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Powder rooms with punch
From hand-blown vessels to leather-covered walls, homeowners are taking the half bath up a notch



Storage space holding hand towels and toilet paper should be immediately visible to your guest in the powder room.

Powder rooms come by their name honestly. Once a spot for servants to add talcum powder to a gentlemanís wig, todayís powder rooms offer guests style, relief and, if done well, inspiration.

Located on the main floor near the front door and adjacent to the public rooms, these small spaces can capture big attention. Homeowners can let their imagination run wild without breaking the bank. Experimentation isnít only encouraged itís expected.

Research by Moen Inc. finds that 84 percent of homes have a powder room. So whatís new with whatís generally thought of as the smallest space in the house? "The biggest thing weíre seeing in powder rooms is a floating vanity," says Sandra Bernacchi, a designer with Colleen Horner Kitchen Bath Tile Stone, with showrooms in the Third Ward and Pewaukee. A wall-mounted sink makes the room appear much larger. Combined with smaller cabinetry, glass shelves and glass vessel sinks, even a tiny space can reap big rewards.

Thereís no end to the choices available in the sink department. From hand-blown Murano glass to onyx, hand-carved travertine to cloisonnť, these fixtures have become works of art. And itís only your budget that will constrain you. Add a wall-mounted faucet with Lalique crystal handles for impact and your guests may not want to come out and join the party.

Customers of Jamie Wilke Interiors are asking for vessel sinks installed on top of small furniture pieces, says Glenn Mielke, master designer at the storeís newest location in the Third Ward. Two specific styles demanding attention are furniture pieces that resemble cabinets and demilune half-moon tables. "You need some storage, but you donít shave or bathe in the room," says Mielke. Anything a visitor might need such as toilet paper or towels should be immediately visible. Decorative pedestal sinks are also on homeownersí wish lists.

Wall-mounted sinks and glass wall tiles are popular looks in todayís powder room.

Wall colors run the gamut from light to dark. Bernacchi notes that her clients are leaning toward the natural colors, especially sage green. "Weíre also getting requests for renewable and recycled types of materials for the space," she says.

Forget the rule about avoiding dark colors in a small space. Deep maroon, chocolate, even black are finding their way onto powder room walls. Bernacchi points to the popularity of wenge, an almost black African wood, as evidence of an interest in non-conventional colors. The very rich looking, sleek-grained wood is a bit less expensive than ebony, but no less dramatic. Lighting should be well placed since these rooms generally donít have windows and are used more at night than during the day.

Environmental concerns appear to be dictating the choice of toilets. "Iím finding people going for pressure assist toilets," says Mielke. "Theyíre also going with a higher toilet. Itís ergonomically much better for posture." But beware. Pressure assist and power toilets are noisy and may be a poor choice for a bathroom thatís adjacent to the kitchen or dining room. Oval-shaped tankless toilets, called hatbox toilets, are also popular. Colleen Horner carries fixtures, which appear to be suspended in mid-air.

Glass tiles carry on the renewable theme. Colleen Horner sells a line of floor tiles thatís crafted from completely recycled materials. Installed with a thin layer of concrete, they are as durable as porcelain or ceramic tile.

Some glass tiles for the wall have a sanded or textured look while others have an iridescent coating to ensure sparkle. A line of "crocodile" tiles simulates the texture of the reptileís skin. Mielke likes glass mixed with other materials such as limestone and pebbles for variety.

Imagine a wall covered in the richest of textures. That would be leather, the newest trend in wall coverings. Leather panels are magnetized and hung on a metal-surfaced wall. Homeowners can move the panels around to suit their taste. From the black and white of a Holstein cow to a buttery caramel, the luxe look is pure opulence. "One looks like a nice Coach bag," says Bernacchi.

Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression, donít let your imagination limit you. With so many choices, itís easy to have a striking room with little effort.