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Five bathroom updates that will help your space stand the test of time

Most clients want a classic bathroom or a serene, spa-like space, interior designer Michael Winn said.  (Stacy Zarin Goldberg/For the Washington Post)
Most clients want a classic bathroom or a serene, spa-like space, interior designer Michael Winn said. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg/For the Washington Post)
By Lindsey Roberts Special to the Washington Post

If, after being stuck at home for months on end, you are taking stock of your surroundings and looking for ways to spruce up the appearance or improve the functionality of your home, you are not alone. According to a report from Review Home Warranties, online searches related to home remodeling are up 84% this year.

Small but achievable updates in bathrooms, such as tile, hardware or paint, are among the more popular projects, according to the report. If you’re going to update a bathroom and you want your design choices to stand up over time, the first step is determining what styles will be timeless for you specifically.

“People tend to fall into one or two camps,” interior designer Michael Winn of Winn Design and Build in Virginia said. “They want a very classic-looking bathroom, or they want something contemporary and spa-like, like the Four Seasons.” Translation: For many people, the bathroom might not be the place to get splashy with trends.

But what if you adore bold colors and patterns? “Sometimes, the most timeless things are the things that you love,” said Katy Harbin, a designer based in North Carolina. “There are people that redo their bathroom every 10 years,” and for them, choosing a paint color of the year and of-the-moment hardware might work.

For those who want to do it right and be done, though, Winn, Harbin and Boston-based interior designer Erin Gates, author of “Elements of Family Style,” agreed on five bathroom updates that are truly timeless.

An all-white palette

Whether you prefer a classic-looking bathroom or a spa-like retreat, Winn said, “white doesn’t go out of style.” Think white paint, tile, countertops, vanities and textiles.

If you find yourself craving color, you can add it with window treatments and towels, Gates suggests, or wallpaper and art. “Just be wary of installing wallpaper in an often-used bathroom with a shower, as the steam can sometimes cause the paper to peel.”

Harbin likes white towels with a contrast trim “in a perky color.”

Choosing the right paint color can be tricky, Harbin said, so it’s important to order larger color samples from paint stores rather than relying on paint cards. “You can have an earthy bathroom, like a really pretty travertine … and if you put a stark white with it, it falls flat, but rich creams” will work, she said.

If you can’t find larger samples, get a sample pot and paint a poster board to see how everything looks under your bathroom’s lighting. Put the paint next to tile and countertop samples to be certain they all work together.

Mixed metals

Blending two types of metals in the space can stand up better than going with one trendy finish throughout the room. In terms of particular metals, “polished nickel is timeless,” Winn said. Gates, too, prefers polished nickel; in her bathroom, she pairs it with a gold mirror.

When using two different metals (and no more than two), Harbin said to “repeat them enough, and it will look good.” Try using gold on knobs and a mirror and nickel on faucets and hardware and perhaps your lighting, for example.

Investing in higher-quality metal hardware also will help with longevity. A faucet with brass fittings and water-efficient technology “may be pricier in the beginning, but you’ll be grateful later,” Harbin said.

Marble countertops

“Marble, or a faux marble, like quartz with a marble appearance, will never go out of style,” Winn said. Gates agrees, with a vote for Carrara marble.

The soft, porous stone requires some semiannual resealing to maintain its appearance, Winn said; newer generations of countertops in sturdier materials provide that marble look without the maintenance. “These countertops are excellent in heavy-use bathrooms, such as those used by children,” he said. Solid-slab marble is typically $100 to $200 per square foot; “marble-like material” is about $45 to $75 per square foot, Winn said.

Traditional tile patterns

White subway tile in a shower or bath will never age, Winn said. For floors, penny tile – white or black and white – is still found in homes built in the 1950s and ’60s, Winn said, but clients also are asking for it in new bathrooms. Other classics include hexagonal and basket-weave patterns.

Choosing these tiles in white “will age a bit better,” Winn said, than tiles in bold colors or patterns. (If you love pattern and color, instead of a super-bold tile pattern, try a rug that can be easily changed out.)

Winn suggests white grout with white tile for a classic look. For a more modern feel, try a charcoal or black grout with white tile. As for size, larger floor tiles, such as 8 by 8 inches or 12 by 24 inches, can make a room seem bigger, “since the grout lines are less visible,” Winn said.

Small tiles – 1 by 1 inch or 2.25 by 2.25 inches – also are good for powder rooms “to create a full, repetitious look.” They also can be beneficial in a shower because more grout lines help prevent slipping, Gates said.

A furniture-style vanity

Winn recommends a “free-standing, furniture-grade vanity,” which will “make the bathroom seem less utilitarian,” he said.

Gates likes free-standing vanities with Shaker doors and undermount sinks – a style she has in her bath. The Shaker style is simple, she said, without ornate details, and it’s rooted in history. Gates recommends a custom vanity if the budget allows.

White, gray and limed oak wood are all safe bets for a classic look that won’t age, she says. In a powder room, Gates recommends a simple pedestal sink and free-standing cabinets or baskets to hold toilet paper and extra hand towels.

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