Skip to main content

Ah, the humble powder room, the main floor bathroom that suffers the wintry neglect of most homeowners. Because it's not one of the common areas of the home, it is frequently overlooked.

Which is why it's an excellent place to confound low expectations.

In my experience, this is the average powder room: cheap white floor tiles, a frameless mirror, wooden vanity, a cheesy art print on the wall and a crocheted Kleenex-box cozy that makes it look as though you're pulling a tissue out of a pig's back.

Story continues below advertisement

How nice it will be, then, for both you and your guests this Christmas. When they step away from the dinner party to freshen up, your retooled powder room will surprise them, delight them, assault them with joy.

We completed an overhaul

of one such room in a Vancouver town home recently, and some of the things we did there should help you with yours.

Shock and awe

A scheme of flowing neutral colours in the common areas of your home will give it a sense of harmony, but carrying this idea into the powder room is dull. Instead, use the element of surprise.

When a guest opens the powder room door, let the unexpected confront her – a jet-black wall, a vibrant piece of art, a spectacular chandelier. In interior design, restraint often carries the day, but in this room you can chance the grand gesture. Have fun. And don't worry: when you close the door, the room, not much visited anyway, is separate from the rest of the home. That's what gives it the opportunity to be a scene-stealer.

The room illustrated here is located on the main floor, where the home decor consists of warm grey walls, ivory furnishings and mirrored accent tables. The powder room needed edge and sophistication. To hit this mark, we took classic design elements – wainscoting and wallpaper – and sexed them up. We painted the wainscot a satin black and paired it with a refined black-and-white wallpaper.

Story continues below advertisement

Go upmarket

Anyone who's done renovations knows that decorative details like designer tile are expensive. In a large bathroom like the master, the square footage required to do a shower surround can send your budget spiralling to vertiginous heights.

But because a powder room is so small, you need relatively little of something beautiful to make a big impact. Take the floor: in no other room will your guest sit in silence, staring down at it. An investment in an expensive finish will not go unappreciated.

My suggestion is that you chose something people will remember – a stone with character, a marble mosaic or a subway tile laid in an intricate pattern.

In our powder room, we used black-and-white hexagonal tile and had them laid in a custom pattern – a black field with an inset white border. The black tied in beautifully with the wainscot and enhanced the drama of the space while the white perimeter tile drew attention to the wallpaper.

Plumbing and lighting fixtures present the same opportunity to splash out without breaking the bank. A fanciful faucet or light that would look melodramatic in a secondary bath can be poignant in a powder room. In ours, we selected a free-standing sink with a polished chrome faucet and legs. The angularity of the sink imbues the room with masculinity while the open legs draw attention the floor and prevent the room from feeling cluttered.

Story continues below advertisement

Give your guest a smile

Every Christmas I receive at least one gift of bathroom literature. You know the kind: the compendiums of humour and spiritual inspiration that you're supposed to stack on the back of your toilet.

The intent is good – it's smart to add a personal touch to a room to amuse people. But surely we can be more imaginative than whatever wit presents itself in the book aisle at Costco.

The key is finding something authentic, something that says a little about what you find interesting or funny. You could frame excerpts from a favourite book, display a collection of vintage Old Spice advertisements or Polaroids from your travels.

Our powder room presented an opportunity to display some custom wall art. Wanting to poke fun at the French theme of the home, we produced six silhouettes of French poodles, then had them framed and installed on the sloped ceiling. When a guest enters the room, she can see the prints but not view them fully. Once she sits down on the toilet, all six prints are in clear view. Everyone leaves this powder room talking about the French poodles on the ceiling.

Design-wise, it's a lesson to remember: In a powder room you can let drama, luxury and quirkiness off the leash.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to