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Bathroom Decorating Ideas

Contemporary Bathrooms

©Trout Studios/Tom Bonner An antique tub in a modern industrial loft space strikes a witty note in this simple, sophisticated bath.


Contemporary style embraces a fairly wide range of looks. "Modern" design is officially pegged to begin with the Arts & Crafts/Mission styles that arose in the early 20th century as a revolt against the fussiness of Victorian traditional style, but in the early 21st century, "modern" is popularly used to describe design icons from the 1930s to the '60s.

"Contemporary," sometimes used interchangeably with the word "modern," is less a structured concept and more a way of life. Contemporary is cool and clean and can be as casual or as elegant as you please. Because so much of a bath is dominated by modern fixtures anyway, many people simply choose contemporary style, regardless of what they're using in the rest of the house.


In general, contemporary style appears simpler than traditional: Curves are looser and more sculptural; squared-off angles are commonplace; surface details are minimized or eliminated; and textures, rather than representational images, offer interest.

Sculptural one-piece toilets, sleek built-ins of all kinds, minimal or simply shaped hardware, and lots of chrome are all contemporary design elements. Some modern-style products make a point of revealing their structure and function where traditional style would take pains to disguise them.

Others reduce forms to their simplest, essential expression, easily seen in abstract patterns of dolphins, leaves, etc., in contemporary fabric designs. Contemporary style is easily at home in the modern bath, since it's of the same generation. Whether the look is dramatic or serene, contemporary style at its best conveys an uplifting spirit of freshness and freedom.

California Spa

At home in transitional settings, this most popular of contemporary styles is softer than modern, cleaner than traditional, and easy to live with. Often credited to the legendary late designer Michael Taylor, refreshing yet sophisticated California style uses the neutrals of baskets, sea sponges, and driftwood plus every tone of white-on-white, from warm ivory to cool oyster-shell gray.

Soft pastels the color of sea glass may also play a part: Celadon (pale gray-green), lettuce (light yellow-green), and periwinkle (pastel blue-violet) are current favorites. Look for over-scaled, sleekly styled white porcelain spa tubs, pedestal sinks, or drop-in sinks in bleached-wood vanity cabinets.

Your cabinets may be frameless and hardware free; adorned with modern hardware in a silvery, brushed-nickel finish; or embellished with arty, offbeat hardware, such as pewter starfish.

Floors may be anything pale, beautiful, and practical: white marble (real or faux) or oversize white ceramic tiles laid on the diagonal to maximize space. Fluffy towels in white, sand, and ecru, and a few big shells to hold soaps are all the accessories you need.


Scandinavian contemporary, a less serious cousin of the 1950's Scandinavian modern, is a cheerful look that pairs whites and light wood tones with one or more bright primary colors. It's a can't-miss look for a kid's bath or one with a snappy sailing theme.

A vanity painted glossy white is a fresh look; naturally finished pale woods such as ash and beech make a nice alternative. A white porcelain drop-in sink has a simple, clean look; add a gooseneck faucet and fittings in colorful enameled steel for a jolt of fun and fashion.

For an interesting alternative to red/yellow/blue with white, choose intense secondary and tertiary colors such as teal, violet, and yellow-orange or lime. For long-term versatility, confine strong colors to towels and accessories, or choose the most staid of them -- royal blue and teal are bath favorites that work with many other colors -- for your border tiles and other installed accents.

Art Deco

This frankly glamorous style from the 1920s and '30s is well-suited to a contemporary bath where an extra bit of cool and drama is required. Based on white, ivory, and gray plus black and cool metallic tones, Art Deco is sophisticated and sleek.

©Kohler This urbane bath evokes the glitter of city lights at night with its glass-tiled wall and sparkling metallic accents.

If you'd like a bit more color, add tropical aqua and coral for a Miami influence, ice blue and mauve for the New York-to-Paris variant. Stylized, leaping antelopes, lotus flowers, palmetto leaves, and other exotic images of nature bring the Art Deco look to your ceramic tile borders and wall-coverings.

Traditional white pedestal sinks à la Grand Hotel and gleaming chrome fittings are perfect for this look, along with lots of mirrors. For accessories, look for silvery mercury glass and frosted glass.

If you prefer a vanity sink, look for one in blonde wood with chrome banding and hardware, or have a vintage "moderne" chest of drawers converted. A pale marble, solid-surfacing, or laminate vanity countertop is a natural.

Because it's a historical style, although a relatively recent one, Art Deco can be used to good effect in a traditional home. In fact, if you live in a pre-WWII-era house, you may find that a lot of existing elements, such as tile, are already in place in your bath!

Urban Loft

This savvy style owes its flair to Milan-style modern and its grit to industrial chic. Simple shapes in remarkable materials are key to the look; for example, see how polished granite, art glass, and stainless steel add light-catching sparkle to the space.

Choose a streamlined pedestal sink or a vanity with an interesting sink -- perhaps hammered stainless steel or an art-glass bowl that sits entirely on top of the counter.

For the vanity, choose a frameless, solid hardwood or metal model with finger grooves or modern statement-making door and drawer pulls. (For a slightly funkier 1950's brand of modern, spark the look with chrome banding, edges, and hardware, but skip the grooved designs -- they're hard to clean).

For the countertop, choose the smooth sweep of marble or granite (black with mica chips is dynamite) or plain solid surfacing, perhaps in gunmetal gray. If your budget decrees laminates, go either very plain or with a funky, abstract pattern or texture, and don't be afraid of showing a lot of metal, especially chrome and stainless steel. Specify nonslip ceramic, natural stone, or even commercial rubber floor tiles.

For your shower curtain, choose an abstract print in adventurous color combinations or in neutrals with an interesting texture. Window treatments should be minimal: Here's the place for narrow metal mini-blinds or a Roman shade in cotton duck.

Go for glossy ceramic wall tiles or high-gloss paint in white or, if space allows, a dramatic color that's decoratively inset in a backsplash. For accent colors, repeat your dramatic color, and add a few others -- acid green, teal or violet-blue, lush cantaloupe or scarlet -- and carry it out in accessories sparked with chrome and black.


Fun, funky, and confident, retro modern celebrates that bright, brash look from the 1940s and '50s. This practical style is great for a kid's bath or one off the family rec room: It offers easy cleaning with lots of glossy surfaces plus a look that's young, cheerful, and energetic.

To start, take your basic white bath, toss in a few bright primary colors and hot pastels (perhaps red, turquoise, and yellow, or coral, mint, and royal blue), and mix in a pinch or two of black for drama.

The classic retro look is a white pedestal sink; if you need the room, try a wood vanity painted in high-gloss white or, for the adventurous, metal finished with appliance-grade paints. Accent with shiny modern chrome fittings, and scour flea markets and architectural salvage dealers for chrome counter edging, fittings, and vintage modern cabinet hardware.

Choose retro-patterned vinyl or linoleum flooring and laminate countertops. Finish it off with perky café curtains or a valance in retro-print fabrics (available new or in savvy flea market shops) over metal Venetian blinds, with a matching shower curtain.

For accessories, choose any memorabilia that has a practical use, such as cartoon character mugs as toothbrush holders. With a slight shift of colors (lime instead of mint, for example) plus different fabric and laminate patterns, your retro look could flash forward to the early '60s.

If you fancy contemporary styling but with a high-end touch, continue to the next page to learn how to create the ultimate glamor bathroom.

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