Let’s take a walk through a bathroom. Picture this: uninspiring blue-gray floor tiles that pretend to look like slate but aren’t fooling anyone. Blue-and-yellow plaid wallpaper that once was in fashion but is now an assault to the eyes. A sink impractically placed under a window and nowhere near a mirror. And a single shower stall so short I’m not sure how a grown man uses it every day.
If anyone understands how valuable a bathroom is, it’s me. Because the description above is of my master en suite — and yes, it’s in desperate need of a makeover. It’s small, but size isn’t the real problem. The combination of a layout that lacks functionality and design elements that are not my taste makes it a room I try to avoid at any cost. In fact, I don’t even use it! I’ve migrated my accoutrements to the main family bathroom. I’d rather not cram myself into a plaid funhouse every morning, thank you very much.
The bathroom, as cliché as it sounds, is a sanctuary that sets the tone for the rhythm of your daily life. It’s where you get ready to face the world every morning and where you wash off the day before retiring for the evening. If you’ve got kids, it’s one of the few spaces where you can close the door and savor a few moments to yourself. (Unless you have a precocious toddler with no respect for personal space who has figured out how to operate door handles. In which case, you’re screwed.)
A sanctuary does not have to mean a spa-like space with river rocks and decorative bamboo. A sanctuary is simply defined as “a place of refuge or safety.”
Your sanctuary may look like a sparse and elegant wellness spa. Or it may look like a lush Moroccan souk, bursting with color and pattern. Or it may look like a retro throwback with black-and-white checkerboard flooring and a kitschy pink bathtub. Your home, your definition, your sanctuary.
Since the bathroom is typically expensive in terms of renovation costs — second only to the kitchen — I like to design a space with a great foundation that can be layered upon so it’s got some staying power. No designs are truly timeless, and they’re always going to hint at the era they were created in, so unless you’re head over heels in love with a design trend, a bathroom isn’t the place to experiment with looks you’re not totally bonkers for. You’ll never go wrong with simple, well-crafted cabinetry topped with a dynamite countertop. The big investment pieces are where I like to splurge, as hardware and fixtures can be swapped out more easily than a slab of granite or custom cabinetry.
I get a lot of questions about hardware and bath fixtures from clients, specifically about finishes. There’s an obsession with having everything match, from the shower faucet to door handles to toilet paper holder. While uniform fixtures are the safe option, they lack that special spark that makes a space unique. Perfection isn’t the goal — personality is. If your sink faucet is a deep oil-rubbed bronze finish and you love brass, why not introduce antique brass wall sconces to liven things up? Or if your fixtures are all chrome, why not branch out and hang a hammered pewter mirror to contrast glossy chrome with matte dark metal? It’s all about balance, and the classic 80/20 rule is a good one to remember: If 80 percent of your fixtures are all in one uniform finish, the remaining 20 percent can be different to bring in just the right amount of contrast and interest. Shiny and matte, pattern and solid, hard and soft — a successful, feel-good bathroom is all about the mix.
Bathrooms are by nature full of solid surfaces and hard edges, and it takes intentionality to warm up the space. Textiles bring a welcome shot of color and pattern and go a long way to making a cold room feel warm and welcoming. When it comes to bath mats, you’re no longer relegated to boring white or gray rectangles found at every home decor store. My favorite trick is to use a larger indoor-outdoor rug in lieu of a banal bath mat. Even if a large area rug isn’t an option, most small spaces can accommodate a narrow runner. Outdoor rugs are designed to handle moisture and wear, and they blend form and function beautifully.
Fun accessories are the icing on the cake and my favorite part of the design process. A Carrara marble vessel to hold makeup brushes, a repurposed basket to display towels or colorful ceramic trays to corral jewelry. All of these unique make-you-smile touches transform a bathroom into your personalized, stunning sanctuary.
Your definition of a bathroom sanctuary may not align with others, but who cares! The bathroom isn’t a space to be taken too seriously. After all, we’re not holding formal board meetings in there. It’s where we get ready, relax and recharge, and I’ve decided that my sanctuary can no longer include blue-and-yellow plaid wallpaper.