Your vanity and any other storage units in the bathroom will need countertops, and the way they look can go a long way toward enhancing your decorating scheme. Many of the same materials used in kitchens are available for the bath.
Most economical are high-pressure, decorative laminates (not the same as low-pressure laminates such as melamine, which is often used for the fronts of modern-style cabinets). Laminates may have color on the surface or all the way through, and they come in an endless array of colors, patterns, and even textures.
Consider plain white or almond that resembles high-end solid surfacing to visually expand the space and provide maximum decorating flexibility, or you can choose anything from luxurious faux malachite to fun 1950's boomerang motifs. Laminate is fairly durable, but if it is damaged, it's difficult to repair.
Dark seams and edges are visible on the surface-color type; a rolled front edge avoids this.
Ceramic tile, a classic choice, is surprisingly affordable and ages gracefully. It's highly durable and impervious to water and comes in limitless colors, patterns, and textures.
Plain stock tile in a light neutral or pastel color is inexpensive and can be perked up with coordinating hand-painted tiles along a wall border or around a mirror. (If you use plain-colored tiles, open all the boxes and mix the tiles up so that any variation in color won't be noticed.)
More elaborate patterns, colors, and textures are costlier but equally durable. The grout between ceramic tiles may discolor or mildew: To solve this, specify a darker-toned grout, or have the tiles set very closely together.
Cultured marble usually is made of cast polymer with a gelcoat surface for durability and stain resistance. Economical and popular, it offers the convenience of an integral sink within the countertop.
Solid surfacing is made of different blends of polyester alloys, acrylic, crushed minerals, and other synthetic materials. Each brand uses different materials, but they're all seamless, very durable, and easy to repair. Solid surfacing is also great if you want an integral sink bowl that blends seamlessly with your countertop. Solid-surfacing material is costlier than laminate or ceramic tile but less expensive than natural stone.
Marble, granite, and other natural stone countertops are the most luxurious and expensive choice. They're extremely durable, but granite stands up to stains from alcohol and cosmetics better than marble does.
Slate is an option -- its natural layers make a pleasing texture -- but all natural stone should be sealed to protect against stains and scratches. Don't try for more than a narrow overhang with natural stone: It's very heavy, and its own weight will cause it to break off. If you want a wider overhang, install corbels (well-anchored, heavy brackets) beneath each end for support.
Natural stone is so beautiful, even a dramatic choice will probably please your next buyer, but remember that dark colors make a space look smaller. If your heart is set on marble but the cost is daunting, consider large (12-inch-square) marble tiles set closely together.
For a really unique and dramatic countertop, you can specify stainless steel, copper, concrete, or even wood (if it's redwood or cedar and waterproofed with a plastic finish). Be creative!
Floor and wall surfaces have the ability to make a bathroom appear larger or reflect your personal design style. On the next page, learn more about how to use floor and wall surfaces in your decorating scheme.