Powder Room Design: Add Character and Charm to a Half Bathroom

Whether you call it a half bath, a powder room or a guest bathroom, this tiny space is one of the most overlooked rooms in the house. But just because a half bath is small doesn’t mean it has to be a boring afterthought.

Many interior designers actually see the powder room as an opportunity to experiment with bold patterns, bright colors and unexpected design styles. To style your half bath with great effect, consider these fresh, exciting design ideas.

The Purpose and Possibilities of a Half Bathroom

Half baths serve to compliment full bathrooms by providing additional toilets and sinks for homeowners. They also provide guests with a clean and functional space that isn’t cluttered by personal items, explains Kevin Harris at This Old House. Half baths are also convenient: floor plans typically place powder rooms just off main living and dining areas for quick accessibility.

But exactly differentiates a half bath from a full bathroom? The types of fixtures in the space, as well as the size available, both play a role in delineating a full bathroom from a half bathroom. According to Julie Ryan Evans at Realtor.com, a full bathroom always includes a sink, shower, tub and toilet. Any bathroom which contains less than that is considered a half bathroom. This designation occurs whether or not there is another bathroom in the home.

Half bathrooms are usually restricted to a certain size, too, says home improvement writer Lee Wallender. While there’s no set definition as to how large small bathrooms can be, he says that most are quite a bit less than full bathrooms which tend to be 50 square feet. Generally, half baths measure 16 square feet, just large enough to move from the toilet to the sink.

Designing Your Half Bathroom

The limited size of half bathrooms may make you feel less inclined to dedicate time and energy towards decorating it. When you realize size doesn’t have to place restrictions on style and design, this unappreciated space becomes a world of opportunity for playing with colors, patterns and inspirations.

As Next Luxury founder Brian Cornwell puts it, “the half bath is a household convenience that compliments a slimly appointed space, and is the perfect canvas on which to extend your style nuances on a smaller–but no less significant–scale.”

In other words, half baths are an opportunity to experiment with colors and themes you wouldn’t dare implement in the rest of the house. Cynthia Bowman at Freshome agrees with this approach, and thinks that half baths should actually be given special consideration during the design process. “Don’t treat your powder room like an ordinary bathroom. See your half bath as a tiny treasure box waiting to be opened and discovered,” she writes.

To put Bowman’s advice into action, consider a design style you’ve always enjoyed, but were too nervous to use. Bold design may seem scary to implement in the kitchen or bedroom, but in the confines of a half bathroom, anything goes.

Also think about how you can put a new spin on traditional bathroom elements. Take the toilet, for example. You might not think about getting a new toilet or installing something other than the standard style. But wall-mounted toilets are a modern approach to the traditional, explains the team at interior design company House of Funk. Plus, they’re the best option for small bathrooms because they free up floor space.

In the same manner, consider that functionality in a powder room is key. Where can guests access towels and toiletries? Are there enough hooks and bars to accommodate linens? At minimum, the half bath should include a toilet, sink and mirror, writes Katie Carlson at Improvenet. Beyond that, placing a bench, bookshelf or storage closet outside the door can ensure that there’s nearby space for storing essentials.

half bathroom

Playing with Patterns

Incorporating patterns into a small bath is one of the best ways to give it more pizzazz. If a funky, interesting or bold look is what you’re aiming for, wallpaper is your friend. Design writer Lindsay Cohn adds that wallpaper can be used to create an accent wall, which is guaranteed to make a statement in a small bath.

For a wallpaper that won’t go out of style, consider timeless themes that have continued to remain popular. Opting for a modern design may make your half bathroom feel outdated quickly, which no homeowner wants. Instead, One Kings Lane’s editors and style experts suggest looking for new takes on classic patterns.

“Vegetal motifs in electric hues, repeated Victorian silhouettes, and rolls of ’70s-style graphics printed with today’s color trends in mind are all fair play. Once it’s up, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it,” they write.

Wallpaper can transform a small space into something entirely new while adding personality that was previously lacking.

Floor and wall tiles can also add pattern to the bathroom. Consider the wood tiles adorning a bathroom featured by Leslie Anne Wiggins and Jennifer Fernandez in Architectural Digest. The parquet-inspired wall tiles are unexpected in the Los Angeles home, as they assume the color and style usually found on the floor. Still, additional warm and natural materials in the space — including the stone countertop and bamboo flooring — help anchor the element.

Patterns can be layered too for a more playful look, says House Beautiful’s Sienna Fantozzi. If you do go this route, be sure to contrast the colors or shapes within the patterns so that they aren’t trying to match one another — this can make the space feel too busy.

half bathroom

Creating Space and Visual Interest

Patterns can be bold and beautiful, but can also be constricting for someone who’s all about large bathrooms. In this case, you’ll want to add design elements that create space and visual interest.

Wall-mounted toilets aren’t the only way to add more space to a powder room. You can also opt for a floating sink. And even if the sink needs to be small to fit the space, it provides an opportunity to add intrigue in unexpected ways. In a list of sinks for small bathrooms, Clever writer Kenzi Wilbur points out a number of unique floating sink styles.

One idea she suggests is a vintage farmhouse style sink, reminiscent of scrubbing apples and washing clothes in the sink. Another idea is a corner sink, which is perfect for bathrooms where the only available space is the nook where the walls meet.

Mirrors are a staple design element when you want to create a sense of more space. In a small bathroom, however, not just any mirror will do. Interior design blogger Zabrina Hancock says that a large, unique mirror will add a more personal touch to the bathroom, which can make guests feel more at home.

“Most powder rooms are small so a big decorative mirror will not only make the room feel larger but will give it a more custom feel. Choose one that has a frame with character and that has a decent size mirror surface to help,” she explains.

To incorporate intriguing design elements without detracting from space, consider a wall treatment like shiplap. Christene Holder of the Keys to Inspiration blog shows how shiplap can transform a boring space into a fresh and exciting one. While the white paint brightens the space and bounces natural light around, the contrast of the gray and white keeps the powder room crisp and inviting.

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