Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey, owner and lead designer of Arlington, Virginia-based SCW Interiors, discussed bathroom decorating do's and don'ts with me. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q. Do you have any tips for those of us with 5-by-5-foot bathrooms with no closets?
A. I have small bathrooms in my home, and my advice would be to take advantage of your vertical space. Just yesterday we were planning a small bath space and discussing using a train rack that hangs high enough to store your towels and includes hooks along the bottom rung. Another thing to consider is a frameless glass door on your shower. This will immediately make the space feel larger and diffuse the light. If you have any wall space behind your toilet, install a recessed medicine cabinet. We recently designed a very small bathroom where we placed a medicine cabinet over the sink and a second one over the toilet with a sconce in between, which allowed the husband and wife to have everything they needed on one wall. Another space-saving tip we implement all the time: Reverse the swing of the door or, if possible, install a pocket door. Both of these save an incredible amount of space in a small bathroom.
Q. Yes or no to wallpaper in the bathroom? We put wallpaper up years ago and need to redo it. Should we add new wallpaper or just paint?
A. If you are asking wallpaper or paint, I always say wallpaper. There is so much more visual interest and texture to wallpaper that you cannot accomplish with paint. I tend to think paint is not a problem solver, whereas wallpaper can take a space from blah to bright in an afternoon.
Q. I was planning on going modern in my upcoming bathroom redo with a bold and aggressive mix of patterns and colors, but after a weekend with friends watching some Indian movies, I was struck by the amazing patterns and colors in their culture. I thought about incorporating some of these ideas into my bathroom, but I am wondering whether that might be visual overload, especially with the gold fixtures I would probably use instead of the platinum. What are your thoughts?
A. You are speaking my language, and I am completely transported by your wonderful imagery. I do think you have to be careful in a bathroom. Investing in materials that are not easily replaced such as tile, cabinetry and faucets that are too wild could be a mistake. I am a big risk taker, but I try to limit the risks to items that are easier to replace should I tire of them, such as lighting, wallpaper and accessories. There is an amazing textile designer, Lindsay Cowles, who does wallpaper patterns in wonderful exotic colors and modern/tribal patterns. This to me would be the perfect balance to the more predictable items in a bathroom. Her website is lindsaycowles.com. Another fun accessory I have used is Moroccan lanterns, mirrors and screens in bathrooms. These add tons of personality and are still flexible. Some of my favorite sources are Tazi Designs and Made Goods. Check them out and let your imagination do the rest.
Q. I want to replace the 24-year-old sheet vinyl in my master bath, but I am not sure if it should be ceramic tile, luxury vinyl tile, stone or porcelain. Which is safest and best for resale?
A. Twenty-four years is pretty amazing for sheet vinyl. When planning a bathroom, I always take a look at the existing fixtures in making decisions on materials. If, for instance, your shower walls have white porcelain tile, I am inclined to keep porcelain on the floor. I tend to think that simpler is always better for resale purposes. Stone requires maintenance in sealing annually. If you are looking for a budget-friendly solution that fits lots of tastes, I would stick with porcelain or ceramic tile. It is really wonderful how many options are available on the market these days. When planning for flooring, it is important to consider slip factor. I tend to use smaller tile on floors in a matte finish. The matte is naturally easier to grip, and the benefit of additional grout joints helps with slippage as well. Although it may seem easier to go with a larger format tile, be sure to consider this before deciding. It is also important to consider the size of the tiles in relation to the space and any other tile that exists. All too often people take shortcuts and go with a larger-format tile that really doesn't fit the space, ending up with strange cuts on the perimeter.
Q. Is it better to have a cloth or vinyl shower liner? What brands do you like?
A. Shower liners have come a long way. I like a fabric liner because it is easy to toss in the washing machine when it becomes stained from various soaps and daily use. I don't have a favorite brand, but in the past I have bought liners at Restoration Hardware that have held up really well.
Q. In remodeling a master bath, is it necessary to add a free-standing tub, or are drop-in tubs still acceptable?
A. Tubs are very personal. I personally would never have a master bath without a bathtub, because it is my favorite pastime. I would advise against a drop-in tub because of the lip flange that it creates, which can make getting in and out difficult as we age. An undermount tub is great solution and provides a ledge that is smooth for users to sit on and swing their legs around to enter the tub. When planning for a tub that has a stone or tile surround, you will have to make sure you have an access panel for the plumbing, which can be unsightly.
Q. Our first-floor powder room has no windows and is very small. Can you recommend a pedestal sink that would fit our transitional-style home? I'm not a fan of them, as we will lose the undersink storage, but I think it would make the room feel less crowded. Also, we were thinking of updating the flooring. We would like to use the same flooring in our foyer and have it flow into the powder room. Do you recommend this? I love the look of slate in a chevron pattern but am open to other options. We were hoping for stone, but I am worried that it would look too dark in a windowless area of the home.
A. Small spaces can yield the best outcomes with careful planning. For a transitional powder room, I would direct you toward a console sink so that you have a small shelf to store hand towels and other essentials. I think fewer transitions in materials is always a plus in smaller homes. I, too, love slate and have used it in many homes in the chevron pattern as well. You will want to consider the size of the bricks you use, as well as the color. Thankfully, there are a variety of slate colors, and it doesn't have to be dark.
Q. My daughter's room is painted Benjamin Moore Maidenhair Fern, a lovely soft, mossy green. She used to have coral bedding but is banning anything remotely pinkish at this point. Can you recommend another accent color for the rug and bedding? Would turquoise or another shade of blue work? Or perhaps brown or yellow?
A. Try a cobalt blue or orange for something fresh and different. Maybe the coastal vibe is what she is tiring of, so try something a little stronger for a change.
Q. How do you feel about towel hooks instead of towel rods for a small bathroom?
A. Hooks all the way! Line them up.
Q. Is it better to use disposable or glass bathroom cups? Is it dangerous to have real glass in the bathroom?
A. I prefer glass because it gets dropped in the dishwasher daily and is better for the planet. I did always beg for the tiny Dixie cups as a child, but I save them for the dentist's chair.
Q. My front door needs repainting and seems kind of flat. I've noticed there are lots of new paint formulations, including some that have a very rich shine. The current color is a deep orange-red, and I'd like to stay in the same family. Any specific paint formulations that you recommend?
A. The paint you are referring to with that beautiful glassy look is called Fine Paints of Europe. The formula is beautiful.