5 Ways to Make a Plain White Bathroom Interesting — Including Easy Fixes You Can do Right Now

A plain white bathroom needn't be boring – from textural tiles to finessed finishing touches, these elements will elevate your space

White bathroom with white countertop, white freestanding bath, potted tree, terracotta rug and brass wall sconce and ceiling pendant
(Image credit: Matti Gresham. Design by Urbanology Designs)

White has been the classic choice for a bathroom for a long time – it’s clean, minimalist and inoffensive. But whether you have a white bathroom by choice or chance, they can sometimes feel a little lacking in personality – not what you want from a room that should be luxurious and relaxing as well as functional.

Luckily, as far as modern bathroom ideas go, it’s easy to add a little pizzazz to a white scheme without too much work. ‘White doesn't have to equate to boring; rather, it can be sophisticated, elegant, and timeless,’ says Hoboken-based interior designer Samantha Stathis-Lynch of Samantha Ware Designs. ‘The main goal is to add depth with texture and tone.’

So – where to start adding these elements? We asked the experts for their tips for upgrading a white bathroom – and whether you’re doing a complete overhaul or adding life to a rental, there’s something for everyone in the suggestions below.

1. Add depth with tiles

White bathroom with zellige tiles and freestanding bathtub with black hardware

(Image credit: Abigail Jackson. Design by Purser Interiors)

If you’re actively looking to create a white bathroom scheme but don’t want one that falls flat, the bathroom tiles you choose for the walls and floor are of the utmost importance. ‘Tile is also a great way to add texture and interest,’ says Mikala Kuchera, lead designer at MDI Interior Design in Charleston, SC. ‘There are beautiful tiles available in a wide variety of shapes and styles. The way they are laid out can also make an impact. Think of a mosaic feature wall, or straight-stacking them vertically to make the style more modern. Using natural materials is fun too to bring in veining and variation. I’ve even recently used tiles made from mother-of-pearl shells, which is exquisite!’

‘Consider something handmade with natural variation such as zellige or clay tile,’ adds Samantha Stathis-Lynch. ‘The texture and color will vary from piece to piece, creating an undulating effect that adds visual interest to the space despite being white. I like to combine said tiles with a stunning marble countertop like a calacatta or arbescatto. The heavy veining breaks through the white background, adding a striking pop of color.’

2. Pay attention to hardware

White bathroom with white tiled walls, white countertop, brass tap and mirror and ceramic wall light and towel hook

(Image credit: Yanglin Cai. Design by Anna Kidd Design)

Fixtures and fittings – everything from bathroom faucets to towel rails – can make or break a white bathroom scheme. ‘Think of them as your bathroom's jewelry,’ says Samantha Stathis-Lynch. Elevating the look and feel of your bathroom’s hardware will immediately make the space look more custom, says Los Angeles, CA-based interior designer Victoria Holly. ‘Opt for classic materials like marble, brass, and nickel. These materials have a timeless appeal and withstand changing design trends.’ 

Lauren Williams, founder of Lauren Jayne Design, a studio with projects across Aspen, Miami and New York, also advocates for using brass finishes. ‘Similar to Moroccan tile, brass with a living finish is timeless and ageless,’ she says. ‘Bring brass accents into a white bathroom through lighting and plumbing fixtures, and carry it through your vanities and millwork.’ She warns, however, that not every brass piece is the same. ‘There’s a lot of brass on the market that has more of a gold look, and I don’t recommend that as a choice for lighting and plumbing fixtures in a bathroom.’

For this bathroom, pictured above, Kalispell, Montana interior designer Anna Kidd introduced ceramics in through the towel hooks and accessories. ‘I knew a simple white shower tile and white paint were going to be the base layers of this bathroom, so I wanted to incorporate as much texture and warmth as I could within the budget given,’ she says. ‘The sconces and towel hooks are ceramic, and up close, they have a lovely textured, speckled, and natural finish that align with the other materials beautifully. The champagne finished tap and brass mirror help round out the bathroom with a bit of contrast and pop.’

3. Opt for organic materials

Bath tucked into an alcove with white panelling, stone surface and rattan wall hanging

(Image credit: Jack Gardner. Design by Brad Ramsey Interiors)

If the base of your bathroom is white, swap the bathroom vanity or freestanding storage for something a little more natural – be it wood or stone. ‘Textured stone countertops with a leathering finish are a stand-out in bathrooms,’ says Lauren Williams. ‘I also tend to lean towards honed stones that have more of a matte finish. Stone countertop edge detail, like bullnose or knife edge, is often overlooked and can be that extra element to make a statement in a bathroom. Incorporating natural materials like wood creates a spa-like experience and brings the outdoors in.’

If replacing cabinets is a no-no, throw natural materials into the mix with bathroom wallpaper or accessories. ‘We recently had a client who wanted her white and marble bathroom updated but didn’t want to paint the cabinets and had recently replaced the lighting,’ say Heather Lucas and Katie Browning of Lucas Browning Design, a firm based in Pacific Palisades, LA. ‘We added warmth and interest by doing a neutral grasscloth wallpaper that completely changed the feel of the whole space. We also switched out the cabinet hardware to oil rubbed bronze and had a custom vanity stool made in a warm oak with a sherpa seat. These warm, organic touches were the perfect contrast to all the white marble and polished nickel fixtures.’

4. Don’t skimp on decorative lighting

White bathroom with white countertop, white freestanding bath, potted tree, terracotta rug and brass wall sconce and ceiling pendant

(Image credit: Matti Gresham. Design by Urbanology Designs)

From ceiling pendants to wall sconces, your bathroom lighting can and should be fun as well as functional – especially if your scheme is largely white. ‘One way to add personality is through decorative lighting,’ says Mikala Kuchera. ‘There are so many great lines right now that offer a variety of unique and interesting lighting that incorporate whimsical designs, unique finishes, and beautiful textures. I love to layer bathroom sconces on top of the mirror as well to magnify the impact. Or use pendant lighting centered over the sink basins to add some drama.’

Lighting can also be used to balance out a scheme if you feel it’s leaning a little too far one way. ‘Select lighting that offsets your design choices,’ says Samantha Stathis-Lynch. ‘For example, if the bathroom feels traditional, add a pop of modernity with a contemporary light fixture and vice versa.’

5. Add in characterful accessories

White bathroom with artwork hanging on wall

(Image credit: Jean Bai. Design by Miss Alice Designs)

The easiest tip on the list, adding in bathroom accessories that show a little personality is an instant way to upgrade a plain white scheme. ‘Those finishing touches are the icing on the cake,’ says Mikala Kuchera. ‘We will use pretty towels to layer in the space – Matouk has some of my favorites in a variety of colors or subtle monograms and whipstitch details that bring in some interest. Even a fun textured shower curtain can truly transform the space.’

‘Incorporate antique items, special vases to hold your favorite seasonal florals, and artwork hung in unexpected places,’ says Lauren Sullivan of Tennessee’s Well x Design. Artwork is something that Dorset, VT interior designer Joshua Smith leans on heavily, too: ‘It provides an easy way to switch up the accent colors in the space whenever you want to mix things up.’

A bathroom curtain or shade over a window, if you have one, is a great way to add texture and color, says Lauren Lerner, founder of Scottsdale, AZ interior design studio Living with Lolo: ‘A Roman shade is often a better idea than using curtains behind a tub to prevent the bottoms from getting wet, so be mindful of placement. We suggest either going with a neutral fabric option to blend into your bathroom hard finish selections or selecting a bold fabric that is a standout piece on its own for a pop of color.’

And finally, swap out that plain sheet of mirrored glass for something a little more special. ‘A mirror is an excellent opportunity to add some character to a room,’ says Ginger Curtis, founder of Dallas, Texas studio Urbanology Designs. ‘They’re a design element that adds form and textures, such as an arched frame mirror or frame made of rattan or brass. An acid-stained mirror is a great way to emphasize more drama if you want a moody feel in your room.’

Deputy editor (print)

Ellen is deputy editor of Livingetc magazine. She cut her teeth working for sister publication Real Homes, starting as features editor before becoming deputy editor. There, she enjoyed taking a peek inside beautiful homes and discovered a love for design and architecture that eventually led her here. She has also written for other titles including Homes & Gardens and Gardeningetc. For her flat in a converted Victorian property, she takes inspiration from the works of some of her favourite architects and tastemakers. She has a particular passion for green design and enjoys shopping small, local and second-hand where she can.