Budget Bath Remodeling

Add style and comfort and create future-buyer interest with radiant heating and the right mirrors, lighting and showerheads.

If you're planning a bathroom remodel and have champagne dreams but only a jug-wine budget, don't despair. With a little creative planning, building pros and do-it-yourself remodelers can use not-so-big building and not-so-big remodeling techniques to create unique spaces that don't break the bank.

Designer Jamie Gibbs, whose New York City-based firm Jamie Gibbs & Associates has worked its high-end magic in homes across the United States and abroad, has some tips for remodelers interested in creating similarly stylish spaces at more down-to-earth prices.

For starters, beware the fads. "Don't read trend articles," Gibbs advises. Instead, to ensure that today's bath decisions still look current a few years from now, aim for a middle road between traditional and contemporary, which Gibbs terms "transitional." This approach provides a cleaner look than classic period styles without looking cold or clinical.

And maintaining consistent metal finishes across all faucets and accessories is a must when aiming upscale, though the components don't all have to be from the same product line. In fact, you may have to pick and choose from among a range of offerings to find products of the right size and scale for each plumbing fixture. And you don't need to drop extra dollars for the latest antiqued-metal looks. Gibbs says younger homeowners are finding retro appeal in classic and affordable chrome faucets and accessories.

If you're working with a tight budget, you need a strategic approach. Don't worry if you can't afford top-of-the-line across the board. Instead, save discretionary spending for key features that will pay off handsomely in added style and comfort — and in increased interest from future buyers. Those features include:

Mirrors. Space, or at least the illusion thereof, is the ultimate luxury when it comes to bath design. Providing a mirrored wall — not just a small medicine cabinet — over a vanity can add virtual square feet to even the smallest room.

Lighting. Providing varied lighting options is one of the keystones of high-end designs. To create illuminating variety in less expensive spaces, add a ledge of crown molding just below the ceiling to house flexible tube lighting, which can be used on its own as a night light or be combined with mirror and ceiling fixtures to develop a balanced lighting scheme. Similarly, undercabinet lighting can be mounted on the bottom of a wall-hung medicine cabinet to brighten sink spaces. Finally, consider an upgraded ceiling fixture with an added heat lamp for spa-like luxury.

Showerheads. "Spend your bucks on a good showerhead," Gibbs says. "That's what people will notice." Distinctive rain-jet showerheads, for example, can create a big visual impact and feel great. But before you spend a lot of money on expensive fixtures, ensure that the homeowner's water won't gunk up the works. Hard water, especially untreated well water, can leave behind flow-blocking deposits, so invest in a treatment system first when water quality is questionable.

Radiant heating. If flooring is being replaced, consider a hydronic or electric radiant floor-heating system. "It's relatively inexpensive and it feels luxurious to the feet," Gibbs says. Similarly, radiant towel heaters can warm the surrounding bathroom space along with the towels. Both approaches, especially when installed separately from a home's overall heating plan, also can help keep a lid on energy costs by providing heat only where it's needed.

Chuck Ross is a freelance writer based in Brewster, Mass.

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