Here’s How We Remodeled Our Entire Bathroom for Under $500

Photo courtesy of Lisa Hallett Taylor
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My husband Thom and I own a midcentury modern house that was built in the early 1960s.

We liked the style and have tried to stay true to its origins, updating along the way out of necessity and choice. The interior is in dire need of work, and we are thinking we might sell the house in the next few years.

Our master bathroom became a major project. What started out as a quick and cheap repainting of the walls and cabinets snowballed into a remodel— well, it’s a renovation, if you want to get technical.

As I emptied each cupboard and drawer, discarding old lotions and crusty, expired travel-size products, dissatisfaction set in. The insides of the cabinets had water and rust stains from pipes that had previously leaked.

They were disgusting. If I walked in someone else’s bathroom and looked through their cupboards (as some of us do), I’d feel badly for them. And this was my bathroom.

It was clear that more than just painting needed to be done. The vinyl tile floor was old and dull. The toilet was a water-wasting model from the 1970s. Discount fabric shower curtains were being used as drapes that hung four inches above the floor. The faucet was corroded. There wasn’t enough cupboard space.

The bathroom was screaming for a makeover.

I was determined to get a new one without spending the $2,500 that HomeAdvisor estimates to be the low end of a bathroom remodel.

Luckily, my husband and I are seasoned do-it-yourselfers, and I tend to chase down a product to discover the absolute lowest price.

Toning Down the Pink: $60

a bathroom interior
Photo courtesy of Lisa Hallett Taylor

Painting the master bath was a challenge. The countertop and walk-in shower with built-in seat had 4×4-inch light salmon-pink tile with random accents of black.

It was cool a dozen years ago, but there are so many more diverse choices in the tile market today. I’d have opted to redo it if we had the budget — but we didn’t.

I could have gone nuts and played up the pink, making it look like a feminine 1950s kitsched-out powder room. It would have been fun, but not good for resale. I opted for varying grays with accents of white and black, all to tone down the pink.

Grays and whites are popular colors for bathrooms right now, according to the National Kitchen and Bathroom Association. I selected a warm dark gray semi-gloss for the cabinets and a dark warm white for the walls. Altogether, our bill for paint was about $60.

Dressing Up the Cabinets: $21

Before painting the cabinets, we needed to give them a good, hard look. The chipped, white plywood built-ins under a long countertop resembled something from a cheesy motel. We looked into replacing the drawers and doors from IKEA or Lowe’s. Again, it was beyond our budget.

Our existing drawers and doors had a scalloped trim that never went with the style of the house. My husband pulled it off so that the drawers and doors were flat, then sanded them until they were smooth.

He found flat, stock pine trim with slightly rounded corners that was about $1 a foot, cut it to size with a chop saw and attached them to the drawers and cabinet doors with finish nails.

This does two things: it gives the drawers detail and makes the plywood look more substantial. To smooth out the ends, he used Bondo, an automotive body filler. He estimates the trim probably cost $18 and the nails were $3. He already had the Bondo, but it sells on Amazon for about $12.

Building Another Cabinet: About $115

The bathroom lacked storage space, and it’s a long, awkward walk to the main hallway when you discover you’re out of toilet paper.

At first, we thought about getting one of those over-the-toilet storage shelves, but they don’t seem to hold much. Plus, the shelves were open, making all your personal products viewable.

Instead, Thom spent about $100 on planks of wood at Home Depot and built a floating cupboard over the toilet that holds all of our bathroom stuff discreetly. We painted it in the same dark gray as the vanity cabinets.

For a nice, clean, modern look, we replaced the rusted cabinet hinges with satin nickel ones; it’s one of those small fixes that makes a big difference when renovating a room. I found satin nickel cupboard and drawer pulls/handles on Amazon for around $15 (prices fluctuate).

Go for Bargain Flooring: About $76.73

Our bathroom is oddly configured — it was part of a weird addition done by a family with 12 children (the Brady Bunch doubled) in the 1970s. It doesn’t have much floor space, meaning replacing the tile wouldn’t cost too much if we did it ourselves. So, Thom busted up the old black-and-off-white composite.

We found 12×12-inch non-slip porcelain tile at Lowe’s in a warm light gray for about 93 cents per square foot and bought 75 tiles. A bag of mortar cost $6.98, bringing the total cost of the floor (including mortar) to $76.73. In three evenings, Thom laid the tile.

Get a New-to-You John: $40

As things started to shape up, our old toilet was looking pretty sad. I searched CraigsList and found a new-model Kohler that a woman nearby was selling for $50 because she was renovating her bathroom and wanted an even-newer model.

We offered $40, which she accepted. After we cleaned the sleek, water-saving Kohler outdoors (just to be sure; it was already clean), Thom installed it.

Shine Up the Sink With a New Faucet: $77.67

a new bathroom faucet
Photo courtesy of Lisa Hallett Taylor

While refinishing and painting the cabinets, Thom removed the sink — a no-frills oval, drop-in porcelain model — and gave it a thorough cleaning.

I found a beautiful modern Kohler Alteo brushed nickel faucet on Amazon Warehouse Deals for $77.67, which was about $38 off the regular price.

Items on Amazon Warehouse Deals range from damaged to like-new-but-repackaged; all the items I bought were basically new.  As a bonus, I was able to use an $80 Amazon card I traded for on CardPool.

Replace Old Hardware: $52.20

We ended up painting the door and filling in the old towel rack holes, which meant new ones were in order.

I bought two towels racks and a matching toilet paper holder on Amazon Warehouse Deals for $17.40 each.

Curtains and Bench: $43.99

In a continued attempt to play down the pink tile, I replaced the shower curtain drapes with actual curtains from IKEA. The white-and-black tropical-printed Avsiktlig curtains were a steal at $24.99 a pair.

Instead of hemming the 98-inch-long curtains, we raised the rod up, which instantly made the room look larger. I added a matching round tray in black for the countertop (covering more of the pink tile).

While at IKEA, I saw a nice birch bench, the Molger, that was a deal at $39 and would give a spa-like vibe to the bathroom. I passed but looked for it on CraigsList. Score: I found one nearby, already assembled for $19. Another $20 saved.

A New Bathroom

With DIY know-how and careful shopping, we renovated our master bathroom for around $486.59.

Yes, it was time consuming, involved lots of hard work and took longer than if we’d had professionals do the job, but we saved money. Plus, it’s nice to sit on my new throne, savor our masterpiece and know we did it ourselves, on the cheap.

Lisa Taylor has written for,, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. The child of teachers, she grew up thinking frugality and DIY were virtues and is quite pleased with her CraigsList commode. This embarrasses her rich relatives, the ones with the talking, Japanese-made toilets.