It’s amazing just how tiny a half-bath can be. You may be tempted to create a fine little room with coveted materials and rich color.

Rich and textural, this powder room with copper, wood, and wallpaper is a cozy example of Arts & Crafts Revival design.

Rich and textural, this powder room with copper, wood, and wallpaper is a cozy example of Arts & Crafts Revival design.

The powder room of the 18th century was a discreet closet where one went to powder one’s wig.  By Victorian times, “going to the powder room” or taking leave to “powder [my] nose” had become euphemisms for using the toilet and lavatory. The modern powder room is most often a small half-bath, with no tub or shower. It’s often near the entry to be convenient to visitors. The old half baths were barely more than a toilet, small sink, and mirror. Still, in the American Arts & Crafts period of the early 20th century, householders had begun adding more elaborate wall treatments and other upgrades to impress guests.

Unlike white-tile bathrooms upstairs, this revival powder room matches the Arts & Crafts-era trim and coloring of the living rooms.

Unlike white-tile bathrooms upstairs, this revival powder room matches the Arts & Crafts-era trim and coloring of the living rooms.

If you are adding a new half-bath or moving fixtures or doorways, consider the view into the room. The door is usually left open, and no one wants to see the toilet from a public room. Try to make it a pretty vignette: a view toward a decorated or hardwood vanity, wallpaper, a gorgeous mirror. Not the john.

A rescued butler’s sink found new life in a half-bath fitted with raised-panel wainscoting and a Morris-design paper.

A rescued butler’s sink found new life in a half-bath fitted with raised-panel wainscoting and a Morris-design paper.

If the powder room opens from a main space, think about sound transfer. Having a small “vestibule” on either side of the door, building a vanity on a wall between the main room and the toilet, even adding extra insulation or a sound barrier in the common wall are good ideas.

Even with a marble-tile floor, this room flows seamlessly from public rooms. Space for the toilet came from an adjoining room.

Even with a marble-tile floor, this room flows seamlessly from public rooms. Space for the toilet came from an adjoining room.

Have fun with the mirror, always necessary in a wash-up room. Consider its shape, size, and frame material: anything from wood or metal to tile. Typical hanging height is with its mid-point about 66" from the floor, considered eye level. Furniture makers and decorating suppliers sell many types of mirrors and frames, but for a true period touch consider an antique mirror—or an antique picture frame with a new mirror. Instead of a recessed medicine chest, install shelving between studs in the wall cavity, and hinge the mirror over the opening.

In a narrow powder room with the toilet opposite the sink, why not fill the space with a custom vanity that offers storage?

In a narrow powder room with the toilet opposite the sink, why not fill the space with a custom vanity that offers storage?

Basic Bath to Jewel Box
Every coveted upgrade costs less in a tiny space! A wood or tile wainscot is traditional; tongue-and-groove beadboard and board-and-batten wood paneling are affordable and familiar. (You can even buy faux beadboard, a paintable, damp-friendly vinyl wallpaper: see grahambrown.com.) Colored tile and Arts & Crafts or Spanish Revival tile designs look rich in half-baths.

In this small but public room, be adventurous with wall treatments. Wallpaper does fine in a powder room. Treatments can be used that are too delicate for a humid full bath. This includes using fabric on the walls, which makes the room intimate and dampens sound.

Decoration need not be frilly; this room by David Heide Design Studio is architectural, with matte black paint and dark granite, brick-like tiles, and a subtle period stencil.

Decoration need not be frilly; this room by David Heide Design Studio is architectural, with matte black paint and dark granite, brick-like tiles, and a subtle period stencil.

Full baths demand easy-care, wet-resistant flooring, but a wood floor stands up well in a half-bath. You can get artistic (or serene) effects with stone or tile. The ceiling is another unbroken plane in the room, and one that gets no splash-back, so indulge your desire for a ceiling paper or decorative painting.

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