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A grown-up attitude to kids' bathrooms Add to ...

When faced with the challenge of designing and decorating a kids-only bathroom, I have a few guiding principles to help steer me in the right direction. I subscribe to the notion that there should be no themes, no motifs, no borders, no stencils, no primary-colour themes and no cutesy details.

Sounds like my concept for a kids' bath isn't much fun. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter how young your kids are now, they will grow up fast. They aren't kids forever, but bathrooms are expensive to renovate. The reality for most homeowners is that the scheme you design today just might still be around when they are getting ready to go on dates (heaven forbid!), or coming home to stay during university breaks. So better think twice before you install that adorable accent tile with the ABC blocks!

If , like me, you're tackling the renovation of a kids' bath in conjunction with a master bath or other major reno project, you'll also be looking for ways to create a great look without breaking the bank. After all, the more you save on the kids' bath means the more you'll have to splurge on the master bath.

(Do heated floors, body jets and a divine soaker tub sound appealing to you? Well, better figure out how to "get the look for less" in the kids domain!) Here are a few key things I keep in mind when designing for the younger set:

Tile only where you need to. If it's a small bathroom, you may want to tile all the walls to keep the splash effect under control when the little ones decide to turn bath time into a water-park adventure. If, however, you have a bit more room to play with, you may find that tiling all the walls is unnecessary (unless your children shake like a golden retriever emerging from the lake on a hot summer's day). Reducing the amount of tiled walls will save you a bundle.

Save on walls to splurge elsewhere. Depending on the size of your bathroom, you often need more tile to covers the walls in the shower or bath than anything else. While there are plenty of expensive options to tempt you, you can never go wrong with plain white tile. Whether square or rectangular, bevelled or plain, glossy or mat, I'm a big fan of keeping it light, bright and white on the walls. Easy to clean, inexpensive to install and a classic look that you'll never tire of makes white my hands-down first choice. You'll likely need about 100 square feet of wall tile, so just imagine the cost savings if you spend $1.60 a square foot instead of $8 for something more decorative. That's $640 you can put toward making the room a showstopper.

Don't rule out natural stone if you are on a budget. You might think that a marble floor is beyond your price range, but you'll be pleasantly surprised to know that you can now find a selection of 12- by 12-inch marble for as little as $4.95 a square foot.

(Home Depot has a really nice creamy beige Botticino marble that proves a high-end look is within your reach).

Have fun with colour. White walls and beige floors may sound like a less-than-inspiring way to entice your little tikes to get clean, so be sure to add a punch of cheerful colour to your scheme. Forget the primaries and go for something a little more fashion-forward. The Martha shades of mint green are on the wane and bold accents are taking their place. Grassy greens are a bold way to turn up the colour quotient.

Opt for ingenuity over custom. A custom vanity can easily run over a thousand dollars, so why not rethink the storage and save some money? There are many cabinets available that can easily be converted into a vanity if their dimensions are suitable. (For a single sink, you'll want a piece that is about 30 to 32 inches high, 20 to 22 inches deep and 32 to 36 inches wide.) I let my fingers do the shopping online and found a solid wood cabinet at Pier One Imports for about $200. Not satisfied with the standard wood finishes available, I sent the cabinet out to be sprayed (about $100) and ended up with a very cool budget vanity in a striking shade of springy grass green. New knobs, a marble countertop, glass bowl sink and faucet all came in at less than I would have paid for a custom base cabinet only.

Don't forget the details. Use some of the dollars saved on wall tile to add some pizzazz to your scheme. Glass and marble mosaic tile may be out of the budget for large areas, but just a few square feet go a long way toward making a floor or wall pattern more interesting.

Let the deals inspire you. I had originally thought about using blue as an accent colour for my kids bathroom, but then I found green glass mosaics on sale for less than $10 a square foot and redesigned my scheme to incorporate the new find.

With the money I saved, I was able to find great accessories and towels to complete the look.

Go kid-friendly without being juvenile. Instead of shopping the aisles for products that are designated "kids only," opt for bold graphics and fashion-forward colours and accessories that will grow along with your child.

Sarah Richardson is host and co-producer of Design Inc ( http://www.designinc.ca) and Sarah's House on HGTV ( http://www.hgtv.ca) and principal of Sarah Richardson Design ( http://www.sarahrichardsondesign.com).

*****

Sources

White wall tile, green glass mosaic tile for accents, green marble mosaic for floor -- Saltillo Imports, (416) 441-2224 or http://www.saltillo-tiles.com

Glass panel with integrated shower curtain rod (a great way to bring more light into your bath) -- Adanac Glass and Mirror, (416) 785-6309 or http://www.adanacglass.com

White chenille for shower curtain (tip: make a custom shower curtain 80 inches long instead of the standard 72 so you don't have to look at the front of the tub) -- Designer Fabrics, (416) 531-2810 or http://www.designerfabrics.ca

Shoji cabinet used as vanity -- Pier One Imports, http://www.pier1.com

Spraying of cabinet -- Benjamen Refinishing, (416) 745-2559

Marble counter (cut from a salvaged piece of marble left over from a tub surround, for a discounted price) -- Caledonia Marble, (416) 256-0251

Sandblasted glass countertop sink -- Home Depot (and a deal at $130), http://www.homedepot.ca

Bathtub, Tomlin faucets, shower system -- Natphil, http://www.natphil.com

Pendant light -- Alico Industries, (905) 305-6606 or http://www.alicoindustries.com

Mirror -- Elegant Garage Sale, (416) 322-9744

Towels -- Linens 'n Things, http://www.lnt.com

Chinese-style chair -- Of Things Past, (416) 256-9256 or http://www.ofthingspast.com

Skylight -- Velux, http://www.velux.com

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