The Best Paint Colors for Small Bathrooms

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Your knees are black-and-blue from trying to navigate the impossibly small bathroom, but those are not colors that inspire a makeover to visually expand the space. If you'd rather create a relaxing retreat than a dramatic enameled ruby or sapphire Faberge egg, think about tones as pale as the drifting clouds to erase the walls and widen your horizons. There's a reason white is the usual go-to color for bathrooms, but that's not your only choice.

Steamy Cumulus

  • The powder room or half-bath is twice as tall as it is wide. Most of the light is artificial and you feel like a canned sardine in there. Blanket the whole thing in snowy, gleaming white like a vertical cloud to bounce light around, make the walls disappear and lose the demarcation between the walls and the distant ceiling. Low- to medium-gloss white is easy to wipe down, simple to match to porcelain and bath linens, minimalist without effort and timeless. Don't think about it -- just keep every single thing in the room as white as the paint. If you have the option to select floor tile, make it white or black -- no compromise, no distractions.

Fresh Breath of Mint

  • Your teeny bathroom feels dingy and cramped, but the budget only covers paint and maybe a couple of new towels. Turn that old shoebox into a cool retreat with a hint of green. Mint is the merest almost-there green that looks as fresh as newly sprouted herbs. Go a little darker with a yellow-green like celery if you want to make more of a statement. Splash lots of white around -- on wood wainscoting and trim, in hexagonal floor tiles and on the fixtures: tub, toilet and sink. Stick to neutrals for any other hues you add via accessories or bath towels. Pewter or sand towels are colors borrowed from nature to complement a pale green. But all-white or matching green accessories will definitely keep visual clutter to a minimum.

Pick-Up Paint

  • Borrow the background color from distinctive bathroom tile to blend decorative lower walls and tub surrounds with the upper walls and ceiling. A Moroccan tile on lower walls, like wainscoting, might have a jade or blue-denim motif on cream. Match the cream color with low-gloss wall paint and extend the cream over the ceiling so the eye travels in an unbroken line in every direction. Cream, antique white, vanilla or linen are softer versions of expansive white that you can use for trim, towels and porcelain fixtures to enhance the sense of calm and spaciousness in the room. This is a bath with more character than Zen simplicity, thanks to the muted color and traditional pattern in the two-toned tile.

The Elephant in the Room

  • When you can't handle another white wall and the too-small bathroom has interesting decorative details to highlight, create a background canvas of pale nickel, pewter or elephant-gray paint. Gray is modern, clean and unobtrusive, and it intensifies subtle hints of color in a vintage stained glass window or the filigree design on a wrought iron towel bar. Keep it simple and spa-like with the sparest accessories, a bath mat to match the floor tiles, and reproduction period or curved contemporary faucets in shiny nickel. A petite gray bathroom with a white ceiling and trim gets frosted white sconces and translucent film over plain window glass to banish even a hint of gloom and highlight any period quirks in its design.

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