Bathroom Remodel: Splurge Vs. Save

From tile to the plumbing fixtures, get tips for where to invest money and where to cut back.
Brass Bathroom Sink Hardware

Brass Bathroom Sink Hardware and Black Countertop

Mosaic tiles and minimalist brass hardware are little details that make a big design difference. The black countertop helps to show them off.

Photo by: Julie Soefer Photography

Julie Soefer Photography

By: Kristen Hampshire

Function is the No. 1 priority in a bathroom—if it doesn't "work" for you, who cares whether the tile is patterned in period-perfect Arts and Crafts style? Ultimately, you must be able to easily, conveniently use the space and the features within it.

"In the end, you need a good quality toilet that works well, a good valve body for the faucets that gives you the type of water flow you want," says Ken Perrin, president, Artistic Renovations, Cleveland, Ohio.

That said, the bathroom should be an appealing place to go. Especially in a master suite where the bathroom becomes more of a spa/resting space than a utilitarian room, some of the bells and whistles (heated floors) are certainly worth the splurge. And, in fact, some of the luxuries that seem like they would blow your budget are actually within reach (again, heated floors).

What do you value in the bathroom? Refer to your completed Day in the Life of Your Bathroom Questionnaire and Bathroom Goals Worksheet.

Here is some general advice on where to spend and splurge:

Tile. Save money on the background tile and spend on some decorative eye candy. Or, choose targeted spaces for beautiful tile treatment—such as a vanity backsplash or a wall in the shower—and fill in the rest with economical but effective, basic porcelain. "You can do one wall of mosaic that will cost $20 to $50 per square foot, but the space is only 40 x 10 inches, and do the rest in plain field tile that is $5 per square foot," says Cassia Wyner, designer/owner, CW Design, Brookline, Mass. "It's worth spending an extra $500 for some 'wow' factor."

Cheap vs. Steep: Bathroom Tile

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Floor. The floor must be slip resistant (think tile texture here and larger grout lines in the shower for more traction), but it doesn't have to be expensive. And, you can turn up the appeal by installing electric heated floor mats under the tile.

Cabinetry. Don't skimp on cabinets. On a scale of good, better, best, at least choose the better option, Wyner says. "You will be opening those doors and drawers every day," she says. "And, if the cabinets are made of cheap particle board, they won't last long in a wet environment."

Countertops. The key is keeping this surface clean—and low-maintenance is a main benefit of surfaces such as quartzite (CesarStone, Cambria, etc.). But these surfaces can cost as much as middle- to lower-grade granite. So decide whether this will be a selling point of your bathroom, or if a laminate with a sharp pattern (that resembles granite, say) is acceptable. If the answer is yes, you'll save a bundle. However, Wyner advocates splurging on the material here. "Countertops can really make a statement," she says.

Cheap vs. Steep: Bathroom Countertops

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Plumbing Fixtures. It's not so easy to choose plumbing fixtures these days, and with the shower evolving into its own luxe room equipped with an array of spray heads, color therapy, aromatherapy and even seating, how do you decide what's worth the money?

That depends on how you will use the space, but the key with plumbing fixtures is to never compromise quality, Wyner says. You may choose to install body sprays or a rain shower head. That's personal preference. But no matter what you decide on, be sure the fixture quality is there. "It's worth getting a better model because it affects the flow and the finish—you want it to last," Wyner says. "You don't want chrome peeling off five years later."

Cheap vs. Steep: Shower Fixtures

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As for the tub, "You don't have to go for the big, spa tub anymore—a soaker tub is fine," says Ellen Rady, designer/president, Ellen Rady Designs, Cleveland, Ohio. "And a lot of master bathrooms are taking out the tubs all together as long as there is a tub someplace in the home."

And, do you really need two vanity sinks? Or, would the space be more useful if those extra inches were saved for an attractive, useful countertop? You can buy one less sink, faucet and deal with one less installation (plumbing, undermounting the fixture, etc.) if you can economize to a single vanity sink.

But pay attention to that single faucet. "You can literally buy a bathroom faucet for fifty bucks, but is it going to have decent flow? Is the finish going to wear off? Is it made out of plastic on the inside?" Wyner asks. "You want something that will last because you use the faucet many times every day."

Cheap vs. Steep: Toilets

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Finishes. Chrome is generally the least expensive finish in plumbing hardware: faucets, shower heads, etc. And there's nothing wrong with this finish, Wyner says. Just avoid mixing finishes—brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze in the same bathroom are not a happy couple. And know when it's worth spending extra to achieve a desired aesthetic. "If you are doing an Arts and Crafts bathroom, it's nice to save money for that oil-rubbed bronze and some detail tiles that achieve the same look and save on field tile and perhaps by getting an old [reclaimed] cabinet that is in style," she says.

Cheap vs. Steep: Bathroom Sinks

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