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Sarah Richardson, bathroom design. (Stacey Brandford Photography)
Sarah Richardson, bathroom design. (Stacey Brandford Photography)

Interiors

In bathroom renos, take the long view Add to ...

Every bathroom has an expiry date. When yours is past due, it's time to come up with a new plan that will make it the oasis of crisp, fresh style that it should rightly be. Therein lies my challenge: While I rip out an expired bathroom whose awfulness makes me shudder, I can't help but worry that my new creation may some day be subject to similar criticisms. So, when it comes to bathrooms, I take the long view. I select materials and elements that will stand the test of time (and hopefully not look like a 2011 time capsule in decades to come). There's no guarantee that the tides of design won't shift and leave you marooned, but if you choose elements that are in keeping with the architectural style of your home you can rest assured that your renovation dollars will be a sound investment in your abode.

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If it's fixed, make it neutral

Why don't I tile baths in fuchsia, navy, emerald or lavender? Well, frankly, I believe the only "right" choices for a costly bathroom reno are lasting choices. The most costly elements to install, and the most difficult elements to change are the tile work, the floors, the bathtub, and the countertop. If you stick to the tried and true favourites and commit to a light, natural palette, you'll reduce the risk of asking yourself "why did I ever choose that?" in years to come.

Take your threshold to the baseline

I'm not keen on using standard wood baseboards in the bathroom, as I worry about their durability. When installed too close to the shower, wood baseboards can be exposed to water, causing them to expand, crack, and even mildew. Ready-made shower jambs and thresholds are available at your local big box store in 78-inch lengths for a fraction of what it costs to have them custom made. They are available in both Carrera marble and travertine (so you can choose greyish white or creamy beige), and are both practical and good-looking when installed as baseboards around the perimeter of the room.

Go cheap, then embellish

I've never been able to find fault with the simplest and most basic choices, as long as they are also good quality. When you're planning to dress your bath in white, white, more white, and a touch of cream, why spend a fortune? There are some frugally functional tile choices to be found at bottom-of-the-barrel prices in the aisles of some not-so-glam shopping destinations. So why not go for it? When the local big box store is offering an array of ceramic tile at 35 cents a tile, you can bet I'm filling my cart and checking out! The downfall of inexpensive tile is installing it in a lacklustre way; if you pick a single size and slap it on the walls with no attention to detail or added interest, it will be bland. But if you devise an interesting pattern it can look dynamite. Better yet, instead of settling for cream OR white, get 'em both and mix them together.

Strike up the band

Once you've found a source for well-priced tiles, spend some time to review the total offering and let your imagination run wild. After I got hooked on the concept of mixing white and cream I noticed that grey was also on offer. Instead of deliberating which combination was best, I opted to use them all. By punctuating each row of white or cream tile with a band of pale grey listello tiles, the cheapest tile in the aisle took on a snazzy look. In tile, it's not what you spend, it's how you install it that counts, so hire a great tile setter and embrace the classics.

Play both sides

If you've gone to the trouble of renovating your bathroom and making it a sight to behold, you want to be able to enjoy it from every angle. Instead of buying a tub with the faucet mounted on the end, why not select a double-ended slipper tub that allows you to recline on either end and soak in the glorious views of your dreamy retreat? Since a slipper tub rises gracefully at the ends, you'll have a gently sloped spot to rest your weary head when you're in bubbles up to your chin!

Make it up

Start the process with a floor plan and plot everything you absolutely must install. Then see what you can do with the space that remains. If you begin the adventure with a "must-have" list of the things you can't live without, accompanied by a "nice-to-have" list of the elements that would comprise your dream bathroom, you just might be able to make trade-offs and squeeze in some added amenities. By swapping an outdated corner Jacuzzi for a long and lean slipper tub, we eked out enough room to satiate the lady of the house's dream for a makeup table. Thanks to an inexpensive find from an antique store, we were able to add a touch of old Hollywood glam to this new-fangled reno. To make the painted table surface more durable, we added a piece of glass, so the surface could be wiped clean (with the added benefit that treasured black and white photos could be tucked underneath for a very personal style statement).

Add a touch of blush

Your simply neutral bathroom statement can still have a hint of colour by adding accent pieces. Apricot, cream and grey is a favourite combination of mine, so I sprinkled some delicate blush tints around the bathroom in effective yet easy-to-change accents: towels, accessories and lampshades are inexpensive ways to infuse an accent without breaking the bank or making a permanent statement.

And a few more 101 lessons:

The save

Stone floors are a master en suite "must-have" in my books - and easy to achieve. Natural stone is available at every price point, but you can get it for a song. After finding Crema Marfil for a paltry $6 a square foot for the floor tile, I was able to squeeze in a carpet-like detail band of grey and white marble to define the main circulation space of the bathroom (and to further reinforce our tri-colour scheme). It only took about 12 square feet of mosaic to create the border, yet it adds presence and polish to the overall look of the room.

The splurge

My design collaborator, Tommy Smythe, loves old world details as much as I do, and is constantly seeking ways to bring a nostalgic and retro-minded touch to the projects we tackle. Tired of the tried-and-true ubiquitous "frameless" shower enclosure, Tommy conceived of a glass shower enclosure, detailed with chrome framing accents to give it a more historic flair. It didn't really cost any more than the old standby solution, but it does add an extra hit of chic polished chrome to the mix.

The signature Sarah

I want the ooh la la factor in every project I tackle, regardless of budget or provenance of materials. Why can't a room whose materials come from a warehouse make you swoon every time you enter? I will always choose simple and honest elements used in innovative ways over lavish excess that misses the mark. Embrace the budget you have to work with, and enjoy the adventure of the making the most of what you've got!

Sarah Richardson is the host of Sarah 101, airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. sarahrichardsondesign.com; http://www.hgtv.ca/sarah101

SOURCES

Tile, sink, toilet, vanity, & medicine cabinets - Lowe's, www.lowes.ca

Plumbing fixtures, towel bars & toilet paper holder - The Rubinet Faucet Co., www.rubinet.com

Bathtub - Caml-Tomlin, www.camltomlin.com

Countertop supply & fabrication - Latitude, www.latitudeonline.ca

Heated floors - Nuheat, www.nuheat.com

Custom glass shower enclosure and custom glass top for makeup table - Adanac Glass, www.adanacglass.com

Photography - Tony Koukos Photography, www.tonykoukos.com

Framing of photography - Elgin Picture & Frame, www.elginpictureandframe.com

Chair - Around the Block, www.aroundtheblock.com

Recovering of chair - Silva Custom Furniture, www.silvacustom.com

Drapery fabric - Designer Fabrics, www.designerfabrics.ca

Drapery rod & hardware - Eurofab, www.eurofab.ca

Mirror & table lamp - Decorum Decorative Finds, 416-966-6829

Custom lampshade - Lampshades Unlimited, 416-299-3113

Wall sconces - Union Lighting & Furnishings, www.unionlightingandfurnishings.com

Pendant light - Universal Lighting, www.greatlighting.com

Embroidered hand towels, white towels, garbage cans & glass canisters - Gingers Bath Centre, www.elte.com/Gingers

Makeup table - W.R. Antiques, 416-504-6900

Vanity mirror on makeup table - Absolutely Inc., www.absolutelyinc.com

Marble pedestal table - Greens Antiques, www.greensantiques.com

Shower stool and decorative shells - West Elm, www.westelm.com

Paint colours - Para Paint www.para.com, sarahpaint.com. Walls: Old Sterling Tint 1 P2104-01; Ceiling: Whitewash White P2089-00; Trim: Snowfall SR29 (P5223-14D); Furniture: Stainless P5244-24

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