Monday, February 23, 2009

Design Dilemma: What Should I Do With My Boring Powder Room?

More Ways to Waste Time reader Harriet writes, "I'm hoping you can help me with my boring powder room. I'm looking for ways to add spunk, character, and style without spending much money.

The room lacks architectural details: There is no window. It's a five-by-five-foot square. And it's painted a pale green. There is a nice new sink and toilet, but I'm not attached to anything else in the room.

I'd definitely like to paint. Two people recommended pumpkin or terracotta, which I like, but I'm wondering if they would clash with the orange-y wood of the bathroom door. I love deep peacock blue-green, but have been warned against a cold color in a windowless room. I'd also like to change the light fixture, hopefully without moving the light box. Finally, I'm on the lookout for a small table or cabinet with more character than the white cabinet that's in there now. To me, a table wants a plant on it, but with no natural light, I haven't figured out what to put there instead. Any ideas?"

Photo from Point Click Home

I have one word for you, Harriet: Wallpaper. It's a great way to add color, dimension, and interest to a lackluster space. And it doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive, especially when you're papering a small room. You could even paper just the sink wall, and paint the other three walls a complimentary hue. Cole & Son's Woods wallpaper, shown above and below, is one of my favorites.

Photo from House to Home

Photo from House to Home

If it's in your budget, installing a wood or tile wainscot will add instant architecture to a space with none. For the look of wainscoting without the expense, you could even install a simple chair rail, then wallpaper above it and paint below.

Photo from Walnut Wallpaper

If matching the wood of the door is a stumbling point, be sure to test paint or wallpaper swatches against it to make sure they don't clash. Or consider simply painting the door. I don't have a strong opinion about warm vs. cool colors for your space. I think that as long as the lighting isn't cold (i.e., glaring fluorescents), it doesn't really matter.

Besides, it's just a powder room -- a space to go to the bathroom and wash your hands. Nobody's going to be spending a ton of time in there or doing anything other than maybe reapplying lipstick, so I don't think it's a big deal if the color palette is on the cool side. (But readers, feel free to say so if you think I'm wrong on this.)

Photo from House to Home

Design by Benjamin Dhong, photo by moi

Now about your mirror. It's OK, but you could add a huge dose of style and drama by upgrading. Again, you don't have to spend a lot of money. Keep an eye out on craigslist, in thrift stores, and at flea markets for a vintage mirror with an interesting shape or intricate frame. If you don't like the frame's color or wood finish, you can simply spray paint it.

Photo from Domino

Photo from Walnut Wallpaper

Photo via Desire to Inspire

For lighting, you could go vintage (or vintage-inspired), classic, or modern, depending on your preferences and the other elements in the room. Circa Lighting and Rejuvenation are great places to find a vintage or reproduction over-mirror fixture that will add a lot a character to the room. For more budget finds, don't overlook eBay or your local architectural salvage yard. A great old piece can often be rewired for very little expense.

A vintage side table or cabinet topped with fresh flowers, a shade-tolerating plant like a peace lily, a collection of small treasures, a basket full of rolled hand towels, or an interesting objet will complete the look.

The most important thing, I think, is to have some fun. Because a powder room is a space that's only experienced for a few minutes at a time, there's no better excuse to just go for it.

Readers: Any other ideas for jazzing up Harriet's lackluster powder room? If so, please leave a comment and share them!


Ana Herda said...

I agree, Wallpaper is the way to go.

Check out some of Ferm Living's wallpaper, it great.

Leah said...

Ana -- second your vote for Ferm. They make some great papers. (Available here:

And speaking of deep blue-greens, how gorgeous would Ferm's Family Tree or Feather papers be in this space?

Anonymous said...

Don't let anyone tell you not to use deep colour in a small space. All those rules "dark colours make a room look small" aren't true! I think your bathroom would look stunning in a dark teal wallpaper, it will really bring out the lines of your nice pedestal sink.

solsticehome said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
solsticehome said...

Another thought is beadboard 3/4 up wall with a great molding on top.. adds architectual detail and a place to prop a few pieces of art, adding color and they can be switched out easily. you could then paint or wallpaper the rest of the wall. So many colors to choose from..pick one or 2 you love and go with it!
its a good room to have fun with.

Lynne Rutter said...

i agree a strong pattern will help in here, be careful of the scale of that pattern though! and a deep color, particularly red, or deep blue, will make the room feel visually larger as well as more intimate. better lighting helps a lot, you can't go wrong with a good pair of sconces in a powder room.

might be fun to gold or silver leaf the ceiling. i never leave the ceiling white in such a tiny space.

Lynne Rutter said...

oops, forgot examples-- light, modern style pattern:

tradtional red room with chinoiserie handpainted wallpaper:

jj de sousa
Digs Inside & Out

Have you seen the beautiful mother of pearl wallpaper tiles from Maya Romanoff?

With the right lighting and a high gloss ceiling in a small space it is wonderful!

Or also check out the Philip Jeffries granite wallpaper - killer texture and shine - expecially in the silver -

I recently used both of these products in client projects and they look fantastic!

You can have such fun in a powder room - since there is such a small space to work with you can really afford to use products that might be cost prohibitive elsewhere. You can really turn it into quite a jewelbox! Good luck!

Unknown said...

I disagree about the wallpaper. I think the lovely lines of the pedestal sink would get lost. I do think the peacock blue would be dynamite, especially with Lynne's idea above of a gold or silver ceiling. I think a bigger mirror would be lots more dramatic and would bounce a lot of light around to keep the deep color from being too overwhelming. And what about a chandelier? You know, a little jewelry for the room. It's kind of extravagant and whimsical, but why not! If your light box is on the wall, could you swag the cord and mount it from the ceiling anyway? (I'm no lighting expert, so that's not a hypothetical question.) As for the cabinet/table thing, do you have room to wall mount a shelf? That might be pretty, and free up some space for storage baskets underneath.

Good luck! This room looks like it could be such fun to play with.

Unknown said...

leah that's so funny- when i read the question, in my head i immediately answered "three simple little words: wallpaper, wallpaper, wallpaper!"

great minds, and all...

Unknown said...

Wallpaper is definitely it. My sister papered her smallish, windowless powder room with Voysey's The Stag over a chair rail and it's incredible. It was expensive, which is why it's over a chair rail.
As it was said, if it's a large print, you can just do one wall of the room. Cole and Sons has some gorgeous papers, including the very popular Cow Parsley.

Also, since it's a powder room, you can install some drop-dead gorgeous light fixtures, because people will see them.

Anonymous said...

What about if a shower is involved? I have the same dillema but in a full bath. won't the steam affect the wallpaper?

Anonymous said...


I think whatever you choose you need to break the verticallity just above the sink line, that is your key to interest.
You could do beadbaord with a great paper above (remember moisture though)
You could even get as simple as a chair rail in wood or tile to save do to different colors though a change in texture tone on tone would be more sophisticated.
I do love the Maya Romanoff shell wallpapers and have used these - get a good installer- You can get these MUCH CHEAPER AT AStek wallcoverings.

My vote- bead board below Maya Romanoff type Pearlypaper shell tiles above - Good LUck I know with your style you will choose what is right.


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