Tips on transforming a half-bath to a roomier, more stylish space.

When my parents added on a family room to our old house in the early-1970s, they also added a half-bath. It was teeny-tiny, with just enough room for a toilet and sink. (And just enough wall space to hang that poster of McGovern over the toilet during Nixon's re-election campaign!)

Powder room, half-bath, guest bath - whatever you call it, it's evolved quite a bit from those days of just plopping a toilet and a sink into a room. Research conducted by Moen Inc. shows that 84 percent of new homes are being built with powder rooms, and a large percentage of remodeling projects are focused around them. In fact, most powder rooms are now used as a supplemental bathroom for the family and not just reserved for "company." So consumers are putting more thought into the design aspects of the room, as well as storage space and utility for the family.

"Consumers are recognizing that the powder room is a highly visible part of the home seen by guests more often than nearly any other room, with the exception of the kitchen," explains Margie Rowe, brand manager at Moen. "Because of its smaller size, it is easier for the homeowner to make a big statement with a relatively low budget."

Moen recently introduced a line of faucets and accessories (towel bars/rings, paper holders, tank levers, wall-mounted vases/candle holders/ mirrors, shelves) specifically for the powder room as part of its ShowHouse brand - the Bamboo Suite, the Casa Suite and the Sophisticate Suite. Each has its own distinctive style, enabling homeowners to add some personality to the powder room.

As stainless steel has moved from the kitchen to other areas of the home, Elkay introduced its Specialty Collection, which includes stainless-steel oval or round sinks for the powder room/guest bath.

"We have a rise in stainless-steel usage in residential bathroom applications," notes an Elkay spokesperson. "The new specialty sink collection provides a dramatic focal point for the upscale powder room."

One of the biggest trends for powder rooms is to open up the space - visual space as well as floor space.

"Appropriately scaled furniture works better than a boxy vanity, visually speaking," says Gary Uhl, American Standard's design director. "A cabinet with legs shows the floor underneath. Alternately, a pedestal lavatory with a tall, thin apothecary cabinet works well."

Kohler Design Center interior designer Diana Schrage has several tips to save space in the bathroom:

  • Replace old toilet with a compact toilet - Compact toilets have the space savings of round-front models but have the comfort of elongated-bowl models.

  • Change faucet to a single-control model - Single-control faucets save precious counter space in the bathroom, allowing guests or family members to spread out purses, cosmetics, toiletries or other personal items.

  • Install smaller pedestal or wall-mounted sink - These smaller sinks save real and perceived space. A console table with a vessel sink and a wall-mounted faucet also works to save space.
If the guest bath has a tub or shower, a clear glass shower door instead of a shower curtain dramatically opens up the room, Uhl notes. Also, homeowners should consider replacing the old tub with a lower-walled bathtub. "A 5-ft.-long tub with a flat bottom is perfect for showering, but still deep enough for a pleasant bath," Schrage says.

Other design tips to create a more open space:

    Storage - Console-style sinks offer shelves and towel bars. Recessed or surface-mounted mirrored storage cabinets can include deep shelves and a built-in electrical outlet. Open shelves or cubby holes can hold towels.

    Color - Be bold with color. Use light colors against dark colors to create accents and openness. Make all accessories the same accent color. If replacing a vanity countertop with solid-surface material or console-style table, choose a similar material or color for the walls and floor to make the room appear larger.

    Lighting - If natural light is available, amplify with mirrors. A fake skylight recessed in the ceiling can open a cramped space. Or, put a light in the ceiling and a pair of sconces on the wall.

    Decorative accents - Be minimal so you don't visually clutter the space, and keep accessories on the smaller side. Towel bars/rings and robe hooks can be installed at varying heights to accommodate different users. Repeating the faucet finish throughout the room unifies the look. Leafy plants or candles will make the space cozy. Stylish soap dishes, lotion dispensers and tissue holders can complete the look.