Get the Luxury Bathroom Look for Less

Designer Billy Halpern separates trends from fads to create the high-end look for less

A luxurious bathroom is within your reach – and your budget

Thanks to reality TV shows, networks like HGTV, and social sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz, the bathroom design industry has changed drastically in the past few years.

“That abundance of information can send you into a trend-versus-fad overload,” says Toronto-based designer and bathroom specialist Billy Halpern of Billy Halpern Interior Design.

And according to Halpern, the smaller bathrooms of Vancouver’s condo-dense market can be a lot trickier to renovate than bigger spaces.

“We don’t have a lot of space to play around with design aspects, accessories – and it can actually be more costly,” says the designer. “There’s not a lot of room for decor options, so what you do have, you have to use the best of.”

But that luxurious bathroom (on a budget) is within in reach. Click through for Halpern’s bathroom luxury tips and trends.

Tile Trends: So Long, Subway Tile

“It’s a big deal when it comes to choosing the tile, because this is the biggest expense in the bathroom,” explains Halpern.

“There was that whole notion of thinking a few years ago to do the subway pattern and taking a 3X6 or a 4X6 and just lining it up like a brick-like pattern and calling it a day. And that was great, but it became very boring.

“I also find that when you use smaller pieces you get a lot more grout lines and it creates this checkerboard effect. By using larger scale pieces and asking for minimal grout lines you have less maintenance on the grout, you have a lot less distraction to look at and overall it creates that slab look. So for a $2,000 piece of granite or marble you’ve spent $350 creating the same look.”

Tile Trends: Adding Pizzazz to Monochromatic

“We’re seeing a lot of monochromatic tones,” says Halpern.

He says a sophisticated way to inject pattern without overdoing it is to alternate the same colour of tile in matte and glossy finish.

And you can’t go wrong with white, asserts Halpern, but just remember that whatever you put as either a threshold in the shower or countertop should match one of the two colours or multiple colours in your tile.

Halpern also recommends bordering a big tile with a small tile for a classic look.

Tile Trends: Mix Glam (and Expensive) with Neutral (and Inexpensive)

“Sparingly use over-the-top patterned tiles due to budget and overall look,” says Halpern. “In this white glam-style bathroom shower there are two rows of an expensive screen printed damask on a mirrored tile surrounded by simple inexpensive white tiles for a real wow-factor effect.”

Tile Trends: Get Sophisticated With Stone on Stone

“People love to mix metals and mix fabrics, so why not mix stones? I made a collage photo showing how you can incorporate two different stone tiles like a carrera marble and a grey limestone, or a sandstone and a calacutta marble, also in unique, outside-the-box patterns that are simple geometric patterns that can be played out in square or rectangular themes.”

Tile Trends: Tubs with a Twist

According to Halpern, using a drop-in tub and tiling up from the floor over where the traditional skirt would be is an attractive and on-trend option for the modern bathroom. “When you come in you create that expansive feel, like it’s wider – it’s a great illusion.”

Another option Halpern suggests is replacing the traditional tub with a boxier, and more linear skirted tub. It’s modern, beautiful, affordable and “a no-brainer” says the designer. 

Trending: Wood Veneers

“With the vanities, we’re really big right now on the woods,” shares Halpern. “Veneer has come a long way. It’s very durable and you can get that look of an exotic wood like a zebra wood or an acacia wood without spending a fortune on the real product,” says Halpern. “The wood texture just adds a little bit of richness. It can look very modern.”

Inject Colour with Decorative Boxes

“When you have this small of a space, which a vanity is usually let’s say two-, three-, max four-feet wide, you’re limited on what you can store on top of the countertop without it looking cluttered – no one likes clutter.” And most bathrooms have a floating or wall-hung vanity, which also doesn’t allow for a lot of storage options, explains the designer.

There’s also the issue of adding colour. If you do this with tile, the Halpern says this is both permanent and expensive. “I tell my clients all the time – once you pick a colour, you’re married to it. But if you stick with a neutral colour in the tile and then your bath fixtures, you can play around for years to come with whatever accessories you want: towels, paint, wallpaper.”

*Place decorative boxes underneath floating vanities, on countertops, floating shelves –  Halpern says it’s a universal way to store things and inject colour and style.

Brave the Bold Vanity

“Have fun with vanities and think outside the box,” recommends Halpern. “Mirrored inlay on doors, embossed metal drawer fronts, custom-designed cutouts as well as interesting hardware all add amazing one-of-a-kind details. Solid stone sink and counters with waterfall-edge detail is always classic for a vanity.”

The Clear Trend: Glass and Acrylic

“Glass and acrylic are a really big thing in the industry right now,” shares Halpern.

“I love them personally – I have them in my own bathroom because I really feel like it adds to that spa, zen look. It just flows – you don’t even know it’s there.”

Affordable and chic, try incorporating transparent acrylic fixtures in the form of toilet rolls, towel bars and soap holders. For that space above the toilet, Halpern advises against hanging some picture just for the sake of it and instead install glass shelves.

“Acryclic accessories on the countertop are great too because they just blend. You see right through to the counter, so it looks like it’s almost not even there,” says Halpern. “They’re fairly inexpensive; you can pick them up at any big box retailers. They’re just great and they’re plastic, so that when they drop they do not break or they do not shatter like the glass.”

Solving the Storage Problem With Free-standing Tubs

When transitioning from a regular tub to a free-standing tub, Halpern says you do lose a little bit of storage, but you can make up for it in other ways and be just as decorative.

The designer suggests one of two options: Store items in a side table to keep them off the floor or put glass floating shelves on the sides of the tub. 

Vinyl on High Rotation

“A big trend in the wallpaper world is to go with vinyl when you’re doing a bathroom,” says Halpern. ‘Vinyl is great with moisture, condensation, water – it doesn’t peel like traditional papers, it’s not fragile and oddly enough, it’s actually about half the price sometimes for a decorative vinyl versus the decorative paper.”

Plan Bathrooms With Changing Lifestyle in Mind

Around 30 per cent of Halpern’s clients are age 65 and older, and many of them approach him with a long list of wants for their bathroom renovation, but often don’t think about what they need.

“It’s great now that they’re thinking freestanding tub, but they don’t realize they might need that shower with a low threshold to get in. What if they have a hip or a knee replacement in the near future?”

The designer urges people to consider this possibility and be prepared. Besides the kitchen, a bathroom makeover is the most expensive and you only want to do this once, not twice.