The bath gets equal decorating time in '90s Form and function combine to make apersonal haven

June 06, 1993|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Contributing Writer

If you were to walk into the room, you'd immediately be impressed by its spaciousness and light. Then you'd notice some of the splendid details. The architecture was inspired by turn-of-the century Arts-and-Crafts style, embellished with handsome millwork in a pickled finish, creamy white tiles punctuated by colorful accents set-in like jewels, and striking, textured, stained-glass windows in tones of amber, wintergreen, lapis and plum.

There are plenty of objets d'art to please the eye: art on the walls, sculpture and pretty vases filled with fresh flowers. There also are lots of creature comforts such as a plump, down-filled skirted chaise draped with a soft throw for cozying up, a couple of big cushy pillows, a selection of books in built-in cases. There's even a stand for propping up your favorite read -- as you luxuriate in the teal whirlpool tub.

"Everyone reads in the bathroom, but no one designs for it," says Karol Dewulf Nickol, editor of Traditional Home, which created the library/bath with the Kohler Co. and showed it at the spring national kitchen-and-bath show in Las Vegas as well as in its March magazine.

Making a place for books and magazines in the bath may seem odd, but this is just one manifestation of the new '90s bath, one designed to bubble over with personality. The bath is taking a cue from the '90s trend in home furnishings: creating a haven that reflects you.

From a functional place with minimal style, the bath has evolved to more of a real room. In the opulent '80s, in which furnishings dripped with gilt, rich fabrics and lots of lush trims, the bath also got embellished. Luxury came to the bath in opulent materials such as marble, expensive fixtures, jewel-like faucets and sheer volume. With the big bath came dual function spaces: Exercise equipment and even televisions moved in.

While the trend to bigger baths still continues, the real news now is about style. People are paying more attention to the details that add sparkle to a room. From choosing fixtures with an eye to form and styling, they're moving beyond basic wallcoverings, curtains and towels.

They are shopping for -- or relocating from other rooms in the house -- art, antiques, beautiful mirrors and light sconces. They may embellish the walls and even floors with fanciful patterns in paint or tile. They may comb flea markets, junk or antique shops for dressers and chests they can convert to vanities. They are coming up with unusual ways to dress windows. Even Oriental and custom-designed area rugs and chaise lounges and easy chairs are showing up in the bath.

"In some people's lives, the master bath is the only place there is absolute refuge," said Ms. Nichol. "Whether or not you have a half-hour or 10 minutes, you want to feel pampered. And the powder room often is such a small space, people can splurge a little more on expensive fabric or accessories, which can elevate the whole room."

But you don't even have to splurge to add personality to the bath. There are a number of ways you can do a visual make-over without breaking the bank. One of the most affordable quick-change options is decorating with paint.

Take a humble, bare-bones attic bath, for example. Chicago interior designers Andy Noha and Bruce Williams looked at the all-white, lackluster space and imagined how a little color and pattern could make a difference. Inspired by quilt patterns, they translated the diamond shapes to the floor and created a checkerboard band to frame the window. The fresh-as-spring palette of periwinkle blue and buttercup yellow is cheerful and charming.

Of course, decorative painting needn't be confined to walls and floors. Designer Peg Dobroth took a junk-store dresser and converted it into a colorful vanity. She had the piece painted with a trompe l'oeil floral bouquet held together with ribbons. A ceramic sink hand-painted with a floral border was fitted into a new counter top. A coordinating painted mirror adds to the romance.

Decorative shower curtains

Another way to introduce color and style into a bathroom is with shower curtains. No longer are we limited to unpatterned vinyls in pastel shades. Today shower curtains come in treated fabrics in a variety of patterns, colors and even textures.

Jakson's "Rain Forest" design, for example, a lush tropical floral pattern, is printed on a silk-like fabric that is water-resistant. Coordinated accessories include a toothbrush holder, soap dish, tumbler, tissue cube, wastebasket and window treatments.

Window treatments such as cafe curtains, swagged drapes or puffy shades may help soften hard edges in the bath.

Consider other decorative solutions for covering or even accentuating windows as well. Even if you can't afford to replace windows with dramatic architectural ones such as the leaded glass panels in the Traditional Home bath, you might find a piece of stained glass at a flea market.

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