Popular Powder Rooms

A half bath takes up little space yet instantly adds value.


Powder rooms by Niche Interiors of San Francisco.

Does this sound familiar? Years ago you bought a great house. It has a sunny living room, a sizable yard, and enough bedrooms to fit your family. There’s just one problem: It could really use another bathroom. You’d consider moving to a bigger place, but with the market the way it is, that’s not an option. And you just can’t stomach the thought of a major renovation. So what to do? One solution will make your day-to-day much easier and substantially increase your home’s value: adding a powder room.

Known as “half baths” in real estate speak, powder rooms are bathrooms that contain a toilet and sink only, no shower or bath. As such, they occupy much less space than a traditional bathroom, and so are easier to carve out of your existing square footage. A good-sized closet would do, as might the area under a staircase, or that nook off your mudroom. Regardless of where you place it, it’s best to locate the room near existing plumbing if you can. That will help to keep construction costs down.

Layout is usually pretty straightforward in a room so tiny, but be sure to check your local codes for specific spacing requirements. And don’t forget to consider door swing when making your plans. Most doors open into rooms, but you want to avoid this if at all possible; that swing can eat up valuable real estate. So try having the door open out or, better yet, use a pocket door, which doesn’t take up any additional space on either side of the wall.

Space is important when it comes to your fixtures, too. You may want to consider a compact toilet, and you’ll definitely want to go with a pedestal or wall-mounted sink. They look so much lighter than a bulky cabinet model; it’s worth forgoing the storage.

Once the bones of the room are in place, you can move on to the fun stuff: the look of it. And powder-room design is fun. No need to be conservative; tiny spaces love to be bold. Plus, since you don’t have to worry about steam or splashing water, it’s the ideal place to trot out some fantastic wallpaper.

You’ll find plenty of gorgeous options from decorator standards like Cole & Son (www.Cole-and-Son.com) or Osborne and Little (www.OsborneAndLittle.com). If you want to support a local business, check out San Francisco–based Hygge & West (www.HyggeAndWest.com). Its large-scale Daydream is both fresh and youthful, and comes in a variety of colorways to suit any palette. Birds not your thing? Try Petal Pusher, a floral with a really lovely graphic quality, or Otomi, a pattern that borrows its name and subject from the indigenous Mexican textile.

With just a little bit of space and a dash of design savvy, you’ll end up with a room that’s not only useful, but glamorous, too. Your house—and your family—will thank you for it.

Sarah Coombs in an interior designer based in Alameda.