The powder room is the smallest room in the house.
And because of its diminutive size, it can be one of the most spectacular rooms when renovated.
For that reason, it’s a space homeowners are interested in improving now, and they’re making creative changes.
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Sarah Anderson, an interior designer and owner of Sarah Anderson Interiors, said because so many people have been stuck at home, she’s seeing a lot of interest in powder room renovations, as well as other house projects.
“The design phase is happening right now. So much of the work is coming to fruition right now. The pandemic was the catalyst. People were sitting around and watching TV, and seeing beautiful homes,” so they decided they wanted to have this kind of work done, she said.
Peg Winters, owner and designer of Winters Partnership, said she is seeing lots of home improvements going on too, and that powder rooms are big because “they are small and correctable most of the time, and because updating a powder room is an easy way to freshen up an area of your house.”
And because of their size, they can also be an inexpensive project.
“Per square foot, a bathroom can be expensive because you have all the trades involved; the carpenter, the electrician, the plumber. … But on the other hand it’s a small space, so if you don’t gut the room and start moving things around, it won’t cost that much,” she said.
There are also lots of options when it comes to changes you can make.
“It’s small and you can do just a handful of things or you can really go for it. It’s what your guests see … it’s a showpiece if you want it to be,” said Amber McCoy, an interior designer and project manager with Amy Carman Design.
“Powder baths are small by nature and are an adaptive space. This allows you to have something a little bit different. You can have a little more color, different materials, or a little different style than in the rest of your home. It’s an area that’s really fun to design,” she said.
“Probably half the clients we work with are just looking for an update. They don’t want to tear everything down to the studs,” she said.
So where do you to start when updating this room?
Winters said here it’s important to have the entire room planned out before work begins; especially if the room is to be changed dramatically.
“Have the scope of the project in your mind before you start tearing things apart. It makes the process so much easier,” she said.
If the room will be gutted and fixtures moved around, building codes are important, said Anderson.
“A toilet has to have a certain amount of space in front of it before it comes in contact with a wall, and a vanity has to have so much space on either side. A lot of times the size and configuration of the room dictates what you can do,” she said.
What’s on the walls
Once those guidelines are met, homeowners can pick from a wide variety of trends when decorating.
Wallpaper in bold prints is big, bright and deep colors are in, and artwork and lighting are important.
You can buy high-quality wallpaper in beautiful designs and it won’t cost a lot because you don’t need much, Anderson said
“You can spend a little more and go a little bolder and you won’t necessarily break the bank.
“A lot of times people think small rooms equal small patterns, which isn’t the case. Bigger patterns tend to make a smaller space look bigger. … people should experiment with patterns and bold colors. They really add personality to the space,” she said.
McCoy said wallpaper murals are also big.
“They create an environment around you. They are really great options.”
She said her firm recently did a bathroom with a mural that looked like soft, feathery willow branches.
“The panels were 3 to 4 feet wide, and you felt like you were in a natural environment,” she said.
Making a mini gallery
When it comes to accessories, artwork and mirrors are important.
“People shy away from, or aren’t sure about putting art in a bathroom, but it can be a great place to create a gallery.” Unique mirrors, also considered artwork, can also be added. “There are no rules,” said Anderson.
In a powder room renovation she recently did in Elm Grove, she used both.
“It was a very fun room. The wallpaper is pretty bold. It’s a gold metallic wallpaper with trees on it. In the room I also added an old mirror the family had in their possession and wall-mounted that above a vanity,” she said.
The room, which measures about 6-by-8-feet, also has an oversized picture of a woman in a bathing suit.
“The art is unexpected in a small room. It’s fun to make it a conversation piece,” she said.
Another renovation was in a Wauwatosa home. Here the powder room measured just 3-by-6-feet.
The room was gutted, a pocket door was added, and a blue tile backsplash was added to one wall.
“We added it up to the ceiling behind the sink. That added texture. The other walls were painted a blue gray that complemented the tile,” she said.
The room also got a bit of bling in the form of a crystal chandelier.
Anderson said she is also starting to update the powder room in her Dousman home and that the 6-by-6-foot room will have a bold wallpaper to make it “a conversation piece.”
A white rectangular shaped vanity that is dresser-like in style, has legs, and a Quartz top, will also be added, along with wall sconces on either side of a mirror.
McCoy said she recently updated the powder room in her 1940s Cape Cod in Elm Grove.
For her, the project started when she fell in love with a print.
“I saw a fabric sample of it and I fell in love with it. Then I realized there was a wallpaper version of the fabric. That started the whole thing.
“It’s a floral botanical by Schumacher. It has an off-white background with a floral print in blues and greens” she said.
She gutted the room and removed a window that was between the bath and another interior room, removed an old pedestal sink, a recessed medicine cabinet, and tile.
“It’s only 4-by-4-feet, so it’s small. The interior door is new, too. We added all new five panel recessed solid core doors in the house, and in the bath we painted it a soft white like the trim in the room. I also added a freestanding vanity I designed. It’s very small, only 18-inches wide. … I also added a new faucet in polished nickel. All the bath accessories are polished nickel.”
A piece of art she loves was also added.
She described it as a vintage etching she found at a consignment shop in Madison that she had reframed.
“It took a long time to find it. You can see it from the hallway,” she said.
A room is ‘lightened up’
Winters recently finished making changes to a powder room in a Brookfield home.
“It was absolutely functional. There was nothing wrong with it. It just looked tired. It needed a little hug, and that’s what we did,” she said.
To update the room, which measured about 7-by-7-feet, she repainted the walls a color called Lemon Meringue that was taken from a color in an abstract floral print of tulips used in the room. She also added a new valance, and a custom walnut vanity in a modern style with a Quartz top.
A dated light fixture was removed and replaced with recessed lighting and a sconce, and a framed oversized mirror was installed.
“These changes made a big difference. For not a lot of money, the couple was really able to create a great new look for the space,” she said.
Gary Bridgeford, who owns the home with his wife, Irene, said they had the work done in their two-story home “just to update things.
“The house is 30 years old. … Before it was dark. The whole room was lightened up in the process,” he said.
And because the room wasn’t gutted, the work was done quickly.
“We were surprised, it only took a couple of weeks,” he said.
His favorite part of the room now is the new mirror.
“It really stands out. It extends from the vanity almost to the ceiling and has beveling that creates a design around the edges,” he said.
‘Old and new’
When Michelle and Jeremy Perri restored their 1904 Victorian in the Concordia neighborhood, they added a powder room under the home’s front staircase and decorated it themselves.
“We bought our home in 2009 and gutted it to the studs and attempted to re-create the original layout with the exception of modern conveniences,” said Michelle.
“At some point someone had tried to make it into a duplex, but never completed it. There was a really awkward first floor bathroom, and the most direct path to get to the back of the house was to go through that bathroom.
“That bathroom was first thing that got ripped out … then in about 2014 we added the powder room under the front stairway.”
After the structural work was done in the powder room, Michelle took over and decorated the 3-by-4½-foot room.
“I used a photo on Houzz as my design inspiration and did all of the work myself,” she said.
She painted the walls and ceiling jet black, added a small sink and toilet, then decorated the walls with picture frames and framed photos.
“In Houzz they had floor to ceiling photos in frames in all different colors. I thought it looked pretty. When I started the project I decided I would use all photos of the house project. I’m still adding more photos. People say they love what we did,” she said.
When selecting a sink she opted for a “tiny” square sink rather than the corner sink that was suggested by a contractor that did some work in the house.
“The corner pedestal sink I think is a space sucker. And the little square sinks were a little more modern. I like a little bit old and new.”
She selected a round shaped toilet rather than one that was elongated as it gave her an “extra inch or so” in the room.
On the floor she installed 1-inch marble hex tile in a white with bits of gray and tan, and her husband, who did all the finish carpentry in the home, added floor molding that was recycled from another old home. He also modified a door from their house to use for the powder room.
The only other elements she added were a mirror over the sink, and a small shelf over the toilet to hold a candle and a stack of toilet paper.
“I incorporated a shelf into the design for the toilet paper and the candle. You can stack toilet paper all the way up the wall and it lines up between the picture frames,” she said.
Anderson said that when it comes to powder rooms, you don’t need a lot of storage.
“I try to get people away from needing their supplies in the powder room. Here, less is more,” she said.
She added that toilet paper or other supplies can be put in a basket under a pedestal sink, you can set a small stool next to a pedestal sink and put a small basket on it, or add a recessed medicine cabinet.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bathroom makeovers are big, with a small space to cover and people stuck at home