15 Ways to Refresh Your Walls on a Budget

Jazz up your bathroom with these affordable tips and designer tricks.

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Photo By: Susan Sully

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Photo By: Mosaic Group [Architects and Remodelers]

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Photo By: K_Souki Design Studio

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1: Add Architectural Interest

Turn beadboard on its side for a whole new bathroom look, says Ili Hidalgo-Nilsson, architect and designer with Terracotta Design Build in Atlanta. The horizontal lines of the beadboard can make a small room appear wider than a traditional vertical design. You can also use mirrors in multiple spots, to increase the glamour and spacious feel of a bathroom. 

DIY Paneling Idea

Employ simple DIY tricks for upmarket style that saves a pretty penny. Atlanta designer and builder Nancy Keenan took pieces of one-by-six lumber and nailed them into place behind this stand alone tub to mimic judges’ paneling, a more expensive architectural detail that can be bought in sheets. After cutting the lumber, nail the pieces onto your wall in squares or rectangles. Paint them all a semi-gloss color to create a stylish accent wall. 

Wall Treatment Tips

Add a special treatment halfway up the wall, to cut your costs. Tile or wood paneling, which can be cheaper, gives any bathroom a certain finished style. Designer Stephanie A. Bruntz in Nebraska used tile in this National Kitchen + Bath Association-winning bathroom, but also suggests using beadboard. If you opt for beadboard, she suggests adding chair rail around the room and a stand alone backsplash above the vanity. “It would be faster to install and less expensive on the material purchase,” says Bruntz, who lives in Nebraska.

2: Showcase Shiplap

Embrace shiplap, the wide wooden boards that have historically been used to construct barns and older homes and a design favorite of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines. Allison Worley, senior designer at Atlanta's Haven Design Works, installed shiplap in her bathroom and painted it in Sherwin-Williams Agreeable Gray. Shiplap can be done as an accent wall or installed along the entire room. Haven owner Donna Mathis adds that putting shiplap or tile just behind a vanity mirror can change the whole look of a bathroom. 

Shiplap Tip

Shiplap gives a fresh spin on a farmhouse-style bathroom, like this one by design firm Cloth & Kind. These walls use 1-by-8 primed spruce, but you can use almost any species, and the thinner the wood, the cheaper per board, says Tyler Davis, owner of Athens Building Co. To further trim costs, he suggests cutting thin plywood sheets (such as one-eighths of an inch) into strips and hanging them on the wall. Although those gorgeous transoms were installed when the home was built, he says you can purchase fixed sidelights or transoms from a builder surplus store, or better yet from an old house or charity thrift shop, and add hinges and a chain to make them operable.

3: Make It Personal

Your bathroom should reflect you, the homeowner. In this quirky bathroom, a collage of newspapers and photographs papers the walls, layering personal memorabilia with crisp, white hand towels hung on a traditional brass bar. The homeowners used wallpaper paste and clippings that related to their work, lives and interests to create the attention-grabbing (and informative) effect.

Personalization Tip

Encourage people to write on the bathroom walls. Jazz up a bathroom or powder room with a chalkboard wall, like this one created by McNeal Walker Interiors in Atlanta. Leave compliments for family and guests to put a smile on their face in the morning or as they get ready for bed.

Be True to Yourself

Start with a theme, even in a small bathroom. Atlanta designer Robin LaMonte continued the travel motif from a nearby bonus room into this bathroom, by using framed photos of planes and a faux propeller from a discount home decor store. For an interesting background, she covered the walls in grasscloth. While grasscloth can be expensive, you can find it at a discount if you look around -- this grasscloth wall covering was $45 for a roll and more than half off the usual price, she says.

4: Flip It Around

Turn your tile around for a high-end look. In this bathroom, the tiles take on a more expensive air because they are all laid out vertically, instead of the traditional horizontal layout found in most showers, says Jennifer Reed, a designer with Mosaic Group [Architects and Remodelers]. While it may appear costly, Reed says the tile was affordably priced, at $6 per square foot.

5. Bring in Botanicals

Flowers and botanicals add a soft, elegant style to bathroom walls. To achieve this traditional bathroom’s look, you could press your own botanicals or buy botanical prints. The light blush-colored walls and curtains gently contrast with the earthy color of the botanicals. Author Susan Sully adds that a wall is a good place for uniformity, so using identical frames can have a calming effect. 

6: Incorporate Metallic Accents

This luxury detail can be replicated at your home. The wall around the sink in this National Kitchen + Bath Association-winning powder room is covered in metallic tile that looks like silver leaf, a costly update. However, Arizona designer Lori Carroll says you could get a similar DIY effect by painting the wall a darker shade, taping off squares and then using a metallic paint.

7: Create a Tile Focal Wall

Use mosaic tiles for a stylish accent. Atlanta designer Karina Souki Bryant chose hexagonal mosiac tiles to create a chic, romantic accent wall behind her powder room sink. The small, white hexagons, finished with a dark grout and extending to the ceiling, add a punch of style and create a sense of depth in the small space. Her home was designed and built by Imery Group.

Savings Tip

Stretch your design budget with discounted tile. Atlanta designer Karina Souki Bryant recommends finding a discontinued tile on sale. Often stores will only have a few boxes of discounted tile, but if you collect multiple boxes from more than one location, you can get the tile you need for a much lower price tag. Bryant suggests asking a store associate to check the supply at other store locations to make sure you’re making a good choice. The gray glass tile in Bryant’s contemporary bathroom, which was built by Imery Group, was on discount at a builder's supply store.

Big Savings Tip

Tiling all or part of a wall can provide a hint of dramatic flair in any bathroom. Atlanta designer Jessica Murphy bought her contrasting charcoal Niagra quartzite and glacier marble splitface stonework tile, and received a 50 percent discount because it was her first purchase. She says a lighting fixture can command visual interest and be cheap, like this one that she bought on eBay for $150.

8. Reinvent Reclaimed Items

Save space and add a rustic element with a sliding door. McNeal Walker Interiors repurposed a discarded door they found on the side of the road and turned it into the sliding barn door leading into this en suite bathroom in Atlanta. The door gives the chamber a rustic redo and provides privacy. 

9. Make It 3D

Practical shelving can also be stylish. Whether they hold essential toiletries or decorative candles that give the room a cozy glow, bathroom shelves are too often relegated to style afterthoughts. Incorporate shelving into your bathroom design, and you’ll find functionality and beauty can coexist. 

10: Be Bold

Make a bold statement in a small space with wallpaper. If you’re not sure about wallpaper, a small bathroom is a great place to try it out. Interior designers Gabriela Eisenhart and Holly Conlan with Wake + Loom suggest looking for bold hues and patterns. In this Atlanta home, she hung a few favorite photographs to finish off the sophisticated look.

Budget Tip

Don’t be afraid to add sparkle and texture to your bathroom wall. The walls in this first-place National Kitchen + Bath Association powder room are covered in an expensive glass bead wallpaper. But that’s not the only way to make your walls stand out. Arizona designer Lori Carroll suggests that a similar sparkle effect, though admittedly without the texture, could be achieved with a copper metallic paint. Or buy a cheaper wall covering like speckled peel-and-stick wallpaper.

11. Make the Most of Mirrors

Choosing irregular bathroom mirrors can reflect your design style and add a lot of visual interest. “Pick something that’s not just square,” says Atlanta designer Nancy Keenan. These mirrors were especially handy because the outlet would have been blocked if she’d used a rectangular one.

Mirror Tip

Update your standard bathroom mirror. Use molding to build a frame around your old mirror for a chic way to update your bathroom decor. Strips of tile are also a great option for mirror framing, especially if you can integrate it into a backsplash.

12: Mix Paint and Tile

Take time to consider your paint choice and try it out on a sample board before putting it on all of the walls. This is a simple way to save time and money when redecorating a bathroom. “Make sure you like the color throughout the day,” says California designer Cindy Garten. “It will help you decide what color is best because of the different light throughout the day. Try it with the window open and closed...It ends up saving a lot of work and money.” This bathroom was a 2016 National Kitchen + Bath Association Competition winner. 

13. Keep Your Decor in Proportion

Keep your decor in proportion. In this designer model home, everything in the bathroom is grand, from the oversized spa shower and clawfoot tub to the picture window and adjacent wall. When you have a sizeable wall in a prominent spot, fill it with a massive canvas painting or framed artwork. Whether it’s your own original art, an affordable painting from an undiscovered artist at a local arts festival or a piece found at a thrift shop, flea market or home decor store, you can find large artwork for all budgets.

14. Fake Stained Glass

Add a pop of color and style with a stained or etched glass window in your bathroom. If changing the glass in your existing window sounds like a costly project, consider a faux stained glass DIY option using craft lead strips and frosted glass clings from a craft or hardware store; or check out this tutorial.

15. Add Statement Art

Never underestimate the power of art, even in the bathroom. Oversized artwork can make a dominant design statement in a bathroom. Here, the large image and neutral colors of this smiling Buddha, selected by McNeal Walker Interiors for $20 at a home discount store, create a tranquil focal point and draw the eyes up and away from the more functional parts of the room.

Find a Playful Message

Update bland bathroom walls with a vibrant message. Just one piece of colorful artwork with a message does the trick for an instant bathroom update in this metro Atlanta home. Robin LaMonte, owner of Rooms Revamped Interior Design matched an eye-catching piece of children’s wall art, found at a home decor discount store, with brightly colored hand towels in her clients’ bathroom.