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Small Wonders: Making the Most of a Small Bathroom

Designers share their secrets—from curved vanities to tricks with tile—for giving a tiny bathroom splash.

A soaking, rather than full, tub in this DC home left room for a large shower. Design: J.D. Ireland Interior Architecture & Design Tile: Architectural Ceramics Fixtures, hardware, and teak stool: Restoration Hardware Driftwood mirror: And Beige. Photograph by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.

With bathrooms trending bigger and more luxurious, what’s one to do with a tiny space where ripping down walls isn’t an option? We asked several interior designers for ideas on how to get the most impact from the least square-footage.

Designer Camille Saum faced two challenges with the single bathroom in her DC condo: It had to function for her daily needs and also serve as an elegant powder room for guests. Her solution was to blanket the space in marble—from the floor into the shower and three-quarters of the way up three walls, capped by a three-inch shelf on two walls. Saum had a marble radiator cover made in addition to a “box” outside the shower where she sets towels. The shelf provides storage for necessities but also displays antique silver and glass bud vases when guests are there. A silver chandelier illuminates the pearlized paint above the wainscoting, and a dark antique washbasin adds pop.

“In a small space, you have to really think through what you’re doing,” Saum says.

That was also the case for designer Tricia Huntley, whose client had an apartment above the Shops at Georgetown Park that couldn’t be reconfigured in a renovation. That left him with an almost impossibly small “master” bath. To create the illusion of space, Huntley wrapped dark tile around the room and installed a glass partition on the shower so the eye wouldn’t stop at any barrier. The dark tones throughout, she says, “add extra punch—it’s like looking into a dark lake.”

Huntley had the vanity custom-made so it curves inward, allowing easier movement in what little free floor space there is. The bowl sink and wall-mounted faucet allow more space on top of the vanity to place supplies.

The easiest way to economize on space is to take out the tub. That’s why Joe Ireland had to get creative when his clients wanted to renovate their small bathroom in DC’s Columbia Heights but retain a place for bathing. “To fit in a bathtub, a vanity, and a shower big enough for two, the only way to do it is make use of that back corner—go up with the tub, not out,” Ireland says.

He chose a deep, square soaking tub by Ann Sacks, which is about half the length of a traditional model. He also used an open-shelf vanity from Restoration Hardware to create even more sense of space.

Because every detail is heightened in a small room, designer Erin Paige Pitts urges clients to get the best fixtures they can afford. “Go crazy on the details and buy really nice lighting,” she says, because that can easily be the star of the show.

Pitts also offers an unusual recommendation for those still undecided: Watch House Hunters on HGTV. “You see how people respond to spaces,” both good and bad, she says. “If you can make a space seem more impressive than it is, it gives the house more value.”

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