Ways to revamp your dated rental bathroom and make it work

What's old is new again!

pink '50s bathroom appliances on a pink background with yellow rubber duckies
(Image credit: Getty Images/Jupiterimages/David Madison/Adela Belovodjanin/Michael Hall)

I never understood why New York apartment listings excluded bathroom photos — until I signed the lease to my Brooklyn studio. 

Upon opening the door to the WC of yesteryear, I entered a Pepto Bismol paradise complete with all things pink, from the mosaic tiles and bathtub to the toilet and sink. A generous amount of grout on the floor topped off the mid-century sanctuary, and I stopped dead in my tracks. 

Don't get me wrong: I love every inch of my little home, but I was at a loss for what to do with this '50s throwback. That's when I realized I needed to wave the white pink flag, surrender to my dated bathroom, and invest in a few cute new bathroom decor picks.

"Retro is cool," insists Abbey Stark, interior design leader at IKEA. "Instead of fighting the style, play it up and incorporate the aesthetic into your design. Although you might not be able to change the fixtures and tile in a rental, there are plenty of ways to personalize your space."

If you, too, find yourself stepping into a time machine in your newfound abode, we have a few tips for sprucing up and refreshing a rental bathroom, straight from the pros.


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How to style an outdated bathroom

So, you're a renter with a strict landlord who won't allow you to make permanent adjustments. Think of it as a challenge for your creativity and a task to look forward to. There are so many ways you can cover up ugly rental features, even in the bathroom.

“Everyone has a soft spot for a particular retro style," says Leanne O’Malley of Studio. Not only are some of these designs timeless, but they are nostalgic, even for people who did not live through that particular time period."

Without further ado, let's get a li'l retro!

1. Make a mirror statement

A simple mirror switch can completely transform your bathroom. 

"A new mirror is an affordable and simple way to update the sink area," Stark says. "Use a mirror as a design feature by working with scale and shape to make an impact in your space." Perhaps you can even throw in a vanity mirror for your skincare needs.

2. Play with patterns

If you have a '50s bathroom, or really any bathroom from decades past, you likely already have a lot going on in an enclosed space. Don't let that stop you from testing out different designs. 

"Have fun with textiles," Stark recommends. "Add a new shower curtain and hand towels with a fun pattern or something textural to create a collection that fits your personal style." Likewise, don't forget to accessorize. 

“You should look to see what other accents you can add to an outdated bathroom," O'Malley says. "Soap dispensers, caddies, and bath trays are all great ways to subtly enhance a tired aesthetic without making any major changes.”

3. (Temporarily) retile

"With stick-on tiles, you can transform the tired look of your bathroom without needing to completely retile and potentially break the terms of your lease," Stark says. "All you need to do is stick these temporary tiles over the walls and, just as simply, remove them when your rental contract comes to an end."

4. Go green

We don't need to tell you that plant babies are necessities, plus you were looking for a spot for your new snake plant anyway. How about giving it a home next to your vanity?

"When you want to breathe new life into a space, add plant life," Stark says. "They add serenity and promote well-being."

5. Let there be light

You don't need to stick with the boob lamp: switch things up with your ceiling lamps and add wall sconces, too. Who says you can't have a mix?

6. Store accessories stylishly

Small bathroom storage can be a nightmare, especially if it's void of cabinets. "A moveable cart, using transparent boxes in a vanity cabinet, or a beautiful multifunctional piece of furniture can be quick updates to keep everything orderly while giving your space an updated look," Stark notes. 

And do not forget about your bathroom trash can. It's a necessary buy that doesn't have to be ugly, believe it or not!

7. Start scrubbing

You'll need to put in a little sweat equity, but we promise it's worth it. Cleaning can go a long way and make things feel fresh. For ways to make that retro bathroom of yours fun sparkle and shine, tick off your bathroom cleaning checklist and use these top cleaning products to help you out (and speed up the chore).

Danielle Valente
Content Editor

Pleasure to meet you! I'm Danielle, a content editor at Real Homes who loves scoping out interior trends. I've specialized in lifestyle writing and editing for 10 years with a focus on events, food, and books, among other areas. When I'm not working, I'm usually cooking, reading, or searching for a new project for my apartment.