I admit it. I sometimes find choosing furnishings for my home stressful. When I’m making an investment in things like floor coverings, light fixtures and sofas—pieces I know I’ll be living with for quite a while—I want to get it right and spend my money wisely. Pass the Alka-Seltzer, please.
But when it comes to designing a look for my powder room, it’s another ballgame. Its petite proportions make the powder room less costly to redesign, so I can indulge my inner interior decorator here more frequently and easily than my other rooms. And—this is the best part—most design experts agree that there really aren’t any rules when it comes to designing a powder room. It can be playful and creative, or dramatic and luxurious, no matter the style of the rest of the house. Rustic? Classic? Chinoiserie? Anything goes.
“You can give a powder room a really nice facelift without breaking the bank,” says Bernadette Campbell, manager of showrooms for Ferguson Southwest Virginia. “It’s a fun little secluded place that you can make really interesting, and there are so many things you can do yourself—things that aren’t technical or mechanical.”
Hmmm. Budget-friendly. Fun. Not technical. What are we waiting for?
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Begin punching up your powder room by getting rid of that plain-old builder’s grade mirror. Campbell says going with something more trendy or personalized can make a big impact and provide a focal point for your design. Decide on a style or theme, and recruit an old wood frame from a large wall hanging to surround a mirror you already have, or purchase a ready-made mirror with an interesting frame. It can be ornate hammered metal or simple stained wood, but it should be something you love and that makes a statement. Search estate sales and consignment stores for one-of-a-kind pieces. And don’t mind the dings and scratches; they add charm and make a piece feel loved.
Let There Be Light
“We feel so many baths are underlit,” says Campbell, who notes that since most powder rooms don’t have windows (or have very few of them), adding adequate lighting is important. Look for bargains at lighting supply stores on end-of-season styles, overstocks and floor models. You’ll probably need only one fixture, so don’t be afraid to check out salvage stores for interesting one-of-a-kind pieces. A fun twist on powder room lighting is a chandelier. Like a mirror, it can provide a focal point for the rest of the space. “Changing lighting isn’t hard for most homeowners to do,” according to Campbell, who explains that with just a few basic tools anyone can install new fixtures.
In addition to replacing wall-mounted fixtures, consider placing lamps on shelves or counters. If you have the space, try using taller buffet lamps for an elegant look. You don’t necessarily have to buy new lamps. Gather a few lamps you already own and try rotating them throughout the rooms in your home. It will revitalize them and give you more money to spend on other items. If the room is big enough, you can even use a floor lamp with a dramatic shade. The only must-do is to keep it all in proportion. A too-large fixture or lamp can make a room look crowded, while a too-small piece can disappear.
The Low-Down on Hardware
Does the finish on the light fixture have to match the rest of the hardware in the room, you may wonder? The answer is no. “We mix a lot of finishes to add texture, so that each individual element speaks out on its own,” says Campbell. “That way each piece garners a little more attention.” The goal with hardware is to complement the other finishes in the room, not repeat them. According to Campbell, “The trend in hardware and fixtures is moving away from the brushed finishes that have been so popular in recent years to shiny finishes that pop and sparkle like classic chrome and polished nickel.” Again, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a dramatic change. If you don’t want to renovate your entire powder room, just replace basic pulls and plain towel bars with something more fun, add a luxurious towel, and presto, your room will feel refreshed. If you’re ready for a bigger change, consider replacing your faucet as well. Campbell says the “less-is-more concept” is big right now, and that she’s seeing faucets that are less ornate with more clean lines.
Comfort and the Commode
“Water efficiency toilets are the industry standard now,” according to Terri Houston, showroom consultant for Hajoca in Lynchburg. These toilets use 1.6 gallons of water per flush compared to 3.5 gallons per flush used by older models—a good thing for folks who are doing their best to go green. Houston says she is seeing more and more people choose comfort-height, or chair-height toilets. They’re two inches higher than standard toilets and are “great for people with knee and back problems, or even people who are taller,” she says. Though they used to be thought of as the “more senior person’s” model, Houston notes that many people in their 20s and 30s are buying them now “because they’re just more comfortable.” They run about $40 to $50 more than standard toilets, but you might find the extra cost worth it. You don’t have to be a plumber to replace your toilet, by the way; Houston says most homeowners can do it themselves. New toilets range in price from $80 to well over $3,000, because there are so many different features available like self-flushing and copper lining. But if you’re looking for a good quality toilet without bells and whistles, plan on spending around $200.
Something About the Sink
Since space is usually a concern in a powder room, Campbell suggests installing a classic pedestal sink or a furniture-style vanity with open legs that won’t crowd the room. When it comes to trends in sinks, Campbell says vessel sinks—the kind that sit on top of the counter or vanity—are still quite popular. They vary widely in price starting under $100 and going over $1,000. Bamboo vessel sinks—über green-friendly because they’re made from a renewable resource—are also hot right now. They’re specially treated to hold water, and come in a variety of colors and finishes. Campbell says she’s also seeing a lot of vessel sinks made from recycled glass that’s been crushed and remolded. “They’re not shiny and smooth, but have texture and are available in different colors,” she explains. Your sink and commode do not have to match, but rather reflect a more general aesthetic for the room. Don’t be afraid to try something a little out of the ordinary either. A concrete vessel found in a garden accessory shop can even be used as a sink with a little help from a plumber.
Color and Sundries
The great thing about selecting color for your powder room is that, again, there are no rules. Despite the customary admonition that light color can make a small room feel bigger, Campbell suggests embracing the powder room’s size and using bold, rich colors. Keep away from beige and taupe and try midnight blue or velvety brown. “Since a powder room is usually not your everyday bath you can be more unique and daring… you can really wow your guests,” she says.
Wow your guests further with thoughtful accessories. Try hanging one really great piece of art, or create small vignettes with smaller artwork and accessories. Have a couple of old prints of birds and wildflowers? Place a bird’s nest and a linen towel on a small silver tray along with luxury hand soap and lotion to make a grouping. Rotate it out after a few months in favor of another theme. Break into your china cabinet and use silver nut dishes or even crystal goblets for small bars of soap. Just be sure to leave room on the countertop for a guest’s handbag.
If you’ve chosen a pedestal sink and are short on storage space for necessaries like toilet tissue and soap, take advantage of vertical space and mount cabinets on a wall above the toilet or a soap dish above the sink. Instead of the usual towel bar, mount two or three hooks near the sink and hang thick absorbent towels for guests to use. And try to keep something from the outdoors in your powder room; even a single blossom or stalk of green will keep it feeling fresh.