A number of appealing looks can be found under the wing of traditional style. All have stood the test of time; one or more is just right for your home.
In general, traditional styles are more complex and symmetrical than contemporary styles. Pedestals on sinks are reeded with vertically striped depressions, bases appear to be separate and may have a different design, toilets are two-piece, and fittings and hardware (brass or pewter-look) are relatively ornate. A claw-foot tub and arched Palladian windows are icons of traditionalism.
At its best, traditional style -- rustic or refined -- evokes dignity, grace, and warmth. Happily, a few signs of wear just add to its heirloom patina. Traditional style doesn't come naturally to today's bath, since it's a relatively small space dominated by modern fixtures. But using timeless materials -- ceramic tile, marble, fabric, porcelain, even wood -- brings the spirit of tradition home.
To bring the warm appeal of this style to your bathroom, avoid stark colors, especially black and white. Instead, go for a soft Navajo white, unbleached linen, or the tan of wheat for backgrounds. They're warm but not dark, so they'll flatter skin tones without making the bath seem smaller. For accent colors, choose antiqued tones: old rose, barn red, denim blue, or soft green.
A vanity in golden oak or Shaker-style maple with a plain, off-white ceramic or stone-look top and a white porcelain sink bowl works well, as does a traditionally styled pedestal sink. You may even want to investigate one of the new bowls that stand on top of the counter: One in white porcelain could recall an antique washbowl.
And don't forget a claw-foot tub for maximum nostalgia. For fixtures and hardware, skip the shiny chrome, and choose antiqued brass or a brushed-finish nickel for the soft look of old pewter. If you love wood and lots of it, consider naturally finished golden oak Shaker toilet seats and towel bars, but don't overdo it.
If you're shower-curtain shopping, keep country in mind. Most baths are a bit small for the riotous pattern of patchwork, but there's no reason why you can't enjoy a tablecloth-checked or mattress-ticking-striped fabric, or even a subtle plaid. Simpler yet, use plain, off-white muslin with a liner.
Choose one or two colors from your fabric for towels, a bath mat, and a bath rug, or add another pattern with a simple rag rug in the same tones as your color scheme. Further the look by adorning windows with simple handkerchief-point valances; for more coverage, add café curtains or wood shutters.
For soap dispensers and other accessories, choose pieces with the look of hand-thrown pottery or creamware. Handmade, round soaps and hand-embellished, well-ironed cotton or linen guest towels (available at many resale shops) are old-fashioned without being kitschy.
Use natural or rustically painted wicker baskets or hampers for extra storage. If you've got the floor space, a small, Shaker-style child's chair heaped with rolled hand towels is a charming touch.
Charming, comfy, and wonderfully romantic, English country style is one of the world's best-loved styles, as it has been since its Victorian heyday. More polished than American country style, the English look offers relaxed gentility with a touch of whimsy.
To achieve this look, choose a traditional-style cabinet in a fine-grained wood -- maple, cherry, or mahogany -- crowned by a white marble (real or faux) countertop. If space is tight, choose a traditionally styled pedestal sink with a reeded column base and a curvy backsplash.
Either way, select traditional brass or pewter-look fittings, as ornate as you like. Underfoot, small black-and-white ceramic tiles are classic. Consider adding a chair rail with board-and-batten walls below and a wall-covering with a garden motif (especially roses, violets, and ivy) above.
If you've got a combination tub/shower or a claw-foot tub, curtain it with a colorful cotton chintz floral or crisp white cutwork curtains, and hang matching café curtains at the window. For the soap dispenser and other accessories, china with a floral pattern in your color scheme is pretty.
English country style blooms in fresh pastel colors: tea rose, cantaloupe, robin's egg blue, and buttercream paired with lettuce or celadon green. Choose a couple of these for your towels, soaps, and other accessories.
Charming French country is always in vogue. To create this romantic style, select a traditional pedestal sink with a reeded column base and a curvy backsplash, or choose a wood vanity cabinet, preferably in pecan or fruitwood, with cathedral-topped, raised-panel cabinet doors and "antique" brass pulls.
Continue the look with a white porcelain sink with curvy brass or pewter-look fittings and a marble or faux-marble countertop. If you need extra storage, the French-born armoire is a great solution that follows the traditional look of freestanding furniture.
For color and practical beauty, terra-cotta floor tiles evoke the warmth of Provence, while hand-painted wall tiles and murals celebrate French artistry. For a shower curtain, choose a traditional Provençal print in cheery yellow, royal blue, and brick red; add a romantic balloon shade in a matching or coordinating print at the window.
For a romantic color scheme, take inspiration from the palettes of French Impressionist or Expressionist paintings, perhaps in vibrant yellow-green, violet-blue, and coral cut with white. For accessories, choose Provençal-inspired hand-painted pottery and ornately curved wrought iron.
If you're seeking a no-fail recipe for timeless elegance, this handsome, refined look borrows elements from several historical American and English styles. Based on 18th-century designs that express consummate symmetry and grace, this look includes Queen Anne, Sheraton, curvy Duncan Phyfe, and Chippendale styles from the golden age of furniture design. Your 18th-century setting may also include later influences, from French Empire to early English Victorian.
Start with heirloom-quality maple or cherry vanities with cathedral-topped, raised-panel doors and Chippendale-style brass hardware. (For a lighter 18th-century look, choose a vanity from the same period but in antiqued white, perhaps with painted or gilded embellishments.)
Top cabinets with real or faux-marble countertops, and drop in pure white or hand-painted porcelain sinks in a traditional or scallop-shell shape, or find similarly styled pedestal sinks. Add traditionally styled, heavy brass fittings and accessories featuring neoclassical elements such as scallop shells and laurel leaf wreaths.
Tapestry and moiré-look wall-coverings and window treatments are appropriate and are now available in water-tolerant materials. They're handsome in muted jewel tones (old gold, blue-green, Federal blue, burgundy, and old rose), and they're lovely and fresh in the cameo-pale tones of tea rose pink, primrose yellow, celadon green, sky blue, and white.
Either way, you'll find the pedigreed look of 18th-century style gracious and wonderfully timeless.
A spacious, luxurious bath seems made for Italian villa style. Inspired by the palatial yet airy homes of aristocrats from the time of the ancient Roman Empire to the opulent Renaissance, this style is luxurious but never heavy-handed.
To create such a masterpiece, it's best to start with an impressive shell: generously scaled Palladian windows; arched doorways; and high ceilings. Continue with other grand gestures, including ornately carved vanity cabinets in fine-grained hardwoods embellished with ornate, antiqued brass hardware.
For surrounding surfaces, why not evoke the spirit of a Roman bath? Italy is one of the world's finest sources of quarried stone and artisan-made tiles, so indulge in luxurious natural stone flooring, countertops, backsplashes, and even entire walls, especially in a walk-in shower area.
You can choose luxurious polished marble; durable, dramatic granite; interesting tumbled marble tiles; or hand-painted Italian tiles (or several of the above) to carry out your color scheme and decorating theme. Choose a hand-painted porcelain sink or one in a suite of fixtures, perhaps in a regal tone such as maroon, hunter green, eggplant, warm gold, or ivory.
If the budget allows, consider a pedestal sink that's a work of art itself in agate or rose quartz. For fittings, choose ornately designed, elegantly traditional brass or pewter, perhaps with faucet handles adorned with quartz or another semiprecious stone.
Call on faux-finishing artists to conjure up the richly antiqued look of an ancient palazzo with richly dimensional plaster walls, sponged or painted with fresco scenes. Accent with faux-bois woodwork finishes, and, if you've always yearned for a bit of opulent gilding, feel free to indulge your Midas touch here.
For the crowning effect, you may even commission a custom mural depicting the Tuscany countryside, a Roman temple ruin, or a Renaissance still life.
Get away from it all without leaving home in a rustic lodge/cabin-style bathroom. If you don't live in a log house, have a trompe l'oeil artist paint the "logs" on your walls, or, simpler yet, surround yourself with a palette of earth tones: greens, browns, and tans, accented with autumn-leaf colors of terra-cotta, brick red, and gold.
Choose a vanity in a rustic wood such as oak or knotty pine, and add a simple sink, perhaps a bronze, pewter, or white porcelain bowl that sits entirely on a countertop of slate, tumbled marble, or other textured, rustic surfacing material.
A claw-foot tub with an old-fashioned "sunflower" shower fixture and an unbleached muslin curtain would be fun in this room, but a plain walk-in shower tiled in tumbled marble would work equally well. Keep window treatments simple: stained wood shutters, Roman shades of plain muslin, or café curtains of homespun green-, brick-, or gold-and-white checks.
Keep metals matte (choose antiqued bronze-brass, pewter, or brushed nickel; not shiny brass, chrome, or stainless steel) and accessories in wood or stoneware colored to blend with your palette.
A bilingual blend of dramatic colonial Spanish and Native American influences, this is a look that offers timeless warmth and heritage for many homeowners, especially those in the Southwest. Frame the look with off-white plaster walls and exposed, dark-wood beams.
A rustic, darkly stained wood vanity with wrought-iron-look fixtures and hardware fits right in with this style. For contrast, choose countertops in off-white tumbled marble, solid surfacing, or laminate. Terra-cotta tiles make a handsome floor, and colorful Spanish tiles recall cooling courtyard fountains -- great around your spa tub!
Against the dark woods and white walls, choose accessories, shower curtains, and window coverings in desert tones of soft coral and gray-green, or create a bright, happy mood with shades of serape-inspired sunny gold, turquoise, brick red, yellow, and cobalt blue. Add baskets and, if your bathroom window has a sunny exposure, terra-cotta pots of cooling aloe vera plants.
Italy, Spain, and Portugal are home to many of the world's most wonderful designs in stone and tile, while southern France and Greece each contribute a distinctive aesthetic of their own. Taken together, these rich cultures offer inspiration for any size bath.
Mediterranean style includes freshly creative ideas in a context that's historically honored. It is a style that is also hearty and practical and makes an art of life's little pleasures. To get the look, choose a vanity cabinet in oak or pine (or, even more refined, in fruitwood or pecan) with antiqued brass fixtures and hardware.
Sinks in hammered brass or in porcelain with hand-painted Mediterranean-inspired motifs are available. For beautiful, durable countertops, you can't do better than the ceramic tiles for which Italy, Spain, and Portugal are world-famous.
Choose your color scheme -- perhaps the classic royal blue, sun yellow, and white -- and create a work of art with decorative tiles on your vanity countertop and backsplash. For walls, try the eye-catching combination of heavily textured plaster or stucco walls inset here and there with a jewel of a ceramic tile.
For soap dishes and other accessories, choose from a wealth of Mediterranean hand-painted pottery and the characteristic blue- and green-tinged heavy glassware of the region. If your window's very sunny, fill it with fragrant lavender or rosemary, and top with a sail-white Roman shade.
Traditional styles break down by genre as well as by time period. Continue on to the next page for an example of traditional style in the 1920s.
To get more decorating ideas as well as tips and information on decorating your home, visit:
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