Five cheap bathroom makeover ideas

We all dream of the ultimate in designer bathrooms – but sometimes we have to settle for a new shower curtain…

Well, obviously we’d all like the latest designer bathroom with a sunken bath, a steam shower or maybe a top-of-the-range wetroom complete with an overhead power jet and a slinky glass shower screen.

Unfortunately most of us are stuck with a small, multi-purpose bathroom that we have to share with friends, family or flatmates and more often than not the shower is over the bath. This inevitably means limited options.

What can you do if you’re not in a position to rip the whole lot out and start again, with a top-notch bathroom designer to make it all fit and a team of workers at your beck and call to install it?

Here are a few ideas about how you can make the most of your bathroom – until you’ve saved up to have the work done, at least. If you can’t shell out for a new hydrotherapy shower and suite, at least you can brighten things up until you’ve put by a few more pennies:

Replace your horrible old vinyl with a new shower curtain

The problem with shower curtains is that they can give out all the wrong messages. You know exactly how this works – we’ve all hovered over the seat while visiting some grotty bathroom where the shower’s half-hidden by a horrible piece of old vinyl streaked with soap and spotted with mildew.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Most are now made from waterproof, easy-care materials that need just a little bit of love and attention to keep them in tip-top condition. And they come in plain and patterned varieties, in neutral shades or vivid enough to brighten up the darkest corner.

They are, in short, an affordably easy design fix and a great way to give yourself a quick-shot bathroom makeover that takes 10 minutes to achieve and won’t have you mired in endless DIY dilemmas.

Whether you’re looking for a cheerful floral, a quirky retro, a contemporary, a cool and masculine or a designer effect, this is a brilliantly cheap and easy way to make a real difference to your bathroom.

Try lightening up with a well-placed mirror

Bathroom lighting can be a really tricky subject since you need to get in an electrician to make any alterations as well as spending loads of money on suitable specialist products. So, what about a low-tech solution that’ll give a satisfyingly quick result?

Try hanging a mirror opposite a window or light source, or put it in a dark corner to reflect back light and increase the impression of daylight in the room. It’s not a difficult job and can be achieved with a few basic tools like an electric drill and a level.

Drilling into tiles sounds intimidating but it’s not as long as you take care and use a bit of common sense. And, with lots of innotive fixings and fastenings on the market these days, you might not even need to drill at all.

Your mirror should come with hanging instructions, but they will go something like this. The crucial bit is to get it straight in the first place. Hold the mirror against the wall in position (you might recruit a pair of helping hands for this bit) and use a level to make sure you’ve got it straight. Then use a crayon-style pencil to mark the positions of the screw holes. Next stick a bit of masking tape over each of them.

Hold the mirror up to the wall again and re-mark the screw holes on top of the masking tape. The purpose of this is to lessen the chances of shattering a tile. When preparing to drill there are two important precautions you need to take.

The first is to ensure there are no cables or pipework running through the area you are drilling. Check visually that you are not about to make a hole above a lightswitch, for example, or into an area where pipes run to supply taps. You can make a more thorough check with a wire and pipe detector. Also you need to take care with the power supply to your drill, making sure there is no risk of it getting wet and that you can’t trip over it. Use a cordless drill if at all possible.

You need a masonry bit for your drill – consult the mirror hanging instructions to find out what size is recommended. You can tell a masonry bit because it is bulkier than a wood bit and has a prominent end. One method professional decorators sometimes use is to drill the first hole with a smaller bit than you need and then re-drill it with the correct size, again to minimise the risk of shattering tiles. Hold the drill with both hands, make sure you are holding it straight and apply gentle horizontal pressure until it bites. This plus the masking tape should help prevent it skidding off across the tile.

When you have drilled the holes, use a small hammer to tap a rawlplug into each – these were probably supplied. Then you remove the masking tape, reposition the mirror and screw it to the wall, if possible utilising your helper from earlier. Your mirror should now be hung.

Still don’t fancy drilling? Then you need to find a supplier of acrylic mirrors which are generally light enough to be fixed with adhesives. Helpfully, they often also come in a much wider range of styles than conventional glass mirrors.

Splash some contemporary colour with towels and fabrics

People in a position to pay thousands of pounds for their bathroom fittings have recently become very attracted to the idea of bright splashes of colour or chunks of exotic natural materials in the midst of acres of neutral white.

Spending several months’ wages on expensive suites may be out of range but that doesn’t mean the effect can’t be achieved by other means. If you’ve got a fairly neutral bathroom, decide on one – just one – shade of a colour that you really like and introduce a few vivid splashes by means of mats and towels.

If you want to be really inventive, and are very confident of your visual sense, you might want to try working with complementary colours. But generally, with this kind of thing, less really is more.

The contemporary bathroom trend towards natural materials can be realised with the help of judiciously-chosen towels, mats and shower or bath boards.

Finally, don’t be afraid to try bathroom blinds or window dressings as another way of adding fresh colour and texture to a tired bathroom.

Try a lick of paint and a tile makeover

Right, time to talk about walls. The likelihood is that your bathroom will either be tiled or have plaster walls covered with paper or paint – or maybe even some combination of the two. If it’s tiles then you may feel that you’re stuck with them, however you may be able to achieve more than you think.

For one thing, it’s a rare bathroom that has a tiled ceiling, so a fresh coat of paint up there will probably do wonders in lightening and brightening the place up. Be very wary of using strong colours, however, if light or space is an issue for you, especially given that painting your unsuccessful experiment out again will be a sizeable chore. Choose brilliant white or a pastel shade for the best effect.

It’s worth having a check before you get going. If the ceiling is covered in paper or a proprietary textured plaster, check that everything is in reasonably good condition before you start. If there’s any bulging, flaking or discolouration it might be wise to consider whether there’s an underlying problem to be addressed – a leak from overhead pipes, for example, or a lack of ventilation leading to condensation damp.

As for tiles, freshening up the grout and sealant to remove any horrible grubby bits or mould is not a glamorous job, but it’s one that will make quite a difference to your bathroom. If you have walls that can be papered or painted then you’ll need to choose specialist products that can withstand the moisture of the bathroom environment.


The subject of bathroom accessories is a surprisingly big one. For a start the term can cover everything from quite large items, that need bolting onto walls, to soap dishes or delicate glass bottles you simply stand on a shelf or window sill. Another issue is cost – patronise some high-end retailers and you may find yourself in line to spend as much on a laundry basket and a few designer trinkets as you would on a budget bathroom suite from some of the cheaper merchants.

However, given all that, adding a few decorative touches is surely one of the cheapest, most effective and least labour-intensive ways of brightening up a tired bathroom. It’s also supremely flexible – you can choose from an almost infinite selection of colours, materials and styles. And you can decide precisely how much to spend and how much work to do – if you feel confident hanging shelves and replacing toilet-roll or towel holders, your choice expands considerably.

A few things – apart from cost – to bear in mind. Try to stick to one style and one colour. Don’t clutter the place up. Better to spend your money wisely on a few really nice objects than fill up your bathroom with cruft you will never use. And keep an eye on practicality. Think about adding things that will improve the appearance and functionality of the room in future such as shelves, laundry baskets and storage caddies.

After that, the world is your oyster.

Keep that in mind and it’ll make the job of cheering up your tired bathroom on the cheap feel a lot more manageable. Good luck – and, if you’ve dreamt up a fantastic way of refreshing your bathroom on the cheap that we havent covered, why not leave a comment and tell us?