh? That will help focus your efforts.
Good luck!


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Wow, even more great suggestions. You are all veering me away from the tiling project and seeing how much I can do with other updates. Even swapping out the toilet already makes the place look better (sounds odd, but it is true).

annatx: yes, the labor costs plus the extras to bring things into compliance can really add up. Technically, the threshold for getting permits is pretty low.

It is interesting to me the reactions regarding the stainless sink -- it is not my favorite but is not that uncommon here in these types of units. It is part of the industrial loft look here (raw timber, exposed ducting, etc... ), although the other examples I posted were mostly white. This is a former warehouse district that is now mixed residential and offices/light industrial, think of your stereotypical geeky hipster professional in a movie and that describes the likely future tenant.

I did look at premade vanity tops last weekend at a lower cost pre-fab place --- but getting something to bridge the cabinet and floor color is tough, and the sizing is a challenge. Easier to choose if I have something fabricated, but then I would likely have to get the kitchen and other bath done as well for continuity and to consume a slab.

homepro: the ceiling track could work; I have it in a couple of other areas for some window coverings. We did replace the vanity light with a very contemporary fixture.

attached below is a closeup of the floor tile with a white rug for contrast. Gotta get a faucet, some hardware, swap out the rugs and towels, new curtain rod, paint chips, and accessories.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Hi again, Gooster,

If the building style is that industrial thing, you might in fact prefer "The Arc" arched shower rod. Made of airplane aluminum and is flat, not round. It's also less expensive than the more spa-like arched rods. Best place to get it is here (see link below). It also can be cut to size if need be. Does not rust (I live on Cape Cod). You can read the reviews of it on Amazon. And it's easy to install (although, you've got tile there, so be careful).

If you go with the chocolate brown (am I getting pushy? Sorry! Completely sure that bathroom will be gorgeous in that color!), you wouldn't need to replace the vanity top. It will work well with that color and what you're shooting for, I think.

Then yes, stick with all white towels, curtain, rugs. There is white in the tile, so it will work fine. Also contrasts sharply (i.e.: contemporarily) with the dark brown walls along with the white wood trim, so it would be beautiful, actually.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Arc shower rod

This post was edited by Tibbrix on Thu, Jan 23, 14 at 9:52


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

The tile does not look terrible, but I do agree some new modern tile seems like it would be an improvement.

While the vanity cabinets themselves look good to me, the sink does not. It's an odd installation with the excessive reveal and the faucet looks cheap. Notice in your comparable pictures that the faucets are mostly either single hole or widespread installations.

Also, this is just my opinion, but I don't think your wall color is doing the bathroom any favors. It does not seem very flattering to the vanity or the floor.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

First, I think that your bathroom doesn't look that dated but a bit generic.
I would go with a dark wall paint color, chocolate brown, NAVY, dark grey, or eggplant, and some dramatic black-and-white (?) art work.
I'd leave the SS sink and play up the SS in accessories etc.

Alternatively, you could paint or gel stain the vanity. I can't see the tile colors that well, but if there's a grey in there, that would be an option.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

A fresh coat of paint on the walls, that alone will make a dramatic difference. A deep brown, as suggested above, would be beautiful, along with a nice foliage plant in the window. I don't like the stainless steel sink either, sorry to say. For a bathroom, it just doesn't seem to belong. I would get a new sink and counter top, its a small cabinet, so the new granite top should not cost too much. You did mention that your current granite matches the kitchen and other bath, no rules say you have to match everything unless that is important to you.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Look at this 1956 Briggs bathroom designed by Howard Ketcham the color engineer. This caught my eye and I thought of your bath. Replace the green fixtures with your white fixtures and the red counter and shower curtain with your black. Add a black chair or bench. Change out the stainless sink for white porcelain.

This post was edited by Anna_in_TX on Sat, Jan 25, 14 at 11:47


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Thanks, all, again.

As you exit the bath, the kitchen is on your right. It is all one large open room -- thus my concern with the bath colors.

nosoccermom: there is little to no grey in the tile. Any grey is just the shadows. If anything, there is a yellow undertone. I've looked at gel staining (for the kitchen) and read about all these disasters in the Kitchen FOrum when people try to do light maple. It makes me very afraid.

I found some granite and quartz vanity tops with white sinks in prefab sizes online that may fit. I will check out the local warehouses today. The fortunate thing is that these builder vanities are a standard size, so no custom fabrication is needed.

I decided to "Chip It" (the Sherwin Williams app), the photo of the rug and floor. Here's what it came up with. Sturdy Brown seems nice. I'll pick up paint swatches and see how they work with the other elements.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

I don't mind the tile, but paired with that paint color, it looks a bit drab. I wouldn't do more brown paint -- I think it only emphasizes the brown in the tiles. I'd paint the cabinets a warm white (BM Swiss Coffee) and paint the walls a soft sea foam green. I think the current mid-tone beige is competing with the cabinet color. I'd get a shower curtain from Jonathan Adler, some white hand towels with turquoise accents, a white/turquoise bath mat, and a piece of abstract art above the shelf.

Here is a link that might be useful: JA shower curtain

This post was edited by pipdog on Sun, Jan 26, 14 at 1:39


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Gel stain is more like a paint than an actual wood stain; that is, it sits on top of the wood and doesn't penetrate. I even used General Finishes gel stain on the fake plastic "wood" side of a vanity. If you wanted to go darker with the vanity, you could try in an inconspicuous spot, back of a drawer, for example.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

I actually think it is better that the kitchen does not match the bathroom. Even in a small space, I think they should be distinct spaces. A different countertop and a white sink will go a long way to update your space. Painting or staining the cabinet a dark color to further differentiate from the kitchen cabinets would be good too. I like light wall colors in the bathroom but because you have a window, a dark color may not be a problem.

Good luck!


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

Your post with the montage of listings in the area raised a question I didn't see answered. I may have missed it, but are you updating for yourself or for sale? That makes a difference to me.


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RE: Inexpensive ideas on updating a bath to be more modern?

I've actually thought of gel staining the kitchen as well; it is due for a refresh. I will start simply and then see how the changes evolve. Progress is slow because we are not there every weekend.

lascatx: It definitely is not a forever property; it was originally an investment/second home used also due proximity to work. It may be sold or converted to a rental.


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