Ideas from the winners of our powder room contest

Last year, we asked readers to tell us about their powder rooms ― the smallest, sometimes most challenging but often most fun room to decorate. The five winners were selected from 150 entries and exhibit a diversity that ranges from Asian simplicity to high-sheen Silicon Valley modern to wood-warmed Northwestern and Mediterranean rustic. They share a restrained use of texture, material, and color, which gives each of these rooms a rich yet soothing appearance.

A powder room’s small size allows you to have some decorative license without letting things get out of hand. For instance, Santa Monica designer Sara Goodman papered a small powder room with more than 1,000 individually cut and applied pieces of joss paper, which she further enhanced with gold and silver oil pastel. The grid of gilded squares that is so dazzling and surprising here could be overwhelming in larger, more public rooms.

Using color

• Let a single color dominate the room. Keep in mind that the color may come from different finishes: paint, plaster, tile, or wallpaper.

• Repeat variations of the color in fixtures or other appointments for a cohesive look. Repeat complementary hues in fabrics or other objects. 

Sinks as stars

Functionally, a powder room needs only a toilet, a sink, and minimal storage for hand towels, so it’s usually the sink that becomes the most prominent design element.

• A cabinet-and-sink combination can establish the design theme: Antique bureaus or sideboards can be modified to either hold a surface-mounted sink or have an opening cut for a drop-in, self-rimming sink. For an old-fashioned look, choose sinks that look like basins sitting upon a washstand. These are really plumbed like any other sink ― with a J-trap and waste line hidden in the cabinetry.

• To make a powder room feel as large as possible, choose a sink that occupies the least amount of floor space. In the powder room at right, a custom-built conical base made of stainless steel tapers up from the floor to mask the plumbing and underside of a sink converted from a stainless steel salad bowl. The gilded room (above) pairs a clean-lined, contemporary pedestal-style sink with an antique tansu that’s used for storage and display. You could also leave the space under a sink completely open as shown in another winner that uses an antique stone sink to span a shallow niche.

See the light

The right light fixture adds to the richness of these intimate rooms, but remember that grooming and makeup will be double-checked here. As a result, you should have more than one type of light fixture.

• The most flattering kind of light is the softest and most warm-toned. Select incandescent lightbulbs that have a pink cast rather than the typical yellow.

• Use low-voltage downlights with narrow beam spread to add drama and to highlight wall-hung art or objects on a counter surface.

• Small-scale pendant lights with halogen or quartz lamps are the ideal size for accent lighting. Their glass shades can also become a design feature.

• Decorative lamps with low-wattage bulbs can enrich rooms, but don’t use them for primary lighting.