IT’S A TRIED-and-true decorating strategy: Paint the walls white, and introduce color via the furnishings. But in this prewar New York apartment, paintings, rugs, and seating aren’t the only things that add pizzazz. Each bathroom is painted a different vibrant hue. “You might not want to use so much color in a living room,” says interior designer John Barman, who was brought in to give the whole apartment a new look. “But in a bathroom, a space you’re only in for short periods of time, strong color is a great idea.”
The bathrooms were anything but colorful when Barman entered the picture. The owners, a couple with two children, had just created a four-bedroom duplex by combining two 2,800-square-foot apartments. The baths—the renovation yielded seven–had been redone; six were white. “Nice but not very exciting” was Barman’s assessment of the classic subway tile on the walls, the floors of tumbled marble, and the pedestal sinks. Because the owners, who’d spent 10 months in a hotel during the renovation, were a tad fired of home improvement, Barman suggested tackling one room at a time.
Powder room off the living room
First came the powder room off the living room. Barman proposed painting the walls of this windowless space the same chocolate brown as the living room sofa and rug. “Dark colors are good for rooms without windows,” he explains. “They’re nighttime colors, and nighttime is exactly when guests will be using this room.” Skeptical at first, the owners went along with the experiment. They were glad they did. When the work was finished, the small space emerged dramatic and glamorous, setting off the couple’s black-and-white Isabel Bishop prints from the `40s–and solving another design problem. Because renovating the apartment had involved taking down so many walls, space for hanging art was greatly reduced; now bathrooms serve as galleries. Dampness isn’t a concern, because showers are rarely used in some, and others are well ventilated.
The powder room was such a success that Barman applied the same formula–bold paint, interesting artwork–in the other six baths, always selecting a color from an adjacent room. The walls in the master bath, for example, are the purple of the bedroom carpet. “We used a strie finish because a solid purple would have been too dark,” he notes. Pink, the color of the daughter’s bath, harmonizes with her bedroom, which is beige with a pink easy chair and pink pillows.
Paint type was just as important as color in producing what the owners now call their “happy bathrooms.” Barman specified Hascolac oil paints from the Dutch company Schreuder; he likes their saturated tones and unbelievable glossiness. Before the new paint went on, the walls were skim-coated and sanded to a fare-thee-well. “Flat paint can hide problems, but shiny paint will show every flaw,” he points out. “We did a lot of prep work, so now the walls are perfect. If anyone decides to change the colors, they can just paint right over what’s there.” Considering how terrifically these rooms turned out, who’d ever want to?