Tile preserves room's style while adding visual fizz

Design Line

Black and white a nod to history, but with excitement

July 13, 2008|By Rita St. Clair

Our 60-year-old house, which we've been slowly renovating, contains a guest bathroom that's in need of new wall tiles. The original floor, still in place, consists of the small black-and-white tiles that were the norm back in the '40s. And you can guess what color all the fixtures are. We'd like to retain the style that the homebuilders chose for this small but functional bathroom, even though it's kind of dull. Can you suggest ways of introducing a bit of visual fizz without altering the basic design?

Some rooms are just plain dull. And that's not the same thing as ugly - in fact, dull can be even worse than ugly.

It's also a term that's easier to define and a look that's more readily recognized. Given today's rapidly changing tastes and multiple trends in design and art, it's almost impossible to get a consensus on what constitutes "ugly." A dull setting, on the other hand, will be widely seen for exactly what it is: boring!

So my suggestion is to keep what's in place and add some interesting-looking elements to it. The accompanying photo from Inside the Not So Big House, a Taunton Press book, suggests how to introduce some spark to a bathroom similar to the one you describe.

Architect Sarah Susanka found a mass audience 10 years ago for her Not So Big House series of books offering advice on designing interiors of the sort most Americans actually live in. Her book's enduring appeal highlights the hunger for real-life alternatives to the fantasy spaces featured in many design magazines.

Since you're planning to redo the bathroom's walls, I recommend installing glazed, pure-white ceramic tiles bordered and capped at the top with an equally shiny, black "bull-nose" tile. You could then add a shiny black-tile border around the black-and-white tiles of the original floor.

But don't stop there. You can continue the border around all the openings in the bathroom - the door and window frames as well as any cabinetry. This framing effect will provide a color accent that gives the entire room needed crispness.

Another option would be to paint or paper the walls in a bright color. And since you want to preserve the pristine look of a postwar bathroom, snowy white is really your only color choice.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with interior design questions can e-mail her at rsca@ritastclair.com.

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