Powder room decor is having a moment right now. What is a powder room? A powder room is a half-bath that usually has a toilet and a sink. Powder rooms are usually small. Typically less than 50 square feet and most often they are around 25-30 square feet.
Powder rooms are usually located in an area that guests have easy access. They get their name from guests or patrons using the space to powder their noses. So, the powder room isn’t for the homeowner, but a little private oasis for your guests. In fact, most homeowners rarely use their powder rooms!
Last year I participated in the One Room Challenge and submitted a powder room project and the same powder room won an award this year at the ASID Florida North design competition. I wanted to revisit the topic and share some ideas and tips that I used when I created the design plan for that space!
They are small, they serve a specific function, but they are typically a space that a homeowner can have some fun with the decor. It’s such a small space that all of the details will be up close and personal. Your guests will be able to appreciate the details, so this is a great space to have some fun!
When it comes to powder rooms I say, “Go big or go home!” Feel free to use as many of these tips in one space as you can. I get it, you may not be comfortable with a bold wallpaper or highly decorative lighting in most other spaces, but the powder room is like a little secret surprise! One that you can close the door on when you get tired of it.
1 – The Vanity
The vanity cabinet itself can be a great place to add some style to your powder room decor. I highly recommend looking for a freestanding vanity or having a custom vanity made, if you can.
Right now, the antique washstand look is really popular. You can accomplish this look by converting a washstand or small dresser into a vanity. You will very likely need to cut holes into the back of the peice to allow access for plumbing, the top will need to be replaced by an appropriate counter surface, and the drawers will need to be modified. So, I wouldn’t invest a ton of money into the piece itself. However, there is no better way to give your powder room a timeless look.
There are several furniture companies that make awesome free-standing vanities. Worlds Away makes some very stylish vanities that look great if you want a transitional-glam, deco, or chinoiserie chic styled space. They’re known for their lacquer finishes, shiny metals, and geometric shapes.
Other popular furniture stores that sell free-standing vanities and are known for their particular aesthetic are Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn.
If you really want something special and unique for your powder room decor, you can find a local cabinet maker or furniture maker that can help you design and build a bespoke vanity. As I have said before, with custom, the sky is the limit! However, the quality of a locally made, hand crafted piece will be un-matched!
2 – The Mirror
Mirror Mirror on the wall… there’s a reason it’s called a ‘vanity’. In a powder room, if it’s not the star of the show, the mirror should at least have a supporting role! Make sure you pick something that works with the overall concept of your powder room decor. Whatever you do, don’t wimp out or lose steam before you get to the mirror!
Shapes & Sizes
The shape of the mirror and the type of frame are details that you don’t want to overlook. Make sure the frame color is well contrasted with the wall color so that it doesn’t blend in. If you do choose a color that is more subtle, aim to select a frame of substantial size. Even if the frame color blends with the wall color, the visual weight of the frame will allow the mirror to stand out.
You may also want to choose a frame that has an interesting shape or pattern to it. This is especially important if you are painting the walls or using a solid color wall covering like shiplap, tile, or grasscloth. If you’re looking to create a look that is over-the-top bold, then an interesting mirror is a must!
Beyond the powder room decor, you need to think about the functionality. Hanging the mirror at the appropriate height. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends that the bottom of the mirror be no more than 40″ above the finished floor. This is to accommodate users who may be seated or shorter. For a 36″ tall vanity with a 4″ backsplash, the mirror should abut the top edge of the backsplash.
Now, I’m not saying you should break the rules, but if you were going to bend them a little, the powder room might be the place. However, keep in mind that the powder room is a place for guests to reapply lipstick and powder their noses. Keep your powder room decor hospitable. Don’t make the mirror so tall that your shorter guests can’t attend to their cosmetics. So, hanging the mirror as you would hang art – center of the mirror at eye level – is a good rule to follow. Art is typically hung with the center of the piece at 56-63″ from the finished floor.
3 – Lighting
Even though manufacturers keep cranking them out, over-the-mirror vanity lighting is not the best… particularly in your powder room. Placing the lighting above the face causes shadows to be cast down. This accentuates lines on the face… no bueno for your guests!
The best lighting for powder room decor are sconces. Sconces project light forward, which helps minimize shadows. However, your powder room may not have properly placed receptacles, which will require work by a licensed electrician. This work will need to be completed before any surfaces changes are made to your walls. It can also be costly to change the location of your lighting because you will need to repair any damage to the drywall created by the new and existing lighting.
Hang ‘Em High… But Not Too High
If you opt for sconces, you want to make sure you hang them at the right height. There are a many suggestions for the height to hang a bathroom sconce. They range from 60-70″ above the floor. Some recommend eye level based on the user, but that’s not very practical if you have short and tall users.
This method will also fail if you the center of the lighting and the center of your mirror are not aligned. If the bottom of the sconce is placed at 60″ above the finished floor (or higher) it will appear too high. This will create a very unbalanced look and make the lights look like they aren’t part of the vanity vignette. You also will not achieve the effect of projecting light out, which defeats the purpose of using sconces.
My best recommendation is to align the sconce with the center of the mirror, which is to hang the center of the sconce about 56-63″ from the finished floor. This will also depend on the shape of the sconce. Some sconces, like the one in the bottom image, have a long tail. So the part that emits light is off-center. In those cases, you will want to align the lighted portion of the light with the center of the mirror.
Not the Brightest Bulb
In a full bathroom I would never recommend a dim light. You will performing a lot of tasks that require bright lighting in a full bath. I would also only recommend using lighting fixtures that are recommended for bathrooms.
However, powder rooms are special.
Powder rooms are drier than a full bath. Because there is no shower or bathtub, you won’t have an issue with steam. As I mentioned above, you’re not going to be performing a full range of bathroom tasks as you would in a master bedroom. Therefore, you aren’t necessarily limited by bathroom specific sconces, which lets can color outside the lines a little on your powder room decor and lighting.
However, I recommend consulting with a licensed electrician before making lighting purchases and most certainly call them for any lighting installations.
4 – Wall Paper
I am so excited about the return of the popularity of wall paper! I’m a little embarrassed to admit that never really stopped loving it. I just remember thinking that it was the chicest thing to have a large floral patterned wall paper in the 80’s.
The perfect place for a bold, large pattern is a small powder room. Why? Because you can’t escape the pattern. It will seem even bolder and more impactful when it’s right in your face. Plus, if you get sick of it, it is in a well contained space that you probably don’t use every day.
But, Won’t it Peel?
Most people will avoid wall paper in the bathroom because of the moisture issue. They are concerned that it may peel over time. As I mentioned above, powder rooms are much drier bathrooms because there are no showers or tubs. So, go for it!
You may even want to use wall paper types that you typically would not find in a bathroom, such as grasscloth or flocked wall coverings. I would be careful around the sink backsplash though. You will want to make sure that you have at least a 4″ backsplash and lower mirror would also help protect your wall covering.
5 – Hardware
Don’t forget your plumbing fixtures, cabinet hardware, and other accessories. While the plumbing and hardware may not be the star of the show, they can help carry out the concept of the space. If you use similar metal colors among the various pieces of hardware, the repetition will help create some cohesiveness in a small space. In the top image, we used an antique bronze colored faucet and light fixture to bring out the bronze colored leaves in the wall paper.
6 – Window Treatments
Some powder rooms don’t have windows, but if you do have a window make sure you dress it! A great window treatment can elevate the look of any room and gives the space a feeling of being complete.
Often, windows in powder rooms are small and narrow, which would require a custom window treatment. A few weeks back I talked about the cost of custom window treatments, so if you’re not sure if custom is right for you, make sure you check it out.
That Roman, He Sure is Shady…
Roman shades are ideal for small windows, like you might find in a powder room. You can either do an inside mount, where the shade fits 100% inside the frame of the window, or an outside mount where the shade is mounted over the trim of the window. Either style presents a low profile window treatment.
Just because the window treatment is low profile, does not mean it has to be inconspicuous. You can add trimmings and bias tape to a Roman shade to give it some style. It’s also becoming popular to use the same fabric and wallpaper pattern, which will give the window and a consistent pattern across. This look was popular in the 70’s and 80’s, but is enjoying a resurgence.
7 – Millwork
Trim, especially trim that contrasts with the walls and wall coverings can be a great way to help accentuate the wall covering and to bring in some extra color. You can also try a monochromatic look by using the same or a similar color on your moldings as you use on the wall. This technique allows color to be the focal point of the space.
Shiplap is still a very popular wall covering and can be added as an accent wall in appropriate settings. Below, we used shiplap as an accent wall on an exterior wall in a coastal farmhouse style bathroom. Another option that creates a similar rustic look is bead board or tongue and grove paneling.
8 – Flooring
Don’t forget the floors when designing your powder room! Using patterned or colorful tiles can be a great way to compliment the concept of the space. The bathroom above has a classic black and white mosaic, which adds to the historical look of the space. It also adds some pattern and repetition to the design.
Encaustic tiles have been very popular in the last couple of years. This type of tile can bring a lot of pattern and color to the powder room, but you also have to keep in mind the intended permanence of tile. Because of the mortar used to apply the tile to the sub-floor, it can be very difficult and expensive to remove, if you grow tired of the pattern. However, the size of the powder room limits available floor space. So, if you wanted to use a bolder tile in your home, a powder room would be a great place for it!
9 – Backsplash
A beautiful tile backsplash can really make a bathroom look elegant and rich. With it’s petite proportions, the powder room can be a great place to add a dramatic counter-to-ceiling backsplash treatment. Similar to wall paper and flooring, a backsplash tile treatment can have a big impact.
I would recommend choosing between a tile backsplash, wallpaper, or other wall covering. While I am all for making a statement in your powder room, if you add too many wall accent elements, you may move beyond POW and into “WOW… that’s tacky!”
10 – Tray & Accessories
This is more about decorating and styling the space than bringing the POW in your design concept, but little details will give the space some warmth. If you have the available counter space consider adding a vanity tray. You can put a soap dispenser and hand towel on the tray for guests. Finish styling it with a bud vase and or a small candle. This will create a welcoming vignette for your guests.
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