Either This Or That: Don't Be Baffled By The Bath

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Whether you’re hiring a contractor or going the DIY route, there are a dizzying number of questions to answer when you remodel the bathroom. Here, four designers walk you through 15 essential choices you’ll need to make before your first shopping spree at the home improvement store.

• Either wallpaper or paint?

Like a loud sofa, wallpaper takes over the look of a room with color, texture and pattern. “Is that what you want?” says Greg Rawson, president of Richard’s Kitchen and Bath Center in Muncie, Ind. “Or do you want something else to be the focus?” Wallpaper also makes cleaning the walls tougher, and if your bathroom isn’t properly ventilated, you might find that gorgeous paper peeling off the wall.

• Either a vanity or pedestal sink?

Pedestals may make the room more spacious, but they don’t offer storage space, which could have you asking, “Where am I going to put all this stuff?” says Marge Ling, president at Savvy Kitchen & Bath Design in San Jose, Calif. If this thought rings familiar, you’ll want the drawers and cabinets offered by a vanity. A pedestal can also mean additional plumbing costs, since fixtures aren’t hidden by a cabinet, they need to be higher quality and line up with the sink. If your budget allows, higher-end options include consoles, which often resemble furniture and wall-mounted sinks.

• Either a single or double-handle faucet?

“This is a personal preference or habit,” Ling says. “A lot of folks may have spent their entire life with a single handle.” Why make the switch? Two handles can achieve a more stylized look, though installation takes a bit more work and a bit more money, as a plumber may need to get involved if pipes need to be moved. If you’re a DIY enthusiast, don’t forget about drilling those extra holes.

• Either two sinks or one?

Think about how you use the bathroom. Do you and your spouse really get ready at the same time? If not, extra counter space might offer a better bathroom experience than an additional sink. You’ll need at least five feet to accommodate two sinks. Again, you’ll pay the plumber more to install two sinks rather than one since there’s more plumbing. If you’re relocating the existing sink, the moving of pipes may be necessary.

• Either a mirror or a medicine cabinet?

Do you need the storage? If not, a mirror can give you a high-end look for less money, Rawson says. Plus, a low-cost mirror might look more stylish than a budget cabinet. If you want both, try splitting the difference by recessing the medicine cabinet into a sidewall and using the mirror over the sink as a focal point.

• Either lights beside the mirror or overhead?

When space allows, it’s best to put them on the sides. “Light over the top casts shadows,” says Joanne Cannell of Joanne Cannell Design in San Francisco. If there’s a medicine cabinet, make sure the door won’t hit the lights, or choose fixtures that recess into the wall. Install both when there’s room in the budget. An overhead fixture at the sink provides great additional light.

• Either recessed or stand-alone holders for toiletry items?

While they cost more to install, recessed shampoo niches are a plus in the shower. It cuts down on things jutting out as you bathe, and creates a cleaner look. If space is tight, you might sink the toilet paper holder into the wall, but most decorative toilet-paper holders mount to the wall’s surface. Toothbrush holders on the walls have largely gone out of fashion – except as style elements in period bathrooms.

• Either an elongated toilet or a round one?

Toilets with elongated seats is on the rise, because most people find them more comfortable. If your bathroom is tiny, there are elongated toilets available in the same length as round ones. That way you are working with the same size and you don’t have to worry about banging your leg on the new, longer fixture in the middle of the night.

• Either a toilet of standard height or a higher one?

A standard toilet runs 14-inches tall while a comfort version is about 16-17-inches high, making it the rough equivalent to a kitchen chair. “As we age, it’s easier to get up from a comfort height,” Ling says. It’s also great for people with knee problems, but shorter folks might find the comfort height less, well, comfortable.

• Either an enclosed or open toilet area?

“If the space is large enough, most people enjoy enclosing the toilet,” Rawson says. “It’s nice for privacy and odors.” Framing walls for a water closet adds to a project’s cost, as does moving the waste pipe if the toilet changes location. For smaller bathrooms, a creative partition such as a half wall, display cabinet or glass panel can provide some privacy with a touch of style.

• Either a separate tub and shower or a combination?

“For most existing bathrooms in older homes, there isn’t room for separate fixtures unless you borrow space from a nearby room,” Ling says. If you’re working with a large master bathroom, think about your routine. No time for baths? Invest in a larger, more luxurious shower. Just make sure your home has at least one tub, for resale value. A separate tub and shower makes sense for those who love a relaxing soak and have the space and budget to accommodate this option.

• Either this showerhead or another?

“The main thing is to decide what you want in terms of pressure,” Rawson says. Some rain showerheads offer soft water flow, so you may want a second showerhead to help rinse out the shampoo. Handheld showerheads are great for shaving your legs or washing your back. They also make cleaning the shower easier. Best bet? Head to a plumbing showroom and start asking the staff about different water patterns and products.

• Either large or small floor tiles?

“The larger, the better,” Ling says. “When you have larger tiles, you see less grout. It makes the floor look larger.” And since grout tends to be a favorite hiding spot for dirt and grime, this approach makes maintenance easier. Another trick: Set the tiles on a diagonal to make the room appear bigger.

• Either safety bars now or later?

As more candles appear on your birthday cake, bars make the bathroom safer and easier to use. Add them now in the shower or tub if your budget allows. They’re available at a range of price points. Counting every dollar? Cannell recommends adding a sheet of plywood under the tile, so you’ll be able to attach the bars wherever you want (not just at the studs), when you add them later.

• Either one heat source or two in the bathroom?

If there’s just one vent in your bathroom, Cannell suggests installing an additional heat source. “A lot of times you want the bathroom warmer,” she says. A toe-kick heater or heated floor allows you to warm up the space before you hop in the shower, giving you a cozier place to step once you turn off the hot water.


Image courtesy of Moen