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Originally published Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 8:04 PM

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Small bathrooms offer big payoffs

Bathroom remodels continue to be a hot item, report industry experts. As the economy continues to recover, homeowners keep up the trend of updating their houses instead of moving.

Sacramento Bee

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It’s a small room that gets a lot of use.

The hall bathroom represents a design challenge: How much style can you fit in 40 square feet?

But that little room also could be an appealing starting point: a remodeling project small enough to be affordable and still look stylish or even luxurious.

The hall bathroom also can be a test of DIY skills without overwhelming the family handyman. (Just remember that it’s OK to enlist a professional when needed, and some things need city permits.)

Bathroom remodels continue to be a hot item, report industry experts. As the economy continues to recover, homeowners keep up the trend of updating their houses instead of moving.

“All the [remodeling] business is really coming up,” says Harry Headrick, owner of Expert Design & Construction in Rancho Cordova, Calif. “The last four years, bathroom [projects] really became a lot more popular as people’s budgets obviously were a lot tighter.”

“The reason people are tackling the bathroom — especially the powder room or small hall bathroom — is it’s manageable,” says Sarah Fishburne, Home Depot’s trend and design director. “It’s a weekend project — or a couple of weekends — that you can tackle yourself. Products are ever-evolving to make it simpler, too.”

But these little rooms represent a design challenge — namely, size. It’s small and can’t get bigger. Often, the hall bathroom’s position in the house, squeezed between other rooms, prevents expansion.

A typical hall bath with shower measures 5 feet by 8 feet; with a bathtub, it’s a few square feet more. Throw in the toilet and vanity, and that’s one cramped space.

The trick is to make the room look more spacious without knocking down walls.

Sacramento, Calif., designer Kerrie Kelly likes the new options offered for smaller bathrooms.

“Vanities that ‘float’ are popular,” Kelly says. “They mount to the wall and provide visual spaciousness and accessibility.”

Just make sure that vanity has more storage space, Headrick says. “People want efficient storage in the vanity.”

Large-format tiles — often 12 inches by 12 inches or 12 by 24 — on walls or the floor create the illusion of more in less space.

“Large-scale tiles are increasingly popular,” Headrick says. “People want to get rid of the grout lines. From a maintenance standpoint, the bigger tiles make sense; they’re much easier to keep looking new.

“People are really loving porcelain,” he added. “Travertine has sort of run its course; porcelain tile is really popular right now.”

White overwhelmingly remains the most popular choice of bathroom color. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2013 Style Report, white and off-white are used in 71 percent of all bathrooms, followed by beige and bone.

The bathroom color on the rise: gray. It will be used in an estimated 56 percent of 2013 bathroom remodel color schemes, reports the NKBA.

“People are really liking more grays and natural tones in the bathroom,” Headrick says.

But don’t be afraid of color or pattern. It can add a lot of impact in a small space. Dark-hued cabinets (think espresso) contrasted with light-colored floors “look very inviting,” Fishburne says. “It’s something you can live with a long time.”

Cutting down on clutter also can make a room seem larger. So do large (often framed) mirrors; they give the illusion of more space. But storage space is always a necessity.

Mirrored storage — such as a large, recessed medicine cabinet — tackles both issues. Recessed storage such as shelves or cabinets built into the wall add space without using up more floor space.

Pay attention to lighting. Soft light from sconces at either side of the vanity mirror cuts down on shadows. But bright light is needed for such tasks as shaving and applying makeup.

Kelly spices up bathroom lighting with a little bling. A small chandelier can be fun and unexpected in a guest bath. A light bar can look sleek and stylish.

The most requested item in bathroom makeovers: a larger shower.

“People are thinking they’ll be in that home another 20, 30 years,” Headrick says. “They’re looking down the road at what they may need. So, they’re taking out the tub and installing a larger shower with a curbless entry. From a safety standpoint, there’s nothing to trip over. It has accessibility if they need to use a walker.”

Also popular are showers with a built-in bench and a “pony wall,” or half-wall, and half-glass enclosure. “It minimizes the glass while maximizing the light in the shower,” Headrick says.

One remodel that makes a difference is swapping out the toilet for an efficient water-saving model. Often, the hall bathroom gets the most use.

“Switching the toilet is a great way to save money and water,” Fishburne says. “It may cost a little more, but in the long run, you’ll save a lot.”

In fixtures, chrome, gold and oiled bronze are making a comeback, but the best seller is brushed nickel, Headrick says.


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