7 Common Rental Bathroom Eyesores and How Designers Would Fix Them

published May 3, 2023
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Bathroom with white wooden cabinets, glass-enclosed shower and square mirror above sink in vacation rental apartment
Credit: Toyakisphoto/Shutterstock

Picture this: You’ve spent tons of time and energy making your rental apartment look fabulous, having sourced fun pillows for the living room sofa, laid down the perfect rug, and scored a statement headboard that wows you every time you set foot into your bedroom. Despite all of your efforts, though, maybe your space just doesn’t feel complete due to the state of your bathroom, which has definitely seen better days. What’s a renter to do? Well, as it turns out, lots of little upgrades can take a rental bathroom from blah to beautiful, and you don’t have to alter the architecture at all to utilize these ideas. I spoke to three interior designers for their favorite high-impact — and reversible — tips for making an unsightly, tiny rental bathroom shine, and I’m sharing them with you here. 

Credit: Photo: Alpha Smoot; Prop Styling: Ed Gallagher

The problem: Cracked or dingy old tile.
The solution: Paint the walls as a design distraction.

If your bathroom features vintage tile that’s looking a little worse for wear, try creating a bit of a visual diversion by coating the surrounding walls in a hue that’s more your style. “The biggest difference in any space is paint,” notes designer Tina Ramchandani, founder of Tina Ramchandani Creative in New York City. “Unless you have the perfect, new construction bathroom, find a gorgeous paint color and personalize your bathroom.” This simple upgrade will make all the difference, and if your landlord requires that you repaint before you move out, that’s an easy fix, too.

Credit: StylishCraftsDesign via Etsy

The problem: An old shower glass door that’s not your aesthetic.
The solution: Cover it with something temporary.

If your shower glass just isn’t it, try one of Ramchandani’s favorite hacks: applying window film to the doors. Just be sure to purchase a removable option rather than something permanent. Ramchandi is a fan of this ribbed option from Etsy. Designer Kathryn Dunagan, vice president of Marc-Michaels Design in Winter Park, Florida, offers another option that’s an even easier hack. “Hang a shower curtain that fits your vibe, as high as possible, over an unsightly glass door,” she says. For this, you’ll likely need a tension rod, but it’s worth the extra cost to display a textile you actually like.

Buy: 3D Premium Ribbed Window Privacy Film, Starts at $27.00 from Etsy

Credit: IKEA

The problem: Builder-grade lighting.
The solution: Swap in something more stylish.

Say goodbye to dated sconces, and hello to sleek, modern lighting. “Replacing lighting is another great option to upgrade your bathroom,” Ramchandani says. “The right light — in terms of both color temperature and aesthetic — makes such a difference.” Keep the original fixtures under your bed or in a closet so that you can reinstall them once you move out. The best part? You can take your fancy light with you when you move out. 

Buy: FRIHULT Wall Lamp, $34.00 from IKEA

Credit: MirrorMate

The problem: A boring frameless mirror.
The solution: Replace the mirror or jazz up what you have.

If your bathroom mirror doesn’t speak to you and is easily removable, you’re golden. Simply take it down, stash it away, and hang up a piece that’s more your style, Ramchandani suggests. You can opt for something ornate-looking or a piece with a minimalist aesthetic. One thing to keep in mind, though: The right mirror will make your bathroom appear more spacious, too. “Mirrors and metallic surfaces reflect light and instantly make a space feel bigger and brighter,” says Nadia Watts, founder of Nadia Watts Interior Design in Denver, Colorado. So look for something that has a reflective frame to maximize that effect. 

Frameless mirrors and frameless mirrored medicine cabinets are super-common in rentals and harder to replace — especially in the case of anything that’s recessed into the wall. If you find yourself dealing with this kind of fixture, you’ll just have to get a bit craftier. You can buy custom-sized, peel-and-stick frames from a company like MirrorMate or craft your own lightweight design and use Command strips to mount it. You can also try using black tape to fake corner brackets or patterned washi tape to create a full border around the perimeter of the mirror. Of course, this will be much harder to do with a medicine cabinet, since you’ll be opening it, but it’s possible if you cut strips to fit each of the doors.

Buy: Broadway Collection, Starts at $102.00 from MirrorMate

Credit: Amazon

The problem: Basic cabinet hardware.
The solution: Replace the knobs and pulls.

All you’ll need to do is place a quick Amazon order for something snazzy or more modern in terms of hardware, and toss your original bathroom knobs into a plastic bag for safekeeping. “This is a small change that makes a huge difference,” Ramchandani says.

Buy: Cone Shape Brass Knobs, $10.59 for a Set of 4

Credit: The Container Store

The problem: Storage and display space is limited.
The solution: Only introduce double-duty or space-saving items into the bathroom.

Make the most of your bathroom’s square footage — which is likely limited, if you’re in a rental — by adding in accessories that are equal parts functional and chic. “Stock up on cute baskets or trunks to store extra towels,” Dunagan suggests. Finish off your space by hanging up some art. “Stack art vertically to draw the eye up,” Watts encourages. “When you have a tiny footprint, it’s especially important to take advantage of your vertical space.”

Buy: X-Small Water Hyacinth Bin Natural, $9.99 from The Container Store

Credit: Spoonflower

The problem: Uneven or lackluster walls .
The solution: Install removable wallpaper.

If you aren’t much of a painter, try temporary wallpaper to jazz up your tile or yellowed walls. “Wallpaper is another great way to spruce up a tiny bathroom,” says Watts. “As with paint color, go bold, go bright, and go big!” Being strategic with a larger-scale pattern, as Watts explains, can actually make your bathroom appear bigger in size.

Buy: Le Jardin Art Nouveau Black Wallpaper byhnldesigns, $119.00 for a 2-foot by 12-foot panel from Spoonflower