Design Tips to Energize Your Bathroom

Practical Advice from

Design Tips to Energize Your Bathroom

Incorporate some — or all — of these ideas to keep your space from feeling too clinical and boring.


Modern bathroom design is often all about going minimalist with clean finishes for a spa-like feel. But sometimes the look ends up feeling clinical. To make sure your space feels just as inviting as the rest of your home, try some of my favorite bathroom design tips to create a sense of warmth and personality while achieving spot-on style.

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1. Pattern

Bathrooms often are devoid of interesting patterns, which is a shame, because energetic patterns can add life to any room. Consider adding a patterned drapery panel or playful towels, or simply hang a colorful print (or wallpaper sample) in a frame as artwork. These low-commitment ideas allow you to keep a classic color scheme for the fixed elements while dabbling in color trends as the mood strikes.

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A horizontally striped shower curtain is a foolproof way to add some pattern and excitement in a bathroom of any size, style or budget. Try a gray-and-white stripe to match any palette …

… or navy and white to capture a timeless nautical spirit.

2. Tile Baseboard

Accent tiles aren’t only for the shower. Adding an interesting “baseboard” of charming tile helps keep water from splashing on the bare walls (from the occasional spill or leak) and adds a touch of visual interest in a quirky, unexpected place. Plus, it’s a great way to introduce a touch of pattern in a low-maintenance and moisture-proof way.

3. Anchor With Color

Having lighter colors at the eyeline will help a bathroom feel clean and airy, but try balancing them with a deep color lower to the ground (such as below a chair rail, as in this photo). This adds a sense of richness that helps keep the space from feeling too stark, without making it overwhelmingly dark. Plus, it beautifully sets off classic white fixtures.

If your bathroom has a large amount of wall space eaten up by tile, windows or mirror, try a dark color on the remaining plain walls. This helps the more interesting features to advance and the plain walls to recede, for a more dynamic look and lots of rich character.

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4. Divider Screen

Screening out the toilet puts the visual emphasis on areas like a beautiful vanity, but dividing the space can cause visual shrinkage. Try an airy divider screen to divert the eye without completely closing in the walls. You can have a lattice-like screen installed (painted to match the door frames and baseboards) or use a free-standing room screen to achieve a similar effect.

5. Off-White

A white bathroom doesn’t have to be strictly stark white. Try mixing in some creamy off-white in elements like wallpaper, towels or small accessories, to make white porcelain look white while softening the look of the overall palette with less clinical, more lived-in tones.

6. Detailed Mirror

A plain slab mirror can be beautifully functional in a modern bathroom, but if you’re looking to add some personality, a statement mirror frame is a great place to start. Choose one that’s thick or interesting, or make a fun one yourself by painting or adding gold leaf to a plain frame to add drama.

7. Hanging Mirror

Go a step more dramatic with your mirror and hang one with a chunky strap from an equally substantial hook. You can also layer this look by hanging a bold frame at eye level over a flat rectangular mirror slab as a quick upgrade to an existing mirror. Have nowhere to attach the frame because a tile or glass is in the way? Ask your contractor if a mirror or frame could be hung from your ceiling instead.

8. Étagère

A free-standing open shelving unit adds essential storage and some personality for a more lived-in look than built-in shelves (which some people find have a drier vibe, but ultimately it all comes down to preference). Refer to my bathroom styling guide for tips on how to keep open shelves arranged attractively.

9. Natural Materials

Bathrooms usually feature a lot of crisp materials that, while waterproof, are sometimes a little visually cold. Natural materials reintroduce some warmth and a sense of human touch, so look for places to add wood, organically shaped stone or woven baskets.

Animal-inspired prints also bring in a sense of life, as do shades of natural green and blackened bronze.

Tip: Towels with a fringe add a sense of personality and fit well with the traditional-meets-modern elements of a wood vanity.

10. Vessel Sink

Notice how many spaces in this article have an eye-catching vessel sink to make the space feel more enticing. Switching away from the typical porcelain makes an evocative statement. Consider natural materials and imperfect shapes, like a carved wood, stone or blown-glass sink.

If you do prefer the look of crisp white porcelain, consider a vessel sink with a tall faucet tucked behind it, especially in a finish like bronze or brass.

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Also consider a trendy yet classic farmhouse-style sink, with a raised back to frame a faucet or two. This eclectic look has a homey yet sophisticated appeal.

11. Tile

Want to get really creative? For a unique bathroom look with plenty of personality, mix different-color tiles together to create a mosaic design on an accent wall, even incorporating mirror elements. This takes some planning and usually costs extra to have installed, but you can achieve a dramatic effect from simple tiles that cost just a few dollars a square foot and skip the pricey materials like marble.

Try this especially with plain porcelain subway tiles, throwing in a few leftover or retired sample tiles scooped up at a showroom at a bargain price to add personality and a look unique to you.

12. Hardware

Just as in the kitchen, cabinet hardware often goes overlooked as a detail worth upgrading. Fun or quirky knobs (especially in a bathroom with only a few drawers or doors) add an interesting personal detail that you can always change inexpensively down the road.

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If you don’t love your playful knobs in a few years, you can always move them to a child’s room or resell them, and put back the default knobs, or treat yourself to new ones for $5 to $12 each for a makeover easily under $100.

San Francisco Contemporary Bathroom

13. Dramatic Ceiling

If you can’t find the right spot to add drama, try looking up. A single roll of wallpaper is often enough to make over a bathroom ceiling, and since bathrooms are often taller than they are wide, adding a little interest overhead will only help make the room feel intimate and more well-proportioned.

14. Dimmer

Finally, capping your look with a dimmer system gives you the option to switch between bright, intense lighting when you need to start your day with a wake-up call (and for cleaning day), and more relaxed lighting as you unwind in the evening.

This article is from Houzz, not the Kiplinger editorial staff.