8 Ways to Make Your Rental Bathroom Feel Like It’s in a Fancy Hotel

published Mar 16, 2020
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Credit: Lula Poggi

There’s a certain ahhhh-inducing escapism to a fancy hotel bathroom. Free from the everyday clutter of a familiar apartment, where hair ties dot countertops and bottles surround the sink, the first impression of this glittering space is often a sight to behold. There’s the vanity lighting! And the marble! And all those luxurious soaps!

But once the vacation is through and it’s back to the rental bathroom of reality, it can be tough to let that vision go. After all, fancy hotel bathrooms encourage relaxation—and with impeccable lighting, it’s easy to look as good as you feel. The same can’t be said about the standard rental bathroom, which tends to prize efficiency over style. 

“Rental bathrooms can be an intimidating design challenge due to their ‘fixed’ nature,” designer W. Brian Smith says. “The plumbing is secured to the walls or floors, tile is mortared in place, and medicine cabinets and mirrors are typically integrated into the walls. It can leave you thinking, ‘What’s left to do?’ seeing as rental agreements can include harsh penalties for damage. Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do without losing your security deposit.”

Smith has designed numerous Instagram-worthy hotels for Studio Tack, and knows exactly what’s needed to turn a rundown rental bathroom into a self-care haven. And Lisa Haude, president of PDG Studios—a firm that’s focused on hospitality design—agrees. “When you think about all of the items that can be updated, there’s so much opportunity to make a difference without splurging on big furniture pieces, as we would for other rooms in our homes,” she says. 

Follow their advice for eight ways to transform your rental bathroom into a hotel-worthy escape with relaxing vibes to spare.

What fancy hotels have: sleek lines
What you need to do: get control over clutter

“No matter how big or small a hotel bathroom is, upscale hotels will always make the most of the space,” Haude says. “It’s very important that small bathrooms do not feel overwhelmed by bulky amenities—sleek lines are a must.” 

Start by streamlining your toiletries into a collection you’re sure to use, and only buy what’s needed. Haude recommends storing these essentials in available drawers, or in uniform baskets—like these, from West Elm—on open shelving. By keeping everything neat, you’re already on your way to a spa-like sanctuary. “Clutter instantly takes away from a bathroom’s value, and having a tidy space will undoubtedly provide a much more calm and welcoming space for you,” she adds.

Buy: Modern Weave Basket in Whitewashed, from $14 at West Elm

What fancy hotels have: lighting variety
What you need to do: create better lighting

Most lighting in rental bathrooms is purely utilitarian, while their hotel counterparts are decidedly not: There’s often vanity light, sconces, overhead lights, and so on. While you might not be able to get away with a handful of different light sources, Haude does recommend making your room brighter during the day and moodier at night—with the potential of dimmers, of course. 

“Lighting is perhaps the first thing you should upgrade in a rental bathroom,” Haude says. “This can be as simple as switching out the light bulbs or purchasing new light fixtures that feel updated and fresh. This typically won’t cross a line with property managers, or can easily be removed and taken with you upon departure.”

If you can swing at least two light sources, Smith recommends having one from above for “contours and shadows,” and a second from the front to “help even and brighten your skin tone.” Plug-in sconces make this easier to achieve, and Smith particularly likes the ones from Schoolhouse Electric or Cedar & Moss; here’s a particularly handsome option. However, there are plenty of lower-cost options available, too.

Buy: Novogratz x Globe Electric Linus 1-Light Matte Black Plug-in Sconce, $22.99 at Home Depot

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

What fancy hotels have: Instagram-worthy fixtures
What you need to do: swap out the old

“In hotel design we typically talk about ‘touch points,’” Smith says. “That’s just design speak for those high-use objects that get touched by the guests over and over. You want to invest in these since they will get the most wear and tear. Plus, you can simply switch them out and take them with you at the end of your lease.”

One of Smith’s favorite touch points to focus on is plumbing fixtures, including faucets and shower knobs—he notes that the best hotels have solid metal brass ones that feel heavy in your hand. “There’s something really gratifying about the way nice fixtures turn so smoothly that really speaks volumes about the thoughtfulness behind the design,” he adds. To give your rental bathroom this upgrade, swap out a rental’s dull fixtures for ones that match the lighting you’ve exchanged, too. This will create a cohesive design. If you can’t swap out the faucet, look to your vanity’s cabinet hardware instead. You likely will only need two or three pulls, so it’s a smart place to splurge.

Buy: T-pull in Natural Brass, $28 at Schoolhouse

Credit: Minette Hand

What fancy hotels have: sturdy toilet seats
What you need to do: trade out the one you have

A second touch point that Smith pays attention to during the design process is the toilet seat, and if you think about it, fancy hotels rarely have any option but the best. “I love solid wood toilet seats that have a glossy lacquer finish,” he says. “They’re easy to clean and they add some punch in an unexpected place.”

As far as the details go, he notes that soft-close hinges make this necessity even more luxurious, since they rid the room of any loud bangs. Oh, and one last recommendation on the subject. “If you’re up for a splurge, you can install an automated bidet seat that hooks up to your toilet’s water supply,” he says. “I did this in my rental in New York City, and I have to admit that it’s been pretty life changing. They are really easy to install and you don’t need a plumber.” Just make sure to find one that matches the shape of your toilet bowl, whether it’s round or oval.

Buy: EZ Close Elongated Toilet Seat, $170 at All Modern

Credit: Minette Hand

What fancy hotels have: eye-catching flooring
What you need to do: install removable tiles

In the fanciest of hotel rooms, flooring acts like artwork. Whether that means long marble slabs with intricate veining to match the countertops, or graphic tiles that transition into the shower, upscale hotels aim to make a statement with whatever runs underfoot. While this project may be trickier to accomplish than the rest, Smith says it can be done with removable tiles. 

“We’ve used commercial-grade vinyl and rubber products as a creative work around the pain and price of removing and installing new floors,” he says. “At the Sound View Inn, my team was up against very strict ordinances that prevented us from doing a complete gut renovation. As a workaround, we laid rolls of speckled rubber on the floor, which we purchased from a gym equipment and finishes supplier.”

Buy: Self-Adhesive Decorative Removable Vinyl by Floor Adorn, $1.99 per square foot at Wayfair

Credit: Cathy Pyle

What fancy hotels have: swanky showerheads
What you need to do: put in a new one

You might not be able to do much to the shower situation in your rental—at least as far as its location goes—but Haude thinks that you should make an adjustment to its most important feature: the showerhead. “No matter what type of shower you have, the showerhead can be easily replaced to quickly elevate your shower from the mundane to luxurious,” she says. 

Haude recommends picking one with multiple spray functions so that you can choose between spa-worthy features that suit your mood. But if you can splurge, she says the coolest option might be a smart showerhead. “It incorporates wireless speakers that allow you to stream your favorite music or podcast while showering,” she says.

Buy: Moxie Showerhead with Wireless Speaker, $229.85 at Kohler

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

What fancy hotels have: soft linens
What you need to do: start fresh

Other than the finishes, the best part of a fancy hotel room has to be the equally upscale linens. Smith says that he works with hotel operators to choose these accessories carefully, since they tend to hint at how guests will be treated throughout their stay. In other words, the more comfortable the towels are, the better—and the same sentiment should apply to your home. One of the quickest ways to upgrade your bathroom experience is to get the best towels you can.

“Perhaps nothing gets more use out of the bathroom than the towel, so make sure you invest in high-quality towels that are soft and plush. You’ll spend more upfront, but they’ll last longer and your landlord can’t take them,” he says. “If storage is tight in your bathroom, consider installing a nice towel rack above the toilet and displaying your towels like they’re a design element. This way your towel material and color becomes integrated into your bathroom design.”

Buy: Heathered Towels Bath Sheet, $69 at Parachute

Credit: Ana Kamin

What fancy hotels have: exceptionally nice soap
What you need to do: treat your hands

Last but not least, don’t forget how nice it feels when something as small as soap can provide a little boost of comfort. “I think people really enjoy discovering and using new bath products in hotels,” Smith adds. “If you’re someone who loves high-end hotel soaps and lotions, why not do the same thing for yourself?”

Finish off your rental bathroom transformation with this indulgent detail, and see how your mood improves every morning and night. “My favorite soap is Aesop,” he says. “It can be a little pricey, but I’ve found that a $40 bottle of hand soap actually lasts quite a long time. Consider buying in bulk and re-filling existing bottles. It’s good for your wallet and the environment.”

Buy: Reverence Aromatique, $39 at Aesop