To look at most of the home and decorating magazines on the newstands, one would think that without a "spa" or a whirlpool tub in the bathroom, life would somehow be incomplete.

Both baths and kitchens -- the rooms in the house devoted more to our bodies than any others -- are at the top of remodelers' lists as the most popular jobs these days. According to a national survey just completed by Professional Remodeling Magazine, doing over the average bathroom costs about $6,552. Needless to say, kitchens average considerably more.

But in a time of high borrowing costs, spending upwards of $7,000 modernizing a bathroom may not make a lot of sense. And the typical bathroom remodeling need not be so expensive. That lovely whirlpool bath gadget can add $1,600 to the bill alone. So here's how some houseowners have approached the job at a more realistic figure of about $1,500.

Often it's just a matter of cosmetics. To solve your tired old bath problems try a simply coat of paint, the addition of good wallpaper and some new curtains. You can sweep a cracked tile floor under a machine-washable bathroom carpet (as long as you don't have a leak that may show up on the living room ceiling).

Sometimes, however, the problem is severe -- tiles that are falling daily, crashing into the tub in tiny irreplaceable pieces. Or the sink has developed a dull patina and the porcelain is worn away. Or perhaps you don't like your knees slapped up against the cold tub when you are sitting trying to do the crossword puzzle on Sunday.

The big-ticket items in any bathroom are the fixtures and the tiles. Often it is their placement or size that makes a bathroom unworkable. In older homes, pedestal tubs may have charm but a shower sure would be nice. In newer homes it's often the floor or the area around the tub that needs some work.

An informal survey of some areea plumbing suppliers reveals that most remodeling jobs focus primarily on putting in vanities or replacing old toilets. Beyond those additions, remodelers find themselves asked to do everything from fitting bathrooms into old closets to ripping everything out and starting from scratch.

For those who are not planning a total "gut" job, there aree a number of good products on the market and short cuts that provide practical, attractive solutions to problems.

Retiling the area around the tub is unavoidably costly -- about $450 for a 4-foot-by-6-foot enclosure. To fix the problem more economically, consider a plastic, acylic or fiberglass insert, interlocking panels designed to accommodate a range of standard tub sizes. The cost of the materials runs from about $56 to more than $100 a kit -- a bargain if the walls behind your old tile are in good condition. What the purveyors of these plastic panels sometimes neglect to mention is that you have to stick them to something, and if your tiles are dropping into the great pit you call your tub, chances are the wall behind is mildewy, damp and crumbling. To do the job right, you have to then remove all the bad plaster and put up new drywall before applying the synthetic walls. Once properly installed (with attention to the seams to avoid moisture entering the cracks), the new surface is easy to caree for as long as you reemember that harsh standard bathroom abrasives will scratch most panel surfaces and that an occasional buffing with boat wax goes a long way to preserve the sheen.

The bathroom sink is another prime candidate for replacement. A funny little piece of furniture euphemistically referred to as a vanity is a blessing for most bathrooms because it provides much needed hidden storage in modern homes without bathroom closets. Unfortunately, one usually cannot add a vanity without buying a new sink, and a new countertop. You can purchase a complete setup (without faucets and spigots) for as little as $70, or you can put one together yourself.

Dave and Linda Walters decided the only way they could get what they wanted was to do it themselves. Their contract with Case Design/Construction called for the basic structural work to be executed without junking anything.

The couple added a second-floor bathroom in a closet when they remodeled what had been a large pine-paneled second-floor dormitory room in their two-bedroom home. By raising the roof at the rear of the house, they subdivided the space into three upstairs bedrooms, a downstairs den and guest room. The bathroom is tucked into a corner in an area that had once been a peaked roof over a first-floor bedroom and bath.

The couple saved the paneling from the attic and set it diagonally in the bathroom. They period fancy vanities (costing several hundred dollars) and settled on and old chest from Goodwill, which they paneled in the same pine. They had a countertop cut to fit a nice fiberglass sink (countertop $75, sink $35) and put in about $400 worth of sheet vinyl for the flooring. To bring light into the room, they put in a $340 skylight, and added an efficient used radiator for another $44.

The fiberglass shower with a glass door cost them $380. All the finishing work was done by the couple, with only the rough work done by contractors. Without the luxury of their bright red Jacuzzi tub, the bathroom cost about $1,520. With the tub, the price was doubled, but, as Dave Walters points out, they could have had a tub for about $150, making the entire room an impressive budget reemodeling.

A more humble solution was the Capitol Hill bathroom of Geoffrey and Linda Chapman remodeled by YAF Development Co. The room has a contemporary feeling yet retains the grace and elegance of an old-fashioned bathroom. The claw-foot tub was retained, along with a pedestal sink. Both were reporcelainized (current costs for a similar job are about $420). A new toilet was added as well as a hand-held shower head. The floor and walls were tiled with small 1/2-inch round tiles, dark brown on the floor and a lighter tone on the walls. The old wooden medicine chest was stripped, as was the wood surrounding the skylight. The overall cost for the job, done about five years ago, was about $1,500 -- a figure that could be repeated today for similar jobs depending on the need for retiling and reporcelainizing.

For contractor Bailey Adams, the challenge was to do over a bathroom without a lot of frills but with some flair. He liked his claw-foot tub, but needed to replace the sink and toilet, both of which he obtained used for less than $100. A handsome addition to the bathroom is the pressed tin ceiling, purchased mail order from a firm in Nevada, Mo. Combined with the claw-foot tub and the nickel-plated shower head, the room has an almost Victorian feeling to it. The 4-foot-by-6-foot ceiling ccost Adams $120.

When asked about putting wooden paneling in a bathroom, Adams had some strong opinions. During the Victorian period, it wasn't uncommon for the first three or four feet of wall space to be paneled in wainscotting. But Adams notes that people didn't have showers or spreead quite as much moisture around then.

"If you have wood paneling in your bathroom, it calls for a lot of extra care," he says." If you don't run the exhaust, for example, while you take a shower, you're going to get moisture behind the paneling and gradually you'll get mildew behind the wall, and the paneling will develop problems -- warping, possibly discoloration around the seams. You're just asking for trouble if you put wood in."