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.
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.