A Beginner's Guide to a DIY Bathroom Update

You know how everyone on those TV house hunting shows is looking for an open concept home? You know, one that has flow and doesn't feel boxed in with small rooms breaking everything up? Well, those are great. But when it comes time to remodel or replace something, you often have to replace all the things since one thing flows to the other. That was the case when we recently remodeled our kitchen

We had a half bathroom downstairs that needed updating and it was shockingly easier {and less expensive!} to DIY than we thought. In fact, I took over the majority of the DIY on my own to save money. This isn't the first time I've updated a bathroom. In fact, they are pretty darn easy spaces if you are just getting your feet wet in DIY. I've got a full beginner's guide on how to update your space without breaking the bank. Even if you aren't touching the rest of the home, this will give you a quick refresh that will help you gauge the level of your abilities if you want to progress on in DIY projects. Are you ready?

beginners guide to diy bathroom remodel

A Beginner's Guide to a DIY Bathroom Update


Start With A Plan

Since we were tackling a kitchen remodel at the same time, we knew we would be changing the floors. Which then meant that the flooring and the cabinets {they were the same in the half bath that we were replacing in the kitchen} were going to clash. Since buying more cabinets wasn't in the budget, I decided to paint the bathroom vanity. 

Not everyone will want to paint cabinets, but I'm here to tell you that after a year, the update looks great and most definitely not like a janky DIY. As you can see, everything started to trickle with our open concept home as we started one project and then moved to the next. Which is why DIY came in handy in our case. It saved us money. And it will save you money too! 

Thinking of Remodeling Your Kitchen? Start here!

side by side bathroom diy
To get a feel for what our space looked like before and after, check this out. 

Access Your Space

You're going to want to take a close look at your bathroom's existing design. Consider how it's working for you in terms or layout and how it fits into your home's overall aesthetic. Identify the aspects that need improvement, such as outdated fixtures, worn-out cabinetry or lackluster decor.

If you are already in the midst of a remodel, it's a good time to create that harmonious flow especially if you have an open concept home. 

Because everyone loves a good before and after:

before and after

A Lipstick Remodel Project

A true beginner's guide wouldn't involve changing the layout of your space, but instead completing what I call a lipstick remodel. Which is basically just taking what you have and adding "lipstick" {paint, wallpaper, decor} to make it better. 

This was lipstick remodel project 1 in the half bath of my home a few years ago.

Painting Cabinets for a Fresh Look

One of the most impactful and cost-effective ways to update your half bathroom is by painting the cabinets. You can replace the vanity and can often get a killer deal if you search. Here's something I found on Amazon. At our first home, I actually found a double vanity at our local Costco. They are often seasonal, but if you have a membership, you can often shop online year-round. 

We painted our cabinets...so I digress.

Replacing cabinets is an expensive endeavor and often not necessary if you have a good solid foundation that you are working with. Here's how to do it:

If you want to see the update video, check this out. You can see it all come together in under 30 seconds!

Choose the Right Color

Select a paint color that is going to complement your homes aesthetic. If you are working with a half bathroom, you can usually get away with something more bold if you want to! Don't stress too much about this because honestly, it's just paint! If you hate it, you can always try a different color!

Gather Your Supplies

You'll need paint, primer {more on that in a minute!}, sandpaper, brushes, rollers, and painters tape. When you select your paint and primer make sure it's created for a bathroom. I used Behr cabinet and trim enamel. Don't use normal paint for cabinets. Just don't. A half bath won't have a shower or tub so you don't have to worry quite as much about moisture, but you should pick supplies based on the area you are working with. If you will be painting cabinets in a full bathroom, make sure you select your paint accordingly. Paint supply people are usually very helpful at answering questions about this. 

I'm cheap, and like a good deal, but projects like this require using the most high-quality products you can afford for the best final outcome.

Prepare the Cabinets

Remove all hardware from the cabinets including handles and hinges. This is a great time to replace hardware {it's usually quite inexpensive}. Wipe down your cabinet surfaces, especially if you've been in the middle of a remodel and have a lot of dust everywhere. If you have built up grease or older cabinets that have been around for a few decades, use this precleaner. Otherwise, you should be good with a little elbow grease and just wiping the surfaces down with water.

Sand the cabinets lightly. They have likely been finished and coated. Don't skip this step since you want to create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to. This is my favorite sander. I use it for all my sanding projects. Using sandpaper feels like nails on a chalkboard to me, and this sander makes it so I can actually sand without being in constant cringe mode.

Don't Skimp on Primer

I'm normally a pretty lazy painter. I would rather slap on an extra coat of paint rather than prime, but friends, now is not the time to be lazy. Here's the thing. A good primer will really prepare your cabinets so that they don't chip and bonus, it will mean that it will require less paint in the long run. And cabinet paint can be expensive! I used Behr Kitchen, Bath and Trim stain blocking primer and it worked like a dream! If you are going with a darker color, get a dark primer or have them tint it for you. If you are going lighter, go with a lighter primer. 

primer on bathroom cabinets

I actually used two coats of primer on my cabinets. I let the first coat thoroughly dry before adding the second. It really did help my paint go on better for full coverage and it looked professionally done.

Using a Brush or a Roller When Painting Cabinets

This is a hot debate! It is a lot faster to use a roller to paint cabinets, but it will leave you with a bubbly type surface, and you likely don't want that. Using a brush, especially on wood cabinets, will give you a much smoother surface. I did use a roller on the face of the cabinets. Make sure you select a small smooth roller and less is always more! When buying a brush, make sure you buy the highest quality brush that you can for the smoothest coverage.

bathroom painting cabinets

Apply the Paint

Once your primer is dry, you can start by painting the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Allow them to dry completely before adding a second {or third} coat. You can paint the cabinet frames and any remaining surfaces. Remember, multiple thin coats are better than one thick coat for a smooth finish!

If you are applying a darker color, this may take a few coats. I ended up doing two coats of primer and three full coats of paint.

Reassemble and Finish

Once the paint has thoroughly dried, and I mean thoroughly, you can reattach the hardware and reassemble your cabinets. I suggest waiting a few days to allow them to dry completely. When you have doors, there is a possibility of them sticking, and you want to avoid that as much as possible.

Change out the hardware now and touch up any parts you might have missed. I usually lay on my back on the floor and look up and around. There's always something I didn't get!

diy bathroom update

Elevating Your Bathroom's Aesthetics with Removable Wallpaper

Removable wallpaper is my favorite DIY thing. Even more so than paint I think and that's a hard fought competition! I've used wallpaper of all kinds in my lifetime and I've removed wallpaper from many many homes, it's probably why I like the removable stuff so much better. It takes about the same amount of time to install but minutes to remove with very little damage to the walls.

Want to know more? Is Removable Wallpaper Really Removable?

If you are redoing a half bathroom, you have more of an option to go bold. I went with a bold black and white option {not this, but similar}. I also like the look of this floral one or this more neutral choice. There are a lot of options! You could spend a lot of money on removable wallpaper. They can be expensive. But if you want a bold statement, sometimes spending a little bit more might be worth it so you get what you want. 

Accent Wall or Full Coverage

This is a good time to decide if you want to cover all of the bathroom's walls or if you want to stick with an accent wall. I will tell you that an accent wall is easier! A large open wall without any obstacles is the easiest to do. If you have to work around windows and trim, it is a bit more complicated! Keep that in mind!

Repurposing Kitchen Countertop Remnants in Your Bathroom

Since we were in the middle of a remodel, we looked into using leftover countertop remnants from the kitchen in our half bath. We didn't want them to go to waste. If you aren't doing a remodel, you can often purchase inexpensive remnants from local stone yards. 

We also took that time to update our bathroom sink from a local overstock store {$40} and purchased a new faucet. When you are replacing your countertop, these are updates that are easier to do now rather than later!

We also replaced our bathroom vanity lighting. I was impressed at how inexpensive it was {under $40!} and it made such a difference to update the space.


Replace the Mirror

Most bathrooms {all bathrooms?} have mirrors. It's a requirement I guess. This is a good time to replace the existing mirror if it no longer fits your style. I actually like our chunky framed mirror, so I didn't replace it, but if I did, I would have replaced it with something like this

We added board and batten in our kids bathroom a few years ago. It really elevated the space.

Finishing Touches

Once the wallpaper is applied, the paint is dry on the cabinets and any fixtures are changed out, now comes the fun part! You can add in decorative elements like framed art, shelves, or a stylish mirror to complete the look. Don't forget about changing out the towel bars and toilet paper holders too. These details tie everything together! 

If you are a beginner DIY'er, updating a bathroom is a good first project. There are a lot of easy and inexpensive purchases you can make to update your space. I hope this inspires you to get excited about the possibilities!

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