Cool Colors, Fab Finishes
authors Kim Berndtson | November 5, 2019
Designers often use color and finishes to establish a mood, set a tone, define a style and add personality within a master bathroom. As it relates to color, these days it’s still often about various shades of white and gray.
“White and gray are still in vogue,” says Roshele Allison, CMKBD, CLIPP, NW Home Designers in Seattle, WA. “I look at what’s popular on sites like Houzz, and it’s still white and gray. We lived in a world of taupe for so long. Now there’s a new neutral…gray. People look to light gray, as well as white, as a way to create that spa and tranquil feeling, which they still gravitate toward.”
Karen King, architectural designer, Transitions Kitchen & Bath in Norwell, MA, sees the same colors trending in many of her master bath designs. “People are still doing shades of white and gray,” she confirms in reference to spaces featuring painted cabinetry. “They seem to be the benchmark for what’s considered timeless and classic.”
For Richard Ryder, designer/builder, Clearcut Construction in Raleigh, NC, projects are built on a base of warm versions of white. “It’s been pretty simple here lately…bright and airy with warm whites and isolated pops of color that add interest,” he notes. “Nine times out of 10, inspiration pictures that my clients share with me will have warm white walls, a white color palette and low contrast between trim and walls.”
Located in Southern California, Chelsea Newton’s clients often opt for neutral colors, especially those related to nature. “Everything is pretty neutral,” says the designer, who is with Chelsea Lauren Interiors in Laguna Beach, CA. “It’s more about natural materials like wood and stone.”
On the opposite coast, Michelle Fee’s clients are inspired by nature as well, and are favoring colors with warm tones. “In the past, we’ve seen a lot of safe, monochromatic designs with white and gray,” says the designer at Change Your Bathroom in Atlanta, GA. “But now we’re moving into the next phase.
At the beginning of the year, clients wanted super pops of color. As we move toward 2020, people still like color, but they want it to be more earth friendly, something that will stand the test of time. I’m seeing a lot of wood, especially walnut and teak in furniture and cabinetry, and greenery. Sometimes we mix in actual plants, or we accent with nature-inspired colors like blue and green, which are restorative and calm.”
For example, one recent bathroom redesign showcased a custom oak vanity finished with distressed blue paint. Other nature-inspired elements within the space included a mix of natural and faux marble in the shower, porcelain floor tile that resembles concrete and a focal-point wall of reclaimed oak accented with live plants.
“The plants are super easy to maintain,” she says. “The shower produces a lot of steam so my client only needs to water them every once in a while. I love to incorporate plants, and if I am not able to, I’ll include something that brings to mind the idea of nature and the outdoors.”
Blues and greens are also popular color choices with other designers who indicate that when a client does decide to incorporate a color other than white or gray, it’s usually one of these hues. Often it’s a pop or splash of color in accessories that can be easily changed, but they’re also incorporating these colors more permanently with cabinetry and tile, or semi-permanently with paint.
“These colors are tranquil,” says Allison, noting a client preference for the softer side of these shades.
As an example, in a recent master bathroom, the designer highlighted bamboo cabinetry with a green glass countertop that resembles water, and green subway tile that showcases a classic shape interpreted in a new color.
“The color is soft enough that it still feels spa-like and soothing,” she says. “It brings in elements of the sea and draws from the scenery. It doesn’t look like everyone else’s bathroom and it’s a much more interesting space than if it would have had white cabinetry with a white marble countertop.”
In another bathroom renovation, the designer incorporated various shades of blue via a custom mosaic that clads the vanity wall and an accent wall, which is further highlighted with nine niches backlit by LED lights. The designer repeated the mosaic in additional places throughout the bathroom, such as framing around several windows and at the shower niche and bench.
“This client travels a lot internationally and collects artifacts from wherever she goes,” states Allison. “The niches give her a place to display them as she’s chilling in the nearby tub. It’s definitely a unique space created for a client who wanted something that no one else had.
“I always encourage my clients to incorporate a little something of themselves, rather than design for the next homeowner,” she continues. “If, for example, someone likes blue, we can figure out how to incorporate it…without the color being too jarring or in-your-face so it works with the space and is truly unique.”
Green and blue – via glossy handmade tile with distinctive crackled detailing – were also used in multiple bathrooms in one of Newton’s recent projects where the former was featured in the master bathroom and the latter, in shades of teal and light blue, in two kids’ bathrooms.
“This client wanted to incorporate color so we gave her ‘pops’ of it on vanity walls and in the showers,” she says, noting that she collaborated with Newfront Properties for the project. “Color, and finishes, can make a statement and serve as a focal point in the room, bringing a space to the next level.”
King’s clients who aren’t afraid to be bold are choosing deeper shades of blue and green, such as in one recent bathroom where the designer included dark navy blue cabinetry with warm gold hardware that provides a strong pop of color against the softer whites and grays used throughout the rest of the space.
“It is sometimes easier to be little more daring in a bathroom compared to a kitchen with an open concept design,” she says. “For instance, if someone picks navy blue cabinetry and the kitchen is open to the living or dining room, it’s difficult for them to know how to transition that color throughout the other spaces. But in a master bathroom, there is a door. It’s a more private, enclosed space so it can be completely to itself.”
Ryder’s clients looking to add color often choose darker shades as well, such as dark blue, green and even black, which offers the ultimate contrast with warm white. When he does incorporate a dark hue, he often does so at a 75/25 neutral base/color ratio to create a balance. This was illustrated in a recent bathroom that showcases a tall black cabinet juxtaposed against a white backdrop that includes a custom dimensional wall created with applied moulding, a white painted vanity topped with marble and glossy subway tile in the shower. Porcelain tile that resembles wood is laid in a chevron pattern to cover the floor.
“The cabinet is pretty large so it was all that was needed,” he says. “There’s a fine line when you’re using colors such as black.”
Like color, finish selections – in everything from cabinetry to tile to countertops and even plumbing and lighting fixtures – can also influence a space and add interest, especially in a room that is veiled in a monochromatic color scheme.
For example, in a recent renovation based on white and gray, Allison created a focal-point wall in the ‘bathing room’ – which accommodates both the tub and shower behind frameless glass – with large-format 18″x36″ dimensional porcelain tile in the same color palette as the rest of the room to draw attention without being too extreme. The designer also incorporated a plumbing fixture at the sink that features a unique twist to further highlight dimension and add interest.
“If a client doesn’t want to do color, I encourage them to bring in a fun element, something that has a different flair,” she says. “In this case, my client wanted something special on the bathing room wall to draw attention, so we used dimensional tile.”
Several designers note their appreciation of the increased availability of tile with noteworthy characteristics such as unique finishes, textures and dimensionality that give them the ability to create personalized spaces. Even subway tile has moved beyond basic traditional offerings, notes King.
“People still love subway tile on the wall, especially those who prefer a classic design,” she explains, noting that the term ‘subway’ simply refers to its rectangular shape. “But it is no longer just 3″x6″. Now we have 4″x12,” which is popular, or even 5″x22″ and more. They are still a rectangle, but they don’t need to be so traditional. Tile manufacturers are also getting creative by offering tile with a beautiful crackle finish, which people love, as well as an inverted bevel. Glossy and shiny finishes are still popular, too, which is nice because they reflect light, both natural and artificial. There are different ways to mix it up to make the space unique while giving a ‘classic’ bathroom value.”
King also changes up the look by varying the grout color based on a desired design style.
“If a client wants white or off-white subway tile, we can do a different color of grout, such as a very faint gray, to make it pop a little more and trim out the tile, without being too bold,” she says. “Or, if a client wants a rustic farmhouse look, we can take the same tile and use a dark gray grout. It’s all about how everything is tied together to create a certain look and vibe.”
For example, clients who want a contemporary or mid-century modern look are often drawn to large-format tile in a 12″x24″ size, or larger, such as in a recent renovation where King included 13″x40″ tile in the shower.
“We laid the tile horizontally and stacked it perfectly on top of each other with a 1/16″ joint,” she says. “It simplified the look, and to the naked eye, it almost gives it the appeal of a clean slate where you don’t really see the individual tiles but you can see the texture.
“A lot of these more modern tiles have texture, such as those that look like grasscloth or that have a thatch pattern,” she continues. “Some are also multi-dimensional, with waves that you can feel. When you stack them on top of each other, it looks like there is movement, even though there isn’t. It’s a trick of the eye, and it’s a really pretty look.”
Allison’s and Fee’s clients are also enjoying the increased availability of large-format tiles, especially those that mimic natural stone.
“These large tiles are becoming a big deal,” says Allison. “My clients are loving the 24″x48″ tiles and the porcelain slabs that are 4’x8′. They look just like travertine or marble for a natural stone look that will never go away.”
“A lot of color and finish selections are nature inspired,” adds Fee. “I’m using a lot of faux materials, such as porcelain tile, that has the same texture and veining as marble. They are durable and require a lot less maintenance. Also, the larger size makes a room feel larger and more grandiose.”
Oftentimes the designer will mix natural and faux materials such as in a recent bathroom project where the former serves as the shower floor and curb while the latter – 12″x24″ on the floor and 18″x36″ in the shower – covers the shower walls and main floor. To further support a nature-inspired theme, the designer showcased stacked travertine on the back wall.
The inclusion of plumbing fixtures with a matte finish, such as the matte black featured in this project, is also a popular choice for Fee’s clients who appreciate their ease of cleaning.
“In a lot of my designs, I like to incorporate elements that are not only beautiful but are also easy to clean,” she says, noting that in particular, brushed nickel and brushed gold are popular.
Newton’s clients are gravitating to matte finishes as well, especially black and patinaed brass, and Ryder often mixes metals in his designs.
“I’m also doing a lot of mixed metals now,” he says. “Maybe a faucet will be polished nickel with a gold undertone that complements aged brass used somewhere else. They speak to each other and there isn’t a stark contrast.” ▪