The Half-Bath: A showcase for style

With only two fixtures to accommodate, half-baths (often called powder rooms) practically design themselves. Minimum dimensions are amazingly compact: You can fit a sink and a toilet into less than 20 square feet and still meet building codes. Half-baths don't need much storage, natural light usually is not a priority — a window may even detract from privacy — and less counter space cuts down on clutter.

But there are some practical considerations, starting with the entrance. If possible, the door should swing into the room rather than out, even though that eats up floor space. (A door requires at least its own width in clear floor space in order to swing open, with additional room to maneuver so someone inside the bathroom can shut the door without having to stand on the toilet.) An in-swinging door also avoids the problem of where to "store" the open door. If the space is simply too small, consider a sliding pocket door, which allows you to keep the door open without blocking the hallway.

Specially designed fixtures can also conserve precious space. Small pedestal sinks, corner sinks, wall-mounted basins, and round rather than oval toilets take up less room than their conventional counterparts.

Because it's the bathroom most often used by guests, a half-bath is a chance to showcase style without sacrificing functionality. "It's typically where you'd want the most architectural detail," says Chris Dallmus, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, architect and a frequent consultant on This Old House projects. "A powder room is an opportunity to do something that's small and intimate but at the same time has sex appeal."

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