8 Ways To Spruce Up An Older Bathroom (Without Remodeling)

Elizabeth Miller, Houzz Contributor

Some bathrooms seem to never go out of style, with their classic colors, clean lines and timeless fixtures. Then there’s the other kind: the relics of bygone eras that challenge the eyes with their mint, pink, aqua or raspberry tiles and matching fixtures. If you have an older bathroom you consider out-of-date, don’t give up on it yet!

There are several ways to spruce it up without renovating — sometimes the details can make a difference in the livability of a vintage bathroom. Here are a few helpful tricks.

12 unique ways to make a small bathroom look better

1. Update the fixtures. Usually a pedestal sink will still be in good shape after decades of use, but a leaky faucet and out-of-date sconces will need to be replaced. The style of these two items can transform your bathroom and don’t involve changing the tile at all. If you’re dealing with a colored tub, consider having it resurfaced.

You can paint the walls and medicine cabinet white and let the tile color — whatever it may be — speak for itself. With a cleaner background, your colored tile could be a new favorite. Keep in mind that even if you do end up ripping out the tile, you can reuse the fixtures in the next phase of your bathroom renovation.

2. Be purposeful about the artwork. Here is one more example of how updating fixtures can revive the bathroom without the need to redo the tile. Another element that helps mitigate the tile color is artwork. Use what you hang on the walls to your advantage. Usually there’s space for only one or two pieces in a smaller bathroom, so focus on pulling in the tile color as a minor color. This means the rest of the art can be something you love and can feature more of your favorite colors, but with just that touch of teal, pink, peach or whatever’s in your vintage bathroom, the art will still connect with the space.

Use a metallic or wood frame, so there’s one less color to factor into your design.

Browse a wide selection of artwork for your bathroom

3. Paint the tiles. It won’t last as long as replacing the tile, but if you really can’t stand the color of your existing tiles, you can paint them. You’ll need a very good primer — typically oil based, not water based, according to Dana Waldecker, a professional painter in the Boston area. Even if you end up doing some of the work yourself, you should consult a professional painter to review the materials you’re planning to use and your specific wall conditions. Every project is different, and there’s no eraser when it comes to painting tile.

The bathroom shown here originally featured a checkerboard of white and mint-green tiles. The homeowner applied a high-adhesion primer over the tiles, then topped it with a white satin latex paint.

If you don’t want to paint all your tile, just paint accent tiles — such as the crown — in a contrasting color.

4. Live it up. Add fun wallpaper, curtains, a ceiling fixture and painted vanity doors to make your bathroom its own little showplace. Bathrooms are the perfect place to try something a bit more daring or fun than you’d be willing to commit to in, say, your living room.

5. Work with it. Sometimes the color combinations of tile can be intense. Here, the curtain fabric makes all the difference, adding interest to the bathroom but also helping the red and peach tiles feel more coherent. Or, instead of drapes, find a shower curtain that packs a punch.

White towels help keep things calm and bring the wall color into the tile field.

6. Work with it, on a smaller scale. In vintage bathrooms the electrical outlets tend to be mounted above the tile, making them more prominent than you might prefer. If you paint the walls, paint the outlet covers to match. This will help hide the outlet a bit (though with continued use, you may have to touch up the paint).

If it’s a kids’ bathroom, as in this example, it’s the perfect spot for a nightlight. Just try to make the shade blend in with the wall, so the outlet looks useful instead of being an eyesore.

7. Create a diversion. The wallpaper in this example goes a long way toward neutralizing the tile color, because it is dramatically dark instead of a lighter gray, which would have brought attention back to the tiles. The black motifs in the wallpaper tie in with the black accents in the tilework and add some interest to keep the eye moving around the space.

Your wallpaper can have as much color and pattern as you like — it doesn’t have to be gray or another neutral. Stick to a plain shower curtain if you go for a colorful wallpaper, though, and let the wallpaper do all the work. Just make sure you have good ventilation if you have a shower in your bathroom, so that the paper does not peel off the walls.

Find wallpaper that makes a statement

8. Make it functional. Wall-hung or pedestal sinks are always nice to make a tight space look open, but then where does your stuff go? Older bathrooms usually do not have many towel bars or hooks. Adding a wall-hung towel rack above the tile will keep the space open but provide a fair amount of storage. Glass shelves are another alternative to keep toothbrushes, cotton swabs and other necessities organized. Even the containers you choose can add personality, a bit of helpful distraction and a level of cohesion to your bathroom.

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