Style: Bathrooms get cottage charm makeover

Mary Carol Garrity

Sometimes I look at photos of homes with large, lovely, almost palatial bathroom spaces, and sigh wistfully. As a lover of historic homes, big bathrooms are not a reality for me, unless I knock out a lot of walls. But I have found that just because your home has little bathrooms doesn’t mean they can’t be beautiful. All you need to do is add some touches here and there to give them charm.

When we were designing our little lake cottage, making our petite power room attractive was a fun challenge. I embraced the room’s small scale by making it feel like a snug cocoon, covering the walls in Twilight, one of my favorite Mary Carol Artisan Paints custom colors. On the wall opposite of the vanity (which is a modified antique chest of drawers), I covered the wall in a grid of old book plates, all framed identically, to make a dramatic floor-to-ceiling grid of artwork. (I snagged this entire set at an estate sale.)

If you live in an apartment, where you cannot paint the walls or change out boring bathroom faucets and fixtures, you can easily use artwork to give your walls pizzazz. Walls filled with interesting art gives a room an instant custom-designed look. In my friend Nancy’s newly remodeled lake cottage the upstairs bath is stunning, thanks to her creativity. She spiced up the walls with a collection of artwork, topped the toilet with a sweet tableau and turned an old bamboo music stand into a towel rack.

When Nancy’s builders installed the lighting above the vanity, they cut a few too many holes in the wallboard. To camouflage the mistake, Nancy decided the cover the wall with shiplap. Creative problem-solving is essential whenever you renovate a space. Note how she hung artwork between the two vanity mirrors. Love!

One of Nancy’s bathrooms, off the main living space, is pretty small, so Nancy picked a space-saving pedestal sink. She topped it with an antique mirror, which is so old the glass is streaked and flawed, which makes Nancy love it all the more. She did a halo of artwork around the mirror to make the presentation more interesting.

When we bought the little house next door to ours for my mom to live in the bathroom had no redeeming qualities except it functioned. We wanted to rehab it in a hurry so we hit the local hardware store and bought a pedestal sink, toilet and tile for the floor and shower. The changes were modest and inexpensive, but they really upgraded the look of the bathroom. To give the blah space more personality, I filled the main wall with a cheerful oversized botanical print.

My remedy for a stressful day is to take a long soak in a hot bath. So when we renovated our own cottage, I knew I needed to put a little more time and budget into making the master bathroom more spacious and inviting, my own little spa. My big splurge was turning a beautiful sideboard into a vanity.

Another fast and easy way to add charm to a tiny bathroom is to get creative in how you store your stuff. I raided my china closet to create this attractive yet functional display. A silver tray holds a glass compote filled with my jewelry. A mug collects my makeup brushes. The space around holds treasures that make me smile, like a photo of Dan.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at