Shower curtains: Make your bathroom shine without paint

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My new husband, and I rent a heritage house in Vancouver BC. Unfortunately, the bathroom has been subjected to a cost-conscious (rather than a design-conscious) refurbishment. It functions perfectly well, but it brings us down to have to go into such a ugly place each morning.

The big fixtures, such as the bath and the vanity are obviously there to stay, but surely there’s something we can do that goes beyond painting to make it a less utilitarian space. -Cary

Yes! Bathrooms are the easiest room in your home to energize on a budget. In fact — as you can see by my before and after photo from my own bathroom — all you need is one purchase: an awesome shower curtain. Check out some of the coolest curtains on the market right now, and think about adding a little oomph to your bathroom, water closet, loo, lavatory…

Yellow-Submarine-Shower-Curtain_2239-lYou may not live in a yellow submarine, but you could shower in one! Well, behind one with this bright yellow, Beatles-inspired shower curtain.

Time to Ink Shower CurtainWho doesn’t like pin-ups, horses, and tattoos? Definitely not the owner of this bad-ass shower curtain.

Shower Power Shower Curtain in Owl CleanThis curtain‘s got funky owls and bright and happy colors — the perfect thing to see almost first thing every morning.

7144a61IHkL._SL1000_Remember how much I loved DENY Design’s bed spreads, I love their shower curtains just as much.

imageGeography nerds and fans of travel (like our Copyeditor Caroline whose bathroom this is) will love to shower behind this map of North America in sea blue and bright white.

zombie pinup shower curtainFor those that go for a darker horror vibe, there is NOTHING cooler than this Too Fast Swamp Pinup Shower Curtain!

51yDtxJ7+xL._SY355_Sometimes you can find shower curtain sets that come with the curtain and the matching mats and towels. That way you can easily spread the color scheme around the bathroom.

If you don’t find a set you like, the best thing about finding an awesome shower curtain to start your bathroom make-over is that you can just pull your favorite color or theme and start a search for matching towels and accessories. If you recall Sara’s orange octopus bathroom, bright accessories can make a big impact.

Okay, your turn. What are ways that you’ve made your bathroom shine without paint?

Comments on Shower curtains: Make your bathroom shine without paint

  1. My list for a quick bathroom makeover is: Thick towels that feel good, a nice heavy bath mat, a crisp new shower curtain, a couple pieces of art for the walls, and some smaller containers for items that stay on the counter. You can also swap out the light fixture (keeping the old one stored away, if you’re renting) for a refresh, too.

    Places like TJ Maxx, Ross, IKEA, and Target are great for towels and artwork for the bath. IKEA and Destination Lighting (online) have some great fixtures on a budget.

  2. Here are the things we did to make our bathroom WAY cuter:
    1) As stated before, a really nice shower curtain and towels make a huge difference.
    2) We swapped out the big, utilitarian mirror for a large, framed one (it was about $25 at Home Depot). We’re planning on putting the ugly one back up when we leave–it’s currently sitting in the garage
    3) Changing out the door-pulls and switch plate cover to classy (non-plastic) ones
    4) We did paint the bathroom a really light blue, which makes it almost spa-like. I’m not sure what your reasons are for not wanting to paint, but it only cost me about $30, and it took maybe 1.5 hours (including taping the space off). I painted the whole bathroom myself, by the way.
    5) We hid a lot of stuff that used to sit on the counter in pretty jars that now sit on shelves above the toilet. Also, a pretty stand makes the place you stash your stuff super cute:
    6) Lastly, I’ve been experimenting with plants to liven up the room. Since we have a tiny, tiny window, most plants have had to be rescued and put out on the front porch or else they definitely would have died. But, our lucky bamboo plant has done surprisingly well with very little light.

    I really hope you take the time to make your bathroom exactly what you want it to be. I’m really glad I put the effort in, because now it’s my favorite room in the house! Life’s too short to live with ugly 🙂

    • First of all, I agree with the above commenters. Having lived in all-white apartments a few times, now, I can attest to the fact that things like a colorful shower curtain and bath mats make a huge difference in the way a bathroom looks.

      My major piece of advice is to just look around your other rooms and see what you have and what might not be integral to the current look of whatever room it’s in. Try it out in the bathroom (assuming it’s not something that will be super-sensitive to moisture). You might have some little candle/piece of pottery/statuette/tchotchke that would bring a whole new life into the look of your bathroom. As Kendall H says above “Life’s too short to live with ugly”–and I wholeheartedly agree!

      I also happen to love canisters for the bathroom (growing up, we always had some pretty, old glass canisters in the bathroom for things like cotton balls and q-tips–and I’m sure overnight guests appreciated that they were right there if they needed). I got one (and the matching soap dish) from World Market ( They used to make them in an aqua glass, so that’s what I have. I wish I had gotten a ton of canisters at the time, as now I want more and they won’t quite match. Oh well.

      One last thing: with regards to the comment about lucky bamboo, those plants are absolutely amazing. I’ve had one since freshman year of college that survived living on the opposite side of a dorm room from the windows, and currently lives on the far side of our bedroom from the windows–and it’s thriving. Blows my mind. Any other plant would be dead (well, okay, there is some golden pothos growing in the same container that isn’t dead). They should really call it magic bamboo or something. Though it’s not actually bamboo. But that’s another topic.

      Sorry I can’t make a comment in a straight line. I ramble.

      • For the unmatchable aqua glass cannisters, try putting in a couple of clear ones with aqua marbles or beach-glass in the bottom to give it enough of a similar-feel. Or paint designs in various shades of aqua and turquoise acrylic and then bake them on (using several shades so you don’t have to get an exact match to keep the feel.) Or use stained-glass paint, again in several shades so it can look like it fits in without having to match exactly. Or a combination. Just some thoughts.

    • I’m not sure what Cary’s reason is for not painting, but I might guess that the reason is that it is a rental and it might not be allowed. Many rentals don’t allow you to paint, even if it is a light color that could be painted over easily. At least that is the case in many parts of the US, I don’t know if policies in Canada are similar.

      • I’ve had a couple landlords who were totally cool about painting and didn’t mind if I painted colors on the walls because Michigan law is that they have to repaint between tenants anyway. My lease just said that if there were any holes that needed patching (usually anything more than pinholes from the average picture hanger) or if the paint needed more than a primer and two coats to cover, then I would be charged for those repairs/materials/extra paint/time. But even the places that didn’t want me to paint, if I offered to paint again before I left, they usually didn’t mind! I’d get their preferred paint color on move-in, and then just keep an eye out for sales on however much paint I needed, often buying some here and there to get the whole apartment done for 80% off with sales and coupons. The I ended up moving so many times that I just decided to forget painting, it wasn’t worth the effort anymore. White walls make changing accessories easier too!

  3. I have found I prefer a solid color shower curtain, as it’s more flexible for multiple types of apartments. Mine’s bright blue, and it cheered up our dreary 70’s bathroom, and it looks perfect in our new apartment which has a bright, gorgeous 20’s style bathroom.
    One thing you can try, which I might do later, is putting a frame around your medicine cabinet mirror. Get one the same size as your mirror, and attach it with eye hooks and wires. Super easy, and classes up the joint a little. And it’s removable so you won’t have to do repairs when you leave.
    My first apartment bathroom was a tropical paradise. I had three huge hanging baskets with fake greenery in them that I hung up, I made a curtain for the mirror out of a fake grass skirt and a bamboo pole, I covered the toilet lid with fake flowers and put up a desert island shower curtain. It was glorious. I lived alone, so I had total free reign, decor wise. Men complained they couldn’t put the seat up because the flowers would make the lid slam down. I didn’t care.

  4. I have the owl one!! I love it so much, and I have a bright orange bath mat and bright yellow towels to go with it. It’s fun to look at all the different owls while I’m pooping.

    • I have the owl one too, and I love it! I got the matching bathmat to go with it, because there’s nothing better than having a giant colorful owl winking at you when you enter a bathroom.

  5. Because I, also, rent, and I love to change decors a lot, I use a shower bathroom liner (usually clear) and then punch holes in a designer sheet which I look for on sale or discontinued. T.J. is great for this. Then pull out a color to accesorize w/towels, etc. if desired. Love it and soooo easy

    • Click the photo of the bottom shower curtain and it should take you there. The link below it links to collections of matching bathroom sets.

  6. We have the first shower curtain (the sea scene from Plasticland) and I LOVE it. To add to the nautical theme of that I replaced hubs basic towel hook with a rope cleat 🙂

  7. What do you all use *behind* your fancy shower curtains? In the past I’ve used those vinyl/plastic shower curtain liners (basically cheap, clear/white shower curtains). Those smell when you open them (because they’re letting chemicals into the house), and we’re trying to get away from that kind of plastic in general. Ideas?

    • I buy the higher-end versions of the clear/white plastic shower curtain liners and they don’t have that HORRIBLE chemically smell that the cheaper ones have. I’m unsure of the brand or anything, I just go to Target and buy the most expensive liner they have and it always works out great.

  8. I rent and ran into the issue of how to make my bathroom look luxe without paint/updating things.
    I started off by going with a lush, neutral, textured shower curtain that makes the whole space feel more inviting.
    Then, I invested in a long, plush runner bath mat, rather than two little ones, which makes the room look bigger and more coordinated. Just make sure to get the washable kind, because I made the mistake of not checking on that and mine is actually “spot clean only” which is a pain.
    After that, I found chic trays at Target to put all my cute bathroom essentials on as a display (perfumes, lotions, my prettier haircare products, etc. The not-pretty stuff gets stored in the bathroom & only taken out when needed).
    Lastly, I made a little gallery wall on the wall opposite the mirror, so every time I look in the mirror, I see it! I made it using a combination of coordinating framed art and accent pieces of different textures, like gold metal wall hangings and stuff so it looked curated rather than thrown together.
    Now, everyone who comes over compliments me on my bathroom, for real. And all these improvements were like $200 FOR EVERYTHING from the rugs/gallery wall/shower curtain/counter trays. Amazon & Target are your friends. 🙂

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