White peonies next to a sink
Erica George Dines

Make a Statement

The best powder rooms serve basic functions of a bathroom, to be sure, but they do so with grace and charm. Their small footprints have no correlation to their overall importance. "The powder room is one space where items might be examined up close," says designer Mary Evelyn McKee. Design it well, and you put your best foot forward.

The trick is to turn the challenges of designing a powder room -- the small size, the prosiac functionality, the all-too-common lack of windows -- into opportunities. Use the space to display art that is better viewed at close range, to experiment with layered lighting, or to hang a striking antique mirror.

Above all, make a statement.

An ornate mirror and orange toile wallpaper
Erica George Dines

Up Close and Personal

An ornate mirror is appropriate for a powder room, where it can be admired close up. Anchoring this small but elegant space decorated by Pamela Laney is an antique marble-top Louis-Phillipe chest that has been converted to a vanity. Antique French bronze sculptures dangling with crystals affix to toile Scalamandre wallpaper.

Powder Room Pointer: Be sure to talk to a master plumber. All sorts of obstructions -- joists, ductwork, electrical lines -- lurk behind walls and under floors. Before you site or move a sink or toilet, ask a plumber if you can run pipes through the wall and if your old pipes are up to building code standards.

Venetian mirror in an elegant powder room
Erica George Dines

Elegant Reflections

Once a master bath, a powder room designed by Mary Evelyn McKee echoes the Gallic flair of the home with its handsome palette of grays.

Powder Room Pointer: Because they tend to be small, powder rooms may pack more design punch per square foot than any room in the house. "You can make them spectacular and outlandish if you want," says McKee. "They're ultimate accessory rooms, like little jewel boxes."

Rich wood paneled powder room
Erica George Dines

Big Style in a Small Bath

Rich wood paneling and fern prints decorate this space designed by Phillip Sides, once a cramped full bath; a vertical mirror and wall-mounted faucet add drama and height.

Powder Room Pointer: Think about your space. Are you planning to update an existing powder room, transform a full bath into a half, or carve out a new spot within an existing floor plan? A larger space may have more design leeway, but in a tiny room, every item must function, fit, and contribute to the aesthetic.

Marble bowl mounted on a full-length mirror
Erica George Dines

Modern Luxury

In designer Liz Woods' own powder room, a full-length mirror makes the 4-by-5-foot space feel larger. A marble bowl by Waterworks appears to float in midair.

Powder Room Pointer: Tuck that toilet away. If possible, avoid placing the toilet where it's visible from the front door when the powder room door is open. "To preserve decorum, when the hostess gestures to the second door on the left, one should not be staring at the toilet," says Mary Evelyn McKee.

Green painted vanity with tone-on-tone wallpaper
Erica George Dines

A Classical Approach

For this redesign, Lesley McRae combined the clean lines and painted vanity of the original room with crystal light fixtures and tone-on-tone wallpaper to please both modern and classical sensibilities.

Powder Room Pointer: Mixing lighting sources is a way to add warmth and character. "When there are no windows, I like to go with a moody, atmospheric feeling," says McRae. Here, she enhances the lighting with rich, patterned wallpapers such as the Florentine damask. The paper, along with the antique crystal sconces and copper fixtures, gives the clean-lined space softness and femininity.

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