Does your bathroom feel a little too chilly? A little dated? Somewhere between modern minimalist masterpieces and cozy country design we find the popular style of bathroom that manages to feel cool and up-to-date but also warm and welcoming. To achieve this careful balance of seemingly disparate design demands, here is a design recipe for bringing warm, welcoming updates to your home bathroom.
Enticing Stone Tile
Naturally, in any bathroom space, a fundamental part of the design will be the tile. For that welcoming, “spa-like” look, nothing beats an element of stone tile. It looks beautiful and feels satisfying to the touch, while also being highly functional. If the budget allows, including some stone in the design, either as a singular material or contrasted against other porcelain tiles, will bring a lot of richness to the palette and a sense of sophistication.
Even if you choose not to tile all of the wall surfaces, I recommend having at least one area tiled floor to ceiling in some form of tile, with other walls bare, as opposed to having all of the walls tiled up to the same minimal height. This creates a finished look, with the contrast between the tiled walls and bare walls appearing intentional.
To make a bathroom feel inviting but airy, and warm but also contemporary and clean, it’s important to achieve balance. Using a lot of white or crisp just-off-white will make the room feel larger and lend pleasing contrast to warm elements.
It’s important to remember that not every element has to be visually warm for the overall effect to feel that way. Subdued gray and gray-beige shades ground the space and bridge the warmest and coolest elements, making these non-hue hues a good addition to any contemporary bathroom.
It also helps to find a balance between traditional and contemporary elements. This keeps a room feeling current but not coldly minimalist.
One key part of a design palette that sometimes gets overlooked is rich, inviting texture, and this element is especially easy to forget about in a bathroom space, with its many hard, glossy surfaces.
Introducing tactile textures into your bathroom brings a human touch, so look to accessories such as woven baskets or boxes, aged metal finishes or stacks of folded towels to break up hard surfaces like stone counters and porcelain fixtures.
One of the best ways to add texture to a space is to introduce a healthy dose of wood through elements such as the vanity, shelving, furniture pieces (like an accent stool) or small accessories. Wood brings an inherent sense of natural elegance that comes through whether the wood is just lightly stained or hard-lacquered.
Even just a single small element of wood will pleasingly contrast crisp tile. Just make sure the piece is well-sealed to prevent moisture damage, and as long as it doesn’t regularly sit in pools of water it will hold up just fine. I’ve used attractive midcentury-style stools in many bathroom projects to double as an occasional seat and a place to set down a book, glass or towel.
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Sleek bathroom vanities can be beautifully simple in a modern space, but to add some warmth and personality, consider using a traditional or vintage furniture piece instead. After all, almost any furniture item, from an antique chest of drawers to an old kitchen island cart, can be retrofitted to become a vanity as long as it is the right height and is sturdy enough to hold a sink. A good craftsperson can advise you whether a piece you have or are shopping for can be converted, or you can look for captivating creations at local fairs.
You may have read about how certain colors are “warm” (like reds, oranges and yellows) and other colors are “cool” (like blues, many purples and a lot of greens). However in practice, any color that makes you happy can make a space feel more warm, and a dose of color of almost any kind can make a space feel more welcoming.
If you want to make the room feel a lot warmer physically without jacking up your heating bills, consider installing an in-floor heating system during a renovation. Heat radiating upward from the floor will make the space feel warm even if the overall space isn’t technically heated to as high a temperature as with typical heating systems — plus you won’t have to deal with icy-cold floors on your bare toes.
Not a fan of bold colors? A bit of graphic pattern is another way to add a sense of life to a space. Pattern draws the eye in and keeps it moving, which gives a room a sense of energy. Consider choosing a tile in an interesting angular shape, such as classic chevron or a hexagon.
Bathrooms are a great space for a more dramatic floor pattern. A bathroom floor tends to be a relatively small area for splurging on a great tile, and a busy pattern will hide the occasional tiny stray hair or bit of debris between cleanings.
Don’t be afraid to use wallpaper to bring pattern and interest to walls without tile. If your bathroom is ventilated, the paper should hold up just about as well in a bathroom as it would in any other space. If your bathroom isn’t ventilated, you should be addressing that issue anyway to avoid mold and mildew before moving on with the rest of the design process.
Don’t think rugs are fit for the bathroom? While a moist space does have its considerations, a durable rug can make an excellent addition to a bathroom — like a bath mat, but with more style. Besides giving you a cushy place to plant your feet (especially appreciated on cold winter mornings), a rug can also add some color, pattern and texture, making it a decor triple threat. Olefin is a good material for bathroom rugs because it appears similar to wool, but as a synthetic, it won’t absorb water.
Silver-toned metal finishes like stainless steel and chrome are often associated with a “clean” look, but golden tones have been overlooked for too long. The fact that metals like brass or bronze have a bit of color in them helps hide typical bathroom blemishes like water spotting and fingerprints. Plus, they add some visual warmth to the space, which goes a long way in a space filled with chilly porcelain.
Find brass a little too brash for your taste? Consider using nickel finishes, one of my personal go-to’s, for a crisp metallic option that is a touch warmer and more refined than cool chrome.
Feel free to use a brushed finish to hide prints and spotting on elements you will touch, and a polished finish for those you won’t (such as lights). However, it’s best to keep the finish of your items consistent across each category: lights all in one finish, fixtures in another consistent finish.
Not every project is lucky enough to have space in the wall cavities available to turn into a niche, but it is usually an option somewhere in the space if you’re willing to have the walls examined to check. This is usually easy during a major renovation when walls are being opened or built from scratch anyway.
Adding a wall niche (which is often fairly simple with modern kits) creates a functional storage space that’s great for daily-use products like shampoo, soaps and creams. The open storage helps create a more relaxed vibe for an air of casual elegance. For products you don’t want fully on display, a frosted or tinted glass door will partially obscure labels and details for a tidier look.
Glass Shower Panels
What better way to show off beautiful details like a feature tile, new niche or sleek shower kit than with a glass shower panel?
Whether you add a glass shower panel or door to a tub surround, or skip the bathtub altogether, using glass instead of an opaque curtain will avoid breaking up the sight lines, which in turn makes the space inside and outside the shower area feel bigger and airier.
If you prefer a shower curtain to a glass panel, I suggest using one with a mostly white background and not too much dramatic patterning to avoid demanding too much attention. That funny pink and brown bacon-print shower curtain you spot online might be good for a laugh, but it will visually shrink the space a great deal. I suggest adding any quirky touches in small doses closer to the walls rather than in the middle of the room.
Adding canvases or photo prints to the bathroom can bring a lot of personality and interest, but it is usually not good for the lifespan of the art itself, making it a risky move (at least with a piece you want to keep pristine). However, a beautiful mirror can serve a functional purpose and dress up your wall at the same time.
Consider using a mirror in an engaging shape such as a circle or oval, or a traditional style with ornate curves, to play against the many right angles found in most bathrooms, creating a more relaxed appeal.
A thick, bold or textural frame, along with a unique shape, turns the mirror into a statement of its own. Look to vintage shops for interesting older mirrors that need just a coat of paint or gold leaf to become a dramatic new addition to your space.
Alternately, if you want to make a smaller bathroom look as spacious as possible, choose a large slab mirror running wall to wall or inset into the tile. This will appear crisp and elegantly simple while making the room look twice the size.
Sense of Fun
Ultimately, bathrooms tend to be very functional spaces, designed to be easy to use and easy to clean, but not always designed to spend a lot of time in. Including an element of fun or whimsy will make your bathroom feel uniquely yours. Add a style element like a framed photo or painting, or a quirky art object to give your space a sense of personality, and that will be the most welcoming part of all.