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.
How to style an outdated bathroom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.
Black mirrors are in, including this wall-mounted metal number from Zipcode Design, which is available in five different sizes.
Go back in time with this antique arched mirror, a regal selection for all of your vanity needs. It also comes in a variety of different sizes.
Handcarved tropical hardwood gets a floral fix with this Anthro fan-favorite mirror. We love that it's neutral but still has flair.
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.”
This cotton towel is proof that checkered home decor is in. Fast-forward your '50s space 30 years into the future with a classic '80s trend.
This allover lattice design set includes a soap dish, liquid soap dispenser, and toothbrush holder, keeping all your toiletries orderly and stylish.
Give your mid-century modern bathroom a helping of boho vibes through this geo-patterned terry bath mat.
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."
We're feeling these hexagonal semi-gloss peel-and-stick tiles. These'll add punchy texture to any bathroom.
Liking the geometric hexagons but want something more minimal? This tile pick fits the brief.
Maximalism is never a bad idea. If your outdated bathroom is already a little wild, why not update it with tile that feels funky (but fresh)?
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."
This fun leafy friend (aka the Swiss Cheese plant) will do just fine living in your bathroom.
If you don't have the greenest thumb, don't sweat. The humble pothos can handle it and would look lovely trailing down a bathroom shelf.
Another hardy option that won't mind taking up residence in your bathroom is the ZZ plant. Pop it in a cute pot and it'll thrive!
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?
With magnets attached, this sleek little battery-operated wall-mounted light is perfect for adding chill ambiance to the bathroom.
This small but mighty dimmable sconce in gold is safe in damp locations and ships with a lightbulb. It's retro but modern all at the same time.
Try this chic (hardwired) one-light-armed sconce with dimmable features if you need a fresh glow in the bathroom. The high brass light has reversible mounting as well.
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!
Store all your skincare and wellness accessories on this movable, metal, and rust-resistant cart.
This cute three-tier shelf is a nod to the beloved Scandi aesthetic. It measures 32" x 9" x 12", so it's great for tight spaces.
Keep necessities neat and tidy with this black shelving unit from IKEA. It's simple, affordable, and holds everything you need.
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).
Shower cleaning obviously isn't fun, especially in an outdated bathroom. Luckily, this spray makes it a piece of cake. You don't even need to squeegee or rinse!
The Scrub Daddy is a familiar face around our apartments at Real Homes. Grab a colorful pack so you have one for the bathroom, one for the kitchen, and one as a back-up.
For an all-purpose spray that'll help keep your retro bathroom sparkling clean, Method's Bathroom Cleaner is the one. Just spray, wipe, and relax.