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Chic, Cheap Bathroom Makeover

From pretty paint to granite counters, we've got low-cost, high-impact decorating tips for the hardest working room in your home.

If you feel like unleashing your creative potential this weekend, point your palette toward the bathroom. It's the room where you can finish a project in a weekend and still have money left over to get takeout while you're waiting for the paint or polyurethane to dry.

"The beauty of a bathroom is that it's small," says Gary Foreman, publisher of The Dollar Stretcher. "So if you've never sponge painted before, you can try it for an hour or two and if don't like it, what have you wasted? You can paint over it the next day. If you're in the mood to be creative design-wise, there's no better room than the bathroom."

Give your bath a custom look with paintable wallpaper.

Fun Looks Under $100

If you like the look of old fashioned tin ceilings, then you'll love the Norwall Traditional Ceiling Tile Paintable Wallpaper $12 for 56 sq. ft. roll at Lowe's). "It's a textured wallpaper that looks like embossed white plaster," says designer Audra Kennedy, of Audra Kennedy Designs in Huntsville, Ala.

Kennedy helped a friend apply it under the chair rail of a bathroom in an 80-year-old house. "We painted it and created this beautiful wainscoting. It looks fantastic and we put the wallpaper up in one morning."

Paint and regular wallpaper (make sure it's pre-pasted) can also dramatically change the look of a bathroom, says Kennedy. She put up grey diamond patterned wallpaper with a white background in a bathroom that had dark aqua tiles on the floor and shower. In 1970s houses with outlandish tile colors, "You need to do something interesting on the walls to draw the eye up," says Kennedy.

When painting the walls of your bathroom, use bold, deep colors, suggests Kathy Wilson, editor of thebudgetdecorator.com. "Carry color onto the ceiling to keep it from looking broken up," says Wilson.

Tired of your vinyl flooring? Paint it! Make sure to prime it first with a specialty primer and then consider creating a tile pattern or using stencils for a border. Follow with four to six coats of polyurethane, which essentially serves as a coat of plastic. Here's another creative, and really economical, idea from Kathy Wilson: tear off irregular size pieces from brown paper bags, glue them to the floor and top with four to six coats of polyurethane. "It looks like leather or stone," says Wilson. "You can also stain it different colors."

Need artwork? Many designers suggest framing prints (from books, magazines or garden catalogues) that won't ruin your budget if they get damp. In a children's bathroom, hang kids' artwork. Another great place to look for framed prints, including ones with a bathroom theme, is art.com.

In a bathroom, artwork can also be practical. For a wide selection of machine washable, whimsical hand-painted canvas shower curtains, many of which are under $100, go to www.showercurtainart.com.

Perk up your bath with a matching rug and shower curtain.

Go Custom

Custom-made shower curtains by designers can cost more than $250, but if you pick out the fabric yourself, take your own measurements and hire a local seamstress to do the hemming, you can save a lot of money, says Kennedy.

Give your bathroom some texture by adding beadboard or wainscoting to one or all of the walls. The price will vary depending on how many tools you already own, says Kennedy. You can buy primed beadboard at Lowe's, which also offers instructions for installation.

Pick out a matching bathroom rug and shower curtain to brighten up your bathroom. Here's one site with fabulous designs: www.vitafutura.com.

Hand-painted shower curtains add whimsy to the bath.

Big Updates, Small Price Tag

Choose a striking cotton or polyester fabric and get a custom-made shower curtain (about $250 for labor and fabric) and a matching valance (about $100). Keep in mind, says Kathy Iven, of Fabric Farms Interiors in Hilliard, Ohio, indoor-outdoor fabrics are becoming much more stylish and they won't attract mold or mildew. (See www.calicocorners.com or www.fabricfarms.com for great selections). Spend whatever you have left on beautiful hardware.

If you're tired of your vanity countertop but can't afford to replace it, consider resurfacing the top. Granitclad has half the thickness of a granite bathroom countertop and a fiberglass backing so it can flex without cracking. Find a fabricator to come in, measure your countertop, and cut out a replacement that goes directly over the old top. It costs about $45 per sq. ft. so a three foot long vanity could be resurfaced for $300. For more information, go to www.granitclad.com.

Even if you've only got one weekend's worth of time and a small amount of money, you can turn your bathroom into a stand-out room by Sunday night.

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