Decorating today’s bathrooms calls for a sophisticated mix of colors, materials and hard and soft goods. Here, an interior designer makes it simple.

By Mark McCauley


A bathroom, like the kitchen, is one of the hardest-working spaces in the home. If it’s not functional, everybody suffers. Keep all of its functions in mind — it’s a workstation for preparing for the day ahead and a refuge for resting and recovering from the hectic day — when choosing the sink, tub, shower, toilet and other pieces. Consider what other functions you can incorporate into the bath with a little clever planning; perhaps you’d like a seat in the shower, a steam room or storage for linens.


Plumbing considerations will impact where you place showers and tubs. Yet, you also need to think like an industrial engineer when making a bathroom floorplan. Walk the space with your contractor and imagine the tasks required to get ready for the day. Consider the length of your arm’s reach. How far away do you want the soap dishes to be? Do you want to store objects in a vanity and, if so, would you mind bending over to retrieve them? The objects used most often, as a rule of thumb, should be closest at hand.

Even a small bathroom like this one by Jennifer Charleston can have extras, such as a seat in the shower, if the space is mapped out efficiently.


How do you want to feel when you’re in the bathroom? Is it a formal space (consider a black-and-white scheme) or a casual area (try neutrals)? The motifs associated with baths often are water oriented. Seashells, boats, piers, blue colorations and sandy beach colors are frequently used. But it’s OK to think outside of the box. Choose a motif that relates to the area in which you live (city or country?), a style of architecture (classic 18th-century English or New England cottage?), or a style that you’re personally attached to (bohemian or Asian?).

A bathroom motif doesn’t have to knock you over the head. The sky blue paint and framed photo in this bathroom by Sue Adams whisper a subtle “sail away” theme


When selecting products for the bath, such as tile or marble, be sure that you know the inherent qualities and the drawbacks of each material. Will the marble or tile stand up to heavy wear? (Watch out for veins in marble, which often indicate weak points.) Do you want a polished marble floor or a natural marble? Shiny floors may not be very slip-resistant; natural materials may have a pitted surface that is more slip-resistant, but also more likely to collect residue.


Plumbing fixtures are the jewels of the bathroom because they’re metallic and can add a dramatic effect to any space, just as jewelry can to an outfit. There are a plethora of finishes and styles offered by today’s manufacturers, from brass to stainless and all metals in between. Keep in mind your motif and maintenance as you choose your bathroom fixtures. Elaborate gold fixtures probably won’t give with a beach-inspired bathroom and may also require more cleaning than you’re up for.

Touches of gold in the mirror, fixtures and picture frame bring Old World glamour to a modern home’s powder room designed by Thomas A Conway.


Choosing the correct lighting is critical in the bathroom where mirrors are present and mood is important. Consider the appropriate task lighting for sink and shower areas. Keep in mind that fluorescent lighting casts a bluish light as opposed to the yellowish radiance of incandescent bulbs. And, combine blue wall paint and blue-hued fluorescent lighting and you may look like Frankenstein’s bride in the mirror.

Strategically placed custom sconces light up this neutral bathroom designed by Kenneth Brown.


Use dashes of fabric and other softer goods, to reduce the inherent harshness of many bathroom materials. Anything from towels and shower curtains to window treatments and pieces upholstered in terry cloth, can bring a soft touch to a hard space.


Don’t forget to incorporate plants and greenery in the bathroom. The asymmetrical nature of growing things (in design lingo this is called fractal) will help offset the square edges of the tiles or marble.

Greenery in the form of lucky bamboo softens the edges of this renovated Asian-style bathroom by Thomas A. Conway.


HGTV. 8 Steps to the Perfect Bathroom, [Online]. Web address: (Page consulted on October 05 2011)