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Traditional elements—wood, tile, classic fixtures—are the basis for rooms that meet modern expectations.

While oak trim and off-white subway tile are standard in many Arts & Crafts baths, this one gains depth from terra-cotta walls and the artful use of borders and inlays.

While oak trim and off-white subway tile are standard in many Arts & Crafts baths, this one gains depth from terra-cotta walls and the artful use of borders and inlays.

A new bathroom in a period house should look as though it has always been there. One approach: Keep it simple with white tile and fixtures for the “sanitary” look popular around the turn of the 20th century. Another: Go for Craftsman Revival, with oak woodwork and stylish lighting, earthy tones, and perhaps art tile. These bathrooms, which I designed for children, illustrate both directions and my own evolution in taste.

Delicate vertical inlay in the medicine chest crosses paths with a handmade terra-cotta mosaic border set into creamy crackle tile.

Delicate vertical inlay in the medicine chest crosses paths with a handmade terra-cotta mosaic border set into creamy crackle tile.

The blue “seashell” bathroom was designed for my young children. A study in layered simplicity, it features child-friendly elements like the colorful wave-pattern border on the hex-tile floor and a wainscot with a top rail deep enough for fossilized starfish. Light switches are set low for a child to reach, and the circular beveled mirror is angled downward so a child can see into it. Sink and toilet are new, but they reproduce the look of vintage fixtures in style and proportion. With little kids, I didn’t want a clawfoot tub I had to clean around, so we built an enclosure around a standard tub as a nod to the corner tubs popular in the 1920s. The wainscot was carefully planned so that vertical elements are centered under the window and outlets and switches land just right. A freestanding glass-front cabinet provides ample storage space.

The shower is fully enclosed with glass panels, and has a custom niche for toiletries.

The shower is fully enclosed with glass panels, and has a custom niche for toiletries.

The more masculine bath, designed for my teenage boys, takes a hardcore Craftsman approach. Dark oak trim elements flow into rich terra-cotta walls, providing a warm contrast with the distressed and crackled subway tile in an off-white color.

We pushed the ceiling up a foot into the attic, creating a handsome tray ceiling and space to drop in a run of oak molding. The ceiling is so often neglected as a design element; using an accent color adds depth to a room.

The sanitary white bath edges toward cottage style with a wood wainscot and whimsical wave border in the floor tile.

The sanitary white bath edges toward cottage style with a wood wainscot and whimsical wave border in the floor tile.

We used a deliberate series of horizontal and vertical lines in the floors, walls, and even the medicine cabinets. To create calming symmetry, the windows were realigned to center on the dormer; we tucked oak shelving into reclaimed space underneath. A shaving mirror over each sink signifies that my boys are men.

Mosaics create a wave border in the seashell bath.

Mosaics create a wave border in the seashell bath.

In a vintage bath, keep decoration simple—you can rely on something as straightforward as a line (as in the border at the top of the tile wainscot). When my initial choice for that accent strip turned out to be a little too “perfect,” I searched for something more rustic and found a tile artist in Turkey. He created both the liner strip and the mosaic floor border, working from my sketch of a design detail photographed in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The mosaics are made from broken shards of terra cotta.

Carisa Mahnken is the principal at Carisa Mahnken Design Guild in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey: cmahnken.com.

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