Bathroom Design Is Getting Bolder

Laura and Avi Fisher committed to a $1,090 concrete sink basin from Nood Co for their powder room in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, N.Y. The price and round-edge style isn’t that remarkable, but the color is: teal.

The couple ignored conventional wisdom that they would soon grow tired of any color used in basic fixtures, or that it could devalue the home should they want to resell. “We still wanted a little color and life and pop,” says Mr. Fisher, a luxury-complex developer. 

To that end, the couple chose matching wallpaper for the room by Spoonflower that features a small pattern of cartoon nude women riding tigers, leopards and other animals. “In the past, we’ve done a more neutral palette, but it was never for our forever home,” he added. The couple completed this year a two-year renovation of their 120-year-old, four-bedroom Victorian townhouse. He says he and his wife, an attorney, both 40 years old, have no plans to move.

The townhouse has original details, including an entry door, the curved staircase banister and an archway. Most of the living areas are toned down, featuring, for example, new herringbone oak floors.

The 3½ bathrooms, on the other hand, are bold and modern.  Mr. Fisher used another teal accent in his third-floor bathroom, this time Aegean zellige walls in the shower.

The Fishers are part of a growing number of homeowners who want to up the ante on a statement powder room with a sink, tub or toilet that is anything but white. New choices include mauves, blues and greens that make sinks a focal point—a modern twist on the mid-20th-century fixtures that were offered mostly in greens and reds.

“They want a wow factor,” says Chicago architect Kevin Toukoumidis, founding principal of Dspace Studio. “Clients are pushing the limits on products like that in their bathroom.”

Avi and Laura Fisher renovated their Park Slope townhouse earlier this year, but kept some of the home’s original details, including the archways.


Chris Sorensen for The Wall Street Journal

In the past few years, specialized bath companies have tapped into the need for flare by expanding their more colorful offerings. And the homeowners, especially in the luxury market, seem to prefer these bright, modern styles more than salvaged vintage fixtures in pastel hues.

They want bathroom fixtures that have “fun colors to play with,” says Glen Rosser, executive vice president of Claybrook Interiors, a U.K.-based brand launching a collection of stone sink basins in colors that include forest green, plaster pink, olive green, midnight blue and brick. In addition to modern silhouettes, today’s popular offerings are matte rather than shiny, says Mr. Rosser, who is based in Dallas.

But some agents warn about the bold design where resales are concerned. Powder rooms are typically near the front of the home and “set the stage” for how the rest of the home is perceived, says Kimberly Jay of Compass in New York. Over-the-top bathrooms may decrease the home’s sale price. “Buyers may think of it as needing a complete renovation” of the room, she adds.

Interior designer Sasha Bikoff says many of her younger clients feel strongly about skipping the white porcelain fixtures in a bathroom. In recent projects, she matched sinks and toilets with tiles or with a colorful marble. “It gives you this monochromatic all-encompassing design look,” she says. 

Many are inspired by 1980s design, Ms. Bikoff says. For one client, she installed a bright purple toilet seat to complement red lacquer walls. Currently, she is working on getting white toilets covered with red car-quality paint for a hotel because red toilets are difficult to source. In her own home, she paired a vintage lipstick-red toilet with a red sink and red tiles. “It’s an exciting design feature and it’s less basic,” she says.

A “fresh green” midcentury working Kohler toilet was one of the first items Jocelyn Avila purchased for her Pittsburgh home. Ms. Avila, 31, who runs a leather-goods business with her partner, Rob Hackett, 33, spent just $40 on the toilet and matching sink as part of their conversion of a former church into their home. The powder room also includes a 1920s sewing-machine table that she turned into a vanity. 

She installed the toilet, but the sink turned out to be too much green for the powder room. Instead, the color is carried out elsewhere in the home, including the forest green cabinets in the kitchen. “We grabbed them not knowing what we were going to do with them,” says Ms. Avila.

After purchasing an 1890s vintage mining cabin in Helena, Mont., ceramic artist Breena Buettner, 32, decided to keep the baby-blue vintage toilet and bathtub already in one of the two bathrooms. She updated other elements, adding subway tiles and a vanity that was a gift from her mother. She spent weeks searching for a matching blue vintage toilet seat. Her husband, Malcolm Gilbert, 32, a law-school student, came to the rescue. “He gave it to me for Valentine’s Day,” she says.

Breena Buettner added modern touches, including subway tiles, to the existing blue bathtub and toilet in the bathroom of her 1890s Helena, Mont., home.


Sam Erickson

Julie and Guy Lakonishok, 43, paired a robin’s egg blue concrete sink with jungle-theme wallpaper of extinct animals, a black toilet and brass fixtures in the third-floor powder room of their home in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. The couple wanted to make a more vibrant space because the sunny upper floor has a mix of indoor and outdoor areas with city views that they use for entertaining.

“We thought about how to make it the right balance of loud and fun,” says Ms. Lakonishok, 43, who worked with Mr. Toukoumidis on her 6,500-square-foot home completed in 2020. In a downstairs bathroom, the couple combined a black toilet and sink with a sequin-like wall of brass tiles.

Julie and Guy Lakonishok paired a robin’s egg blue concrete sink with jungle-theme wallpaper of extinct animals in the third-floor powder room of their home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.


Tony Soluri

White fixtures have dominated the U.S. bathroom-fixture market for decades, despite companies such as American Standard and Kohler offering lines of colorful midcentury sinks, toilets and tubs. While some clients ventured into something unique in the guest baths, they tended to keep white, spalike fixtures in their primary baths. “White has persisted because it’s timeless, it’s easy to keep clean and it’s easy to match to other products,” says Mr. Toukoumidis.

In Los Angeles, Andrew Cohen and Karina Nicholson are redesigning their own three-bedroom home with panoramic city views and picturesque sunsets. The bathroom now includes a millennial-pink sink basin with a pink-and-green matte zellige tile backsplash and a vintage Mexican rug from Ms. Nicholson’s grandmother. The décor of the “low stakes room” is meant to match the nearby kitchen, says Mr. Cohen, 43, a musician.

Despite the pink sink basin, he didn’t consider a toilet of the same hue. “I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to toilets,” he says.

Inspiration in Vintage Fixtues

Many homeowners seek a dose of nostalgia for their colorful bathrooms. Demand has been growing over the past decade for retrofitted vintage fixtures from the 1920s to the end of the 20th century.

Those restored fixtures range in cost from $800 to $3,500 before installation, days Lydia Scheller, of Bathroom Machineries, a restorer and reseller of vintage plumbing fixtures in Murphys, Calif. Porcelain bathroom fixtures from the ’20s and ’30s tend to be more expensive than those made in the ’50s and ’60s, she adds.

As for colors, she finds that many customers look for light greens, blues and pinks to accompany the midcentury-inspired décor.

Her company restores fixtures through a deep, multiweek cleaning process and does repairs on specialty faucets, including those that fit the sought-after Crane Criterion sink last made in the 1970s. A team inspects for cracks that would render such a piece useless, she says. Old fixtures are often bought by the clients from salvage yards.

Ms. Scheller warns homeowners, however, that in some areas of the country, including California, toilets that use 3-to-5 gallons of water can’t be installed due to ordinances. And they can’t be retrofitted to use substantially less water. The only bet is to get historical exemptions for the toilets. 

Claudia Beiler, of Lancaster, Pa., kept a vintage maroon toilet and sink in a 1960s home she was restoring for resale. The effort took weeks of additional restoration. She worked with a local company, S&S Plumbing & Heating in Gap, Pa., to retrofit the toilet, then added black shower fixtures. She ended up using the bathroom as inspiration for the rest of the home, adding light pink cabinets in the kitchen. “The whole house I designed around the toilet and sink,” says Ms. Beiler, who flips homes in the area. The four-bedroom home sold in 2018 for $410,000.

Matching sinks to toilets of the same hue is the holy grail for fans, says Ms. Scheller. Exact matches are hard to come by because of the varying shades from different manufacturers. For example, American Standard’s Ming Green is a different shade from Crane’s Pale Jade, although both are light green, says Ms. Scheller. Her company sells what they call “suites” of matching fixtures from the same year and same maker.


Would you remodel to give yourself a colorful bathroom?

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