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Small Space - Big Flair

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

As I write today’s column, I have eight bathrooms and two powder rooms in the works. Six are new construction, one is a remodel and the rest are cosmetic upgrades. All but three are small spaces, and I happen to love designing small spaces.

Where some homeowners see a challenge, I see freedom. Freedom to toss convention aside and do something fun. Do something dramatic. Why not? It’s just a small bathroom. And, 10 times out of 10, homeowners are thrilled with their unconventional, fun and dramatic spaces.

What’s the first step to such an undertaking? I like to think of style themes but dialed back just enough so that the outcome does not look kitsch or hokey. Instead, the themes are subtle and supported by a combination of sophistication and eclecticism.

The next step is to think of verticality. Rather than limiting myself to square footage, I think of cubic footage. How can I make the most of the walls and ceiling? One of my projects is Moroccan-inspired. I call it “Project Casbah.” (I know the Casbah is technically in Algiers, but the name keeps me focused.) The space is five-feet by eight-feet with an eight-foot high ceiling.

This bathroom has a tub-shower and, instead of installing glass doors, I’m using shower curtains. Glass doors can sometimes be awkward in a small space. They also create a physical barrier to the air space above the tub. But, the main reason for curtains here is that they seem so fitting for this Casbah style. Can you imagine Hedy Lamarr, Charles Boyer and Peter Lorre secretly meeting in a dark, smoke-filled room behind beaded curtains? Bonus points if you can name the movie.

I’m using a soft brown, green and ivory patterned tile called Maroc and taking it to the ceiling on all four walls. My clients trust that this will not make their space seem smaller. Rather, the pattern will keep their eyes moving from side to side, up and down, and will trick their brains into thinking the space is actually larger. The soft colors and the consistency of wall material will also keep their brains from thinking it’s too busy.

There is a door, a window, and a large mirror that will break up the tile. The mirror will also visually enlarge the space.

I’ve selected an open-based lavatory on four metal legs that will give the room a feeling of spaciousness. Some people prefer a solid vanity to hide the plumbing trap but by the time the whole space is complete, no one will notice it.

In keeping with a Moroccan theme, the finish of the sink’s base, the plumbing fixtures, and the curtain rod are all antique brass. I’m mounting the curtains at the ceiling to make the room seem taller. My seamstress will make them because store-bought curtains would be too short. The fabric is bronze in color and without a pattern so that it will not detract from the tile.

The towel bars will be mounted higher than usual to give the illusion of a higher ceiling. Each bar will be topped with a shelf a foot above and at the same width as the bar. This will continue to raise the eye and create more interesting vignettes.

Light fixtures are critical in a bathroom but most found online are ho-hum or have been seen a thousand times over. Finding something unusual can add a lot of flair to a small space and are worth the investment. I’m looking at a few brass filigree lanterns but have not found one that isn’t so obviously Moroccan and predictable – that is, one that is dialed back.

Here are a few takeaways when designing a small bathroom: treat the entire height of the walls with tile, wood planks, wallpaper, a painted faux finish or a dramatic color. If this is intimidating, do something unusual on the ceiling instead. Use open-based lavatories and/or stand-alone tubs where the floors can be seen underneath.

Mount fixtures a little higher than normal. Mount window treatments and shower curtains at the ceiling. Choose a showpiece light fixture. Stick with a theme and then neutralize it a bit so that the theme does not become too literal.

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