Giving Your Bathroom a Facelift

From time to time, even the prettiest bathroom could use a facelift. We're not talking major renovations here, or even involved do-it-yourself stuff: just a few changes designed to give maximum zing for minimum effort (and cash). Your local bath, home or building supply store has all kinds of products designed to loft the spirits of even the most depressing bathroom, and many of the ideas that follow require no more than a few tools and a free weekend. Think of it as a spa retreat for your bath.

1. Clear out everything - everything! - in your bathroom and give the room a good scrubbing, right down to the ground between tiles, any hidden build-up under the faucet escutcheons, and corners inside cabinets. Then throw out or give away anything you don't use regularly: half-filled shampoo bottles, makeup you'll never wear, expired medicines. Be ruthless.

 2. Nothing updates a room more quickly and dramatically than a new coat of paint. The bathroom is often the easiest room in your house to paint , since there's little or no furniture to move, and the wall area is fairly small. Pure white is a classic look that's very fashionable right now; or choose a shade that contrasts elegantly with coloured tile or fixtures. If you have cabinets, paint them (inside and out) as well.

3. Replace your chipped or too-small medicine cabinet with a handsome new one. Restoration Hardware and IKEA both have attractive options, as do many building centres. Or, if storage is not a concern, replace it with a large beautiful mirror.

4. Contrary to popular belief, replacing your basin faucet is a fairly easy DIY job, and there are many beautiful styles available for $100 or less. It improves the overall look of the room.

5. If the floor is ugly or worn, you don't always need to rip it up and start over. Linoleum and wood floors can be painted out with special flooring paint; epoxy paint can be used to update yucky tile. Peel-and-stick vinyl tiles are another inexpensive option.

6. Install ready-made tab-top curtains in a gorgeous fabric, combined with sheers if privacy is an issue. Some companies offer co-ordinated sets that include shower and window curtains and other bath accessories. Or for a streamlined look, consider shutters or roman blinds.

7. Designers often choose neutral colours or white for bathroom fixtures and other permanent elements, since all it takes is new towels and other linens to give you a whole new look. Natural shades - warm grey, chocolate brown, wicker - are "in" at the moment, but super-brights such as chrome yellow, tangerine and fire engine red are equally fabulous in a neutral setting.

8. The popularity of the hotel look has inspired product designers to come up with all kinds of attractive and intelligent options for maximizing and organizing storage. Lisa Brdar, of Harvest Kitchen & Bath in Toronto, says one of the store's hottest sellers is their luggage rack, a tubular nickel shelving unit with hooks on the bottom rail for towels or a bathrobe. The store also offers a range or acrylic or wicker trays and baskets for organizing counter top essentials, including one that's shaped to fit perfectly on the back of the toilet.

9. Nothing sabotages the look of a bathroom -- or any room in your house, in fact -- than inadequate lighting. In many cases, you don't need an electrician to replace an old lighting fixture with a new one, though if you're planning to change its location or add fixtures, you should call in a professional. Other options: replace incandescent bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescents, or add a dimmer switch to give you bright light for make-up, softer light for a relaxing bath.

10. Bathrooms need not be all business; treat yourself to new accessories, functional or not. A trio of starfish (real or fake) can march along a chair rail; a basket of sea sponges adds some texture on the edge of a bath. Use attractive glass or metal canisters to store Q-Tips, cotton balls and other everyday items within reach; or display a fabulously designed toothbrush holder, soap dish an water glass on the counter. Finish with a framed print or two (either sealed to protect against moisture, or inexpensive enough to discard as soon as damages shows.)