Storybook Baths

These three bathrooms were decorated just for kids.

When designer Melanie Feldman learned that a new fabric and wallpaper pattern depicted the enchanting characters from the children's classic The Wind in the Willows, her design for a child's bath dashed forward. But a dead-of-the-night epiphany took her creativity to new heights.

Feldman awoke one night with the idea of photographing children's faces to use on the ceiling. The angelic faces, enlarged and glued on, would peer down on the antics of the characters from Kenneth Grahame's 1908 book. "I loved the idea and called a photographer to photograph each child looking down from the balcony at his home," she says. Molding strips frame the wallpaper border and give the children's faces something to peer over.

A trompe l'oeil fireplace painted around an existing wall heater and custom curtain rod finials continue the theme.

The tub and sea-grass floor covering were painted to look like the grass surrounding a pond.

"I simply hoped it would bring a smile to each person who looks closely and remembers with fascination the animal kingdom, especially as it relates to cleanliness, water, and all the senses - especially humor," Feldman says.

Enlarging a tiny window not only lightened up this dungeon-dark show-house bathroom but also introduced fool-the-eye artistry. Painted accents challenge this space at every turn with the question, "Is it for real?" Instead of admitting a transparent view of the outdoors, the 12-pane window features designer Cheryl Casey Ross' own design of an umbrella and raindrops fabricated in cast glass -- which is just the beginning of the visual trickery in this bathroom. The low, broad panes lend space for a cozy window seat.

Ross repeated the treatment at the shower door in a dreamy cloud motif and again on a toilet stall door with the window's umbrella pattern. The glass on the doors and window is tempered for safety.

The cast-glass window inspired the room's next bit of foolery, a just-for-looks dressing of trompe l'oeil curtain panels painted smack on the walls. Additional trompe l'oeil artwork wraps the room in soft and pretty textiles: eyelet and ribbon weaving along the soffit, a graceful bow hanger for the vanity mirror, and a patchwork quilt "hung" above the tub. Subtle stripes painted on the walls provide just enough interest, allowing the more decorative paintwork to take center stage.

For a personal touch, a young girl's favorite things were painted onto a trompe l'oeil shelf above the tub. And lest so much original art be impractical for a child's bathroom, Ross included a generous "splash" allowance with an extra-tall tile backsplash above the tub to protect the walls from water damage.

The original plain white palette of this small bath kept the room looking large, but it didn't do much to spark the heart. "I know how children dislike taking baths, and I thought if we could make it fun, it would make them more comfortable," says designer Lois Esformes.

The solution was only a wallpaper border away. A fish-pattern border swims across the room at the chair rail (eye-height for the young occupant), and again a few inches below the ceiling, instantly giving the room thematic purpose.

Except for the wallpaper, sea-green accent tiles, and multicolor tile trim, this plunge into the deep didn't infringe too much on the space-enhancing white background: The floor, tub walls, cabinetry, and woodwork remain white.

The most striking exponent of the underwater theme is big dolphin drawer pulls, which bring the song of the sea to the beadboard vanity. The sea creatures can be replaced in a blink when the child grows tired of the theme.

This window is real, but the scenery is part of the glass.

Got a creative inspiration for a room motif? Instead of painting the image on the wall, consider having it fabricated in cast glass - for a window, a French door, a shower or toilet stall, or even a room divider.

First, a cast-glass manufacturer makes a drawn design into a mold. A sheet of glass is laid across the mold and heated to recess into the mold. The result is a contoured glass panel bearing the original design. The rounded, or positive side, faces the room; the negative side is the back, which faces away from view.

Cast glass is specialized work, and manufacturers are not widespread. Check with local custom window glass or stained-glass companies to see if they do this type of work or if they can refer you to someone who does. Interior designers and architects may also have sources.

Use a Neutral Foundation The problem in designing kid-pleasing spaces isn't so much a matter of not enough good intentions as it is not enough time. Some parents wonder about the point of a major design effort when the child will outpace the space in no time.

But you can cater to your child's tastes today - as well as tomorrow - with the same basic design. The solution: Choose a fairly neutral decorating foundation that can be spiced with quick, inexpensive changes. The smoothest moves? Choose a basic color palette, then update the theme with new wallpaper borders, paint, hardware, and accessories as the child grows.

None of these requires sacrificing the college savings account, and all can contribute to a dynamic space for your child's unique development.


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