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Renovating your bathroom on a budget Add to ...

I recently wrote a column about the "ready-to-wear" approach to kitchen renovations as an alternative to the more common custom approach. Clearly, it struck a chord with readers, as I received an overwhelmingly positive response to my suggestions for remodelling on a quick timeline and tight budget. (Who doesn't love pointers on where to get a deal?)

Naturally, I assume that you'll be equally interested in a few pointers on how to achieve similar winning results in a bathroom. So here goes ...

Much of my work focuses on the high-end, bespoke-is-better approach to design, but there's a part of me that loves the challenge of a tight budget and impossible timeline. I turn these design challenges into a kind of scavenger hunt (with very few clues for guidance). My prize is successful completion and client satisfaction.

I thrive on the concept that any room design can be imagined, executed and enjoyed in less time than it takes for a mailed package to be delivered overseas.

My creative ideas come fast and furious, so I'm eager to get them out of my head and make them a reality so I can move on to the next project and a new concept.

I don't need to spend months thinking about what I might want to do, and I get bored with too much talk and not enough action. In every season of my show, design inc. on HGTV, I try to throw in one of these fast-paced challenges to keep my team on their toes and inspire my viewers to try it at home.

This time around, Natalie was the design team member assigned to manage our time-trial experiment. But there was a twist: We chose a cute little house that was not located downtown or accessible by road, but on the Toronto Islands, reached only by ferry, water taxi or delivery boat.

Normally, one travels to the islands on a sunny summer's day laden with sunscreen and a picnic basket, but not Natalie.

Her island adventure involved toting tile samples, plumbing parts, gallons of paint and decorative accessories, all at the mercy of the ferry schedule. (Miss the boat and there goes your schedule for the day!)

Given these challenges, I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. With trades people losing valuable hours every day waiting for ferries, we wanted to expedite the process as much as possible.

When we started, we said goodbye to custom anything and hello to in-stock and ready-to-go! Our job took two weeks from start to finish, the impact on our clients was minimal, and I think the results are dynamite. Here's my recipe for success.

Don't mess with the pipes

If time and money are an issue, your best bet is to leave the plumbing in its existing location. Moving toilets and pipes can be costly because it takes extra time for your plumber to do the job. I left the sink, toilet and shower where they were and merely added plumbing for a new stand-alone tub.

Be open to suggestions

Don't embark on your project with a preconceived notion of what the end result will be.

Why not hit the shops with an open mind?

See what's in store and in stock that tickles your fancy. Starting by saying "What can I choose from?" instead of "I want this" will enable you to take a cash-and-carry approach to everything from tiles and tubs to plumbing and light fixtures.

shop BY PHONE

One quick call to my man Peter at Taps Bath Centre revealed that (hallelujah!) there existed a Canadian company that specializes in ready-made bathroom vanities to suit every whim - from modern to traditional.

Add to this great news that all the products are Canadian-made (I love a homegrown solution), and come complete with a built-in sink and counter, and we were out of the gate running. I browsed the website, selected my vanity of choice, and it was delivered to our island doorstep five days later!

One might think you'd need to sacrifice style for speed, but not in this case. I wanted to achieve a look of relaxed cottage charm and was thrilled to find a solid-wood vanity with open display, ample storage, and a lovely pure-white, natural-stone top. It fit the bill perfectly.

Generally speaking, custom countertops take about two weeks from measuring to installation, plenty of opportunity to deal with any errors. And a custom countertop alone costs about the same as I paid for the entire kit and caboodle (vanity, sink and counter and faucet).

Accessorize with flair

Never satisfied with a totally off-the-rack solution, I couldn't resist customizing my wonder vanity with a few special touches - to make it my own. The knobs needed a more polished pick-me-up, and the faucet wasn't really singing the right country tune, so I opted for an upgrade. Shiny chrome knobs and a big-box-store faucet quickly added the proper panache to my look with very little effort.

Make a tile trade off

Everything doesn't have to come from the same place. In order to get the best results, I often combine tile and stone from multiple sources to achieve my save/splurge goal.

For instance, Home Depot carries two of my constant go-to items for budget baths. One is three- by six-inch, glossy white ceramic tile with a matching bull-nose profile (necessary for adding "wow factor" mosaic accent bands) at a cost of less than $3 a square foot.

The store also offers ready-to-go jambs and thresholds in two types of marble for a fraction of the cost of custom jambs from a stone supplier. (You need these if you are planning to install a standalone shower stall with a glass enclosure.) Then, once you've got the bulk of your tile needs taken care of, you can toss a little glamour into the mix with more expensive glass mosaics and natural stone, which can be bought at a number of places.

Seek local inspiration

Never one to go hog wild for themes and motifs, I still like my rooms to have a mood. Since our clients' home is surrounded by beaches and feels more like a cottage retreat than a city pad, I wanted to inject water-related references. A wall of glass mosaic in varied tones that evokes the look of treasured beach glass finds added just the right touch of colour, and a pebble mosaic shower floor created the relaxed mood and rustic texture of an outdoor shower.

Old-fashioned and modern

I've always had a weakness for a deep, claw-foot tub. Despite all the modern offerings available, I never grow tired of the look, comfort or space-efficient design of these old-fashioned gems.

You may have seen me prowling around the yard of my favourite vintage appliance supplier, Royal Appliances in Toronto, in search of the ultimate deal on an old cast-iron, claw-foot tub (available for the unbeatable price of about $150). But arranging for a special truck to haul the tub over to the island on the delivery ferry, a team of guys to manoeuvre it up the stairs, and a painter to rejuvenate it once its in place suddenly made it look like less of a deal.

Instead, we bought a brand new tub with old-world elegance, shiny chrome feet and easy-to-lift acrylic construction. It arrived on the doorstep without any effort thanks to the free delivery policy of our supplier.

Shine for less

I've said it before, but this tip bears repeating. When working within a budget, you should always stick with classic, shiny chrome finishes. It's hands-down the most durable finish for all your plumbing and is the most economically priced finish.

Keep in mind that if you choose to upgrade your vanity faucet to brushed or polished nickel, you will also need to pay for an upgrade on your shower fittings, tub filler, wall sconces, knobs, towel holders, hooks and any other complementary metal fittings.

Save those valuable dollars and put them to better use elsewhere! Make time for one custom touch. Plan it right and you can still accomplish your goal in record time and have a single custom element - a glass shower enclosure.

By purchasing ready-to-go shower jambs, your tiler can build the shower stall at the beginning of the project and install the jambs, allowing you to get the glass company in for a custom site measurement.

During the week it takes to temper and prepare the glass, your tiler can tackle all the tile work, the painter can finish the walls and trim, and you can add all the finishing touches. There's no mess or dust involved in installing the glass, so that can easily be the final step in the room.

Stretch your budget

The finishing touches and decorative accessories can make or break the look of your completed room, but they can also make or break your bank account.

If you don't watch your spending, you can easily rack up a whopping bill in no time flat (at least I can if you point me in the direction of my favourite luxe home stores).

But when bound by a budget, I'm happy to grab a cart and take a spin through the aisles of more price-competitive suppliers.

I love the high life, but, like many of you, I still get excited when I can fill my cart to overflowing and get the look for less.

One stop at the big box, a quick visit to my Swedish friends, and a bargain hunt for winning discounts ensured that every inch was accessorized to perfection, with dollars to spare.

Where to buy things

Vanity, bathtub and faucet - Taps Bath Centre, 1020 Lawrence Ave. West, Toronto, 416-785-0224 or http://www.tapsbath.com

Vanity - Ove Decors, 2800 Etienne-Lenoir, Laval, Que., 866-839-2888 or http://www.ovedecors.com

Floor tile, glass mosaic and pebble shower floor - Saltillo Imports, 115 Tycos Dr., Toronto, 416-441-2224 or http://www.saltillo-tiles.com

Glass shower door and installation - Barber Glass Industries, 167 Suffolk St. West, Guelph, 519-824-0310 or http://www.barberglass.com

Shower system - Brizo, http://www.brizo.com

Wooden cabinet - Hardware, 760 Queen St. East, Toronto, 416-462-3099

Faucet for vanity, toilet, towels, towel bars, tissue holder, towel ring and baskets - Home Depot, 101 Wicksteed Ave., Toronto, 416-467-2300 or http://www.homedepot.ca

Mirror and decorative accessories - Homesense, 1840 The Queensway, Etobicoke, 416-621-4275 or http://www.homesense.ca. Ikea, 1475 The Queensway, 416-646-4532, http://www.ikea.ca

New hardware for vanity - Lee Valley Tools, 590 King St. West, Toronto, 416-366-5959 or http://www.leevalley.com

Shells and starfish in frames - Pottery Barn, 100 Bloor St West, Toronto, 416-962-2276 or http://www.potterybarn.ca

Alico sconces - Sescolite, 1461 Castlefield Ave., Toronto, 416-651-6570 or http://www.sescolite.com

Window panel fabric - Designer Fabrics, 1360 Queen St. West, Toronto, 416-531-2810 or http://www.designerfabrics.ca

Fabrication of above - Dreams Home Fashions, 215 Spadina Ave., Toronto, 416-596-8489

Paint - walls: "Reflecting pool" (10GG62/026ICI); ceiling: "Antarctic Ice" (70YY73/083ICI), ICI, http://www.ici.com

Sarah Richardson is host and co-producer of Design Inc. on HGTV and principal of Sarah Richardson Design ( http://www.sarahrichardsondesign.com).

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