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•Bring the look of fine furniture into the bathroom.
•Learn how to accent your vanity with decorative details.

How times have changed. Ten years ago, designers recognized the first stirrings of what is now a full-blown trend in bathroom furniture. Both they and do-it-yourself homeowners were taking a deep breath and converting beautiful antique cabinets into vanities for their bedrooms and baths.

They did so at no small risk. A steamy or sun-drenched bathroom is a dangerous place to store wood antiques. Not to mention the potential for structural damage caused by installing a basin—no less one filled with water—into the top of Aunt Ethel’s beautiful Victorian cabinet.

No need to go to such lengths today. Thanks to a growing availability of beautiful and durable furniture made specifically for the bathroom, standalone vanities are increasingly popular with homeowners of all tastes, regardless of their style of home, says Donna Vining of Vining Design Associates, Inc., in Houston.

Today, “It’s standard that vanities look like pieces of furniture,” says Vining. “It’s been that way in Europe forever, where people take their kitchens [with them] when they move. It just took some time for the trend to hit the States.

“The popularity of the furniture look is definitely on the rise,” says Vining, “and that goes for all areas of the country.”

What’s behind the appeal of fine furniture in the bath? A few factors come into play, says Deborah Burnett, a Nashville, TN-based spokesperson for the American Society of Interior Designers and a regular on HGTV.

For one thing, says Burnett, the notion of simple luxury has proven wildly attractive to consumers eager to seek refuge from their fast-paced lives and everyday worries. Nowhere in the home is this more evident than the bathroom, which has transformed into the ultimate getaway. Yesterday’s ho-hum utilitarian vanity can now resemble an elegant living room piece, making the bathroom a unique escape from the ordinary.

Bathrooms are also getting larger, up to 200 to 300 square feet. “You have to fill that space, and you don’t want to have all countertop,” Burnett says. “The furniture look is most definitely appropriate for these bathrooms. I see armoires, upholstered chairs, and vanities that are true pieces of furniture rather than built-in cabinetry.”

At the other end of the spectrum are half-baths and powder rooms, which Vining and Burnett both agree are great sites for all styles of furniture vanities.

In a small bathroom, “a homeowner is more willing to experiment with a freestanding vanity because the dollar investment is not as great as with a large bath,” Burnett says. “You also have more freedom to deviate from the style of the rest of the home. You’re more willing to take a chance with a freestanding vanity of an Asian motif, even if the rest of the home is traditional or French contemporary.”

Portable bath furniture is also a good fit for our transient society. “Folks are moving on a more regular basis and they don’t want to leave the things they truly admire and appreciate about their homes,” Burnett says. “They’re placing things that can go with them on a move: an armoire, an upholstered chair or a really great looking bakers rack, and other typical pieces of furniture.”

To achieve the best furniture look possible in the bath, Burnett recommends the following:

Add wood accent pieces. For baths of all sizes, complement the vanity with other wood furniture, such as a small table or plant stand. Adding a narrow, 36”- to 42”-high wood chest helps create a cozy atmosphere, particularly in the small bath.

Toss in an area rug. Consider covering your floor with a high-quality area rug, just as you would for a hard-surface living room floor. Burnett stresses that higher-quality rugs are actually less impervious to water absorption than other rugs.

Use layers of lighting. To highlight your bath furniture, use floor and table-top lamps and plug them into ground fault interrupter circuit breakers for safe use. For accent lighting, use incandescent bulbs on dimmers with track, recessed or ceiling lights. And always include fluorescent lighting—the workhorse of bath illumination—and place it in coves, under soffits, or along ceiling lines to bring out architectural and furniture details.

Don’t expect the bathroom furniture trend to fade anytime soon, says Burnett. Handsome bath furniture is popular with homeowners of all ages and style preferences, from solid traditionalists to those who prefer a sleek, contemporary look.

“Homeowners are opting for much larger square footage in their bathroom,” says Burnett. “They’re approaching bath furnishings from a more minimalist approach and are personalizing the space.”


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