Decorating a Bathroom

A large round tub in the middle of the bathroom makes a bold statement. ­

Decorating a bathroom, shopping for tile, fixtures, and other products can be great fun -- if you know what you're looking for and how it will meet your needs. Today's bath remodeling scene is so full of fabulous innovations and glamorous attractions, you're likely to be distracted if you don't shop with a plan.

So check out your options in terms of function and budget first. Then you can indulge in the fun of choosing among items you know you'll still feel good about years from now!


Selecting Bathroom Fixtures

With the perfect bathroom fixtures, you can create a bathroom of your design dreams. Learn more about different bathroom fixtures and which ones you just can't live without.

Finding the Right Fittings for Bathroom Spaces

Bathroom fittings are frequently referred to as the "jewelry" of the bathroom by interior designers. Find out how to choose fittings that fit your design plan.

Bathroom Cabinet Ideas

Bathroom cabinets provide storage and a place to hide those items you don't want on display. Check out these practical and pretty bathroom cabinet ideas.

Countertops for Bathrooms

Bathroom countertops range from luxurious marble (which may scratch) to durable laminates. Learn how to choose a countertop that's functional and attractive.

Floor and Wall Surfaces for Bathrooms

Diagonal floor tiles and vertical lines on the walls create the illusion of more space. Find out more about your bathroom floor and wallcovering options.

Bathrooms Lighting

Do you need lots of light to apply make-up? Do you want to stage a romantic mood around your two-person whirlpool tub? Learn how to manipulate lighting in your bathroom.

Designing Modern Bathrooms

Bathroom amenities include floor heaters or fireplaces in those colder climes and stereo systems or TVs for people who crave entertainment while soaking in the tub. Check out some of the more popular modern bathroom amenities.

Bathroom Safety and Maintenance

Bathroom safety is crucial for anyone but even more so for people who need assistance. Find out how to make your bathroom safe and how to design it with easy cleaning in mind.

To learn more about decorating or remodeling your bathroom, visit:


Selecting Bathroom Fixtures

A simple pedestal sink conserves space in a tight bathroom


Selecting bathroom fixtures and their fittings requires a bit of know-how, along with a sense of style. Some fixtures and fittings ha­ve changed in style over the years since indoor plumbing first transformed human existence, but their functions have undergon­e only minor changes.


You may opt to replace a damaged or worn fixture and keep the rest, or you may replace the entire suite. In fact, replacing fixtures without relocating them is one of the most popular, cost-effective ways to redo a bath.

Pedestal and Wall-Hung Sinks

For a diminutive powder room or an elegant, lightly scaled look in any bath, pedestal and wall-hung sinks are just the ticket. Enameled cast iron (not steel, which chips easily), vitreous china, stainless steel, solid surfacing, and even colorful art glass (specially tempered, of course) are all used for freestanding sinks.

Versatile styles range from nostalgically traditional to space-age modern; at the very high end, pedestal sinks are made of semiprecious stones, such as agate or rose quartz, or with opulent hand-painted basins featuring lavish illustrations.

A bonus: Pedestal and wall-hung sinks are easily accessible to wheelchair users, and the wall-hung models can be set at just the right height. Sinks may be skirted to provide for hidden storage; glass or wood shelves can be installed above for open storage.

Lavatory (In-Counter) Sinks

If you need the countertop and extra storage space a vanity can provide, a sink, usually of vitreous china, can be dropped in.

Undermount models attach to the underside of the counter; self-rimming sinks with rolled, finished edges rest on top of the counter. (A 1950s-era sink with a stainless-steel rim is less prevalent and harder to keep clean.) Undermount and self-rimming models may be mounted onto virtually any type of counter: ceramic tile, marble, or even marine-finished wood.

The latest look in self-rimming sinks is a simple bowl in hammered metal, art glass, water-resistant wood, or other attractive material that rests entirely above the countertop.

A popular, often economical choice is an integral bowl seamlessly fused to the countertop. This type of sink is usually made of marble composite (cultured marble), solid surfacing, or other synthetic material. Vanity sinks may be any geometric shape, including round and hexagonal; corner sinks are also available. Porcelain fixtures are offered with hand-painted traditional or modern motifs that make them literal works of art.

This uniquely triangular sink is further enhanced by red mosaic tiles.

With all of today's fabulous fashion colors and designs, making a choice is a challenge. Dark colored lavs are dramatic and don't show grime as much as pastel or white lavatories do, but they are easily marked with soap scum and hard-water mineral deposits.

Exotic colors may be enchanting or off-putting to a prospective buyer, especially in the hard-to-remove tub. If you're planning to stay in your home for a long time, you can indulge your personal preferences, but if there's a chance you'll be moving in a few years, think twice. Remember: Classic white, bone, and gray fixtures can be set off by virtually any color in towels, rugs, window treatments, wallcoverings, and accessories.

Fixtures are available in a variety of materials. Vitreous china is a classically beautiful choice for all fixtures. Porcelainized cast iron is an option for sinks, shower stalls, and tubs, but it's very heavy, difficult to maneuver into an upstairs bathroom, and just about impossible to remove except with a sledgehammer.

Enameled or porcelainized steel chips and dents more easily than cast iron and doesn't hold heat as well, but it's less expensive and relatively lightweight. For integral sinks and counters, cultured marble made of marble dust in a cast polymer is popular and economical.

Solid-surfacing material made of polyester or acrylic solids is costlier than cultured marble but more long-lasting. Acrylic and fiberglass may be used separately or together; formulations of either may appear as a backing or a surface material.

Double, above-counter sink bowls look clean and modern with in-wall faucets.

New synthetics and combinations appear regularly on the marketplace, but china remains the timeless choice at all price points and makes it possible to completely coordinate all of your fixtures.

However, if you are having a special tub or shower constructed rather than using a prefabricated unit, you may have other fixtures made from different materials. While toilets are almost always vitreous china, a sink can be made of wood (finished in tough plastic), stainless steel (look for 18-gauge not 20), or even ceramic tile.

These choices let you coordinate the fixtures' overall color and decorating style for a cohesive look. You can even visit an architectural salvage outlet and scout out pieces, modern as well as vintage, that make your decorating statement. One caution: Buy your fixtures and fittings at the same time to be sure they'll fit each other. You don't want to fall in love with a sink that needs a centerspread faucet after you've bought a widespread model!

In warmer climates, an outdoor tub allows bathers to soak in the sunshine.


Most conventional bathtubs are recessed -- designed to fit into a recess in the bath with three sides hidden by walls and the fourth side an open, finished front.

Recessed tubs are 30 to 33 inches wide and can be anywhere from 42 to 72 inches long, but most are 60 inches. Most recessed bathtubs have the space-saving combination tub/shower, but this style is not the safest.

The smooth, sloping sides of tubs are kind to backsides but treacherous under wet feet, and experts much prefer a separate tub and shower. A short, soaking tub and an angled, corner shower may make this possible even in a skimpy bath.

Other bathtub models include the corner tub, a space-efficient way to provide for a whirlpool; a freestanding tub such as the vintage claw-foot style used to create a nostalgic look; and the platform tub with the exposed side covered in tile or other floor-matching material to give a "sunken-tub" effect.

This last style is at home both in a very modern bath and in a classical bath inspired by ancient Rome.

Whirlpool Tubs

More than any other fixture, the whirlpool tub symbolizes the luxurious new style of baths since the late 1980s. Many whirlpool tubs are 435 feet, and some are much larger, but if you need to keep your existing bath footprint, scout out one that's 5 feet long but as narrow as a standard-size bathtub.

If you can change the footprint but not the overall square footage of your bath, look for a whirlpool tub/shower combo or, better yet, a corner whirlpool and an angled shower.

Whirlpool tubs are usually either top-of-the-line cast iron or somewhat less costly acrylic and composites. They are most often recessed or, especially if they're large, built into platforms.

Many of the early designs featured steps up to the tub without a handrail. Nowadays, this extremely dangerous design is avoided in favor of steps with a decorative, secure handrail or a higher, wide platform that allows bathers to sit on the edge of the whirlpool and swing their legs in. Also for safety's sake, make sure your design lets you reach the controls from outside the tub.

An in-ground whirlpool tub is the height of luxury.

Another safety issue your installer will need to address is the weight problem (not yours -- the whirlpool's!). Many homes' structures can't take the huge added weight of a whirlpool tub, the large volume of water, and the people using it, especially on the second floor, so additional shoring up will be necessary. Don't skip this step: You don't want to end up in the living room in your birthday suit!

A large, square step-up tub is perfect for two.

For hydrotherapy value, give a tub a "dry run" before buying it to be sure water jets are positioned comfortably for you. Look for jets that let you adjust the proportion of air and water (more air means a more vigorous massage) and the stream's direction.

Think twice about a giant tub for two: You may prefer to spend the money and floor space on other amenities unless you're among those rare couples who actually have the time to enjoy the tub together.

Whirlpool amenities include an in-line heater to maintain warmth without "topping off" the water, two-speed motors, touch-pad controls, and more. A handheld shower extension in the whirlpool tub is an option but requires awkward, one-handed hair washing, so most people add a separate shower.


At the very least, you'll need a 36,336-inch space for a stall shower. It may be built in with only the slightest slope of the floor toward the drain, eliminating the need for a shower door, or you may opt for swing-out doors.

With controls set into the wall, even a conventional tub/shower can offer the latest showering amenities. Modular shower systems are available that let you customize them with a choice of different shower floors, walls, and fittings. For example, multiple showerheads are great, and if you can install them into opposite walls, even an ordinary 60-inch tub can be a shower for two.

A handheld showerhead with a wall-mounted pole that offers various height stations is great for kids or the disabled.

With its large mirror, floating sinks, and glass-enclosed half-round shower, this bathroom feels open and spacious.


Typically made of vitreous china, toilets are available in several basic styles. The old-fashioned two-piece style with a round bowl mounted to the floor and a tank very high on the wall is available from a few manufacturers for nostalgic settings. The more familiar, traditional "close-coupled" model has a separate water tank mounted on a round bowl.

The contemporary one-piece model, or "low boy," features a tank and bowl in one piece. If you've got the room, a sophisticated alternative is an elongated bowl, about two inches longer than the standard model in front. It's available in either two-piece or one-piece designs. For tall or older people, models with bowls 18 inches from the floor are more comfortable than the standard 14 1/2 to 15 inches. These usually come in two-piece units.

This modern bathroom features floating fixtures, which give the illusion of more space.

You may also choose between "gravity-assist" and "pressure-assist" models in any style. Toilets produced since January 1, 1994, are mandated by U.S. law to use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. (Older models use 3.5 to 10 gallons per flush.)

Opinions on this mandate vary. Reducing the amount of water used conserves water and eases the burden on sewage-treatment plants, but consumers find that some models, including many of the low-priced and midpriced models that rely solely on gravity assistance, don't do the job with one flush.

To aid flushing, the new gravity-assist models of the two-piece variety are taller and slimmer than in the past and have steeper bowls.

Some homeowners have gone to the length of buying "bootleg" 3.5-gallon toilets in Canada, and some plumbing professionals have even expressed concern about potential public health dangers caused by inadequate flushing.

While the jury is still out, other consumers have elected to purchase pressure-assist toilets with water velocity boosted by compressed air. They're noisier and costlier than gravity-assist models but are considered by many to be more effective at disposing of waste.

Whatever kind of unit you choose, keep dental floss, feminine hygiene products, paper towels, baby wipes, and facial tissue out of the toilet; unlike bathroom tissue, they really aren't made to be flushed, no matter what the labels say.

To save the most money on a toilet, choose a basic gravity-assist two-piece model in white (sometimes available at the same cost in almond or gray), and keep a good toilet brush nearby.

More effective pressure-assist flushing mechanisms, more color options, one-piece styling, elongated bowls, and 18-inch-tall bowls all add to the cost, so prioritize what matters most to you. At the high end, you'll find more designer color choices (including deep tones), pressure-assist flushing, and elongated bowls as standard; specially decorated motifs as part of a fixture suite; choices of handles in different materials and finishes; and unobtrusive push buttons on top of the tank.

Toilets can be had very economically, but if you're just redecorating and the toilet is in good shape, an attractive new wood or plastic toilet seat can make the whole fixture look almost new for just a few dollars. In a chilly house, some people swear by padded toilet seats, but skip those with embroidered butterflies or anything fussy. They're as un-chic as fluffy toilet tank covers.

A private tub and toilet and separate sinks provide for enough space for two people to use the bathroom at the same time.


Europeans consider the bidet ("bee-DAY"), a sit-down washbasin, a basic necessity for personal hygiene; for Americans, its function is often filled by frequent full-body baths and handheld showers. In the '80s, a bidet became a status element of the new, large American luxury bathroom, and today, most high-end bath fixture suites include a bidet, as do many midpriced suites.

Looking somewhat like a toilet without a lid, a bidet requires its own water supply and drain and is usually installed along the same wall as the toilet, 30 to 44 inches away.

Steam Showers and Saunas

Whether you like the high humidity of steam or the dry heat of a sauna, you can create a health club at home with one or both of these fixtures. A steam shower is easier: Install a self-contained unit, or convert your existing shower into a steam room.

New shower modules with steam units often come with a lighted dome top, a timer, and a seat. If you convert an existing shower, make sure the door seals entirely before installing a steam generator, and if you have solid-surfacing or acrylic shower walls, make sure they won't be marred by the steam.

You can tuck the machinery out of sight in a vanity.

To experience the dry heat of a sauna at home, you'll need a space at least 434 feet to create an enclosure that houses an electric heater topped with rocks (preferably igneous periodite).

Water is ladled onto the hot rocks to produce humidity (but not steam), and soft, aromatic woods such as cedar or redwood are used for the walls and benches. Saunas are available in precut and prefab kits. Steam showers and saunas are not recommended for kids, pregnant women, or anyone with high blood pressure or heart trouble.

Now that you know all about the available fixtures, you can begin to think about which ones are appropriate in your bathroom. On the next page, find the right fittings.

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Finding the Right Fittings for Bathroom Spaces

Soft, rounded edges in the mirror, sink, and faucet give this bathroom a sleek look.

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.

An elegant towel hook is a lovely alternative to a towel rack.

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.

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Bathroom Cabinet Ideas

A freestanding cabinet serves as an excellent vanity with storage.

Bathroom cabinetry doesn't play the starring role in the bath that it does in the kitchen, but it's just as important. Function comes first, of course: Plan enough storage for everyone who uses the bathroom, and make sure vanity doors or cabinet drawers don't interfere with opening and closing the bathroom door. It's been known to happen!

Maximizing bath storage is key to keeping the place looking neat, so plan for ample storage space early in the remodeling process.


Buy as spacious a vanity as will comfortably fit; recess tall, shallow shelving units (with or without doors) between wall studs; build in open shelves for colorful, neatly folded towels; or put a linen closet just outside the bathroom in the hall or in an adjoining master bedroom.

If you're just redecorating this time, simply hanging a handsome shallow cabinet on the wall above the toilet can help ease the storage crunch. For items you don't mind keeping in view, narrow, tempered glass shelves with rounded corners are unobtrusive and useful.

In addition to doored cabinets, you can choose convenient storage drawers, swing-out hampers, and more.

Most cabinet manufacturers make both kitchen and bath cabinetry, so you may want to see if any kitchen units have features you desire.

Like kitchen cabinets, bath cabinets may be factory-made stock units, semicustom units that come in standard sizes but offer a choice of door styles or finishes, or custom-made units to fit your exact specifications.

Whatever you choose, request self-closing cabinet hinges and self-closing doors to avoid accidents from doors and drawers left ajar.

When it comes to styles, you have a wide choice, from clean-cut modern units in carefree synthetic materials to opulent traditional designs in fine, furniture-grade woods.

Proper ventilation and a waterproof finish are the secrets to using good-quality wood in the bathroom, so don't hesitate if that's your preference. Real wood cabinets make a warm, natural contrast to the predominantly colder materials used throughout the room.

Wood on bathroom cabinets may be stained in a natural wood tone; given a colorwash stain; whitewashed with a bisque finish; painted with a waterproof, opaque paint; or given a faux finish to resemble marble or other material. If floorspace is really tight, paint or stain built-in cabinets and any freestanding pieces the color of the walls to minimize visual clutter. You can bring in additional hues with towels and accessories.

When selecting built-in cabinets, you can choose from "frameless," also called European-style, for a clean-lined, very modern look, or conventional framed cabinetry, which can look traditional or contemporary depending on the door style.

For a modern look, choose a slab (plain panel) or channel (a horizontal groove or pull along the bottom) style. Select elegant cathedral (arched top panel) or curved raised panel for a traditional, formal look; for a traditional, country style, consider board and batten (a door made of narrow vertical boards).

A square raised panel door can look either traditional or contemporary and can work well in a transitional-style bath.

Traditional under-counter cabinets give this bathroom ample storage space.

The trend in recent years has been away from medicine cabinets and toward large wall-hung mirrors, but that solution begs the storage question. A big vanity may make an overhead cabinet unnecessary, but if you don't have one and don't want to skirt a pedestal or wall sink or bring in covered baskets or other storage, you will want to make room for a medicine cabinet.

A medicine cabinet mounted on the surface of the wall above the sink is an easy option, but for a better look, choose one the same width as, or a little narrower than, the vanity or pedestal sink itself, and select a frameless-looking unit with the mirror (beveled-edge is elegant) extending to the edge of the cabinet door. An arched-top mirror cabinet is a pleasing option that echoes the rounded shapes of bath fixtures.

If you're able to open up the wall, neater and more stylish than a surface-mount cabinet is a model hung in the recessed area between wall studs so that the mirrored surface is nearly flush with the wall.

If your vanity or sink is tucked into an alcove, you may want to mirror the back wall and recess a medicine cabinet into each side wall. If youngsters have access to the bath, be sure to install inexpensive childproof latches on any medicine chest and lower cabinet.

The freestanding furniture look that's so popular in kitchens is also a hit in the bath, so if you've got the room, bring in a chest of drawers or an armoire in the style of your bath. If that's too much for the available space, you might consider actually converting a chest into a vanity; drawers below the top one can stay functional.

Simpler yet, you can add charm with a small wooden child's chair or stool to hold extra towels or with a basket holding rolled fingertip towels or loofah sponges. Don't overlook offbeat solutions: An artist's tabouret (a small cabinet on wheels with a multitude of shallow swing-out trays) is a fine place to store makeup and medicines in a house without small children.

Bathroom countertops -- important in full baths or those without vanity tables -- can be made out of a host of different materials. On the next page, find a countertop to suit your taste and lifestyle.

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Countertops for Bathrooms

This wrap-around counter provides an abundance of counter space.

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.

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Floor and Wall Surfaces for Bathrooms

Today's synthetic wood flooring is remarkably durable and realistic-looking. Choose the look of traditional oak or pine, or indulge in a more exotic look like the burled wood shown here.

Virtually any material can be used to surface walls and floors in the bathroom as long as it's waterproof, either naturally or by means of an impervious finish. Wood-paneled walls and floors are rare because of the upkeep required, but if your bath is large, you may want to use wood outside the shower area.

Wood window and door frames and doors are used just about everywhere; since they're painted or varnished, they withstand ambient moisture fairly well. A good ventilating fan is important in any bath, and in one with wood, it's essential. If you love wood but don't want the upkeep, investigate the new synthetic wood flooring materials. They're surprisingly realistic-looking and have all the waterproof benefits of a synthetic.


Ceramic tile, marble, and granite make handsome and highly durable flooring and wall surfaces for baths. Marble and granite tiles (slabs are too heavy) make a bath of unsurpassed luxury and beauty, and ceramic tiles go well on both floors and walls. Ceramic tiles that look antique, or like quarried stone, are now available.

Glazed and crackled in earthy, stonelike textures, patterns, and colors, they resemble everything from tumbled marble to aged terra-cotta. Just be sure to use ceramic tiles made for flooring on the floor -- wall tiles may look similar but aren't strong enough. And be certain to specify a nonslip surface on these floors.

Some ceramic tiles have the low-luster, textured look of tumbled marble or other natural stones that makes them more slip-resistant. Smaller tiles with more numerous, thicker grout lines also improve traction.

Your choices don't end here. For a look that's both modern and rustic, consider cement flooring. Painted or stained, it's a dramatically different look, and the material is naturally waterproof and nonslip.

Sheet vinyl or vinyl tiles are inexpensive and look better than ever these days: Top-quality lines do a nice job with faux-marble or faux-ceramic tile looks. Sheet vinyl avoids the potential problem of moisture seeping between tiles and loosening them, but vinyl tiles are quick and simple for anyone to install. Nonslip surfaces aren't really an option with vinyl flooring, so exercise care in wet areas.

Contoured or wall-to-wall bathroom carpeting has fallen out of favor for style and sanitation reasons, but the predominantly hard-surfaced bathroom can benefit from the soft texture of a rug or two underfoot.

Just be sure to use rugs with nonslip coatings on back or use nonslip rug pads. Textured rubber tiles like those used in hospitals are fun for a modern bath or one used by kids, and they're nicely slip-resistant. Whatever type of flooring you choose, make sure it's installed over a clean, level, dry subfloor: This is one job you don't want to have to tear out and do over!

Bathroom walls in the shower area may be ceramic, marble, or granite tiles; solid surfacing; or laminate materials. For a space-expanding look, you can extend these materials to the rest of the bath or add interest with different wall treatments. A popular example is tile carried high on the shower wall that stops at the chair-rail level in the rest of the bath to be replaced by glass block, wood paneling, wallpaper, or paint.

The design on the walls and fireplace give this bathroom an antique look.

Rather modern but undeniably beautiful, glass block can be used for interior walls, for half walls to create partitions without blocking light, or for exterior windows. If you love wood paneling, select the kind that has been treated with a waterproof plastic finish, and choose redwood or cedar, which withstand moisture better than other woods.

If your choice is wallcovering, make sure it's vinyl, and use moisture-resistant adhesive not ordinary wallpaper paste. Paint is the most economical choice, so buy the best, and specify gloss or semigloss for easy cleaning and extra moisture resistance. Even with waterproof surfaces, adequate ventilation is a must, so shop for a ceiling fixture fan or fan/light at the same time you shop for surfacing materials.

Veined, smoked, and tinted mirrors have fallen out of design favor since the '70s, but large-scale, clear mirrors are still an ideal wall surfacing material in the bath.

They add glamour to a large space, make a small one look bigger, and brighten up any space by reflecting light from the usually minimal windows. To use large areas of mirror successfully, make sure it's hung properly (it's extremely heavy). Keep it out of shower areas because moisture seeping into the mirror's edges will ruin the silvering.

And be sure you know what scene it will reflect! Many people prefer to mirror only the top half of the wall and use tile or other material below.

For a glamorous look, surround a frameless mirrored medicine cabinet with mirror, or hang an ornately framed mirror (Venetian glass framing is fabulous) on top of the large wall mirror.

For an uninterrupted look, have any wall sockets on the mirror covered with mirror also. If your vanity counter is deep, the wall mirror may be too far away for putting on makeup, so plan for a portable, magnifying countertop mirror. Telescoping mirrors are a great idea for users of all heights.

Don't forget the door when planning your bath: To make the room usable for anyone, make sure the doorway is at least 32 inches wide, even if it's the powder room. If you're using a conventional door, it's better if it swings out than in; if someone has fallen, an inward-swinging door may be impossible to open. If floorspace is tight, consider a pocket door that slides into a slot in the wall or bifold doors that fold back against the wall.

A bathroom can be rendered impractical or downright dangerous without adequate lighting. On the next page, learn how to select lighting based on your bathroom needs.

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Bathroom Lighting

Hanging pendants, reflected in the mirror, provide ample lighting.

Good bathroom lighting is as important in the bath as it is in the kitchen and even more often neglected. Think of all the delicate grooming and first-aid operations performed in the bathroom, and you'll realize why you should plan for adequate lighting early in your remodeling job.

Electrical outlets and switches are easier to move than plumbing pipes if the wiring is reasonably accessible, and that one lone ceiling fixture isn't remotely OK!


Plan for maximizing natural light first: glass block or textured, frosted, or stained glass for eye-level windows in the wall; clear glass for a skylight if possible. For artificial light, plan on at least 4 watts of incandescent lighting per square foot (160 watts in a 538-foot bath or 280 watts in an 8,310-foot bath).

If you choose fluorescent lighting, figure 2 watts per square foot. Incandescent lights and deluxe "warm white" fluorescents behind a diffuser are flattering; "cool white" fluorescents are not and should be avoided. Halogen lights are hot but yield a bright light from tiny sources.

The new natural-spectrum lights are closer to sunlight than any other artificial source available, and many people feel these lights give the psychological health benefits of the real thing. Their bulbs are only slightly costlier than conventional incandescent bulbs.

For grooming, lights on both sides of the mirror are better than overhead, where they cast shadows. You'll need strong lighting over or around the mirror, but don't overdo it: If the mirror reflects the lights as it does with theatrical strip lighting, you'll get double the dazzle -- and double the heat.

For lighting above the shower area, be sure to use a fixture rated for damp areas. Over the bathtub, you may want lighting on a rheostat to make bright for reading or dim for relaxing.

For general, ambient lighting, multiple recessed ceiling fixtures are the most efficient and neat-looking, but if you're not planning to redo the ceiling, you may opt for period lighting (simply styled is better) in a traditional space or track lighting in a modern one. Up-lighting sconces are also good choices for general lighting.

Crystal-dripping chandeliers are great in a showhouse bath, but for safety and an uncluttered look, you'll want to keep ceiling fixtures and wall sconces fairly unobtrusive. And don't forget, the most exciting lighting fixture in the world can't rival the spectacular effect of natural sunlight flooding a bath!

Modern bathroom with all the amenities are becoming more and more common. On the next page, discover the amenities you never knew you needed.

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Designing Modern Bathrooms

Designing a modern bathroom can be fun and functional. An open window isn't enough ventilation to protect your bathroom wallcoverings, wood cabinets, and even your home's insulation, so put an exhaust fan on your must-have list early on. Fan-only units can be unobtrusive if you recess them into a soffit or ceiling; fan/light combinations are practical -- you can choose from regular lighting or heat lamps.

Once you've experienced a heat lamp after your bath or shower, you won't ever want to be without it! Kids and older people who feel the chill even more will really appreciate it, too.


A wall heater in the master bath and an infrared heat lamp located safely in the ceiling of a kids' bath will keep everyone toasty. For European-style pampering, consider a freestanding or wall-mounted towel warmer, either electrical or hooked to your home's hot-water heating system. If you've got the room, a fireplace in the bathroom is the most luxurious warming method of all.

You don't need a conventional, built-in fireplace with a chimney, because several manufacturers offer ventless fireplaces that are convenient as well as romantic.

Underfloor radiant heat, either electrical or from hot-water pipes in the floor, is another luxurious treat: Since heat rises, there are no chilly spots in the room. But whatever you do, don't even think about a portable space heater!

Beyond these basics, the sky's the limit for what your bath can include: a built-in TV with VCR, a state-of-the-art audio system to transport you while you soak, a telephone, or even a computer. A security system panel in the bath may be a good idea, especially for an older person who may need to summon help when others aren't at home.

Shop the high-end design centers and shelter magazines, including those that specialize in home electronics. You may be inspired to cut a few corners elsewhere to budget for a convenience that didn't even exist a few years back!

Bathroom safety and easy maintenance are essential. On the next page, learn about safety features and how to ensure that your bathroom is easy to keep clean.

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Bathroom Safety and Maintenance

The grab bar in the shower helps prevents falls, and the telephone near the toilet ensure that -- should an accident occur -- help is close at hand.

Bathroom safe­ty and future maintenance require careful consideration.

Nonslip flooring, handrails or grab bars for tubs and showers, pressure-balancing valves on showerheads to protect against scalding, and tempered glass for shower doors are some of the safety basics your installer should consider nonnegotiable.


Another, required by building codes, is a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) for any outlet near a water source. If there's an electrical short, as in a hair dryer hitting the tub, a GFCI instantly shuts off the power.

Maintenance is inevitable in any bath, so make it easy. From the plumber's perspective, the best bath layout has the water supply and drain/waste/vent pipes all in one wall. One "wet wall" makes repairs easier.

If, like many baths, yours has fixtures on two or three walls, do the next-best thing: Keep water lines and shut-off valves accessible in case you or a plumber needs to get at them. This includes whirlpool tubs installed into a tile-covered platform: Plan for a hatch that can be opened near the controls.

For day-to-day maintenance, make sure you really know how to clean those gold-plated faucets, marble counters, hand-painted sinks, and wood-paneled walls. They may be able to stand up to water but could be damaged by an all-purpose industrial cleaner with abrasives and bleach!

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Mary Wynn Ryan is the author of numerous interior design books including The Ultimate Kitchen, The Ultimate Bath, Cottage Style, Fresh Country Style and Garden Style. She has written about home furnishings and interior design for various magazines and served as Midwest editor of Design Times magazine. She was also the director of consumer and trade marketing for the Chicago Merchandise Mart's residential design center. She is president of Winning Ways Marketing, an editorial and marketing consulting firm that specializes in home design and decorating.