Renters can transform a small, dull bath with soft hues and organization

By Judy Stringer

Apartment bathrooms typically aren't the most glamorous or roomy spaces. In fact, they can be downright sparse.

That doesn't mean that they can't be functional and even attractive. There's a lot that you can do to add style and create space in your apartment bathroom.

Infuse color

Like most of the rooms in an apartment, a little color goes a long way in transforming the blasé to beautiful in a bathroom. Begin by swapping boring white walls for a soft shade, said style expert Greg Morris, owner of Wine and Design of Tremont. "If you are allowed to change the wall color or can negotiate with the landlord to return the bathroom to the color it was, painting is one of the first things that you should consider in a redesign," Morris said.

A taupe or light blue paint looks good with white tiles and fixtures and adds color without making small bathrooms feel cramped. Or follow the lead of many fellow bathroom remodelers by going green with a pale sage in your washroom.

A survey conducted by the National Kitchen and Bathroom Association at the end of 2010 found that 24 percent of remodelers chose green tones in their renovated bathrooms, up from 14 percent one year earlier.

Since replacing tile is out of the question for renters, your best bet is a paint that complements the color of the existing tile, Morris said. A soft gray works nicely in older bathrooms with classic pink or teal tile, he said.

For those who can't paint walls, a vibrant piece of artwork can help transform the room. One large poster opposite the fixtures or over the toilet can set a color palette for the rest of the room.

Get rid of your clear plastic shower curtain for a bold one. Swap that pile of monochromatic towels for a colorful selection, and add excitement to the room by displaying them on a shelf instead of tucking them away under the sink. Finish with a plush bath rug that fits into the color palate, Morris said.

Think outside the "mirror"

Most small apartment bathrooms have a large, frameless mirror that takes up a lot of space and is boring. If you can't change the mirror, you can dress it up by adding a custom frame. DIYers can measure the mirror and go to a craft store or frame shop to buy some precut beveled frame pieces that will fit around the border. Heavy-duty Velcro strips will adhere the frame pieces to the wall.

Online retailers, such as, offer frame kits that you can use to decorate a bare plate-glass mirror. Cut to your mirror's dimensions, the kits are available in a variety of styles and finishes to complement color schemes.

Cut the clutter

If you are trying to enhance the look and feel of your bathroom, organizing and decluttering the space is a wise investment of your time.

"Bathrooms are one of the most often used rooms in homes and apartments, enduring constant traffic from household members and their guests," said Patty Clair, a professional organizer and owner of Cleveland-based simply put, llc. "Yet many times these rooms are often one of the smallest spaces in the residence."

Crowding countertops with all of your lotions and potions will muddle even the most dapper bathroom makeover. Bathrooms, like other activity-intensive rooms, need a refined, organized plan for storage.

Clair said that a part of a renter's redesign should include going through each drawer, cupboard and medicine cabinet in the bathroom one at a time. Get rid of all towels, toiletries, lotions, and medications that you no longer use or need or that have expired.

"They are taking up valuable space in your bathroom, especially if space is an issue," Clair said. "Remember that even sunscreens and makeup have a limited shelf life."

Once you're done discarding the old stuff, place like bathroom items together to get a better idea of how much of a given item you have. You will not know how much space you need to store your items until you can see what you have in each category.

When storing the keepers, use the inside of cupboards, doors and the medicine cabinet to maximize storage. Cleaning products or shampoos may be stored on a metal shelf attached to the inside of an under-the-sink cabinet or on a two-tiered shelf under the sink. Magnetic hooks/strips installed on the inside door of the medicine cabinet can hold little items, such as tweezers and scissors.

Drawer organizers are great tools to separate different categories of smaller items, including first aid products, cosmetics and toothpaste and toothbrushes. Much like multi-purpose drawers in a kitchen, a well-organized catch-all drawer in a bathroom will increase the likelihood that items will be return to their rightful spots, Clair said.

She also suggested making use of the back of the bathroom door by installing multiple towel racks or hooks or using a clear plastic pocketed over-the-door shoe rack to store items such as a blow dryer, brushes and toiletries. Keep stuff that you don't use often in a basket on the top shelf of a nearby linen closet. Hang a small three-tiered shelf over your shower head to cut down on the tub clutter.

Go vertical

Consider purchasing bath furniture if you have limited storage/space.

"Retailers have a great variety of bath collection pieces at varying price points and styles," Clair said. "Items such as over-the-toilet cabinets, multi-shelf carts on wheels, and wall shelving can greatly increase storage capacity."

And, don't forget spaces over the window and door frames. A simple bracketed shelf can be used to store a number of different items such as cotton balls, Q-tips, and more. It enhances the charm of the room if you store them in attractive storage bottles, containers or baskets.

The bottom line is that you don't have to pull up tile or knock down walls to boost the style and functionality of your apartment bathroom. Color, artwork and organization can convert your small, dull space into a terrific retreat.

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