Making a White Bathroom More Colorful

White is the usual go-to color for bathrooms in new houses. But here's what you can do to bring some vibrant color into that plain bath, no matter what your budget.
By: Heather J. Paper


Many of today's baths, especially in builder homes, are plain white. And why not? This neutral hue is a safe choice for mass-produced places. (And is it any coincidence that the majority of today's tubs and toilets are that same noncolor?). But let's face it: These all-white baths run the risk of becoming boring. It doesn't have to be that way, however. Whether you're looking to stretch a small budget or blow it out completely, there's a multitude of ways to add a splash of color and a stamp of personal style, at the same time.

1. Go to the wall.

"Paint your walls a dramatic color," advises Robin Strangis, ASID, owner of Loring Interiors in Minneapolis and a member of the Color Marketing Group. "I encourage clients to think in terms of bold colors; after all, it's not a whole lot of wall space you're talking about. You could even do black!"

Specifically, Robin has been using a lot of reds and burgundies lately. "People tend to play it safe in the rest of the house, but they're willing to do something bolder in a smaller space. You can even paint the ceiling the same color as the walls to make the room feel like a 'cocoon.'" She's obviously thrown out the old decorating dictum that states dark colors shouldn't be used in small spaces. Breaking the rules, she says, often makes things more interesting and "if you use paint with a slight sheen, it will reflect the room's light and won't appear as dark as it really is."

And according to Faith, who works up and down the West Coast, you can add color and texture to walls at the same time. Faith, who had the winning design in a recent HGTV Designers' Challenge, likes to use Venetian plaster in bathrooms. "The color is embedded in the plasterlike material; it gives you sort of a Southwestlike texture," she says. "Plus, it's no-VOC (volatile organic compounds), it dries quickly and it doesn't mildew — so, there are all kinds of advantages!"

2. Give it a soft touch.

Robin and Faith agree that well-chosen soft furnishings can not only add color, but often inspire the overall scheme. Window treatments immediately come to mind as do the ubiquitous bath towels. But even something as simple as a shower curtain — especially one that's "fun and funky," says Robin — can provide the starting point for a room's decor.

Area rugs, too, are good for more than providing a barrier between your feet and the cold floor. "They provide color, pattern and texture," says Faith. "There are so many great types of woven rugs — including bamboo," she says. If she had to pick a favorite, though, if would probably be made of wool. Not only is it comfortable to stand on, she says, but it's also a logical choice; the oil found in the fiber naturally resists water.

3. Do it the hard way.

Seattle designer Rick Baye often counts on hard surfaces — tile, in particular — to add color to his bathroom projects. And we're not talking simple, understated 4- x4-inch squares or rectangular subway tiles, either.

"The glass tiles that are out there are terrific," Rick says. "They come in such a range of sizes, from 3/4-inch-square to entire plates for the wall. And the colors range from frosty-milk hues to beautiful ambers and sea foams and even bright oranges and reds." The designer is quick to point out, as well, that new tile doesn't have to be a major expense. Instead, he says, you can use it in small but dramatic ways — to create an interesting backsplash, to frame a mirror, even to liven up a tub surround, covering only the vertical surfaces.

Not to be forgotten, either, is the vast variety of decorative sinks. From sleek, contemporary vessels that sit atop a vanity — creating a spalike feeling — to highly decorated drop-in basins that are works of art in their own right, sinks have become a status symbol.

4. Add personal style.

No room is complete without a stamp of personal style and the bathroom is no exception. Rick likes to incorporate inexpensive art, pieces that won't be ruined by a little humidity — or, if they are, you won't care. Faith often amasses collections, much as she would in any room; decorative glass, colorful woven baskets, even family photos are good contenders. And Rick looks to live plants, such as orchids. They're perfectly suited for the bathroom, he says, because "they love the moisture as well as indirect light. You can put them in color baskets or pottery, and some don't require any potting medium at all; you can suspend them from a wall and — because you can see their roots — they take on a sculptural quality all their own."

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