Bathroom Renovations

Bathrooms: No-build transformations

From simple scrubbing and styling to selective redecorating, even the least-loved bathroom can be made gorgeous
Derek Swalwell

If your bathroom is functional but let down by a less-than-lovely look, the solution may be easier than you think.

Bathroom with yellow cabinet
(Credit: Derek Swalwell)

Brush up

Refresh painted walls above the tile line with a modern hue, or even just redo the ceiling. “Make sure you use a paint suitable for a bathroom, and do the prep work first – it makes all the difference,” says Carmel Wylie, senior designer of GIA Bathrooms & Kitchens.

Tiles are a little trickier. Tile paint could be a great option if your bathroom’s biggest problem is dated feature tiles, but for a larger area, a better solution might be professional resurfacing, which can reinvent baths and basins as well as tiles. Worldwide Refinishing Systems estimates a complete bathroom makeover, including tiles, bath and vanity, at between $1800 and $3000 – a hefty bill for budget renovators, but cheaper than ripping out a whole bathroom!

(Credit: Jody D’Arcy)

“Painting tiles is really a very short-term solution – one to three years – so you have to be mindful of how you clean the tiles”

Carmel Wylie, GIA Bathrooms & Kitchens
(Credit: John Downs)

Handle This

To give your cupboard handles a quick update, try Mother Of Pearl & Sons Trading for classic hardware, or browse Anthropologie for quirky, fun options. “Make sure the new handles are a similar size to the old ones, so the holes match up,” says interior designer Angela Steyn.

Time to spruce up

Updating a timber vanity can do wonders for your bathroom, and it’s easy to do too. “Sand it back and stain it, or paint it in a pop of colour to add a feature to the space,” suggests Carmel.

White bathroom with black and white square tiles
(Credit: Cath Muscat)


Whatever the state of your bathroom – retro horror story or symphony in beige – there are only a few baths that can’t be improved by a good clean. Grimy grout and insidious mould are issues that can afflict even a well-scrubbed space. For a grout solution that will cost very little time and some elbow grease, try attacking it with a toothbrush and a mixture of bicarb and vinegar.

Mould is a different story. “I recommend getting a professional clean done for mould, as it needs to be treated properly or it will return in a matter of days,” says Carmel. Tile Rescue uses intensive cleaning products to rejuvenate the look of your tiles and grout, and seal them to keep them lovely.

Don’t forget your tapware. Dripping taps can stain your bath or basin, but can be easily fixed with new washers – a straightforward job for even first-time DIYers – while calcium and limescale look yucky and can also affect the functionality of your shower rose. 

Don’t forget the window!

“A lot of bathroom windows are made from opaque glass so they rarely get cleaned,” says Angela. “Give them a scrub and you will be amazed at how much extra light filters through.”

“Window treatments can be an afterthought in many bathrooms – replace ratty old blinds with a white shutter or Venetian blind for a smart, fresh look”

Angela Steyn, interior designer
Bathroom with timber vanity
(Credit: Armelle Habib)

All about image

Clever styling can be the secret to turning your bathroom into a space you and your guests will love. “Hide as much of the day-to-day stuff as possible,” says interior stylist and blogger at The Life Creative, Chris Carroll. Pretty baskets are a catch-all for small items, a ladder looks wonderful as a towel rail, and a butler’s tray is perfect for storing bits and pieces. “Keep the soap pump, jar of cotton buds and toothbrush container all on the same tray,” says interior design Angela Steyn.

The steamy environment of a bathroom also makes this room a perfect canvas for plants. Use lush greenery to add colour to a stark white space. Or, if space is at a premium, look up. “Consider hanging a fern or succulent from the ceiling, or style some cacti on your windowsill,” says Chris.

Mirror, mirror

If the budget allows, kill two birds with one stone by choosing a mirrored cabinet that will reflect light and provide extra storage.

Out with the old

If an item is drawing attention for all the wrong reasons, replacing it may give your room a new look. Carroll says, “Replacing your tapware is an affordable way to bring your bathroom into the now. The latest trends are pointing towards black and brass tapware, so look at those for a contemporary feel.” The key is to choose taps with a similar base fitting, and change the basin, bath and shower fittings so they match. Look into replacing your framed shower screen with a frameless version to modernise the space and increase the feeling of light and space. Mirrors are another way of transforming interiors, especially in small spaces. “Larger mirrors will open up the space and allow more light within the room,” says interior designer Angela Steyn.

Vanity fair

If you think changing a vanity is a major overhaul, you’re mistaken. As long as it’s a similar size to your existing one and doesn’t require moving the plumbing it’s an easy change – and update.

Related stories