The Powder Room

It may be small, but the vision should be grand


By Cynthia Adams

After 21 years, Whitsett resident Sharon James decided her powder room deserved better than the wallpaper and finishes she loved in 1999.

The powder room dates to Prohibition, when women “powdered their noses” in hastily constructed “ladies’ toilets” sometimes built under speakeasy stairways. Once barely adequate, today, they are hardworking half-baths.

Given the small size, powder room renos average $2,000. That is, unless you are designer Miles Redd, who says “powder rooms should be outrageous.” As in, they’re the “one space you want to take people’s breath away.”

That notion got James’s attention. She wanted something breathtaking.

Inspired by a traditional mirror spotted while antiquing at Carriage House — “one that had been spray painted with white automotive paint to give it a high sheen” —  James found what she needed to get revved up. “Falling in love with that mirror, and loving blue-and-white, is what started the project.”

The mirror, it turns out, wouldn’t fit, but it did inspire an all blue-and-white redo.

In 2016, James reached out to local muralist Dana Holliday after reading about her in O.Henry. 

“Dana had been schooled in painting in a grisaille [painting executed entirely in shades of gray or neutral, grayish colors],” shares James. “And she had a history of painting large murals.”

While the Jameses were, in fact, in France, Holliday painted French scenes in their dining room, making it their favorite room.

Now, would she paint a custom mural in the powder room? Scenes from the Cotswolds?

James provided pictures from their travels.

“You must be agile — and supple enough to straddle a toilet and do the ‘in-and-outies,’” jokes Holliday. “Up and over, over and under . . . I was in that little room. Sometimes I laid on my side to reach something.  Thank God I do yoga!”

Holliday laughs, “I felt like Toilet Tina.” 

Afterward, James sourced lighting specific to the scale of the space that wouldn’t compete with the artwork. “Sometimes it’s almost harder to do a small room given the scale. You can find a lot of what you like but you must narrow it down to size.”

Scale and color ruled.

“When you have a small room,” says James, “measurements count.”

The homeowner continues: “It was fun finding all the little things to complement a pretty little bathroom. I had two beautiful aged brass sconces I intended to use; except, when I went to a very pale palette, it made the brass look dirty and destroyed the look of a light and airy room.” Crystal sconces came to the rescue. “And I had parchment shield-shaped shades (made in Venice, Italy,) to complement the blue-and-white walls.”

James sourced rugs from Dash & Albert, towels from Matouk and ordered simple Delta taps.

A vision for the artist proved key.

“Don’t do it unless you have it nailed down,” agrees Holliday, who works with encaustic and acrylic paintings in addition to her commercial faux painting. 

(Holliday is currently providing art demonstrations at Zimmerman Vineyards in Trinity.)  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor of O.Henry.

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