Classic vs Modern: How to Achieve Balance in a Bathroom Update

Timeless bathroom design is a smart investment for homeowners who want their remodel to remain relevant over the years. Similarly, updating a bathroom to balance old and new elements creates a space that feels fresh and current, yet classic.

Here’s how to update a bathroom using fixtures, accessories and decor that reflect both classic and modern styles.

Vintage Refresh

When updating a bathroom that already has vintage elements in place, it’s important to know what should be preserved — and what needs to go.

Interior designer Eleanor Büsing at Apartment Therapy says that colorful bathroom fixtures have been coming back into style in recent years. In homes that already have a pink sink or a mint green bathtub, for example, it’s a smart idea to leave these elements in place. Then, the overall look can be modernized through textiles, art, curtains and other decor that showcase today’s design sensibilities.

Another thing to remember is that opposite design styles attract. When compiling designer opinions, design writer and author Amy Azzarito found a consensus that older styles work better with newer ones: A clawfoot tub from the early 1900’s, for example, with an ultra-modern sink. This juxtaposition actually prevents design styles from clashing, especially when more subtle elements of each period are added.

If a homeowner is seeking to add vintage elements to a modern bathroom, Country Living UK home design editor Ben Kendrick has a few ideas. For one, he suggests adding pieces of antique furniture to the space. This creates character and balances out the streamlined look of many modern sinks and toilets. Moreover, an old-school cupboard can be mounted on the wall to keep toiletries tucked away, add vintage flair and provide a shelf for unique art and decor.

Meanwhile, simplicity is also key during a balanced bathroom update. Zan at her At Home with Zan blog points out that cluttered bathrooms automatically look older and more drab, so increasing storage and decreasing excess decor can maintain a new-age appeal. Plus, it places emphasis on the delicate balance between old and new to make the entire bathroom experience more soothing.

Fresh Lighting

Lighting changes are an easy way to add a fresh twist to a traditional bathroom. One idea comes from the team at shower drain provider, QM Drain, who explain how recessed lights create a dramatic sense of space and height in a small bath.

Recessed lights can replace the main ceiling fixture, but can also be added as an additional light source in a dynamically lit bathroom. Lighting layers are a modern design approach that creates more options for illuminating the bathroom. The experts at Progress Lighting say adding another lighting option — such as a wall sconce or a decorative chandelier — is a small change that makes a big impact in a bathroom update.

Another modern lighting style that works with classic and traditional bathroom interiors is pendant lighting. Pendant lighting differs from classic lighting because the fixture hangs over the vanity instead of remaining flush to the wall, Abbey DeHart, owner of The Cards We Drew, writes. This creates a more dramatic lighting effect and adds a interesting visual to vanities of any era or style.

For an even simpler, smaller change, consider an update from the home lifestyle blog This is Our Bliss. Here, blog founder Rachel swapped out the bulbs and light globes in a bathroom to achieve a softer, more approachable lighting effect. This update didn’t require new fixtures in the bathroom, but it still changed the lighting enough to transform the feel of the space.

Vanities and Hardware

Most modern vanity styles assume a clean, functional aesthetic. That’s one reason why floating vanities are so popular in modern bathrooms — and why they’re here to stay.

Interior designer Emily Henderson points to floating vanities that neatly hide piping and hardware as a solution to making a space feel more minimalist. She shows how this modern style can be used in a traditional bathroom, creating the illusion of space by exposing more floor.

Updating hardware is another easy way to make an older vanity more modern. Designer Jenna Burger shows how an outdated white vanity cabinet with decades-old brass hardware was updated with two simple changes. First, the vanity was painted a darker, natural hue to reduce its starkness and add a more current vibe. Next, the old brass knobs were refreshed with crystal pulls that feel clean and new.

Changing the placement of wall hardware and fixtures can also make a major statement, Brittni Mehlhoff at Paper and Stitch writes. Randomly placed fixtures sometimes don’t work with the aesthetic a homeowner is aiming for, plus might not suit the needs of the people who now live in the bathroom. Therefore, removing fixtures such as awkwardly positioned towel racks (and patching the holes they leave behind) and adding modern, strategic fixtures where needed, can update a bathroom and make it more functional.

Lifestyle blogger Diana Elizabeth believes that removing all fixtures and knobs is a must when updating a bathroom. It creates a clean, classic slate on which to design upon and helps emphasize existing elements that might become statement pieces — such as a standout vintage tub.

Natural Materials

Natural materials have always played a leading role in bathroom design, but recent trends are emphasizing the relaxing benefits of such elements.

Anything emulating natural stone or wood is a strong choice, April Wilson at ceramic and stone tile manufacturer Dal-Tile writes. Updating a bathroom to include more of these materials can help people relax and escape from a busy, tech-fueled world.

Homeowners can also consider pebble tile when seeking to update a bathroom with more earth-inspired themes. Patricia Hughes at explains that pebble tile brings the feelings of the outdoors inside by creating the illusion of small, round rocks on the floor. This adds a soothing effect to the bathroom and looks especially spa-like when paired with bathroom plants and other lush greenery.

In fact, adding plants is perhaps one of the easiest and most effective ways to modernize a bathroom. Dannyelle at Life is a Party shows how a simple coat of paint, more organization and a collection of new plants brought her bathroom from drab to modern boho. She says colorful clay and metallic pots can inspire a bohemian touch in an outdated, neutral-toned bathroom that lacked excitement.

Images by: 2mmedia/©123RF Stock Photo, John Salzarulo, Tim Gouw