5 bathroom updates that will stand the test of time

If, after being stuck at home for months on end, you are taking stock of your surroundings and looking for ways to spruce up the appearance or improve the functionality of your home, you are not alone. According to a report from Review Home Warranties, online searches related to home remodeling are up 84% this year. And small but achievable updates in bathrooms, such as replacing tile or hardware or painting, are among the more popular projects, according to the report.

If you’re going to update a bathroom and you want your design choices to stand up over time, the first step is determining what styles will be timeless for you specifically.

“People tend to fall into one of two camps,” says interior designer Michael Winn of Winn Design and Build in Northern Virginia. “They want a very classic-looking bathroom, or they want something contemporary and spalike, like the Four Seasons.” Either way, for many people, the bathroom isn’t the place to get splashy with trends.

But what if you adore bold colors and patterns? “Sometimes, the most timeless things are the things that you love,” says Katy Harbin, a designer based in North Carolina. “There are people that redo their bathroom every 10 years,” and for them, choosing the paint color of the year and of-the-moment hardware might work.

For those who want to do it once and be done, though, Winn, Harbin and Boston-based interior designer Erin Gates, author of “Elements of Family Style,” agreed on five bathroom updates that are universally timeless.

An all-white palette

Whether you prefer a classic-looking bathroom or a spalike retreat, Winn says, “white doesn’t go out of style.” Think white paint, tile, countertops, vanities and textiles.

If you find yourself craving color, you can add it with window treatments and towels, Gates suggests, or wallpaper and art. “Just be wary of installing wallpaper in an often-used bathroom with a shower, as the steam can sometimes cause the paper to peel,” she says.

Harbin likes white towels with a contrast trim “in a perky color.”

Choosing the right paint color can be tricky, Harbin says, so it’s important to order larger color samples from paint stores rather than relying on paint cards. “You can have an earthy bathroom, like a really pretty travertine … and if you put a stark white with it, it falls flat,” she says. A rich cream hue would work better, she recommends. If you can’t find large color samples, get a small pot and paint a poster board to see how it looks under your bathroom’s lighting. And put the sample next to tile and countertop samples to be certain they all work together.

Polished chrome is a classic finish that can be mixed with other materials. Here, it’s show on Rejuvenation’s Yaquina Cross Handle Widespread Bathroom Faucet. (Courtesy of Rejuvenation)
Polished chrome is a classic finish that can be mixed with other materials. Here, it’s show on Rejuvenation’s Yaquina Cross Handle Widespread Bathroom Faucet. (Courtesy of Rejuvenation)

Mixed metals

Blending two types of metals in the space can stand up better than going with one trendy finish throughout the room. In terms of particular metals, “polished nickel is timeless,” Winn says. Gates, too, prefers polished nickel; in her bathroom, she pairs it with a gold mirror.

When using two different metals (and no more than two), Harbin says to “repeat them enough and it will look good.” Try using gold on knobs and a mirror and nickel on faucets and hardware, and perhaps your lighting, for example.

Investing in higher-quality metal hardware will also help with longevity. A faucet with brass fittings and water-efficient technology “may be pricier in the beginning, but you’ll be grateful later,” Harbin says.

For countertops, opt for marble or a marble-look material, such as this Carrara marble top on the Rejuvenation Geneva Wall Mount Powder Vanity. (Courtesy of Rejuvenation)
For countertops, opt for marble or a marble-look material, such as this Carrara marble top on the Rejuvenation Geneva Wall Mount Powder Vanity. (Courtesy of Rejuvenation)

Marble countertops

“Marble, or a faux marble, like quartz with a marble appearance, will never go out of style,” Winn says. Gates agrees, with a vote for Carrara marble.

The soft, porous stone requires some semiannual resealing to maintain its appearance, Winn says. But newer generations of countertops in sturdier materials provide that marble look without the maintenance. “These countertops are excellent in heavy-use bathrooms, such as those used by children,” he explains. Solid-slab marble is typically $100 to $200 per square foot; “marble-like material” is about $45 to $75 per square foot, Winn says.

Penny round tiles, such as the Hudson style by Merola Tile, are a timeless option. (Courtesy of Home Depot)
Penny round tiles, such as the Hudson style by Merola Tile, are a timeless option. (Courtesy of Home Depot)

Traditional tile patterns

White subway tile in a shower or bath will never age, Winn says. For floors, penny tile — in all-white or black and white — can be found in homes built in the 1950s and ’60s, Winn says, but clients are also asking for it in new bathrooms. Other classics include hexagonal and basket-weave patterns.

Choosing these tiles in white “will age a bit better,” Winn says, than tiles in bold colors or patterns. If you love pattern and color, try adding a rug or mat that can be easily changed out.

Winn suggests white grout with white tile for a classic look. For a more modern feel, try a charcoal or black grout with white tile. As for size, larger floor tiles, such as 8 by 8 inches or 12 by 24 inches, can make a room seem bigger, “since the grout lines are less visible,” Winn says. Small tiles — 1 by 1 inch or 2.25 by 2.25 inches — are also good for powder rooms “to create a full, repetitious look.” They can also be beneficial in a shower, because more grout lines help prevent slipping, Gates says.

An oak, Shaker-style vanity, such as Pottery Barn’s Natural Oak Alderson Single Sink Vanity, is a classic style. (Courtesy of Pottery Barn)
An oak, Shaker-style vanity, such as Pottery Barn’s Natural Oak Alderson Single Sink Vanity, is a classic style. (Courtesy of Pottery Barn)

A furniture-style vanity

Winn recommends a “free-standing, furniture-grade vanity,” which will “make the bathroom seem less utilitarian,” he says.

Gates likes free-standing vanities with Shaker doors and undermount sinks — a style she has in her bath. The Shaker style is simple, she says, without ornate details, and it’s rooted in history. Gates recommends a custom vanity, if the budget allows.

White, gray and limed oak wood are all safe bets for a classic look that won’t go out of style, she says. In a powder room, Gates recommends a simple pedestal sink and free-standing cabinets or baskets to hold toilet paper and extra hand towels.

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