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How to build a beautiful bathroom

Where to save, and where to splurge, as you renovate

Karen Melvin

If your bathroom is more a sore spot than a sanctuary, you're not alone. Bathrooms have replaced kitchens as the most remodeled room in the home — their smaller footprint and lack of pricey appliances make for a less expensive project.

But baths are still a challenge and mistakes are hard and pricey to undo. Consumer Reports' experts spent months testing the latest countertops, flooring, sinks, and more so that you can get a luxurious bath that can handle harried Monday mornings and soothing Sunday soaks. The magazine's editors also got ideas from designers and remodeling professionals.

Streamline the vanity. While the double-sink configuration was popular in the past, it often makes sense to have a single sink and more counter space. Opting for a single sink vanity saves the expense of the second sink and faucet. And eliminating a set of plumbing expands storage space inside the vanity.


Save: Consumer Reports' tests have found that low-cost faucets often come with better valves, durable finishes, and lifetime warranties against leaks and stains.

Splurge: Framed mirrors over the vanity are replacing mirrored walls. Match the finish on the frame to the faucet and towel bars for a coordinated look, or choose something very different to create a focal point.

Choose soothing colors. Palettes that create a calm, spa-like atmosphere are favored. Instead of outdated pink and coral, consider a soft shade of blue. It offers a refreshing feeling evocative of water, which naturally works well in a bath. Yellow is also getting more use in bathrooms. Steer clear of dark greens. They can give skin a sickly hue.

Save: Updating accessories, such as towels and shower curtains, and repainting walls is an inexpensive way to bring color into the bath. Behr's Premium Plus Ultra, $31 to $34 per gallon, excelled in Consumer Reports' tests, including resisting mildew.


Splurge: Glass tile adds a splash of iridescent brightness but can cost as much as $40 per square foot installed. So you might want to focus on a single accent wall, say, above the vanity, or use it only in the shower area.

Take a shower. The enthusiasm for gargantuan whirlpool tubs has cooled considerably. People are now using that space to create larger showers, often with his and her showerheads, body sprays, and even steam generators.

A shower stall that measures at least 4-by-6 feet can provide easy access, no matter your age and ability, especially if you include a bench.

Save: With their large heads and expansive spray patterns, rain showerheads deliver a soft, soothing flow. Moen's Velocity 6320, $190, was a top performer in past tests. It also has a more forceful spray setting.

Splurge: If you can take the stall up to 5 by 7 feet, that can eliminate the expense of the door, since showerheads can be positioned so that the spray doesn't reach beyond the shower area.

Conceal the toilet. The latest trend is to make the commode as unobtrusive as possible. If space permits, try placing the toilet behind a half-wall or in its own room-within the-room, complete with separate lighting and ventilation. A piece of furniture, such as an armoire, can create a barrier without the expense of a framed wall. It will also provide additional storage for towels and toiletries.

Save: Several WaterSense-qualified toilets, which use just 1.28 gallons per flush, make Consumer Reports' recommended list. That could save you an estimated 4,000 gallons and $90 per year in water bills if you're replacing an old toilet.


Splurge: If you can't hide the toilet, consider a sleeker one-piece model.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.