Making a minuscule bathroom appear practical, tidy, and even a tad stylish is pretty darn impossible, right? Wrong! If you focus on clever storage solutions and go bold with color and accents, you can create a space that’s both functional and stylish without breaking the bank. Or the commode, as it were.
From storage solutions to playful accents, here are clever design secrets to get the most out of your Lilliputian powder room.
Step 1: Deal with storage
After you’ve pared down extra toiletries and items that you don’t need to store in your cramped restroom, you’ll need to find the right containers and storage space for them, says Allison Petty, an interior designer with Homepolish, a national design firm based in New York City.
So how do you decide what you really need to keep within arm’s reach (beyond the blatantly obvious, that is)? Anything you’ve had more than a year, toss. Items you use less than once a week, you can put into a closet or other storage area.
Expandable, under-the-sink organizers (like this one from the Container Store) help double your storage space where it counts. A small bathroom might have a shallow medicine cabinet, or none at all.
“Install a deeper, inexpensive medicine cabinet that provides more space,” Petty says. Storage furniture won’t fit in a small bathroom, so it’s smart to maximize your wall space to help keep things off the sink and floor. Speaking of which, the things you’ll want to put in storage bins include tissues, cosmetics, spare towels, and hair accessories and styling tools. Hide cleaning supplies, extra rolls of toilet paper, and other items you don’t want in plain view in the vanity.
Put a single towel rack behind the door or a nice metal train rack mounted on the wall above the toilet (or opposite it) so you have a place to hang fresh towels and used ones, says Susie Kurkowski, owner of Items of Interest, a home decor boutique in Brooklyn, NY, that also houses her full-service interior design firm, DesignCorp.
One word of caution on those towel racks and hooks: Don’t overdo it, and limit the amount of towels to the absolute bare minimum. For a powder room, just a hand towel will do. For a full bathroom, two to three towels, max.
Step 2: Go bold with color
Just because your bathroom is a wee short on space doesn’t mean it can’t pack a stylish punch with some color and cool patterns. Petty likes to play with artful wallpaper to add oomph, as long as the patterns aren’t too big or overwhelming. Try a simple graphic pattern—such as a trellis or chevron—that almost serves as a piece of art.
If you plan to paint the ceiling (and hey, why not?!), choose a shade that’s slightly lighter than the wall color by mixing the primary color with white paint. The reason? Ceilings tend to catch the shadows in a room, so a lighter color tricks the eye into thinking the space is a little bigger, Kurkowski says. Small bathrooms are great places to explore your wild side with color, so if you want to use rich or bright hues, let loose—any color goes!
There’s one rule: Go for light and bright colors in the master bath, Kurkowski advises. Lighter shades make it easier to see while you’re shaving or putting on makeup. Also, some of those wild colors you love might cast an odd pallor on your face in subpar lighting.
Step 3: Light it up
Unless you want to resemble early ’90s Iggy Pop in the morning, stay far away from fluorescent lightbulbs in the bathroom. Halogen or xenon bulbs are the best options near the vanity, ideally on either side of the mirror over the sink (if room permits). Otherwise, ceiling pendants or recessed lighting are your best friends. Try a plug-in pendant in front of a sliding mirror vanity or just to the side of a mirror cabinet that opens for an easy DIY design.
A great addition (if your budget allows) is a damp-rated waterproof recessed light in the shower. It helps you see better, especially behind a dark shower curtain.
Step 4: Play with accents
Feel free to let your creative (and fun!) side out in small guest bathrooms. Hang a brightly framed or fun-shaped (like a hexagon) mirror over the vanity to pump up the decorative flair; it can be big or small. For a tiny master bath, though, a recessed mirror is your best bet, says Kurkowski, who prefers the sleek look of Robern products. If you don’t have the dough to spend on a high-end mirror, you’ll find plenty of great options at your local home improvement store.
Resist the urge to decorate with potpourri bowls or fake floral arrangements that attract dust and add clutter to your sink space. Sleek-looking canisters for your cotton balls and swabs, along with one piece of eye-catching artwork, are all you need in a small bathroom.
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A narrow shelf placed about 6 inches above a toilet gives you bonus surface area for those canisters. Make it the same width as the toilet tank, Kurkowski advises.
Both designers voice caution about bath mats. “A lot of times, normal-size bath mats don’t fit well in a tiny bathroom, and it’s always on the floor,” Kurkowski says. Smaller, low-pile bath mats work fine, but Kurkowski prefers to nix them in most cases.
Shower curtains, however, can truly transform a room. When choosing a curtain, “bring a pattern or color into the bathroom that you really love, but make sure it balances out with other elements and the colors on your walls,” Petty says.
If you decide not to go with wallpaper, a beautiful curtain—in a light color—can become a focal point. Kurkowski has been sourcing lots of curtains from Urban Outfitters. See, big design can come in small spaces.