"I always get more creative when I have no money to spend," says Brown, a 32-year-old native of Baton Rouge, La. "When you have too much money, you have too many options and can't make up your mind. When you have fewer options, the creative juices start to flow. You'll be amazed at what you can come up with."
The trick, he says, is channeling that resourcefulness into "making the bathroom feel less like a hospital and more like home." Here's how Brown suggests achieving that elusive goal—without losing sight of the bottom line.
Plumbing: "First, call your plumber to find out whether you
have a functioning bathroom. Do the pipes and drains work? What
about the water heater and pressure? Too many people … start
work before checking the infrastructure. You don't want to fix
things up and then have to tear everything out because there was a
Tub and shower: "These are the main areas and, therefore, big commitments. Decide if you need both. If you can lose the tub, you'll have that much more space for your shower. When you're doing a historical restoration, you can go to wrecking yards for claw-foot tubs, old-style pedestal sinks and other antique looks."
Tile: "If your tile is grungy or a dated-looking '50s pink, the best option is reglazing. Reglazers can clean it and refinish it in a different color. My suggestion is basic white. It always looks new and fresh. You can add color in other ways that are easier and less expensive."
Floor: "Again, you can reglaze old tile. White will make the room seem larger and more open. If you have old linoleum, you might rip it out and install a thin layer of sealed concrete for a modern, industrial look."
Walls: "Tile walls can seem cold and institutional, but you don't necessarily want plain drywall either. For visual interest, put up wainscoting, floor-to-ceiling paneling or crown molding. You can find 1-foot sections at discount hardware stores."
Vanity and sink: "A pedestal sink is a quick, easy look, especially if you don't need counter space. But part of making the bathroom feel homey is introducing [a piece of] furniture and converting it to a vanity. You can buy a secondhand cabinet, dresser or table for $100, cut a hole in the top and drop a sink in. That'll be more original than any generic prefab vanity."
Fittings: "These can be expensive, so you might want to replace only the shower spout and knobs. You can get a rain shower head with a gooseneck extension arm and it'll be the best $50 you'll ever spend."
Mirror: "Get rid of that glued- or clipped-on wall-size mirror. Unless you're a movie star, who needs that much mirror? A nice framed mirror hung like a picture or piece of art will make the room more intimate."
Paint: "Paint is cheap. Don't be afraid of color on walls, but remember that skin tones look better against warmer colors than greens and deep blues. And don't ignore the ceiling. Painting it a honey semigloss bounces warm light back on your face. If you have stained wood cabinetry that was popular in the '70s, paint that too."
Lights: "The key to good lighting is seeing the effect, not the source. Get rid of bar lights. And fluorescents are a big NO. They're so unflattering. Dimmers are great. So are recessed lights with pink bulbs."
Storage: "Medicine cabinets with beautiful frames and knobs help avoid that clinical feeling. For extra storage, the area over the toilet is best for a wall-mounted cabinet. Put Q-tips in a pretty jar, or take toilet paper out of the Charmin bag and put the rolls in a basket."
Shower doors: "If you have shower doors, replace them with a custom shower curtain. I bought two liners and several yards of fabric, then had them sewn up by a tailor at a dry cleaner. I moved the curtain pole higher and created a whole wall of fabric—much more dramatic."
Toilet: "You can't reglaze a toilet, so if it's really bad, buy a new one. Usually you can get away with adding a new seat for $5. But keep it simple—no padding or pink swans."
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Kenneth Brown recommends these affordable renovation sources:
Tile: Stone Mart, North Hollywood, (818) 765-4800. New tubs, sinks and toilets: Lowe's, http://www.lowes.com ; Kohler, http://www.kohler.com . Used tubs and sinks: Santa Fe Wrecking Co., Los Angeles, (213) 623-3119. Reglazers: Pacific Reglazing Inc., Burbank, (818) 541-0404. Furnishings and storage: Splashworks Bath Furnishings, http://www.splashworksbathfurnishings.com . Hardware and fittings: Crown City Hardware, Pasadena, (626) 794-1188; Koontz Hardware, West Hollywood, (310) 652-0123; EBay, http://www.ebay.com . Vintage items: Urban Archaeology, http://www.urbanarchaeology.com . Lighting: Lamps Plus, http://www.lampsplus.com ; Pottery Barn, http://www.potterybarn.com ; Restoration Hardware, http://www.restorationhardware.com . Mirrors and accessories: Pottery Barn; Restoration Hardware; Target, http://www.target.com .
Kenneth Brown Design, (323) 656-8449, http://www.kennethbrowndesign.com . "reDesign" can be seen Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on HGTV.