Hit Refresh: Designing the Look of the Bathroom

It was time to move on this renovation so I did what I tell readers all the time: hire a decorator. I chose Amy Leonard of Robson Leonard Design, the winner of the Small Space Design category in the 2018 Connecticut IDAs. I liked the graphic quality she brought to her project.

Here are Amy’s first impressions of the bathroom and my design style:

First Impression of the Bathroom

DJ’s bathroom was in the style everyone was doing 20 years ago when we were first-time home owners and needed to do a quick freshening up. Generic black and white hexagon tile, a shower curtain (vs a glass door), shutters from the hardware store, and painted narrow bead board. The bathroom really wasn’t that small or horribly out of date; it just was an ignored and underutilized powder room.

Design Evolution

When DJ and I first met about her bathroom, like any well trained magazine editor, she came armed with visuals—tear sheets and samples and inspiration from things she had seen and loved over the years. In addition she had a list of things she and Harry definitely wanted and things they did not like about the space

One quick look around the house and it was obvious that DJ gravitates to bold pattern and color. And she loves modern (although she lives in a farmhouse from the 1800’s). Her house reflects that yin and yang.

The Challenge

Here’s the challenge: take a 8×10 foot room and, with a reasonable budget, make better use of the space, incorporating the latest bath technology and be sure the room had visual impact. Simple, right?

Bathroom Design


Does it all fit?

With size and budget at the top of the list, we thought it best to try to keep the plumbing and electrical in place as much as possible. But the biggest wish on their list was to change a bath/shower combination to more of a spa shower. Just a quick look and I knew that creating a shower would mean we would have to find some additional space. I noticed a rather narrow door that opened to a closet that ran behind the toilet. It measured 2 feet x 3 feet; we had found extra space! Removing this wall permitted us to accommodate the new, wider shower and also move the toilet back two feet so it was no longer in line with the door. Unfortunately the window needed to be moved.

Where to put things?

While this is the third full bath in the house there still needed to be some type of storage in the room. I opted for designing and building a freestanding tall cabinet with plenty of room for towels and bath supplies. I envisioned a cabinet that would look like a piece of furniture that would soften the bathroom.


Adding paneling on the walls would also soften the look of this bathroom but add a nod to the architecture of the house. I felt strongly that the paneling should run vertically and only go ¾ up the height of the walls. This would give the illusion of height. I felt that we could add color here for interest.

I also knew that we could find a decorative tile that would add some pattern and give us the color palette for this room. I felt the bold pattern should be used on the back wall of what would become the shower and use a calmer and possibly smaller scaled product that would run on the floor as well as on the shower floor. I wanted to create a streamlined look for the space and trick the eye into thinking the space was larger.


After this meeting I sat down and roughed out a floor plan so that DJ and Harry could get a sense of the placement of fixtures in the room. I also created a binder filled with examples of paneling, decorative uses of tile, and some color palettes to think about. The floor plan and binder would also allow the Carey’s to have a more informed discussions with contractors. We were off and running.