Choosing Serene Color Schemes

Most homeowners want their bathrooms to be soothing retreats, and the first step is finding the right color palette that inspires tranquility.

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What's your fantasy of the perfect master bath? Something pristine — simple and straightforward? Or perhaps something more luxurious, along the lines of a spa-like experience? No matter what amenities you choose, your color choice will be paramount in setting the right mood — and most people prefer it to be as restful and relaxing as a warm bubble bath. This means using calming color palettes: greens and blues, soft hues and subtle neutrals. Here are different ways to spread those tones throughout the room:

By nature, some color schemes are more soothing than others, with "nature" being the operative word. Greens and blues, from the cool side of the color palette, are reminiscent of the variegated colors of the Caribbean Sea. More than the colors themselves, though, there's a cue to be taken from specific shades. The bathroom isn't a place for electric blues or bright Kelly greens; instead, use softer tints such as sea foam green and aqua blue. Not only are they more refreshing but they also have a psychological advantage; these cool hues visually drop the temperature a few degrees — not a bad idea in a room associated with hot baths and steamy showers.

"In the '70s and '80s I think we made a mistake by using colors that were too strong," says Linda Welch, CKD, CBD, and ASID, of Trenton, Michigan. Instead, she recommends choosing fixtures in neutral hues — white and biscuit — and incorporating color with the flooring, wall treatments and accessories. "I think that blues and greens are very soothing," she adds, "reminiscent of the ocean and sky. And to warm them up, I like to use dark brown wood tones that are chocolate in color, bittersweet chocolate."

John Buscarello, ASID, from New York, is also a fan of the color blue, but likes to use it in a classic way — teamed with white. "It's a relaxing color," he says, "and it happens to be my favorite color, and the favorite color of most Americans, too. It's a known classic and it's very comfortable."

Buscarello finds ways to bring color into the bathroom in less expected ways, too. A light blue might come from a piece of granite or a pale green from textured glass tiles. To incorporate color is one thing, he says, but it's important to have interesting surfaces, too.

For that matter, almost any soft hues can be soothing. Create a feminine atmosphere with peaches and pinks. Go for a fresh look by using a lemony yellow. Surround your space with lavender tones, then take the theme a step further with a little aromatherapy in the form of lavender-scented candles.

Carol Weissman, Allied ASID, of Leawood, Kansas, says that one of the latest trends is to use soft yellows — in the mustard family — with very light oranges with deep red accents. "It's important to stay with soft veins of color," she says, citing a recent project as another example, one in which the predominantly lavender room was accented with cream colors.

To create the closest thing to a spa-like experience, however, wrap the entire room in white — white tiled walls and floors, white fixtures and cabinetry, white marble countertops, even white towels and robes. But here, too, Welch says it's important to keep the look from turning cold.

"When I think of a spa, the first thing I think of is 'white' — everything is so white," she says. "But it can become somewhat sterile. To make things more interesting, I like to use elements that aren't all the same shade of white. You can warm things up with soft yellow tones or creams, even touches of gold or warm sage greens."

Buscarello, meanwhile, turns to surfaces once more, using materials such as limestone and travertine to provide visual interest. And today, he points out, stone is available in larger sizes. "It now comes in 16- and 18-inch square, which show off the stone very well — and results in fewer grout lines."

But Randy Thomas, of Randall Thomas Designs in Seattle, says that a soothing scheme is in the eye of the beholder. "There are no bad colors," he says. "It just depends where you use them. In the Northwest, I would use warm colors to create a soothing scheme while, in a warm region, I would use cool hues."

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