Fittings include faucet handles and spouts, pop-up drains, trip levers for the toilet, mixing valves for the shower, hand sprays or other added sprays in the shower, outlets and controls in the whirlpool tub, and more.
If your fixtures are in basically good shape and access is not a problem, you can do a lot to update the look of your bath just by replacing old fittings.
New fittings tend to operate better, too. For instance, faucets with washerless construction are state of the art; those with ceramic disk cartridges inside are top of the line, usually needing no maintenance.
Fittings, sometimes called the "jewelry" of the bath, are among the most fun things to shop for. You have your pick of styles, from charmingly old-fashioned cross-handles to modern Eurostyle single-control units.
For easy use and traditional or modern style, choose levers or, even easier, distinctive wrist-blade handles. Cross-handles and levers are available in wood or ceramic as well as metals to coordinate with the rest of your bath, but be careful about trying to match color tones: The white of the china sink may not match the white of ceramic handles.
Shower fittings are just as varied as those for sinks. Faucets may be single-handled for a modern look or have traditional separate hot and cold controls; the showerhead may be a drenching rosette or sunflower style or be adjustable, with a variety of stream intensities.
For children or anyone who needs to shower sitting down, get a detachable showerhead on a height-adjustable slide bar that can be used in position or as a handheld shower. You can also install one or more shower bars with holes that produce streams at various heights along with a regular showerhead.
Many shower accidents occur when bathers slip trying to avoid an unexpected blast of too-hot water, so make sure your showerhead has a pressure-balancing valve, especially if children, the disabled, or older people will be using the unit.
The valve prevents the sudden surge of hot water that occurs when someone else flushes a toilet or starts the washing machine. Pressure-balancing valves work in conjunction with a high-temperature stop (usually preset by the plumber) to prevent scalding.
Quality fittings often have a base of brass, but the finish may be brass, chrome, gold, pewter, ceramic, enamel, crystal, plastic, or what have you.
If opulent gold fittings are in your budget, use a reputable supplier, and ask for the paperwork to be sure they're what the industry calls "heavy gold plating," which is anywhere from 13 to 50 millionths of an inch thick.
If you like the golden glow but not the price, very recent developments in brass finishes give the first truly guaranteed tarnish-free brass.
It's great with any style, particularly classical looks. Chrome's cool, shiny gleam is perfect for modern settings; for a softer look consider brushed nickel or elegant, traditional pewter. Ceramic and crystal may be contemporary or traditional; plastic and other novelty insets are usually modern.
What if you aren't replacing everything but want new brass fittings on your new fixtures? You can buy new brass fittings for all your fixtures, but if your existing fixtures have chrome fittings that are still in good shape, consider this: Remove the handles and clean any hard-water deposits that make them hard to turn, and shop for combination chrome-and-brass fittings for the new fixtures.
The mixed-metal look is contemporary and chic. But whatever fittings you choose, look for vanity cabinet door handles and drawer pulls in the same materials and style to coordinate. Exception: when you discover some really special, whimsical pulls. Verdigris-bronze fish or pewter leaves may be just the artful touch your bath needs!
Although fittings are fun, storage is frequently an important consideration in decorating a bathroom. On the next page, check out cabinets.