Powder Rooms with Punch

Many supposed rules are thrown out the window when designing powder rooms. For instance, the old adage that color makes a room look smaller doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to these spaces.

“If you design a family room with a lot of heavy color, you have to be concerned about seeing it from other rooms,” says Monica Miller, CKD, CBD, CR, J.S. Brown & Co., in Columbus, OH. “You have to worry about tying it all together. But in a powder room, you can go off the board a little. You can push color and style because you’re getting it in small doses.”

Homeowners often worry, too, that a particular style may not match the rest of the home. But since these spaces are oftentimes disconnected from other rooms, they can be the perfect opportunity to go a little crazy. “While I specialize in design that stands the test of time, powder rooms are great places for people to go a little wild,” says Diane Plesset, CMKBD, NCIDQ, CAPS, D.P. Design, in Oregon City, OR.

These spaces also give homeowners a chance to choose materials that are more delicate and more costly because they don’t get used as often (so durability is less critical), and you don’t need as much of them (which keeps the price down).

The following powder room projects offer a few examples of how several kitchen and bath designers have packed a powerful punch into the tiniest of spaces.

Designer: Diane Plesset, CMKBD, NCIDQ, CAPS; D.P. Design; Oregon City, OR

Design highlights: Handmade glass vessel sink atop an undulating glass countertop with artisan faux finish walls

Inspiration: Timeless design with pizzazz

Achieving the look: The transformation began with the sink and evolved with a Hawaiian focus based on the clients’ vacations to the island state. “The sink was a perfect representation of Mauna Kea, with a fiery red center that resembled molten lava, surrounded by varying shades of green, just like the tropical rainforests in Hawaii,” she says.

The ¾" sculptural countertop made the sink look like a floating island. It also made the room more accessible since the previous design required the user to scrunch between the door swing and toilet in order to close the door. Low-voltage step lights, aimed up at the bottom of the bowl from the wall below, emphasize the sink, which is accented by an off-set faucet that gained valuable space on the countertop. Low-voltage sidelights with metallic copper diffusers remind the client of tiki torches, while slate tile on the floor resembles hardened lava.

A faux finish artist completed the look with a special wall treatment done in four stages that included gluing leaves to the wall, then covering them with torn tissue paper that was covered by several coats of green paint and glazes topped with a protective urethane topcoat.

Powder room design views: “Timeless design doesn’t have to be ultraconservative and stodgy,” says Plesset. “If the budget allows, many elements can also provide drama…the pizzazz or ‘wow’ that makes people’s hearts sing. Cultural design artistry is more than a timeless treasure. It is a personal legacy.”

The pizzazz pieces in this particular design gave the homeowners a competitive advantage in the bad housing market and helped them sell their home for the listed price. “It does pay to incorporate time-proven elements in a redesign,” she says.

Top design tip: Listen to homeowners. “This bathroom would not have been as successful if the subject of my clients loving Hawaii had been glossed over,” she says. “I also ask questions that evoke feelings and show genuine interest in homeowners and their needs. The first time I met these clients (at a home show), I made a comment about how beautiful the lavatory was, then followed it with, ‘How does this appeal to you? Why are you attracted to it? If you could have this lavatory in your home, where would you put it?’”

Designer: John Granato, II, CKD; Donahoe Design; Marcellus, NY

Design highlights: Custom cantilevered pedestal table, Gravity Glas Copper Rush vessel sink

Inspiration: Treasured heirloom Japanese prints handed down from the client’s father who purchased them in Tokyo during his service in the Korean War

Achieving the look: “This is a simple room with a standout piece,” says Granato. “The cantilevered pedestal table, made from Anigre veneer and Wenge wood, hangs on the wall with a French cleat. It’s a shroud that conceals the plumbing, and if you ever need to get to it, you can easily pull out the whole assembly, without taking it apart.

“The cabinet does have some storage that encapsulates the vertical component. Its design is similar to two hands holding something, cupping it. When you go into Asian restaurants, that’s how you drink tea. You cup it with your hands.”

The hand-crafted Gravity Glas vessel sink sits atop the table and is accented with a wall-mount faucet attached to the mirror. Hardwood flooring completes the look.

Powder room design views: “The wonderful thing about powder rooms is that they can be a complete departure from the rest of the house,” he says. “They can really speak to the identity of the client. You can incorporate whimsy and fun. This particular client’s home is much more traditional, but they wanted to do something different here.

“Because it’s a powder room, we could do hardwood flooring,” he continues. “There isn’t a shower or a tub so you don’t need tile. And I wouldn’t necessarily put a sink like this in a bathroom where you’ll be shaving or washing your face because it’s more difficult to keep clean, and there’s a greater chance for water to get on top of the wood countertop.”

Top design tip: Change the location of the ventilation fan. “When used without a light, the ventilation fan for a powder room can be located about 18" off the floor behind the toilet,” he suggests. “Since a lot of powder rooms don’t need a fan light, you can relocate the ventilation fan closer to the point of use. It’s more efficient and does a better job.”

For extra convenience, you can also connect the fan to an automatic timer, wired to the light switch.

Designer: Monica Miller, CKD, CBD, CR; J.S. Brown & Co.; Columbus, OH

Design highlights: Walker Zanger Studio Moderne dimensional tile, Native Trails bronze sink

Inspiration: Shadow box artwork containing old property deed, written in Asian characters with stamps and seals.

Achieving the look: “My clients hesitated initially with the Asian design because the rest of the house does not follow that theme, so there was some discussion about pushing this strong in this direction,” Miller notes. “But since this room doesn’t open into anything except the hallway, if they were going to do something dramatic, this was the place to do it.”

Miller started with the Walker Zanger wall tile and its coordinating pieces, then accented them with a floating Cambria quartz vanity top supported by iron braces fabricated by a local iron shop to complement the iron light fixtures, a Moen wall-mount faucet, a custom mirror and a Native Trails bronze sink. “The egg-shaped sink is very organic,” she notes. “It looks like a piece of sculpture.”

Powder room design views: “Look for something that will be fun and interesting,” she says. “This is the room you send guests to. You want this space to have some personality. And it’s safe to give it some [personality]. It’s safe to up the ante because it’s such a small room. It’s not a huge commitment. You don’t have to redesign the whole house to go with what you’ve done here. Make sure it’s a fun and interesting space that you’d be proud to send your company to.”

Top design tip: Make sure you have enough accommodations for your guests. “Is there room for enough towels and a wastebasket?” she asks. “Is there room for a woman to set down her purse?”

Additionally, when considering ventilation, make sure the fan has the right sound level. Some people want a quiet fan, others want one that provides privacy.

Designer: Savena Doychinov, CKD; Design Studio International; Falls Church, VA

Design highlights: Custom Chinoiserie vanity; Sherle Wagner faucet and Nero Marquina marble

Inspiration: The spirit of 18th century French elegance with classic architectural details in a formal, yet welcoming space

Achieving the look: “Everything in this space is subtle elegance with high-quality details,” Doychinov says. For example, the custom Chinoiserie vanity, topped with Nero Marquina marble, hides a hidden surprise of drawers painted a vibrant red. “With all of the blacks and grays, there’s a beautiful splash of color, a nice detail that offers some private pleasure to those who open them,” she says. The antique French sink, featuring a Sherle Wagner faucet with rock crystal handles, boasts gold figures that are picked up by the antique gold mirror, which plays against the silvery reflective walls. “The French spirit is embodied in a lot of rooms in this home,” she says, “although the homeowners like anything that is classic and timeless.”

Taking another departure from the traditional, Doychinov added interest to the floor by clipping the corners of each two adjoining Nero Marquina marble tiles and adding Mother of Pearl accents. “It looks like little bow ties on the floor,” she says.

Additional architectural details include a cove that bridges the gap between the walls and ceiling, and a niche to “frame” and bring attention to the homeowner’s 18th century artwork.

Powder room design views: Believe in making the space special. “This is typically one space people want to show off,” she says. “It’s a place to present preferences and pride in your home. It also shows how much you respect your guests.

“Because it’s small, you can also make it dramatic, with a big, bold statement,” she continues. “Powder rooms are one of my favorite spaces to do.”

Top design tip: If possible, create a separate compartment for the toilet. While it wasn’t possible in this particular space, Doychinov downplayed the toilet by adding the Nero Marquina ledge and choosing a black finish. “It’s nice to separate the toilet and the sink to give the toilet its own space,” she says.