To Brass or Not To Brass In the New Un-Bathroom

Dear Laurel,

I look forward to every post from you. Their beauty has even served as some relief in difficult times, and have inspired many home projects here.

I have to tell you, I am OBSESSED with the “un-bathroom” here – The one with the Sandberg wallpaper. I am working on my bathroom, as a reno is out of the budget, and I’m wondering if you might do a post on the unbathroom, akin to your unkitchen posts?

Perhaps this would be of broad appeal to your readers, so I thought I’d plant the idea. Meantime, a thousand thank you’s for all you’ve shared and all the beauty you add to the world!



Hi Everyone! That is a real dear laurel letter which came in the form of a comment a few days ago. And I thought it would make for a good post.

I also love Tradchap’s (aka: Jack Laver Brister)  bathroom. He’s an antiques dealer in Somerset, UK.

You can see another image of his handsome room here.

The wallpaper is Sandberg’s Raphael in green.


I love that un-bathroom!

Like un-kitchen.


So, what is an un-bathroom?


That is a very good question. I’m sure that you’ve seen as I have some bathrooms these days that look more like living rooms. Not all of these do. And then, there’s this post that has a lot of pretty art in the bathrooms.

In fact, remember the post where they (yikes) put the WC and tub out in the open?


For me, an unbathroom is eclectic. It might have furniture pieces instead of a traditional built-in box of a vanity. OR, it might not have a vanity at all. Instead there are pedestal or console sinks.


One thing I very seldom see in bathrooms is something that I think would be immensely practical.


I’m not really that fond of a lot of storage in a vanity, anyway. Stuff gets shoved around. One always has to bend over. It’s awkward.

I would have built, a shallow vertical cabinet. Between the studs could work but if the wall were built out about 3 more inches, it would be perfect. Everything would be in clear sight, too.


something like this or even larger.


What else does an un-bathroom have?


Well, it depends what size it is.


But, if in an old house, it may very well have a fireplace.

Timothy Corrigan

That’s like my fantasy. Not that I would even ever use it. But I might if it was there.

Darryl Carter

An un-bathroom almost always has some antiques, vintage pieces or else really great copies.

Even a modern un-bathroom would look fabulous with an antique or two.

John B Murray Architect

It does not have the expected chrome fixtures.


There is usually gold and brass, and maybe even copper, but there can also be nickel.




Yes, I said brass.


Oh, stop it! You’re going to get wrinkles, like I have!


Of course, I don’t blame you.

It’s very upsetting what they did to our beautiful brass.

Brass is FABULOUS!

And it’s been around for centuries.

However, after WWII, some peeps who have no conscious and/or awareness created something despicable.

Lacquered brass.


And even worse. They put brown crap on it and then lacquered it to make it look so-called antique.

But that’s not all they did. Nosiree.

Undoubtedly these freaks in polyester-Dacron suits got together to come up with the tackiest, horrid– HIDEOUS bathroom sinks, baths and tiles in all shades of putrid.

And they paired that muck with the shiny horribly shaped brass fittings.


However, one cannot find any images of these bathrooms.


This is because all of the photos of such spaces have been incinerated by those who formerly possessed them on penalty of death if found.


Oh wait. I found one.

And it’s perfectly gag-awful. (no worries. The homeowners thought so too before they took a jack hammer to it.)

via This Sorta Old Life


BTW, please do not pin this monstrosity. This is for demo purposes only.

Everything else is fine to pin, and appreciated, of course.


However, this is why you’re understandably afraid of brass.


But, of course, you are not going to do anything even remotely this abominable. It’s quite difficult to make something this ugly.

Still, it’s ingrained in our minds that brass is something to stay FAR, FAR away from. And it’s just a crying shame is all.


If you live in the United States of Conservative American, buyer beware. While you may have fabulous taste, when you go to sell your home, the prospective homeowners may not appreciate it.(for the aforementioned reasons)

But, if you don’t care, that’s also fine.

Certainly if your home is in an urban area, and/or is old and/or rustic, whether urban or rural, I think that it’s safe to do brass.

If it’s a new-build in a place where granite and stainless steel appliances are de rigueur, then I would probably steer clear, unless you absolutely love it and feel comfortable working with it.

You also do not need to do brass in every room that has a faucet.

However, if doing brass, and another metal, I’d use nickel, not chrome.

If you do brass, I generally think that it looks best with bathrooms with a good amount of dark, muted tones.


See how fabulous the natural brass faucet looks with Darryl Carter’s antique vanity?


original source unknown

This is not a bathroom. But every time I see it, I want to post it. Classic Georgian home with a cool wall color!

via Domaine


There’s a source for this cool grisaille paper in the more monochromatic widget below.


Above and below is brass that I saw at last January’s KBIS (kitchen and bath industry show) in Orlando.


Early in my research, I happened across a very handsome un-bathroom and it reminded be a lot of Tradchap’s.


Uh huh. It’s Ben Pentreath’s bathroom from his London home! And I did track down the wallpaper. It is called Richmond Park by Zoffany. (to the trade)

This is the bathroom before he had it papered. The color is Farrow and Ball Mizzle. The paper adds so much and it looks fabulous with the art, too.


Courtnay Daniels Haden in Elle Decor

Love the art over the tub.

original source unknown

via Lifestyle, etc.

awesome un-bathroom!

Love the encaustic cement tiles

Halvorson Farmhouse, downstairs bathroom

via Southern Living

The entire home is worth a look-see. Very pretty. I adore this mirror. It’s unique and makes the room, I think.

Studio McGee via their Instagram

Smokey Rose wallpaper available at Anthropologie


For fun, I made two widgets which if you click on the images, you will get taken to their source.

The first widget is more like Tradchap’s and Ben’s un-bathroom palette.

And then I made another more colorful palette below it.



And the more colorful collection



Well, I hope that gave y’all some good ideas about how to create an un-bathroom.


PS: I used the word “un-bathroom” instead of “unbathroom” because google does not know the word “unbathroom,” but if it’s hyphenated all’s cool. It’s fine to call it an unbathroom too. We have to teach that boy some new words!

PPS: getting very excited about the release of the updated Laurel’s Rolodex on November 1st. Less than two weeks and please don’t forget that the price is going up on November 13th. Everyone who purchases a rolodex is entitled to free life-time updates.

And if interested, please check out the hot sales pages.

full of some of my favorite home furnishings on sale this week!


33 Responses

  1. Perfect timing on this post, as I have just begun planning for a gut reno of our main bathroom. We’re in a 101-year-old house and there are bits of brass all over the house, from original light fixtures to door hardware, so I know unlacquered brass is very appropriate. I had started working with an interior designer, because although I can do the design myself really, I was not feeling confident enough. However, she suggested pairing brass with chrome, and that goes against everything I’ve ever heard. I’ve always heard that mixing metals is fine, but generally it’s best to pair warm metals with other warm metals, and vice versa. I specifically brought that up to her, but she had no reason to back up her suggestion. I am thinking brass and polished nickel would be best.

  2. Hi,

    I have two un-bathrooms as you would call it. I used a vintage dresser/washstand to make a new sink/vanity. However I used mostly polished plated chrome fixtures. I used a vintage style chrome cross handled fixtures. I’m a little surprised you seem against chrome since plated chrome is historically accurate and many of your pictures show chrome plated fixtures. Maybe I misunderstood. Other than that I love this post and the pictures and I agree with you about the lacquered brass.

    1. Nothing at all against chrome. I have it in my own home. (it came that way) I just think that nickel is probably a better choice if also using brass fixtures as well. Sorry for not being more clear.

  3. When I saw the email promo for this post, I shuddered. Brass, I thought, no, no, NO! But as I read your comments about how brass was uglified in the 20th century, I knew (as I should have known all along), even before I saw the lovely photos, that we were in good hands with you. As for the un-bathroom, I’m intrigued. We have a master ensuite that is bigger than we need, and as we renovated all the rest of the house, we left it alone because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it (other than hold Saturday-night dances in the vast open space in the middle). But I certainly have some ideas now…thanks, Laurel, as always.

  4. Ok I just lost my painfully composed post – ha – uggh.

    So for now: I’m sorry you’re sick Laurel, and hope you recover quickly. The flu you will tire you for ages, I’m afraid. Even with a shot I got the flu last year – I was surprised.

    Thanks for the widget – love your choices.

    My ‘musings’ on Ben’s London bath will have to wait -ha – more likely I won’t re-write.

  5. These unbathrooms are almost identical to the bathrooms in my grandparents and great aunts houses. This was because there were no such things as indoor bathrooms when the houses were built and so when indoor bathrooms became “necessary” they were obligated to make a spare bedroom into a bathroom. I sort of think they just left the dressers and closets and so forth the way they probably were before. And it looked, well, like an unbathroom!

  6. Love the beadboard. When I moved into my condo, I just replaced the towel bars, cabinet handles, light fixture, faucet. Even little things can make a big difference. I think it also depends on what kind of climate you live in. If you live where there is a lot of heat and humidity (and ocean salt air) it will affect your choice of fixtures.

  7. Laurel, You hit the nail on the head with this un-bathroom. I love, love it the wall paper and the antiques. You are a blessing to me and my house. I am growing into the real designer for my own home. It so nice to gleen information in your fun style and perfection. I’m thinking about painting my living room warm pink with creamy Tan border. Should I do paile pink or white celing? Pondering this one for months now. I guess I must take the rains and just do it. Thank you ever so much, you are a friend I can count on.

    Blessings every day,

  8. Hi Guys,

    It’s me Laurel. 30 minutes after I hit publish, I came down with the flu? Sudden. Everything hurts like crazy and fever of nearly 101. Didn’t get to sleep until 6:00AM.

    And yes, I did have the flu shot 5 weeks ago.


    Please talk amongst yourselves if you like.

    I will work hard at getting myself well!


    1. The flu? That could explain why you’ve felt so very tired lately. Take all the time you need. We’ll keep the light on. 😉

  9. I love just about ALL those ‘in-bathrooms’!! My favs are the ones with the antique vanities – must admit I am not much of a fan of pedestal ones; not enough Room! (Ha)…your taste is refined and elegant…This was a Great post for me as I just painted the ceiling of my guest bath…and am looking for Inspiration! (That you Just delivered!) haha

    Thanks so much! 🙂

  10. Hi Laurel,
    I am absolutely mad for all of those gorgeous bathrooms. We agonized between natural brass and nickel and decided to use nickel for our master. We do have old unlacquered brass fittings in an original bath with claw foot tub. After seeing these beautiful rooms that one may wind up with some wallpaper after seeing the difference it made in Ben P’s. This is one of my favorite posts. Of course, love Darryl’s, too!

    1. Hi Nancy, you have some original brass fittings!! And I’ve loved seeing your home through this blog. Is there anything special you have to do to maintain living brass? Laurel, so sad you have the flu!

      1. Hi Kelly,
        Thank you!I do absolutely nothing special, that is what keeps the patina, I think. After making the original comment I was sitting in my bath tub and realizing how much brass was really in that bathroom, too. The towel bars are a 100 years old and from a hotel that was razed many years ago. The chandelier is vintage with rose tinted brass and the mirrors and art are framed in touches of gilt.
        I love mixing metals!

  11. I love all of these bathrooms but with all that beautiful art and those books I hope they have excellent fans/dehumidifiers!!!
    I have art in my un-bathroom but as I do not have an excellent dehumidifier, I used lacquer art pieces I picked up in Vietnam. Made for humidity! 🙂

  12. Love your blog. I am a new subscriber and I am reading every single word and studying every photo, learning and enjoying. You have opened up a world of pleasure and knowledge for me . Thank you!

  13. What strikes me overall is that these are un-bathrooms because their owners or designers had the great good sense to treat them like any other room in the home. They dressed them up with antiques, art, wallpaper and collectibles, making it look as if those they came first and bathroom fixtures were somehow configured around them. There were two things I especially loved:

    The first thing that caught and held my eye was the formal drapes in one bathroom.
    The second thing is something I find that designers can do and I can do only by the merest chance. Take a look at Ben Pentreath’s bath. He took down his black and white artwork, installed wallpaper in neutral tones, put his artwork back up exactly as before (yes, that I could do), but then he topped his little sconces with coral fabric shades. For me, that’s the little detail that makes the whole arrangement sing. And that’s the thing that is so difficult to do in the right proportion, the right scale, the right color and the right place. It’s the thing that non-designers will do and then will start to fidget with the color, thinking they need to repeat it throughout the room, when it was perfect to begin with.

    So, in my opinion, one of the things a person must possess to be a great designer is a fine sense of restraint.

    Thanks for featuring these, Laurel. These are my favorite kind of bathroom because there is always a feeling of luxury about them.


  14. Hello Laurel, You need to know the website Ugly House Photos:

    It has photos that actually were used to sell houses, and every decorating (and condition) outrage of the last fifty years can easily be located. There are dozens of categories to search the archives, and by selecting Bathrooms, I quickly located many of the horrors you mention.

    That being said, I an generally against the decoration of bathrooms. They are too damp to be good for art, even (or especially) when glazed, and too much clutter (or dark wood surfaces, for that matter) seems unsanitary.

    I do agree with you that nickel fittings are classy.

    1. Parnassus, I agree with you about artwork getting damaged in the humidity of a bath. I probably wouldn’t do it myself, though it’s still fun to look at these photos.

      It does depend also on how large the bath is. I once lived in a house with an enormous master bath with a large shower. I found that the mirrors didn’t even steam up in that bathroom, no matter how long my shower was. Maybe the size of the bath is the secret to adding artwork.

  15. Welcome back from the UK. All your posts were lovely and the photographs sublime. Oh and the gardens so beautiful and peaceful. Questions on all the artwork in these “loos” what happens to them when steam from shower or tub starts floating in the room or just general humidity? Doesn’t the dampness ruin that artwork? Hmmmmm. The Courtnay Daniels Haden room in Elle Decor is the tub actually that off-centered or is it the angle of the shot? As always, thanks for the post. My favorite is the simple Southern Living bathroom, very nice.

    1. Dear Betty,

      I have artwork in my bathroom. I don’t agonise. Its all original, but none of it is by an old

      master. it’s inexpensive, tasteful (my taste) & loved. sitting on the Loo, or lying in the

      bath, is always a pleasure.

      I do have a paltry fan but I OPEN THE WINDOW. That’s what they’re for.

      I rather like steam clouds rising like clouds from the bath, suspended in the air below the


      Live dangerously. Don’t fret. Hang some Art.

      Love from an old mistress.

      P.S. laurel did instruct to talk amongst ourselves.

      1. I agree with you, Betty- life is too short to worry,so like you, I’ve put some of my favorite old oil paintings in my bathroom, along with full length drapes, and a little Persian rug. I even have an old pine wood floor, which might be a horror show for some, but it works for me. It’s all good, and makes life happier!

  16. like a fairy godmother, Laurel, our wish is your command. Adore these unfitted

    bathrooms. Thank goodness, you have not featured the now de rigour, epileptical bath

    (can’t spell it, can’t say it ), those fashionable ( says it all ) expensive, clumsy, marooned

    monstrosities that have landed, as if from space, in many of the bathrooms featured in

    the interior magazines . Cheaper ( even more Ghastly ) versions are now also available.

    Where does one put the soap ?


  17. I like the storage cabinet between the studs idea. Unexpected but cool. Also a big fan of nickel fixtures no matter the trend. Is there a correct height for hanging towel racks in a bathroom? Also toilet paper holders? Any general rules on that? Thank you!

      1. yes, it’s all out there. But I always say to double-check because it’s not always accurate. And there are also variables in a bathroom such as the size of the room, size of the wall. Window placement. But there are also architectural standards available and I’m pretty sure that those can be looked up too. Or, ask the contractor who puts up several every month!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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