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.
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 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.
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.
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.