Carlos Domenech

Your Private Retreat

Bathrooms are among the most private spaces in any house. Given this personal character, remodeling projects invite extra scrutiny.

Long hours may be invested in the selection of paint, tile, sinks, faucets, vanities, mirrors, and accessories. These are personal decisions, to be sure. But there are common goals for every project, no matter the budget, style, or location.

We'll show you how to make the process a little easier.

Limit colors, textures, and materials
Robbie Caponetto

1. Limit Your Options

The ideal bathroom serves as a refuge -- it's no place for fussiness. Scale down the variables to establish a soothing atmosphere.

Contrast dark woods and finishes with light ones for instant drama. A neutral palette with one strong color will create the same effect.

And if the bath is small, you can repeat simple design details, such as matching floor and wall tiles, to make the space appear larger. "It is important to use the same materials and features throughout to unify the design scheme," says Miami designer Wendy St. Laurent.

Make the most of existing space
Courtesy of Wayne Good

2. Use What You Have

If a bath feels cramped, it may be necessary to strip the space down to the studs and reconfigure the room. "The biggest mistake people make when starting a remodeling project is to get bogged down with filling a new space with too many useless things," says Birmingham architect Bill Ingram.

Less-permanent elements, such as fixtures, interior walls, and cabinetry, are candidates for refinement. But plumbing stacks and drains are not so easily modified. Take a critical look at the layout, weigh the options, and plan accordingly.

Take design cues from the house
Gordon Beall

3. Don't Go Overboard

"Don't create a showroom out of a remodeled bathroom," Ingram says. "Use some of the same materials, colors, and textures that appear in the other rooms."

If the house has decorative wainscoting, arched doorways, beaded-board paneling, or similar points of style, consider echoing those features. An updated bath should not appear to be an island of architecture or design -- modernist touches will look out of place in a cottage, for example. The goal is a renovation that harmonizes with the existing structure.

Use furniture in the bath
Robbie Caponetto

4. Use Furniture

The space doesn't have to feel clinical or prefabricated. "I don't like the bathroom to look just like a bathroom. It is a room after all, and the elements in it can take on the feeling of furniture," Ingram says.

There is no need to rely on items made specifically for bathrooms. Think outside the box when selecting furnishings. Armoires can store towels and toiletries. Chests may be plumbed and converted into vanities. Pharmacy cabinets, console tables, decorative mirrors, and comfy chairs will make appealing additions, too.

Choose classic, timeless materials
Courtesy of Restoration Hardware

5. Choose Timeless Materials

Keep an eye toward longevity when remodeling a bath. "The bathroom should last a long time," says Ingram. "I love natural materials -- nothing too decorative that can come back to haunt you."

Avoid trendy colors and design fads when selecting tiles, faucets, and fixtures. Classic elements, such as subway tiles, vintage-type nickel fixtures, and claw-footed tubs often make better investments.

"We have so many clients who live in 1920s houses who love their original bathrooms and old tiles. I like to think the bathrooms I design will be around at least 80 years," Ingram says.

His and hers bathroom
Carlos Domenech

6. Set up 'his and hers' areas.

When designing a bathroom for two, use the same materials for both spots, but differentiate them in subtle ways -- by varying the heights of the vanities, for example, or using different sink basins. St. Laurent and design partner Nikki Baron used this approach successfully while remodeling a client's condo. "The goal was to open the bath up, lighten it up, and delineate the 'his and hers' areas without chopping it up into separate spaces," says St. Laurent. The dynamic results speak for themselves in the completed master bath, shown at left.

Bath fixture
Courtesy of Ritmonio

7. Splurge a Little

In the bath, a blatant gesture of self-indulgence is easily justified. "Luxury is important, too," says Ingram. "There is something wonderful about hotel bathrooms, and I think it's nice to bring a little of that into our personal spaces."

There are options galore, including heated floors and towel bars, frameless glass showers, shapely soaking tubs, steam generators, and therapeutic showerheads. But exercise restraint. A little luxury goes a long way -- don't pile it on or the space will look over-the-top.

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