Interior designer Daun Curry, a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, freelanced as a stylist before opening her own New York design firm in 2009. Curry joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: What are your tips for designing very small bathrooms?
A: The first factors to consider are your absolute needs for function. Make a list as you go through your daily routine. One aspect that would really help a small space is considering if you truly need and will use a bathtub; this can be a huge space saver. Medicine cabinets are great for storage, and you can also look at vertical storage on walls. Keep the color palette light and bright to open up the room and keep everything feeling fresh.
Q: What are some unusual accessories that would make a small bathroom more interesting? Our guest bathroom has a tub, a one-sink vanity and a toilet. There is room on the vanity to add something in addition to soap and a tissue box, but I’m unsure what else to put there. The color scheme includes soft grays on the floor and walls, a deeper gray shower curtain, chrome fixtures and a mirror framed in silver.
A: Think of accessories that are not necessarily meant for a bathroom. Some of my favorites for a bathroom are plants, beautiful tissue boxes, Hermes dishes as catchall trays (they carry porcelain coasters and soy dishes that are less than $150), pretty soaps and toiletries, natural elements such as corals and shells, candles and luxury linens.
Q: My bathroom is a very tiny 1930s bathroom. I’m redoing it and would like to put in a cabinet sink with storage, but everything I find that I like is too big. A friend said to look for a piece of vintage furniture that can be fitted for a sink, such as an old washstand or side table. Have you ever done this? Is it difficult?
A: I have never done it, but I’ve seen it done and think this could be a great fit for your 1930s bathroom. It brings in a bit of old-world nostalgia. The typical height for a bathroom vanity is between 34 and 36 inches, so I would look for pieces around that height. Be sure you coordinate with your contractor on sizing before you purchase.
Q: My husband and I bought a 50-year-old condominium in Seattle last year, where we expect to live for five or 10 years before selling. The bathrooms are cramped and dated, and although we don’t have a huge renovation budget, we want to find ways to make them pleasant spaces for us to use and also worthwhile for resale. Some ideas we have are wall-mounted toilets, vanities, converting the shower to a tub and putting a in double vanity. What gives us the most bang for our buck?
A: If you are viewing this as an investment, keep everything white and fresh and don’t get too decorative. I do think that people look for a double vanity in the master bathroom, so that would be a great investment. I would not suggest wall-mounted toilets, because they are very specific and not for everyone.
Q: I’m about to renovate my small 7-by-12-foot bathroom, and I plan to replace the old tub with a walk-in shower. My house is from the mid-1950s, so I keep coming back to tiling the enclosure with subway tiles, but I worry that is overdone. Do you have ideas for something more original?
A: Subway tile is timeless, but I hear you on the originality factor. I would go to Cle Tile and Waterworks, because they both have beautiful tile options that are a little more stylized.
Q: I found a 24-by-48-inch honed marble slab that I love and want to use on the walls in my bathroom, but I’m afraid it’s too large for the size of the space, which is 7 feet by 12 feet by 10 feet. Do you think the slabs will look like they don’t belong in such a small space?
A: Half the battle is finding a material you love. I think you should go as large as you can, because it feels luxurious to have large cuts of stone.
Q: Our upstairs bathroom has a wood floor. This seems like a terrible idea, especially with children. My gut says to tile the floor, but what’s your opinion? The house was built in 1920, so the floors are real wood.
A: I do love the beauty of a natural wood floor, and it sounds like a charming home with some nice old details. However, your gut is correct: I would not recommend wood floors in a bathroom, especially one that children use, because they are a breeding ground for bacteria. Porcelain or marble tile is the way to go. Both are easy to clean and will be durable and beautiful.
Q: We’re painting our bathroom and want a subtle blue-gray color. Any recommendations?
A: My favorites are Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl, Horizon, Revere Pewter and Rodeo.
Q: How do you choose whether a bathroom should have lighter surfaces or a darker theme? Does either light or dark make a space seem bigger than the other?
A: Lighter bathrooms tend to feel fresh and clean, whereas darker ones have a moody, sexy vibe; it just depends on what you’re going for. Powder rooms are a great candidate for a dark, moody palette.
Q: Can you discuss your approach to lighting in bathrooms?
A: Layered lighting is very important. Think high-hats, sconces and decorative fixtures all in the same room. Everything should be on separate switches and always on dimmers.
Q: We need to replace the floor tile in our main bathroom, and I have fallen in love with a marble tile. I’m worried that the marble will be hard to care for and will look stained or worn quickly. Do you have any recommendations for caring for marble, or should I try to find a porcelain that looks like it?
A: Marble and natural stone always top my list because of their timeless beauty, but there always needs to be a balance between beauty and durability. You can seal marble, but over time, it will show wear and patina, which, in my opinion, is part of the beauty. Porcelain is a great option, and there are many wonderful products out there. One of my favorite vendors for porcelain is Porcelanosa.
Q: If you’re redecorating on a budget, what changes would you tackle first to make the biggest impact?
A: A fresh coat of paint on cabinets, walls, ceiling and trim will do a lot to freshen the space.
Q: I want to design my entire room in a pale blue marble. How can I make sure all of the same color won’t overwhelm the space?
A: This idea sounds gorgeous to me, and I don’t think it will overwhelm. One of my favorite pale blue marbles is called Mediterranean Blue. Go to the stone yard and tape out what cuts you want. Think about what details you would like. You may have to purchase more material to ensure that your layout is cohesive and fully thought out, but it is worth the cost. Natural stonework elevates any interior and lasts for years.
Q: Is a powder room the same as a half-bathroom?
A: A powder room is a bathroom for guests and is typically a half-bath where the design approach is more decorative than the main bathroom.
Q: What design considerations do you take into account when weighing the use of large- or small-format tiles?
A: The size of the bathroom is definitely a consideration, but you can use large- and small-format tiles in the same bathroom. Shower floors need small tiles to protect against slipping. I love large-format tiles on walls and the main floor areas.
Q: How do you choose a bathtub? What are the benefits of a free-standing tub vs. a built-in? I love free-standing tubs, but I always worry about the potential mess.
A: If you have the space for a free-standing tub, I think it’s a beautiful look, and the benefits far outweigh a little water on the floor.
Q: Do you return to the same finish options? I know there are a lot of trend-driven fixture finishes such as black chrome that are in vogue at the moment, but I’m worried if I use them that my bathroom will eventually look dated.
A: It can be hard to be on-trend and timeless at the same time. My advice is to go for what you love. A well-thought-out metal finish throughout the bathroom can really elevate the look. Just be sure to go for it all the way and get all plumbing fixtures, hardware and accessories in the same finish.
Q: How difficult is it to replace a medicine cabinet? There’s a simple, mirrored medicine cabinet hanging over my sink, and I want to replace the mirror with something with a frame but also keep the storage behind it. I see a lot of YouTubers hanging flat mirrors in a bathroom above their sinks, but I really need the storage, so that’s not an option for me.
A: Storage is essential in a bathroom to avoid clutter. I recommend replacing the entire medicine cabinet. Check Restoration Hardware for a variety of options.