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Publication Date: 2014-07-15

Design Insights

Spilling Beans: Decorating Design Secrets for the Kitchen and Bathroom

Decorating design secrets is a series of tips I’ve collected over the years including some from House Beautiful and Traditional Home. And today it’s all about kitchen and bath decorating design secrets of the trade. Perhaps the best tip of all is that shared by Barbara Barry regarding lighting in the bathroom.

Image: Robert Stilin

Decorating Design Secrets of the Trade for the Bathroom:

“Never use a sconce over a mirror in the bathroom – it will cast unflattering shadows across a face. Sconces that flank a mirror will give a more realistic and flattering light” (Rob Southern)

“The bathroom needs overhead as well as side lighting – usually 75 watts for overhead and 60 watts on either side” (Barbara Barry)

“The mirror in a bathroom needs overhead AND side lighting for a better lit face” (Richard Rabel)

Image: Barbara Barry

“Typical sconce height for a bathroom is 66” above the finished floor to the center of the fixture” (Ginger Brewton)

“I recommend a height of 36” for a bathroom vanity instead of a standard 30. It’s more ergonomic and comfortable all around” (Jason Bell)

“Instead of a towel bar, mount 5 robe hooks 68” high for towels and robes” (Robert Stilin)

Image: Kathryn M. Ireland

Decorating Design Secrets of the Trade for the Kitchen

“Upper cabinets are not really useful and actually impede the ease of use of a kitchen. I strongly advocate replacing them with simple, open shelving. In one fell swoop, you have instantly enlarged the sense of the room and made the countertops below that much more comfortable for casual food preparation” (Kathryn M. Ireland)

“I typically suggest an island 5’ wide by 8’ long. You don’t want it looking like an aircraft carrier. And when cleaning up, you want to be able to reach across it effortlessly” (Christopher Peacock)

In general, I’ve found these and other decorating design secrets a good source of re-assurance. For example, I can’t tell you how many “hands-on” clients suggest having only one source of lighting in the bathroom, especially only over the mirror. This is when, as the designer, you must be assertive and explain the reasons for alternate light. And it helps when you know top designers agree with you.


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