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Whether your powder room is upstairs or down, grand or petite, formal or family friendly, I have a few guiding principles to ensure that, whatever the stature and whatever the theme, there's always a presentable place to powder one's nose.

Make mine special

The powder room is a place for guests, so it needs to be better than average. It's a simple utilitarian room, but it should also have a fun mood and feel. There's no need to render it completely bland by installing just an average sink and toilet, and calling it done. The key to success is simply the introduction of a few accents and accessories that dress up the room and make it ready for a close up.

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Create a custom carpet

There are many reasons why I prefer a stone floor to wood in the powder room (and not many I care to discuss in this newspaper). Suffice it to say that a stone floor is more resilient to stains than wood. Assuming that a powder room is relatively small, I'd always suggest selecting fancier and more expensive stone for the floor than you'd choose for a large bathroom. Here's your chance to indulge in something decorative and special. I like to make little hidden rooms like this look like jewel boxes, so an intricate mosaic carpet is the perfect solution and the way to add that precious infusion of stone. After all, you won't need much in such a small room, and you'll get plenty of impact. I like to use the long bars - five-eights of an inch by six inches - to create a fringe around the outside, then use two bands of stone in different sizes to create some separation between the fringe and the middle ground. Installing this type of pattern in a large room could become prohibitively expensive, but in a teeny-weeny powder room it's pure perfection.

Stand alone

It seems the first reaction when outfitting a bathroom these days is to opt for a vanity. But they are always far more expensive than a stand-alone pedestal sink, and what do you really need to store in your powder room? No one is shaving, drying their hair or applying a full face of makeup in this room, so why pay to create storage that will sit empty? Fact is, you can save about $1,000 if you steer clear of the vanity option. Over the years, I've found two great pedestal options that both have a built-in backsplash. The deco version is my favourite, and the fact that it comes with a shelf gives you the storage option you need.

Choose a shallow throne

Am I really talking about this? Well, it's a common design dilemma, so let me share what I've learned in my research. Toilets can vary in depth by as much as seven inches. If you are trying to carve out the smallest amount of space and create a powder room where none existed before, then your toilet selection is actually of paramount importance. After paying a not-so-small fortune to excavate my basement, the last thing I wanted was to give up all the square footage to a spacious powder room. The finished interior dimension of my powder room is 44 by 57 inches. The Santa Rosa toilet by Kohler was the hands-down winner in my quest for a tiny toilet (at 25 and a bit inches deep, it's short on space and long on style).

Go for shiny chrome

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What you select as the finish for your faucet will have a domino effect. Once you commit to the faucet, all other metals must fall in line to match. Seems logical and easy enough, right? It is, but if you start by selecting a premium faucet finish, such as brushed or polished nickel, you will be paying premiums on every accent you purchase - from towel bars to sconces. The quest to make them all match at a price you can afford may start to feel like an extreme scavenger hunt. (And don't even get me started on the lack of in-stock options for these fancy finishes!) The price for all the bits and pieces can easily tally $500. I'd prefer to put that money to better use on finishing touches such as artwork.

Two are better than one

Sometimes less is more, but not for wall sconces. I've never been a fan of the single, above-the-mirror sconce in bathrooms. It just never seems polished enough to me. It lacks symmetry, substance and, usually, design integrity. There's an easy solution. Instead of trying to make peace with the least-offensive single light, why not buy two? The world is your oyster when it comes to wall sconces. From formal and sparkly to sleek and modern, the wide array of fabulous sconces will give your powder room pizzazz.

Paper for panache

Many people find the idea of wallpaper in a bathroom inappropriate. I disagree. If you have teenagers who take 45 minute showers every day, it's admittedly in the "bad idea" category. But we're not talking about steam rooms here, we're talking about pretty powder rooms. If you remain concerned about wear and tear on the paper, I'd recommend installing a chair rail so the lower portion of the wall can be repainted whenever it needs freshening up.

Be sure to install the chair rail so it clears the backsplash on your pedestal sink (usually about 42 inches will do it, but be sure to measure the height of the sink before you install the chair rail just to be sure). The good news is that it will likely only take about two rolls of wallpaper to cover the upper portion of your walls in a small powder room, and that means you can definitely splurge on a glamourous paper that might not be within your budget for a larger room.

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Dim it down

In my house, the question "do you want a dimmer on that?" is merely rhetorical. The answer is always "yes" as there isn't a room (besides the furnace room) that looks better with the lights dimmed down (or maybe it's just me who looks better at the end of a long TV day with a little less light). Forget picking and choosing which lights should be dimmed - just do them all. When you are having a party and want to light a small votive candle to create a sultry evening mood, you'll be glad you can turn down the light.

Sarah Richardson is host and co-producer of Sarah's House and Design Inc. on HGTV ( ) and Principal of Sarah Richardson Design ( ).

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