1. Archive

Functional can also mean attractive

Published Oct. 8, 2005

(ran HP, HS editions)

Question: We need to renovate the main bathroom in our ranch house. Functionally, it's fine, but the architecture and fixtures make the room look really out of date.

Short and wide windows are placed high on the wall, for example, while white tile runs around the tub only as high as the shower head. There's also an ugly white-laminated, 4-foot-wide sink cabinet.

How can this space be given some character? We're not fond of floral wallpaper, and we also don't have a huge redecorating budget.

Answer: While your problem is common enough, it's none too easy to solve. Tract-type ranch houses of the 1950s usually have bathrooms that function well enough but are quite unappealing, at least by today's standards.

Perhaps you already know why the windows were placed so high on the wall: not to imitate a medieval church with its clerestory windows but to ensure privacy without having to use curtains.

The price of this innovation turns out to be steep, however, since those windows have proven to be a major obstacle to ranch house owners who want to make their bathrooms more attractive.

Don't despair. There are inexpensive ways to change the look other than by adding floral wallpaper. The photo illustrates a few of the possibilities.

For starters, you could construct a simple, valance-like enclosure around the tub. It should be installed at the ceiling and terminate at the height of the wall tile.

Place a rod inside the valance on which can be hung a see-through shower curtain. Then, beginning at the bottom of the valance, run a molding right around the room.

Next, remove that ugly sink cabinet and _ here comes your one big expenditure _ replace it with a white pedestal sink, installed about 5 inches away from the wall. Above it can be affixed a 5-inch-wide shelf to accommodate the usual bathroom accessories. You can then plank the lower part of the wall with inexpensive panel board that can later be painted.

A bit more character will be added by hanging a decorative mirror in an old-fashioned frame, accompanied on both sides by traditionally styled wall lamps.

Now for the windows.

I recommend shutters, painted in the same color as the paneled area, the moldings and the door. Those in the photo come from the Pinecrest Co. of Minneapolis. Enamel might be the best paint choice for giving the room a vintage flavor because it was often used in turn-of-the-century bathrooms.

The upper section of the walls can be painted in whatever color you like, keeping in mind that contrasting horizontal bands of color will make the ceiling look lower. If you select sand or any other light color, apply it to the moldings and ceiling as well as to the upper part of the walls. Alternately, a small patterned paper might create a more decorative effect.

Accessories such as an old-fashioned towel rack will finish the make-over. It may not be the prettiest bathroom imaginable, but it will certainly look a lot homier than before.

From bedroom into guest room

Question: Adjacent to my dressing area is a large spare bedroom that I want to convert into a combination guest room/sitting room. How can I give this potentially complicated space a simple, traditional design?

I'm particularly interested in your suggestions regarding color and furniture selection.

Answer: Since it needs to work as a dual-purpose space, I advise you first to focus on the room's physical configuration. Careful space planning will make both the actual conversion and the end result a lot less complicated.

Can you remove a closet and open up the wall that adjoins the dressing area? If so, the accompanying photograph should help answer your questions.

By taking out the doors of a double closet and the wall segment above them, the designer of this setting acquired the additional space needed to accommodate a day bed. The rest of the room was furnished in a tastefully traditional manner.

Depending on your own needs and preferences, the sitting-room elements might include a small desk, lounge chair and decorative rug. With the closet removed, you'll almost certainly want to add an ample-sized armoire for housing a television set and stereo or for storing clothing.

A pair of glass-paned doors with curtains will serve nicely as the passage into your dressing area. This type of opening allows light to circulate between the two spaces while also affording privacy whenever it's needed.

Since you like traditional styling, I suggest a combination of the soft lines and colors reminiscent of the look of a lady's boudoir. Celadon green, white and apricot form a wonderfully delicate color scheme that's very expressive of this old-fashioned feminine style.

Here, the wall-covering in the alcove is coordinated with the fabrics used for the side curtains and valance. This striped floral pattern, along with a border design inspired by antique documents, is part of a Seabrook collection called "The Archives."

The choice of both painted furniture and pieces in pale-colored natural wood tones is in keeping with the overall look of this setting. Painted woodwork and applied wall moldings are also consistent with the period effect.

The vertical wall panels meanwhile have a strategic and an aesthetic purpose. Besides adding another elegant touch, they visually extend the height of the ceiling.