Before and After: A Dingy, Dysfunctional Bathroom Becomes a Serene Mini Spa for $1,000

published Sep 13, 2021
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striped bathroom shower curtain

Unfortunately, even the nicest apartments sometimes come with ugly bathrooms. So when you find a great rental in a competitive market like San Francisco, you can’t let an icky bathroom stand in the way — no matter how cramped and dark it is.

That was the case for DIYer Polina Melamed and her husband when they found an otherwise perfect apartment. “When we decided to rent this place, we knew the bathroom would be a challenge and the project to tackle first,” Polina says. “After viewing over 50 properties all over the city, this apartment was the best by far, and would have been perfect if it were not for this bathroom.”

So right away — literally day one in their new home — the renovation began. And the couple certainly had their work cut out for them. “The tenant before us lived in this place for 10-plus years and never renovated it,” she says. “Imagine cracked tile, sad hardware with no personality, virtually no storage besides the built-in medicine cabinet, bad lighting, misaligned light fixtures, no heaters — the list goes on and on.” As if that weren’t already enough of a laundry list for one bathroom, there was also an additional door, making that two doors for one tiny space.

Polina began sketching out her ideas, which included moving the light fixtures, swapping the pedestal sink for a full vanity, and ripping out the medicine cabinet. But when she brought her wish list to her husband, they agreed it was too much to tackle at the time and decided to scale back. “We never renovated anything before, so despite it being a little intimidating, I was excited to transform this place,” she says.

Like many great renovation projects, this one started with a fresh coat of white paint. The couple painted the entire bathroom — including both doors, the curtain rod, and windows — in Kelly-Moore’s Whitest White. The next step was swapping out the outdated faucets for more modern ones, which is when they decided to hire a plumber for the job. “As pure novices, we did not want to screw up our shower situation!” she says.

Once the new bathroom fixtures were installed, Polina and her husband added a plug-in towel warmer for a luxe spa-like experience.

The added perk? It also keeps the bathroom warm and cozy, which will certainly come in handy during the chilly winter months. 

Next came the real challenges: putting up shelves and replacing the crooked light fixture. “Putting up the shelves was fun and a little scary,” she says. “We had to level the fixtures and shelves perfectly. My husband eyeballed it, but it turned out great.”

She bought rustic wooden shelves from Henry Lewis Home on Etsy, which added more storage space and paired well with her new brass light fixture.

To complete the laid-back look of her new in-home oasis, Polina chose textured accents like a teak bath mat, a wooden stool to hold candles, a woven basket for toilet paper storage, rattan containers, and a breezy linen curtain. The entire project, including labor and materials, was under $1,000.

Even as first-timers, Polina and her husband were able to transform their dingy, dysfunctional bathroom into a mini spa. She encourages other novices not to be intimidated. “Go for it!” she says. “Swapping out a couple of fixtures, a lick of paint and adding a few different textures — wood and linen — make a massive difference, with little effort.”