For a small bathroom lacking storage space, think vertically

SHAZALYNN Cavin-Winfrey, owner and lead designer of Arlington, Virginia-based SCW Interiors, joined staff writer Jura Koncius to discuss bathroom decorating do’s and don’ts last week on The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: Do you have any tips for those of us with five-by-five-foot bathrooms with no closets?

A: I have small bathrooms in my home, and my advice would be to take advantage of your vertical space. Just yesterday we were planning a small bath space and discussing using a train rack that hangs high enough to store your towels and includes hooks along the bottom rung. Another thing to consider is a frameless glass door on your shower.

This will immediately make the space feel larger and diffuse the light. If you have any wall space behind your toilet, install a recessed medicine cabinet. We recently designed a very small bathroom where we placed a medicine cabinet over the sink and a second one over the toilet with a sconce in between, which allowed the husband and wife to have everything they needed on one wall. Another space-saving tip we implement all the time: Reverse the swing of the door or, if possible, install a pocket door. Both of these save an incredible amount of space in a small bathroom.

Q: Yes or no to wallpaper in the bathroom? We put wallpaper up years ago and need to redo it. Should we add new wallpaper or just paint?

Take advantage of the vertical space in a small bathroom, designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey says. A tall cabinet over the toilet can make a big difference
Take advantage of the vertical space in a small bathroom, designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey says. A tall cabinet over the toilet can make a big difference

A: If you are asking wallpaper or paint, I always say wallpaper. There is so much more visual interest and texture to wallpaper that you cannot accomplish with paint. I tend to think paint is not a problem solver, whereas wallpaper can take a space from blah to bright in an afternoon.

Q: I was planning on going modern in my upcoming bathroom redo with a bold and aggressive mix of patterns and colours, but after a weekend with friends watching some Indian movies, I was struck by the amazing patterns and colours in their culture. I thought about incorporating some of these ideas into my bathroom, but I am wondering whether that might be visual overload, especially with the gold fixtures I would probably use instead of the platinum. What are your thoughts?

A: You are speaking my language, and I am completely transported by your wonderful imagery. I do think you have to be careful in a bathroom. Investing in materials that are not easily replaced such as tile, cabinetry and faucets that are too wild could be a mistake. I limit the risks to items that are easier to replace should I tire of them, such as lighting, wallpaper and accessories. Textile designer, Lindsay Cowles, does wallpaper patterns in wonderful exotic colours and modern/tribal patterns, which would be the perfect balance to the more predictable items in a bathroom. Her website is Another fun accessory I have used is Moroccan lanterns, mirrors and screens in bathrooms. These add tons of personality and are still flexible. Some of my favourite sources are Tazi Designs and Made Goods.

Q: I want to replace the 24-year-old sheet vinyl in my master bath, but I am not sure if it should be ceramic tile, luxury vinyl tile, stone or porcelain. Which is safest and best for resale?

A: Twenty-four years is pretty amazing for sheet vinyl. When planning a bathroom, I always take a look at the existing fixtures in making decisions on materials. If, for instance, your shower walls have white porcelain tile, I am inclined to keep porcelain on the floor. I tend to think that simpler is always better for resale purposes. Stone requires maintenance in sealing annually. If you are looking for a budget-friendly solution that fits lots of tastes, I would stick with porcelain or ceramic tile. It is really wonderful how many options are available on the market these days. When planning for flooring, it is important to consider slip factor. I tend to use smaller tile on floors in a matte finish. The matte is naturally easier to grip, and the benefit of additional grout joints helps with slippage as well. It is also important to consider the size of the tiles in relation to the space and any other tile that exists.

Q: Is it better to have a cloth or vinyl shower liner? What brands do you like?

A: Shower liners have come a long way. I like a fabric liner because it is easy to toss in the washing machine when it becomes stained from various soaps and daily use. I don’t have a favourite brand, but in the past I have bought liners at Restoration Hardware that have held up really well.

Q: In remodelling a master bath, is it necessary to add a free-standing tub, or are drop-in tubs still acceptable?

A: Tubs are very personal. I personally would never have a master bath without a bathtub, because it is my favourite pastime. I would advise against a drop-in tub because of the lip flange that it creates, which can make getting in and out difficult as we age. An undermount tub is a great solution and provides a ledge that is smooth for users to sit on and swing their legs around to enter the tub. When planning for a tub that has a stone or tile surround, you will have to make sure you have an access panel for the plumbing. – Text & Photo by DPA