POWDER ROOMS BY DEFINITION are short on space, but that doesn’t mean they have to be bland little boxes. Lately, they’re bursting with personality. For these contained, single-use rooms, designers say pretty much anything goes, and homeowners are buying in, taking risks they wouldn’t normally agree to for other parts of the house. The powder room has even been likened to a folly, a decorative structure once built on the grounds of English country estates as a conversation piece. Here are four modern-day examples of tiny half baths that, like those whimsical follies of yore, really make a statement.
When Sally Wilson’s client, a stylish woman in the leather business, told her she wanted to incorporate leather into the decor of her Ipswich home, Wilson knew just the spot for it — the powder room. “It’s the one place you can go wild, because you don’t have to live in there,” says Wilson, of Wilson Kelsey Design in Salem. Rather than “messing around with brown,” Wilson went right for black, mixing croc-embossed leather tiles from EcoModern Design with a custom white Carrara marble counter and elegant nickel accents that she likens to jewelry. A beveled mirror is framed in a simple silver leaf and sized exactly to the room — proportion is especially important in such a small space to keep things in balance. The powder room’s scheme ties into the design sensibility of the home’s kitchen, which instead of a breakfast nook has a chic cocktail lounge with black and silver upholstery. “When guests walk into a lavish powder room, they feel special,” Wilson says. “It’s like you’re giving them a little gift.”
Rather than going for the predictable nautical theme, Wellesley-based designers Avery True and Andra Birkerts, both of Andra Birkerts Design, went retro in this Rockport powder room with an ocean view. The hexagon-shaped concrete tiles by Popham Design from Ann Sacks are Moroccan but have a ’60s-mod sensibility. “Because you don’t see them until you’re actually in the room,” Birkerts points out, “they offer an element of surprise, which we like.” True had the faucet and vanity mounted on the wall, freeing up both counter and floor space and making the room feel more open and larger than it is. They painted the ceiling and trim chartreuse and added a resin countertop in the same quirky color. The sink (below) is special, too, decorated with little birds and scrollwork. “It’s a conversation piece, best suited for a powder room because it’s the room everyone sees,” True says. “People can react to it and get a read on the homeowner’s personality.”
In a newly built Newton home where understated elegance reigns, John Stefanon of Boston-based JFS Design Studio created an over-the-top powder room where his client could show off her more flamboyant side. The jumping-off point is the shimmering Donghia mother-of-pearl wall covering. From there, he added the client’s grandmother’s antique crystal chandelier and a swirling French Regency-style gilt mirror. Using gold as the major design statement, Stefanon chose equally grandiose gold-plated hardware from Sherle Wagner, antiqued iron sconces with crystal drops and antique silk shades, and a basin with a hand-painted gold laurel vine. The white Calcutta marble counter, onyx floor and wall tile, and linen window shade help balance the bling. “I look at the powder room as an escape,” Stefanon says. “If you’re at a party, it can be viewed as a safe haven.”
Playing off the client’s love of the color raspberry, which was used in the family and living rooms of this conservatively decorated Winchester residence, designer Kristine Mullaney proposed wallpaper for the powder room that matched in hue but was considerably bolder in pattern. While “too much of this paper might give you a headache,” says Boston-based Mullaney, she knew that the Clarence House “Flower Quince” covering would provide just the right touch in a tiny room. Especially when she paired it with a rich cherry cabinet topped with marble, brass sconces, and a ceiling cloaked in silk grass cloth. Every bit of wall and ceiling is covered, creating a jewelry box effect. An oval mirror counterbalances the hard, angular lines of the vanity and reinforces the curves of the cherry blossom branches. Mullaney says she often suggests bold wallpaper for powder rooms, because “in a small space, you can get outside your comfort zone and go dramatic.”