It's easiest to create a whole new bathroom design if you're doing a total remodeling job, but even if you're not, take heart. Because the typical bath is fairly small, it only takes a few key elements, or even just new wall-covering borders and accessories, to suggest a new style in your bath.
The trick is to decide on a color scheme and a visual theme and then use them consistently throughout the room. Some baths, for example, play it safe with all white or all beige fixtures and walls but let loose with some very expressive, imaginative colors and patterns in the less permanent elements.
To create a coherent look, employ the decorating "rule of three" and repeat each major color in your setting at least three times.
What if you've created a cohesive style in the rest of your home and would like to extend it to the bath, but your budget won't go for a complete redo? Relax. Permanent elements that might not "go" with your home's overall look can adapt just fine, with a little imagination.
One homeowner on a budget whose palette featured the English garden tints of celadon green and rose despaired of a master bath tiled in yellow -- until she and her husband hit on a watercolor scheme of sand, violet, aqua, and lemon. The room became their "English Caribbean retreat." So keep an open mind as you look at your own bath and its possibilities!
Creativity in the bath is great, but you should consider a few practical points.
Never sacrifice safety for style
Sharp-cornered cabinets, tubs reached by steps without handrails, floors and bath rugs that aren't slip-resistant -- these prescriptions for disaster are totally avoidable, so don't settle. Insist on a bath that's as user-friendly as it is fabulous-looking.
Plan for the long term
Consider using as many universal-design products and layout ideas as possible. If you're sinking a lot of money into the master bath of your dreams, you want to be sure you can enjoy it as your physical needs change through the years. The time to install reinforcement blocks for grab bars is before, not after, you install marble panels on the walls.
Keep it simple
Some decorating looks tend to use more accessories, more busy fabrics...more of everything. Employ these looks if you love them, but edit rigorously. Too many knick-knacks and a riot of colorful, large-scale patterns will make the bath look small and cluttered.
When selecting accessories, remember all the stuff that naturally accumulates in a bathroom, and you'll probably want to keep the decorating clutter down. Preserve visual serenity with as much closed storage as possible unless you're neurotically neat.
The neat, ordered open shelves in home-decorating magazines were set up for the photo shoot, not for the morning rush hour! (Make an exception for a pretty basket full of rolled hand towels or a shell full of usable-size scented soaps that further your color scheme.)
Deploy your dollars cleverly
Ask your contractor for ways to keep costs down in areas that don't affect function, safety, or looks so you'll have more left to spend where it counts. "What counts" is different for everyone, so do what matters to you, not your mother or your neighbor.
For example, if you can find the time, do as much tear-out as you feel competent to handle (and agree with your contractor about the dollar value of your labor so it doesn't show up on your bill).
Consider a vanity made of large marble tiles, not a whole marble slab; a less fancy toilet, but one that offers pressure-assist flushing; or plain ceramic tiles in most places, accented by hand-painted ones for borders and backsplashes. You'll certainly come up with your own list of trade-offs that don't feel like sacrifices. Just be sure you don't sacrifice quality when it counts.
Demand the same quality and taste in bath accessories as you do for the rest of your home
Just say no to the fluffy toilet seat and tank covers, skimpy contoured bath rugs, lace-and-moiré satin-trimmed toilet paper covers and tissue box holders, bas-relief resin wall art depicting old-time bathroom fixtures, and so on.
These impulse items still beckon from every bazaar and highway gift shop, but there are many more chic and elegant ways to create a romantic look these days.
If you like a sleek, modern scheme, make sure the items you choose are made of heavyweight, top-quality acrylic, plastic, metal, or glass. Well-made acrylic accessories with the frosty, pastel look of sea glass are attractive; funky colored metal items with a 1950's drink set look are fun.
In general, modern-style items designed and made in Italy, Sweden, Denmark, and the United States have a good track record at a variety of price points. Next best, and often much less expensive, are those designed in these countries but manufactured elsewhere. Modern often doesn't age well unless it's done well, so take time to get the details right.
Even if you have a glass-door or open-area shower that eliminates the need for a shower curtain, you'll have to contend with fabric in the bath in the form of towels, bath mats, and, most likely, bath rugs.
Quality really counts here: Skip fabrics with printed-on designs and colors that fade unevenly, and choose plain, solution-dyed colors and self-patterned designs achieved with permanent textures. Towels and rugs are major allies in furthering a color scheme. Watch for white sales, and stock up on necessities.
Don't get too cute with the kids' bath
You'd love to give them a spectacular children's theme bath like the designs you see in magazines. Go ahead, but confine the fantasy elements to things you can change fairly easily, such as wall-covering borders, not installed tiles.
Choose timeless, gender-neutral colors you can pair easily with other tones (teal green goes as well with lilac as it does with navy blue), and mix in new patterns as children grow.
Many people find they redecorate the kids' bath three times: when they're very small, when they're "big kids" in grade school, and when they're teens. And this same bath may become a guest bath later on! So choose permanent fixtures and surfacing materials with a long-range view in mind.
There are dozens of great styles to choose when creating your bathroom. See the next page to get tips for a ranch-style bathroom.