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The 10 Best Bathroom Redos of 2021, from Builder-Grade Refreshes to Vintage Overhauls

published Dec 16, 2021
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Before: Dated bathroom with beige walls, cornflower sinks, and white vanity
Credit: Kelly Bryant

Bathrooms have a knack for getting away from their users. At first, a black spot of dirty grout doesn’t seem so bad, and neither does awkwardly placed shower rods or old-fashioned vanities. Even the most unfortunate colors have a way of drifting into the background after a while, especially when the focus can stay on skincare and tooth-brushing routines. And then, once you realize one problem, it’s like finally being able to acknowledge them all. 

You may not spend a lot of time in bathrooms, but the ones that need help can’t be ignored once the truth is out. There’s no reason to stay loyal to a cracked mirror or a wobbling towel rod, just like faded paint and tired art can be changed, too. These renovators took a look around their bathrooms, and in 2021, they made the wise choice to no longer live with a space that didn’t work — even if it was a small area to begin with. Looking back on the 10 best bathroom renovations of the year, Apartment Therapy is taking notice of those who committed to shifts big and small in this category. If bathrooms have a way of avoiding your attention until they’re too far gone, then these renovations prove that it’s never too late to get that power back. 

From peel-and-stick wallpaper and a mirror sourced from Facebook Marketplace, to ceiling stripes and a soaking tub, these 10 renovations cover a gamut of styles from neutral spas to bright conversation starters. And in case you were wondering, they also have a range of budgets and timelines, too. If you’re giving your own bathroom a second look now (sorry!), take it from these projects that there’s always a way to start fresh. 

1. A Dark and Brown Bathroom Is Taken into the Light With White Paint

Geri Alessi never liked the brown tiles in her bathroom. For nearly a decade, they made this space feel particularly dark, even though there was a small window between the sink and tub. Finally, she decided to change things up, and painted the tiles white for an instant brightening effect. During about two weeks of work, Geri added a graphic pink accent to match the newly bold black-and-white floors, and layered in colorful accents and plants to tie everything together. It doesn’t even look like the same bathroom, thanks to how sunny everything is, and that was the whole point. 

2. An Awkward Wall Becomes the Perfect Canvas for a Renter’s Unique Skills

The two biggest issues in Elara Mari’s rental bathroom were its vanity and back wall. The sink was too small to accommodate anything, and a pair of staggered towel rods made it tough to style. As a renter, she had to keep her solutions simple, so she stuck to her strengths. Elara and her husband Neal painted the room white, and then she used her skills as an illustrator to build a black-accented mural on the wall. They also replaced the vanity with storage from IKEA, and added new sconces to match. Those dual issues have been solved, and the space is better for it. 

3. An Outdated Bathroom Is Brought into This Century Thanks to a Circle Theme

Tirinda Hixon’s bathroom hadn’t been updated in about 30 years, if you’re only counting the major changes — yes, there were some details that were even older. She’s an interior designer, so she decided to use her skills on this space, starting with black penny tiles and dark wood tones. She matched that shape with a bold semi-circle wallpaper that also brings in color, and finished things off with gold accents in the form of shelving and a mirror. Now this bathroom is decidedly of-the-moment, and also proves Tirinda’s eye for style. 

4. A Boring Builder-Grade Bathroom Is Turned into an NYC-Like Retreat

Jovana Halverson had a standard 2000s builder-grade powder room, in that it was outfitted with shade of gray, a sheet mirror, and chrome finishes. As part of One Room Challenge, she opted to update the space with a black-and-white motif, inspired by the NYC hotel retreats she remembers relaxing in. She and her husband added black wainscoting to the bottom half of the wall, with a raven-hued vanity to match. She scored an ornate gold mirror on Facebook Marketplace, and when the show-stopping wallpaper was added, she knew she had accomplished her goal. 

5. A Guest Bathroom Was Avoided Until the Couple Decided to Paint It Blue

It’s not a surprise that Lauren and Kameron Sears didn’t like their guest bathroom — it was punctuated with dingy brown tiles. They avoided it for a while, of course, until they decided that a refresh would be for the best. They picked out a blue vanity, and then opted to paint the walls and ceiling in a daring yet coordinating shade. A pro was tasked with refinishing the tub and new hexagon tiles, which created a white backdrop that only boosted the space’s relaxing vibes. With a plant and a few other accessories, the room is now totally likable. 

6. A Stark and Outdated Bathroom Gets Plenty of Attention-Grabbing Details

Arianna Danielson had put up with the old square tiles and formica countertop of her ‘90s-era bathroom long enough, so she and her husband Nate decided to DIY it into this century. They ripped everything out themselves — including the sinks, countertops, lights, and even the drywall — and went about creating a style all their own. Nate built and installed a wood top for the single sink above a periwinkle vanity, and she picked out black terrazzo tiles for the floors. They chose pink marble tiles in a herringbone pattern for the shower, and paired it with a sparkling glass door. But perhaps the most eye-catching feature is a fancy gold mirror, which will make any visitor to this new space feel like royalty.

7. Groovy Yellow Wallpaper Makes This ‘70s Bathroom Look Brand New

Kelly Bryant’s kids used a bathroom that was straight out of the 1970s. There were tiny brown tiles on the floor, low-slung mustard sinks, and one giant mirror across the whole tired vanity. She liked its throwback sensibilities, and decided to use that as a springboard for more current styles. The renovation started with a graphic yellow wallpaper, which complements dual white mirrors and a fresh coat of black paint on the vanity. The wallpaper manages to make the entire room appear more cheerful, even though not much was changed overall.

8. A Couple Ditches Their Dark and Dated Bathroom for Something Bright White 

Kelsie Bryson and her husband Jordan were tired of cleaning a nearly 20-year-old bathroom only for it to still look like it needed a scrubbing. The brown walls made everything look drab and dark, and thankfully, the homeowner agreed that they could do something to change that. They started by painting the walls white and installing a matching penny tile, and then coated the vanity in green and put in a new sink. They hired a friend to take on a new shower dial, and then added a colorful curtain to give the entire space a warm finish. Now everything looks fresh and clean.

Credit: Will Pryor
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9. A 1930s Attic Becomes the Perfect Spot for a Spa-Like Bathroom

Will Pryor grew up doing home projects, so when he saw the attic in a 1930s home, he recognized potential. He envisioned a third floor suite complete with a bedroom and spa-like bathroom, which could be installed directly above the one on the second level. With help from a detail-oriented contractor, he built a stylishly modern hideaway complete with a soaking tub, enclosed shower, and in-wall tub all illuminated by natural light. The shower even has eight sprayers, making for a luxurious experience in a place few people would think to find it. 

10. A Black-and-White Motif Gives a Orange Bathroom the Chance to Start Over

Designer Joy Williams likes orange, it’s just that it didn’t exactly work in her cramped bathroom. The walls were painted in a bright citrus shade, and she was picturing something much more calming. But after discovering rot, the entire bathroom had to be ripped out, and Joy was in the position to start from scratch. She chose a black-and-white tile to stretch from the floor to the ceiling, and then used the same shades for a striped pattern on the ceiling itself. She and her fiancé installed the blue tiles in the shower themselves, and then styled the rest of the space to feel like a vacation. Now the bathroom isn’t just a retreat, it’s also sure to get visitors talking.