Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

April 20, 2016

How to Design a Bathroom You Love

My Mom started planning a bathroom renovation around the same time I started to plan our  reno and, a year later, my bathroom is almost done, but my experience has been so discouraging for her.  She was already hesitant about tearing apart her functioning, if slightly embarrassing bathroom, and because my renovation did not go smoothly it's made her incredibly nervous to begin work.  On the bright side, she knows which tile and granite shops in our city to avoid...

We were chatting the other day about the bathroom renovations and makeovers under my belt and she wanted to know what choices I regretted - and which ones I'd recommend.  I can definitely see the appeal of hiring a designer for major renovations because, not only do they have formal training, they have already learned the lessons us DIYers have to learn the hard way!  I worry sometimes that DIY bloggers get a little over confident when it comes to doling out advice because choosing finishes in a handful of personal renovations does not an expert make!  Still, picking out finishes is the best part, so it's not something I'd willingly hand over to anyone.  Because of my inexperience, though, I'm a little hesitant to give my Mom design advice.  I'm worried I'll put together something she doesn't love, or I'll just recreate something that screams "Tanya's Lakehouse".  I can say this about my "design skills": I am getting pretty good at designing and decorating space that I love.   Whenever readers ask me for design advice (I've been offered money for this, which I could not in good conscience accept), I try to just discuss pros and cons of different choices, to help people make their own decision (like in my recent post about painting wood beams).  Frankly, I actually really love sharing my two cents (who doesn't?), but I'm always worried I'll steer someone away from something they really love.

Ultimately, unless you're designing a home with resale in mind, creating the kind of space that makes you sigh, "ahhh, home sweet home," with a contented, goofy grin should be the main objective when decorating and renovating.  I believe in creating a home you can love.  Trends will come and go, so being happy with your home is so important!  With that in mind, when PlumbTile reached out and suggested we collaborate on a post about bathroom renos, I knew immediately that I wanted to share my advice on how to dream up a bathroom reno you will love.  PlumbTile was an incredible inspiration for this post because their selection of bath products is staggering - plus they carry so many of my favorite brands and products, making it an effortless collaboration.

Start with Pinterest:

The best place to start designing a bathroom - or any room - is Pinterest!  I created a special board for Bathroom Design Inspiration and that's where I started collecting photos of any bath designs I liked.  Now I've turned it into a resource for others, but in its early stages I also pinned anything I liked - a color, art inspiration, walnut furniture - anything that I really, really liked.  Once the board started getting full, I looked back through my pins and started teasing out themes and commonalities.  From there it was clear that there were some must-haves: a pop of aqua, walnut cabinetry, stone counters.  Having a clear vision in mind kept me from getting distracted when other options (like the acrylic cabinetry) tried to derail me!

I designed the townhouse bathroom in the pre-Pinterest era and it was so much more difficult!  My inspiration sources were a jumble of magazine tear outs and images I'd saved to my computer.  I didn't really have a good grasp of my taste as a result.  Seeing all of your favorite spaces at once on Pinterest suddenly makes it crystal clear what you like and dislike - it's how I realized that I wanted the lakehouse to be bolder and brighter than the townhouse. 

Think About Function:

Once I had my wishlist of finishes figured out, I started chatting with Hubby about how we would use the space and we made a second list of "needs": two sinks, two outlets, floating cabinets, tiled tub surround (definitely no shower portal!), minimal grout lines, single lever faucet (I just love our Kohler Purist faucets!), etc.  Although some of these decisions seem purely functional, many of them ended up influencing the design elements (like my tile choice or where we put the outlets).   Then I combined my lists, printed it, and held onto it throughout the process so I wouldn't get distracted or forget about a key detail. 

Chat with the Pros:

The place where we bought the cabinetry from offered a free design service and I'm so grateful because the designer we worked with didn't try to sell me on any finishes.  In fact, the pushiness of the onsite designer is why I originally didn't want to work with the company that supplied our stone counters.  I already knew what I wanted and so the designer at the cabinet place focused on functional concerns (like the linen tower doors bumping the stone counters) and figured out some ways to remedy them (like making the linen tower deeper than the vanity - genius!).  Along the way, I definitely peppered every trades person and designer we met with questions, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible.  Being inquisitive is a must during any renovation process - ask questions!  BUT don't let yourself get sidetracked; Kelly, from View Along the Way, has a great post about how the advice from an overzealous kitchen designer resulted in a kitchen she regrets!  That's why having a list of wants and needs in hand is helpful.

Find a Key Piece:

For awhile I was overwhelmed with shopping because I wanted everything - or nothing!  I can see why so many people just opt for white subway tile, or some variation: tile choices, especially, can be overwhelming.  When I found the quartzite stone counter slab - and decided it would pair well with my aqua sink obsessions - things started to click into place.   With the magic of hindsight, there are still a few things I made change if given a do-over, but I'd definitely keep the quartzite stone!  I told my Mom to find a key piece too, because then decisions start to get easier.  

Bring Samples Home:

I think this one goes without saying, but I feel compelled to mention it: bring samples home.  Everything looks different under showroom lights, so bring samples home and take a look at them under various lighting conditions.   

Determine the Show Ponies and Work Horses:

With my two lists of wants and needs determined, I figured out where I wanted to splash out and inject some personality into the room - and where I would layer in more neutral elements.  As you know, I'm a fan of bold bathroom sinks!

I loved the glass vessel sink in the townhouse and once I realized that Kohler sold an aqua undermount sink, I knew that aqua sinks had to happen!  I was always fascinated by the original 1960s pink and black bathroom in my Mummu's house - as a child I cried when the pink toilet (to match her pink tub and sink) was replaced with a bisque one.  The rest of the pink still remains and every time I wash my hands in the pink enamel sink, I smile.  I'm sure her floating vanity inspired my choice on a subconscious level as well. 

Not every element can be the star, though, so when I settled on aqua sinks, I decided to choose subtle tile for the floor and tub surround - although a part of me was very tempted to do a matching aqua tiled tub surround (and part of me wishes I had!).  The dark grey tile floor, though, is perfect because it's not attention grabbing.  

Colorful sinks are an unusual choice - and a commitment! - so I don't advocate a bold sink for everyone (although I have to show you this grey Kohler sink - isn't the color gorgeous?).  The point is to find out what element in a room really makes you smile and make it happen.  It might be a bold tiled backsplash or a quietly stunning slab of marble.  It doesn't have to be bold, but once the main attractions of a bathroom design are chosen, it's important to give them some room to shine by choosing some more neutral finishes or fixtures.

For my Mom I'm advocating a really neutral design so she can change up the look with accessories, but even still, I'm encouraging her to pick some quiet design elements (like a neutral floor) to let other elements (like an unusual, pale grey tile she's considering) be the star.

Don't Forget the Details!

By the time I had to choose smaller details like a mirrored outlet cover and hardware, I was beat!  I had made so many choices and was tired.  But I hadn't been happy with the finishes in the townhouse bathroom because I hadn't paid much attention to fixtures or hardware and, months later when the reno was over, I had some regrets.  So for this reno I powered through and although I might revisit the outlet covers, I'm thrilled with the hardware.  Taking the time to think through each and every detail has made the bathroom really come together for me.  This kind of work reflection is a snap for the pros and probably takes eons longer for regular people to do, but it's worth it to spend the time and effort.

Those are my tips for designing a bathroom YOU love: start with Pinterest, keep a list of must-haves so you don't get distracted, ask questions of every pro you meet, find that key piece and let it shine, and don't forget about the details.  Not rocket science, but this process helped me!  Starting with Pinterest and having a list of must-haves written down are my best tips, because everyone will chime in and while you want to elicit some advice because you never know what gem you'll pick up, it's important to start with a clear vision and know your own style.

What is your advice for my poor Mom, so nervous about her impending bathroom reno that she is willing to hand over the design to her nutty daughter who will inevitably opt for too much aqua?
A huge thanks to PlumbTile for sponsoring this post.  I was so floored by their incredible inventory!  I started pouring over the different categories while writing this post and I found my beloved kitchen cabinet pulls and even the pretty brushed nickel pulls I'm always tempted to steal from my Mom's mid-century modern inspired teak bedroom furniture!  All thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.


  1. Great post Tanya! How did you pull of your Townhouse bathroom in the pre-Pinterest days!

    I say go for it Tanya's Mom! :)

    1. I definitely didn't put as much effort into the townhouse bathroom and ended up regretting some things - but I was also very resale focused because we knew we wouldn't live there long. It took a long time to find my style and I credit Pinterest for that!

      My Mom reads the comments, so she'll see your message :)

  2. This is kind of off-topic, but oh, my, your lovely hair!

    1. Awww, thank you! It's been three weeks since the big chop and every now and then I miss my long hair (no more messy buns!) but I love how easy my new cut is to style.

      If you missed it, I've got better photos in this post:

  3. Show ponies and work horses- great phrase, please tell me you coined that and I haven't just been living under a rock.
    From this perspective, you've made all the right choices in the lake house bath- I'd welcome you to design my bathroom. However, fair enough what you said about personal style but I love your style and would be happy to live with it in my home.

    1. I'm afraid I can't say I coined it. Worse, I first heard it watching a really lame reality TV show...
      It makes me so happy to hear that you wouldn't mind a Tanya-esque room in your home! Step one: make everything turquoise, lol.

    2. I'm afraid I can't say I coined it. Worse, I first heard it watching a really lame reality TV show...
      It makes me so happy to hear that you wouldn't mind a Tanya-esque room in your home! Step one: make everything turquoise, lol.

  4. Thank you for this! I agree completely with everything you said about being a decor/DIY blogger (being one myself). I'm always nervous to say "do this" or "don't do this" or "buy that" because design and decor are ultimately such personal choices. There's no "right" way to decorate a home, and I feel a lot of pressure as a blogger to prescribe to certain trends. Staying true to what matters in our home is always a priority.

    1. So happy to hear that another blogger feels the same way! Sometimes I feel inundated by how many blogger are prescribing trends - on top of magazines and other design publications. It's too much! I would much prefer to see more advice on how to find your own style, choose pieces with staying power, and create a home that can be loved for a long time. But then, that's not good business!

  5. aw Tanya, LOVING the tops! Glad I could help a tiny bit! Just LOVE the white fantasy! Everything is breathtaking


  6. aw Tanya, LOVING the tops! Glad I could help a tiny bit! Just LOVE the white fantasy! Everything is breathtaking



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