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5 Tips to Make Over an Outdated Bathroom

Outdated rentals can be tricky. While you probably scored on the price, whatever money you saved is perhaps headed toward modernizing the space.

This was absolutely the case when my fiancé James and I discovered this fantastic two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. The space was much larger than our one-bedroom in the West Village and less expensive but lacked the quirky details of our charmingly disheveled pre-war building. So, I was actually upset when we found it, knowing it was too good a deal to turn down but realizing we had to leave our plaster molding and brick fireplace for yellow parquet floors and gold plastic door handles.

Photo by Caroline Sharpnack

The first thing I did was paint. Fresh paint changes everything and allows the opportunity to see the space from a new perspective. I also had access before our lease started, so I had no excuse not to tackle the paint job early. As the rest of the apartment design started to come together, the bathroom became a bigger and bigger issue.

Sadly, this washroom doesn't have any windows (there had to be some catches to this ideal space), so we needed to be strategic about how and what we put in there. James wanted a fun pattern, and we thought wallpaper would be a great way of making this tiny closet bathroom a delightful surprise. Once we started going through Tempaper options (it is a rental), we got overwhelmed and settled on William Morris pattern printed drapes (I always use drapes instead of shower curtains...more on that later).

We had decided to keep the walls white, so I needed to modernize them with contrast. Fortunately, the vanity was yellowing from age, so repainting wasn't an issue. *Quick side note on painting, make sure to prime. I tried skipping this step because the paint included "primer." Do not skip the primer step; otherwise, you will be touch-up painting every day. I also needed to get that dated chrome out of there. I kept the original faucet to replace when we leave, but having that warm brass to welcome me versus the cold, short metal single lever piece was a game-changer for my brain. Anyway, once the black and brass were introduced, we were well on our way to having the powder room of our dreams.

Next was the lighting. I LOATHE fluorescent lighting. Sourcing an inexpensive light (that didn't look cheap) that blended the brass and black finishes we had was a little challenging, but we found just the thing. I originally wanted to remove the medicine cabinet for a round, more organic mirror to break up the aggressive, rectilinear lines. Having a flush mirror would have offered more lighting options, but James loved the cabinet storage, and the light we chose was far enough from the wall, so we painted the medicine cabinet black and kept it. This also saved some serious money as bathroom storage cabinets are pricey.

We completed the facelift with a storage cabinet and wall-mounted towel heater. I fought James on the large towel rack but now feel like I can't live without it. Not only does it dry our towels and keep them warm, but it also zaps some of that extra unwanted moisture from the small, windowless bathroom. I searched desperately for a small but tall, vintage cabinet and came up short (pun intended). I had really strict sizing and needed it to arrive before I had to leave town at the end of the month. With a heavy heart and a carbon offset plan, I searched IKEA's site and found the perfect black and glass cabinet. I switched out the knobs to match the vanity and presto...the bathroom was complete!

Photo by Caroline Sharpnack


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