how to update a builders grade bathroom

Budget friendly bathroom update

Dear Decor Diary readers,

How do we even begin to make a builder’s grade bathroom pretty, inviting and stylish with almost zero budget to work with?  Quite easy actually.  Builder’s grade bathrooms as I call them, are just plain, extremely bland, very standard and no interest what so ever.  They are usually white, have plain frameless mirrors with plain tiles.  But in saying that, it sometimes comes in form of a blessing because you can personalise them quite a bit without breaking the bank!  I will show you how to update a bathroom that’s very budget friendly!  So here’s the little ugly duckling I was to transform…..


Background: – This plain bathroom was already given a coat of paint by the homeowner and she added some inexpensive floating shelves from Ikea for extra storage space. The bathroom is shared by her teenage son and daughter but also doubles as the guest bathroom.  As the joining rooms were already in tones of greys and blues, the grey and aqua tones in here would give a sense of continuity to the colour scheme that’s all ready in place in the rest of the guest wing.

How can guests share an overcrowded space like this? – nope, this certainly won’t do!!  I decided to work with what my dear friend already had;  to save costs off course, (painted walls, and a blue glass jar she adored) and set out to find fabric to incorporate those two colours.  A piece of beautiful fabric can have a huge impact on the overall look and feel of a room, as you can see in the inspiration picture below.  What a difference the colourful blinds make to this space!

Back to my project – I found a silky check fabric at our local fabric store (Spotlight)  that had the main colour grey, added two extra tones of aqua and a stunning bonus of gold/yellowy/ stripe that was just a perfect complement to the grey!  The fabric pattern and colours are not gender orientated making it perfect for the multi use this little bathroom had to provide.


As the window is the biggest and first focal point you see when entering the bathroom, the striking fabric sets the tone.  A simple flat valance with a sweeping curve adds a little shape to the ordinary window and by placing it at ceiling height, it added extra “visual volume in height” to a small space.

Here is a quick and easy way to make the valance yourself:

  •  Once the window is measured, add an extra 10cm to the side and top for hems.
  • Fold fabric face together in half, and place a paper pattern that you can draw free hand, onto the fold of the fabric.
  • Trace the pattern and cut.
  • Make a second one in block out lining. (this provides sturdiness to the fabric as well as protecting it from the harsh sun.
  • Sew the bottom and sides together (fabric and lining).
  • clip the inside corner so it turns over easily.
  • Iron the two sides flat for a perfect hem.
  • Measure the circumference of the rod you intend to use and divide size in half plus ad 1cm for stitching.
  • Fold both the fabric and lining on the fold line where the rod will be, and stitch the pocket to the size you measured.  eg. if rod measures 8cm around, make the pocket at least 5cm so it will not be to tight and pull the fabric.
  • Iron the valance / mock pelmet and sew on any decorative trimmings on the bottom edge.

The valance was hung on an inexpensive 16mm rod – (no one sees this so it does not have to be flashy.) Remember we are on a tight budget here! 😉  and finished off with a cute key tassel for sparkle and bling that the ladies love so much!


I used the colours in the blind and jar she already owned and opted for inexpensive glass jars to store ear buds and cotton wool as it is not only functional but acts as decorative accessories for this space.

Towels in the complimentary colours were added on the open shelves to give rhythm to the colour scheme and adds visual and textural interest. Cute baskets on the shelf will look pretty but function as storage for the stuff needed when soaking in a hot tub, like soaps, mud masks, razors – oh you know – the ladies will understand the necessities of soaking!

bathroom update acc

For art on the wallsyes its a must, – I painted some birds in the same colour scheme and placed it in inexpensive frames.  It added such a wonderful pop of colour to the grey walls. ( I am no artist but can make do with a little acrylic paint and inspiration found in magazines ha 😉 )

But, if you don’t want to paint, there are so many options like printing free art available online, or if you particularly like the birds, we have a local artist Pam Barbour that paints the most adorable little birds and print it on cards, that’s easy to frame. Check out her website for other art in card form – all just stunning! 

The tonnes 😉 of products that were on the shelves and vanity that cluttered the space, were moved into these functional containers from Ikea and placed under and inside the vanity cupboard.  Easily accessible and each teenager have his and her own box.  This created all the extra space on the shelves for much-needed towels and a few decor items,  hereby de-cluttering the shelves.  (See my Pinterest board on other super interesting organising solutions for your home)Her beloved jar got a special place in the windowsill where wonderful sunlight enhances its colour, created a little balance whilst a small little plant in a golden-yellow bowl added some personality and vibrance without crowding the space.

This budget friendly bathroom update was done for under $80 and I believe it made a world of difference to a very bland and boring space.  There are many bargains to be found in thrift stores, dollar stores (The Reject Shop or Red Dot here in Aus) and Kmart if you are willing to do a little legwork!  Most of the decor items were a mere $2 each and towels are always on sale somewhere. The plant bowl is a $3 cereal bowl from Target.- see, out of the box thinking! 😉

I hope this inspires you to pull out your sewing machine and make this super simple valance/ mock pelmet to create maximum impact, uplifting and updating your space!  It can be used in many decor styles, from country cottage, French country, Modern, Traditional, Beach style….. oh the list and possibilities are endless!  So get your “thinking-out-of-the-box” hats on friends and update your bathrooms for mere pennies!

till next time Diary readers, have a blessed and super fun DIY week!


Article by Teresa

Australian Interior Designer / Decorator & Photographer. I share my style, my creativity and love for all things decor.

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