7 powder room design mistakes to avoid – and what to do instead

Whether you're considering a powder room makeover or designing one from scratch, here's what not to do

Powder rooms
(Image credit: Ca' Pietra)

Believe it or now, powder room design mistakes can be really impactful. After all, after the entryway, living room and kitchen, it's the one area that guests are destined to use, and one that the family will be in and out of day and night.

Add to that its diminutive size, and you can see how the most well-intentioned powder room ideas can quickly be the undoing of the entire space.

'Nine times out of 10 it’s a shoebox of a space. A glorified closet,' says Ca' Pietra's Head of Creative, Grazzie Wilson. Below, Grazzie, and the H&G team list the most-seen mistakes to avoid when redesigning your powder room.

Powder room design mistakes

There's no denying that small powder rooms will fall foul of design mistakes more readily, but sometimes having a larger space can be problematic, too. This is what to avoid, and what to do instead, according to experts.

1. Treating it as a coat closet

entryway closet with doors open, hanging clothes and drawers inside, rug on the floor

(Image credit: The Cotswold Company)

'In homes where space is limited, keeping the entryway clear of coats really can open up the space. But what often happens is the coat rack migrates to the powder room – a room that’s already cramped,' says Grazzie. 

'No powder room is going to thrive when it’s stuffed with coats, so avoid this, but if there’s no other option, try to box it in with closet doors painted in the same color as your walls or in a color that matches your wall tiles. That way, everything is contained, kept out of sight, and no longer a messy distraction.'

'I would ensure, too, that there is plenty of storage built into the space for cleaning products and spare toilet paper,' says H&G Content Editor Millie Hurst. 'The key to a great powder room is that it is clutter-free.'

2. Painting it white to make it look bigger

Powder room

(Image credit: Ca' Pietra)

''Many powder rooms either don’t have a window or they do and it’s a tiny one,' says Grazzie. 'Naturally, that leads to a room with limited natural light and white paint is never going to do the job bringing sunshine in. 

'There are ways to lighten it but this is where tile can be useful. Glossy glazes will bounce light around the room, large format tile can make a space feel larger with fewer grout lines, or the same tile from floor to wall will make the room feel lighter and larger.'

3. Decorating with dark colors but not lighting it correctly

powder room with blue wallpaper, stone floor, marble/gold vanity unit

(Image credit: Drummonds)

'If you’re ready to embrace your powder room's lack of light with darker tones and a moody atmosphere, be sure that your lighting is speaking the same language. Think downlighters, a pendant light and dimmer switches,' says Grazzie. 

'Above, one of our favorite small bathroom lighting techniques of combining overhead lighting with wall lighting is used to great effect, both practically and decoratively,' says Jo Bailey, stylist and deputy editor of Homes & Gardens. 'Note how the fittings complement the powder room vanity and mirror frame perfectly; this level of attention to detail is a must in such as small space.'

4. Ignoring the potential of the ceiling

Powder room

(Image credit: Ca' Pietra)

'In the world of interiors, we always talk about the ceiling as the fifth wall – worthy of paint, pattern and attraction as much as your other vertical surfaces,' says Grazzie. 'Tiling it is an option, just as wallpapering it is if you want to create some drama, but otherwise, why not think about painting it in a color that complements your floor and wall tiles?'

'Imaginative and inventive ceiling wallpaper and ceiling paint ideas are a gift in a powder room where there is often little wall space for artwork,' says Lucy Searle. 'And it is a space where you can be bolder than you might be in other, larger rooms.'

5. Not maximizing the mirror

Half bath with red detailing

(Image credit: Samantha Todhunter Design/Jonathan Bond Photography)

'I would never under-estimate the power of a gorgeous mirror in a powder room. In fact, I would encourage anyone to choose bathroom mirror ideas with eye-catching character,' says Lucy Searle, Editor in Chief, Homes & Gardens

'Obviously, mirrors make a space feel larger and can reflect light, but they also offer the perfect opportunity for you to express creativity that you may not have the wall space for elsewhere in the room.' 

6. Restricting wall tiles to the sink backsplash

backsplash with tiles in bathroom

(Image credit: Ca' Pietra)

Tile in a powder room is practical, especially if you have children, but don't limit your bathroom wall tiles to just the backsplash, says Grazzie. 

'If your budget doesn’t allow for wall tiling left, right and center, you could focus your tiles to one wall alone to make a feature. There are certain tiles that are designed to behave like wallpaper that work especially well.'

'Think everything from decorative tile to wall mural ideas to bring some color and pattern into your space,' advises Jen Ebert, Homes & Gardens' Digital Editor. 'Picking out a design with a diagonal, vertical or horizontal pattern can help you see the space as larger as it is, too.'

7. Dismissing comfort

A powder room with brown and cream patterned wallpaper and green lampshade sconces

(Image credit: Liz Caan/Eric Roth)

'Underfloor heating is a little luxury worth investing in,' says Grazzie, though we would add that comfort goes beyond heating. If there's room, a soft rug layered over tile or wood flooring adds cushioning underfoot and another opportunity to add color and texture.

'I always love to see powder room wall decor that would be fit for a living space, and lighting fittings, too,' says Lucy Searle. 'All too often, powder rooms are decorated for functionality. But while they need to be practical and it's fairly certain no one will be lingering there, they're at their best when they look inviting.'

What is the worst flooring for a powder room?

The worst choice of flooring for a powder room – and for that matter, a bathroom – is carpet. Not only is it more difficult to clean than tile or wood flooring, it will stain more easily and can harbor aromas that can be easily cleared from hard surfaces.

What shouldn't go at a powder room window?

For the same reasons that carpet is wrong for a powder room floor, curtains are a poor choice for powder room windows; they are also bulkier than other options, which can make a small space look smaller still. Much better are shutters, which can be angled to let in light but keep out prying eyes. Pretty Roman blinds are another option that will work well, and give you an opportunity to bring color and pattern into the room.

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.