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Principal Bathroom Refresh: High Impact Changes On A Low Budget

how to get the look of a luxurious spa bathroom in a builder grade home

Today, I’m showing you how we completed a renovation of our suburban home’s principal suite without spending a ton of money. (a principal suite is just like a master suite but without the racist connotations)

By making calculated design updates and keeping the overall plan simple, we brought this 25-year-old house into the 21st Century. Here’s how we did it and what we spent –

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When we bought this house, it was clear that this bathroom had never been updated. Every fixture was original to the 1997 build date. That’s 20 years this bathroom has been sitting in this (or a similar) state.

The jetted tub was severely outdated and gross. The previous owners, in an effort to make it seem less gross, had PAINTED the interior of the tub. That’s why the top of the top looks white while the front apron looks yellow.

The original gold faucet was peeling. Yep. The finish was coming right off!

The lighting in the room was overkill. We actually removed two of the light bulbs from the vanity fixture because it was so bright that it would temporarily blind us as we walked into the room.


So we made a list of the items we absolutely had to address:
replace tub
replace lighting
update electrical outlets and switches to white
frame mirror
replace faucets
remove medicine cabinet
update door hardware

master suite before

Unlink our One Day Kid’s Bathroom Makeover or our Vintage Pink Bathroom Refresh, the principal bathroom refresh wasn’t a quick one. We spent the better part of two years making small, inexpensive decor and finish updates that really added up.

STEP ONE: Update Your Light Fixtures

The first thing we updated in this principal bathroom was the lighting. Over the vanity, we replaced the original Broadway-Style vanity light with a more modern four-light sconce. We found that four daylight LED light bulbs over the vanity provided plenty of light but offered a more transitional aesthetic to keep the bathroom from feeling dated in just a few more years.

Bathroom Refresh - Small changes that made a big impact in this suburban home's master bathroom.

We also replaced the dated “boob” light with a more contemporary flush mount in a polished nickel finish to match the accessories and hardware we used throughout the bedroom and bathroom.

Low Budget Bathroom Makeover: Transforming an outdated master bathroom without a total renovation is possible! Here's how we tackled a refresh of our master bedroom without spending a ton of money.

GET THE LOOK: Updated Lighting for a Bathroom

The total cost for updating the light fixtures in our bathroom came in under $200! Lighting is always my first choice for making impactful home updates on a budget and lighting in a bathroom is especially important. We need to see every little corner of a bathroom to complete all the tasks associated with grooming.

Trust me – if you have only $200 to spend on your bathroom, spend it on lighting. And don’t forget good light bulbs. Choose daylight. Daylight LED lightbulbs give you the most natural lighting tones to ensure you’re not over applying makeup or under-tweezing your face.


STEP TWO: Replace Old Bathroom Faucets

When we bought our suburban house, the principal shower already had a new-ish chrome shower faucet and chrome shower doors. We were happy to carry the chrome/polished nickel finish throughout the room because I love how the shiny details capture light and make an adult space feel elevated and special.

Since the aforementioned gold sink faucets were in terrible shape, replacing them was our first priority. Knowing we wouldn’t be living in this home forever, we opted to install reliable but inexpensive sink faucets that matched the decor.


When we hired a crew to replace our disgusting and dated jetted garden tub, we had them install a matching garden tub faucet to replace the old brass fixture there as well.


By replacing both the sink faucets and the bathtub faucets, we got the look of a newly-installed vanity without spending any money to update the vanity or the countertop. That’s right. This is still just the builder-grade original bathroom vanity but it looks so much nicer with the nickel faucet installed.


GET THE LOOK: Updated Faucets

The total cost for updating the tub and the faucets in our bathroom came in under $500! The faucets were incredibly inexpensive but reliable and timeless. They won’t need to be updated again for decades to come!

While we hired out the replacement of the tub, adding to the overall cost of the project, we still spent only $150 on a new tub. Add the additional $200 for all three new faucets, and our total materials cost was only $350!

Replacing the tub could have been a DIY project but we had a steep staircase and were concerned we wouldn’t be able to lift the old tub to get it out of the house. Since we saved on materials cost, we were happy to splurge a little on labor for a quick tub replacement.

Adding special touches to a bathroom for a spa-like feel on a budget.


The biggest impact changes we made in our bathroom were also the least expensive! We used inexpensive 1×1” wood boards painted white to add a frame around our builder-grade frameless mirror. Here’s a good tutorial on that easy project from Young House Love.

Once that frame was in place, I opted to hang a single hand towel between the double sinks, reducing visual clutter. But since we had a single mirror that spanned the entire length of the vanity, we had to get creative. To install a hand towel ring directly onto the mirror, I used extra strength gorilla glue and then taped the hardware in place while it dried. I was extra cautious and left the tape in place for a full week before we used the hand towel ring and it never budged the entire time we lived there, with daily use.

Installing a hand towel ring directly onto a bathroom vanity mirror, how-to

Lastly, we pulled in some spa vibes with a small amount of blue and grey glass tile around the tub. This small tile project was so easy and cheap because we carried the tile only a few inches above the lip of the tub.

installing special touches in a builder grade bathroom for a spa retreat feel

We cut 12×12” tile mosaic panels in half and installed them directly above and around the tub, giving the impact of a tiled bathroom without the full expense. Since the tub surround isn’t a technical wet area (a wet area is a swath of wall that received direct water impact), we were able to use tile backsplash adhesive mats instead of mortar, which saved time on installation and clean-up.

master bathroom updates - install a tile backsplash around your tub for a cheap update

We carried the special touches into the bedroom by pulling in chrome hardware accessories on the bathroom double doors with really cute robe hooks. Then we added two chrome wall sconces – one on each side of the bed – to tie in the finish to the rest of the room. A very special watercolor print (which I actually made myself) pulls in the blue tones from the bathroom as well.


GET THE LOOK: Spa Bathroom Touches

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little look back at our suburban home’s principal bathroom refresh! It’s been over a year since we moved to our current home but this project is still one of my favorite updates from that house.

Bathroom Updates for a spa-like retreat

Remember to save this project to your Pinterest boards by clicking the little red P icon when you scroll over the images.

We tackled a ton of updates during the two years we owned our suburban home. You can see the full Home Tour by clicking here:


coastal style in a builder grade home

Renovating that home was a true labor of love and we are incredibly proud of the stamp we left on that house.


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