You want your bathroom to soothingly whisper “spa.” But it screams “bad ’70s remodel” instead. And you can’t afford to rip out that goldenrod tile or the faux-wood vanity. Is there any hope for the space where you use soap?

Don’t throw the baby blue towels out with the bathwater yet: You can pretty up your privy without pulling out the sledgehammer or draining your bank account. The first step: Pick up a paintbrush.

“The biggest thing for anyone’s design buck is paint,” says Candice Olson, host of HGTV’s “Candice Tells All” and author of the new “Kitchens & Baths” ($20, Wiley). “Whether you’re talking paint on the walls or on an old cabinet from the ’80s that the builder put in, the transformation is amazing.”

The hues you choose can create a room that’s calm and collected or bursting with personality. “Zen-like people might like a warm gray or cool blue,” says Amy Rutherford, owner of Red Barn Mercantile in Alexandria (113 S. Columbus St.; 703-838-0355). “Those with a bold streak might go for honeysuckle or turn a wall into a chalkboard.”

Wallpaper is another option, especially if you’re stuck with oddly hued or downright ugly tiles. “With wallpaper, you can pull in the funky colors,” says D.C. interior designer Annie Elliott (202-265-0443; “It’s not that hard to do yourself and worth trying if you’re willing to spend about $100.” Those with fewer DIY skills (or without the ability to alter a rental) can go for wall decals such as‘s “Clean Monster” starring a Godzilla-ish creature scrubbing up.

Another simple way to make a big impact: a new shower curtain. “It goes in one of the broadest spaces in most D.C. bathrooms, so you can change the whole look of the room by buying a new one,” says Katie Petix, media and marketing coordinator at Home Rule (1807 14th St. NW; 202-797-5544).

Opt for one in a peppy print or a solid-colored fabric. “A cheery curtain can really save the day,” Elliott says. “And a cloth one just makes the room feel more expensive.”
Add coordinating towels and bath mats to complete the look (and help cover up a floor that’s seen better days). And then bring in some accessories — maybe a sleek new towel rack or some vintage jars for stashing cosmetics in. “Be creative,” Rutherford says. “Use an old crock to hide the toilet brush or old bottle to hold soap.”

Don’t be afraid to think outside the typical bathroom box, either. Take the mirror, for example. A big, boring, frameless piece of glass stuck on the wall often doesn’t serve as the best reflection of your tastes. “Do something with a little less-permanent feeling,” says Erin Mara, co-owner of Homebody (715 Eighth St. SE; 202-544-8445). “It makes the space more personal and gives it a decorated look.”

After you’ve made all these changes, make sure you spotlight them — ideally, not with the flush-mount, incandescent ceiling fixture standard in most bathrooms. “For between $50 and $100, you can get either a 4-foot or 8-foot track system with a couple of halogen track heads,” Olson says. “It’s the best hundred bucks you can probably spend in the bathroom and allows you to create some drama with light and shadow.”

Just don’t be surprised if your bathroom redo inspires you — or your roommate/spouse/house guest — to linger in the tub or take extra-long showers. Maybe you’ll need stock up on some extra soap, too.

Written by Express contributor Beth Luberecki