Kitchen and Bath Quick Fixes

Kitchens and baths are the most expensive and difficult rooms to renovate, but with a few quick fixes you can greatly improve the look. Don't settle for blah, when you can have brilliant!

Whether you live in a tiny apartment or a large family home, no other rooms work harder for you than the kitchen and bath. These spaces are where you start and end your day, and the way they look and work makes a huge impact on your mental and physical well-being. Although these rooms have very different purposes, the bathroom demands the same kind of order and attention to detail as the kitchen does, both with a mind to hygiene and to safety. So it's not surprising that similar materials and decorating advice are used for each. Counter tops and flooring are chosen for durability and water-resistance, some form of shelving and cabinetry is needed for storage, and they each have permanent fixtures and fittings.

It can be very discouraging to face a dated and depressing kitchen or a bathroom that screams 'ugly'. However, these are the most expensive and disrupting rooms to renovate. If you have neither the time nor the budget to do a complete makeover, don't despair. There is a fundamental decorating trick that will give you instant gratification.

Take stock of your situation, noting what's good and bad. Then, eliminate, or camouflage the negative elements, or create a diversion. That dated, brown counter will visually disappear if you apply a fabulous new colour to the walls. If you can't change the bathroom tiles, redesign the cabinets and dress the room with some new accessories. Try one or two of these quick fixes and I guarantee that mornings won't be quite so painful, and mealtime will be darn-right energizing.

Walls that Pack a Wallup

Cabinets, appliances and fittings take up much of the wall space in these two rooms, but you will be amazed at the transformation colour or pattern will make, applied to just a few square meters of bare wall. The activity in a kitchen lends itself to hot, happy shades such as sunny yellow and terra cotta, or a modern jolt of citrus lime green. The look of metal is hot right now, and can be simulated easily with metallic paints, which come in different colours as well as steel grey and copper, and hammered tin textures. Look at the new wallpapers that have motifs and textures drawn from nature. Grasscloth is back, and bamboo. Choose a paper that has been designed to wear well, and has a protective, wipable coating.

Bathrooms suit clean sea blues that have their own strength and tranquility, but won't fight with coloured fixtures or a countertop that you can't change. However, if you want to have some fun, here is a room that gives you the freedom to go wild. Experiment with bold and whimsical finishes that you wouldn't or couldn't apply to a large space. Blue and green stripes or pink and red, applied horizontally will not only pep things up, but will give the illusion of a bigger room as the eye follows the lines. Oversized blocks of colour in varying sizes look modern, or you can paint a wall of faux tiles. And don't forget the ceiling; paint something to enhance a long soak in the tub. Continue with your chosen wall colour, or create a trompe l'oeil scene such as a skylight.

The backsplash is part of the wall surface that sits behind the sink (and stove in the kitchen), and runs along between the counter and upper cabinets. This is a perfect area to add a power punch. Traditionally, tiles have been used here, as they are easy to clean and heat resistant. Stock tiles are inexpensive, so use them as the background and insert a few designer tiles to suit your style. You can also introduce other materials on a backsplash, such as pressed tin, glass and mirror. If you decide to paint, cover with three or four coats of acrylic varnish in a semi-gloss, so that you can wipe the surface clean.

Cabinet Conversion

Cabinets take up most of the space in a kitchen, running below and above the counter surfaces, and therefore make the biggest visible impact. If their style or material is displeasing or outdated, you can redesign or refinish them at little cost. The simplest alternative is to paint them, and with today's high adhesion primers, it's even possible to paint over laminates. For a professional finish, remove the doors and the handles, clean the surfaces thoroughly with TSP to remove all dirt and grease, then sand, prime and paint. To re-style flat-faced doors, add trim or decorative moulding, or cut openings for glass, tin or tile inserts. It only takes a few changes or accents to make a brand new impression. Another option is to remove some of the upper cabinet doors to create open shelving. You may be able to renew the overall look by simply replacing the cabinet hardware. Look for the sculpted designs in chrome, painted ceramics, and handles shaped like twigs, forks, knives, spoons, bamboo, and leaves. Treat bathroom cabinets the same way. Combine open and closed storage units for a versatile design.

Counterfeit Countertop

A big negative in older kitchens and bathrooms is usually the countertop. It may be stained, or marred, or just a pattern or colour that is not to your taste. Most likely, it's a plastic laminate, which cannot be repaired. You can refinish these counters with paint as a short-term solution. Apply a solid colour, or choose a paint finish that has some combination of colours, such as faux granite or marble, so that surface flaws will not be obvious. You must rough up the surface to accept paint the same as for the laminate cabinets. Then apply a good quality primer and paint.