spilling beans: decorating design secrets for the kitchen and bathroom

Design Decorating Secrets Christopher Peacock

Christopher Peacock

Decorating design secrets is a series of tips I’ve collected over the years including some from House Beautiful and Traditional Home. The first feature was on living room design rules-of-thumb.  The second was about dining room design tips and today it’s all about kitchen and bath decorating design secrets of the trade. Perhaps the best tip of all is that shared by Barbara Barry regarding lighting in the bathroom.

Robert Stilin Decorating Design secrets

Robert Stilin

Decorating Design Secrets of the Trade for the Bathroom


“Never use a sconce over a mirror in the bathroom – it will cast unflattering shadows across a face.  Sconces that flank a mirror will give a more realistic and flattering light” (Rob Southern)

“The bathroom needs overhead as well as side lighting – usually 75 watts for overhead and 60 watts on either side” (Barbara Barry)

“The mirror in a bathroom needs overhead AND side lighting for a better lit face” (Richard Rabel)


Barbara Barry Decorating Design secrets

Barbara Barry

“Typical sconce height for a bathroom is 66” above the finished floor to the center of the fixture” (Ginger Brewton)

“I recommend a height of 36” for a bathroom vanity instead of a standard 30.  It’s more ergonomic and comfortable all around” (Jason Bell)

“Instead of a towel bar, mount 5 robe hooks 68” high for towels and robes” (Robert Stilin)

kathryn ireland Decorating Design secrets

Kathryn Ireland

Decorating Design Secrets of the Trade for the Kitchen


“Upper cabinets are not really useful and actually impede the ease of use of a kitchen.  I strongly advocate replacing them with simple, open shelving.  In one fell swoop, you have instantly enlarged the sense of the room and made the countertops below that much more comfortable for casual food preparation” (Kathryn M. Ireland)

“I typically suggest an island 5’ wide by 8’ long.  You don’t want it looking like an aircraft carrier.  And when cleaning up, you want to be able to reach across it effortlessly” (Christopher Peacock)

In general, I’ve found these and other decorating design secrets a good source of re-assurance.  For example, I can’t tell you how many “hands-on” clients suggest having only one source of lighting in the bathroom, especially only over the mirror.  This is when, as the designer, you must be assertive and explain the reasons for alternate light. And it helps when you know top designers agree with you.

richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits for top to bottom: Christopher Peacock; Robert Stilin; Barbara Barry; Kathryn M. Ireland.


Below are other features in my series on decorating design secrets shared by top US interior designers:

living room decorating and design tips of the trade

dining room decorating and design tips of the trade

7 bedroom design tips to note