The Easy (and Cheap!) Bathroom Update that Makes a Big Difference

updated Feb 9, 2021
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Bathroom designed by Marie Flanigan
Credit: Julie Soefer

Whether you’re on a tight budget and schedule or open to a total bathroom remodel, there’s one simple but highly effective decor swap that interior designers say you can make to elevate the look of your bathroom. It’s as easy as switching out your current bathroom hardware — think cabinet knobs, drawer pulls, towel bars, and even toilet paper holders — for new designs in eye-catching shapes and finishes. 

While it might seem insignificant, interior designer Anna Filippova of Hyphen & Co. says it’s a foolproof way to upgrade a bathroom in a matter of minutes. “You’d be surprised at how small details like hardware can change the whole feel of an interior,” she says. “New hardware brings a fresh element to a space and doesn’t require any heavy lifting.” 

Since hardware is both decorative and functional, interior designer Carneil Griffin of Griffin Direction Interiors says this swap infuses a bit of personality into a bathroom while playing up other decorative elements of the space, too. “Hardware often highlights focal areas in the bathroom, such as a vanity mirror, sink cabinet, or an interesting tile choice,” he explains. “Switching out the hardware allows you to breathe new life into a bathroom by drawing attention to various aspects of the space that might have been overlooked before.”

Not only will fresh hardware give your bathroom a mini facelift, switching it out is usually as simple as removing and reinstalling a couple of screws. Stylish hardware is also widely available and surprisingly inexpensive; for example, these different solid stone and marble cabinet knobs at Etsy are priced at $7 each, allowing you to revamp your space for a fraction of the cost of pricier bathroom upgrades such as new tile or a paint job. If you’re interested in making this change but aren’t sure where to start, these four designer-approved ideas will help you select bathroom hardware that makes an impression. 

Swap out your vanity cabinet hardware

Changing out the hardware on your vanity is the easiest (and often most affordable) way to update your bathroom. To make a marked change, interior designer Robin Baron recommends swapping out your current hardware for designs in a bold color or shape. “Think of hardware as jewelry for your vanity,” she advises. “Hardware that makes a statement will have the biggest impact in a bathroom.”

If you’re interested in a hardware swap that’s more subdued, interior designer Marie Flanigan says choosing knobs and pulls in just a slightly different finish can still freshen things up. “Even if it’s a switch from silver to gold hardware, it can enhance certain materials and hues in your bathroom that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.” That was the case in the bathroom she designed at the top of this story, where gold pulls play up the warmth of the stained wood vanity. Look for something that works with your existing color scheme, and don’t be afraid to try a few different pulls before committing to your favorite.

Upgrade your towel bar and add a ring

For a sleek yet functional bathroom hardware switch-up beyond the vanity, Caroline Slason, associate designer at Megan Hopp Design, says to consider swapping out your existing towel bar with a more design-savvy one. “Not only is it something you use and see every single day, but a nicely designed towel bar will also elevate your towels themselves,” she explains. “I love towel bars with sophisticated finishes and super clean lines.” Want something fresh in an all-white bathroom? Consider going with a white towel bar, as Hopp did in her bath project shown above. It’s an unexpected choice that really allows the monogrammed towels to shine.

If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can change out the towel ring — or add one if you don’t have one installed already — to instantly upgrade the area around your bathroom sink, too. Available in a wide range of shapes, styles, and finishes, towel rings can double as wall decor in a bathroom, and installation only requires a handful of basic tools, including a tape measure, standard drill, screwdriver, and level. 

Don’t forget your toilet paper holder

Let’s face it: For as much as many of us depend on toilet paper holders in bathrooms, they aren’t always fun to look at. That’s why Griffin suggests swapping out a humdrum holder with a more sophisticated style to improve the ambience of your bathroom. “Never underestimate the impact of a stylish toilet paper holder in a bathroom,” he says. “Whether it’s a sleek wall-mounted style or a beautiful standing holder, an attractive toilet paper holder can add uniqueness to a bathroom or help pull the whole design together.”

Credit: Julia Steele

Consider a nicer showerhead

For a high-impact hardware swap that has the potential to improve your quality of life, Griffin says to consider updating your current showerhead. “Having a spa-like bathroom to retreat to is more important than ever for our mental health,” he says. “Luxe-looking, easy to install jet spray and rainfall-style showerheads are available at places like Amazon and Wayfair for as little as $20.” Just make sure all of your hardware and fixture finishes coordinate. That is, unless you are going for an eclectic, mixed metals look.