Q: Our Victorian town house has a small empty space that I want to convert into an elegant powder room. Do you have some suggestions for the general treatment of such a setting?
A: I can offer plenty of suggestions, but you'll first need to decide how authentic you want the room to look. Assuming you'd like the conversion to be consistent with the style of the rest of the house, you should start scouring the salvage yards and antique shops for plumbing and lighting fixtures as well as tiles and other suitable materials.
I must warn you, however, that because so many people are undertaking restorations of old homes, there's no longer much of a selection, especially at reasonable prices. Keep in mind, too, that while old sinks may be quite charming, it can be quite expensive to outfit them with the proper faucets and plumbing connections.
Ceramic tiles, whether old or new, would be my choice for the flooring. If you agree, I recommend tiles in a matte finish and a traditional pattern.
Wallpaper is another effective means of introducing needed pattern into a small room. Don't be shy about choosing something bold and decorative. A powder room, after all, isn't a place where one spends hours in meditation.
Here's an elegant example that you might find appealing. In this model, the wood floor was covered with a small Oriental rug, while the designer selected a sink that's an adaptation of an 18th century Adams Brothers cabinet. This striking bath vanity was created exclusively for Kohler by Baker Furniture. It is crafted of mahogany and embellished with decorative features such as the turned feet. Behind the swirl-pattern doors are practical pull-out storage trays.
What a wonderful alternative to plastic laminate cabinets!
Please note that this type of sink could also be custom-made by a cabinetmaker. The vanity top might then be treated with marble or, like the Kohler, with a water-resistant polymeric finish.
Now let's look at the wall covering. It's a stately stripe accompanied by a border applied just below the ceiling and at chair-rail height. This sort of treatment is particularly effective in minimizing the height of a ceiling that looks too tall for a small room.
The choice of mirror is not an incidental detail. I would select something like the decoratively framed mirror seen here. Its style should complement the cabinet while also accentuating the overall look of the room. I further suggest that your mirror be accompanied by a pair of wall bracket lamps. Whether shaded or simple candlestick sconces, these fixtures will cast the shadowless light that one requires in a powder room.