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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Mullen

5 (Mostly Temporary) Updates for a Rental Bathroom

My current apartment is the stuff of legends: 1,000+ sq. feet, hardwood floors, lots of natural light, a dishwasher, and 3 normal-sized bedrooms. Upon touring it with the broker, my roommates and I had to fight to keep our cool when we found out how much the rent was. Suffice it to say—it's affordable. We're a 20 minute commute into Manhattan, in a safe area, and minutes from tons of bars and restaurants. We're basically #blessed.

"What could possibly be the catch?" we thought. Well, aside from the generic noise from our above and below neighbors (we'll survive), the bathroom was... a sight. Different shades of brown and yellow tile from floor to ceiling, an outdated textured glass shower door, and budget lighting fixtures. Shudder.

Unfortunately, a rental renovation requires some unconventional thinking, since there’s no real demolition allowed. But, after some sleepless nights (yes, I hated the tile that much) I workshopped a few solutions to make the room more palatable to the human eye, and it cost me less than $150!! For reference, here’s what it looked like before:

...shocking I know.

For starters, I did a lot of Pinterest-ing on yellow bathrooms, and I found this photo that inspired my color choices going forward:

Photo from @kat_at_croft_corner

This photo gave me a sliver of hope that if I could cover up the brown on the floor and ceiling, I might just be able to make a cohesive space. As with any design-oriented project, I made a mood board to insure the products I picked would fit in the space I was already working with:

So here's how I made it less visually arresting:

Cover Up the Ceiling Tile

Short of ripping out the tile and getting evicted, the two bathroom ceiling options were: coat the tile in white epoxy paint, or go removable with contact paper. Since the former would require my landlord’s permission (ugh) and days of drying time, I had to relinquish my painted tile dreams. Instead, I cut this matte white contact paper into squares the size of the ceiling tiles, and applied them one by one. Yes, it was painstaking, but wouldn’t you know? It holds up to bathroom humidity exceedingly well. Some tips on applying these babies:

  • Stick down the corner first and peel the back off while you smooth it down. It's fairly easy to peel it back off and restick, so don't get too precious with it.

  • If there are any unavoidable bubbles, stick a pin in them and they should flatten out.

Lay Down Floor Tile

In order to address the atrocity that was the floor, I went with these super inexpensive vinyl peel & stick tiles. Originally, I wanted to do some black & white geometric tiles, but I knew it would be near impossible to line them all up. Bear in mind: these are not intended to cover bumpy, grouted tile, but since I only need them to hold up for 2 years max, I said, “screw it!” A few tips on installation:

  • Measure, and measure twice. I ended up having to lug two sets of tiles home on the subway from Home Depot because I measured incorrectly. Don't be like me—measure correctly.

  • Use paper and tape to map out the hard-to-fit sections of the floor (like around the toilet), then trace them onto the tile

  • While you’ll need a utility knife for some pieces, good scissors work wonders on these cheapo tiles.

Hang a Shower Curtain

Like any good millennial, I posted on Instagram asking for suggestions to improve my bath-tuation, and I had a few people suggest hanging a shower curtain in front of the glass door. At first, I thought it seemed redundant (double shower coverings?), but once my vision for the rest of the bathroom was mood-boarded, I knew that sucker had to be hidden. This shower curtain adds some subtle texture and successfully hides the brass and textured glass. Thank god.

Paint the Door

Okay, on this one you should probably consult your landlord… but I’m an ask for forgiveness not permission kind of gal. The door is pretty standard issue wood veneer, but years of wear and tear and a healthy dose of water damage rendered it, well…ugly. A quick sand with 220 grit paper and 2 coats of eggshell white instantly made the bathroom more cohesive. If my landlord hates that the door looks better when it's time to move out, I'll buy a new one!

Change the Light Fixtures

Electrical work is not for the impatient or instructions-impaired, but it is a game-changer for rentals (au revoir, boob lights!). I followed this tutorial that aided me in replacing the ceiling fixture in my bedroom, and while I was struggling on my tip toes for an hour... it was well worth it. The fixtures in the bathroom aren't totally heinous, so I left them be, but just know it's totally possible to swap 'em. Plus, you can just reinstall the old fixture when it’s time to move out.

Aaaaandddd... after all that... here she is!!

For less than $150 I woke myself up from a bathroom nightmare I thought I might never escape, and I fully expect to get my security deposit back when I leave.



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