Bathroom Design: Traditional vs Contemporary Styles

Renovating or updating your bathroom is a great way to spruce up your home in a way that makes a big impact. One of the first things that you need to do is to choose a style for the space. The style that you choose will impact the fixtures, colors, and other features throughout the space. Essentially, it gives you a guide on how to pull a new design together.

There are a lot of different aesthetic styles to choose from today, but they typically fall into three main categories:

  1. Traditional
  2. Contemporary
  3. Transitional

You will want to choose one of these styles to start your design and then you can go from there to further hone in on the final finished look. As you are going through the process, you’ll want to apply the same guidelines to each piece that you pick. For example, when it comes to bathroom vanities, you will need to figure out which style you like, what vanity fits with your bathroom, and so forth.

To help you with that process, let’s take a closer look at what traditional and contemporary styles are, how they differ, and what they mean when it comes to bathroom design.

72 Inch Double Sink Bathroom Vanity in Warm Cherry

72 Inch Double Sink Bathroom Vanity in Warm Cherry

What Defines a Traditional Bathroom?

Traditional design is exactly what the name sounds like. It’s a design aesthetic that focuses on classic elements. Warmth, comfort, and intricate accents are all common in traditional designs. The aesthetic isn’t very ornate, but it does include heavier, more purposeful pieces that feel more like part of the house than furniture or fixtures.

Bathrooms that are done in the traditional style typically have stone counters, overhead lighting from chandeliers, oil-rubbed bronze and copper finishes, and so forth. Tiles with small details and vanities that look more traditional than modern are also popular. This is a combination of concepts rooted in past designs with no real single aesthetic of its own.

Common features of traditional style include:

  • Neutral walls
  • Pops of color
  • Dark wood cabinets and fixtures
  • A touch of formality

Related: Why Choose Traditional Style Bathroom Vanities

36 Inch Bathroom Vanity with Offset Sink

36 Inch Bathroom Vanity with Offset Sink

What is Contemporary Bathroom Design?

Contemporary design is pretty much the opposite of traditional. It focuses on clean lines, sleek finishes, angles, and simplistic styles. This style is unfussy and straightforward. Square and geometrical shapes are popular, as are borderless mirrors and artwork, undermounted lighting, and metallic colors. Matte black and brushed gold are popular in contemporary design, but there are several color combinations to choose from.

Contemporary design is all about simplicity and function. These bathrooms are up-to-date, elegant, and make a great fit in any home. They also add value to modern homes when you are going to sell because they’re more preferable than traditional styles. The simplicity also works great in smaller spaces, which is another reason that people like it for their renovations.


Common features of contemporary design include:

  • Clean lines, curves, and geometric shapes
  • Natural materials
  • Stark contrasts
  • Cool tones
  • Intentional design
  • Timeless style
60 Inch Double Sink Bathroom Vanity in Dark Gray

60 Inch Double Sink Bathroom Vanity in Dark Gray

The Differences Between Traditional and Contemporary Bathroom Design

There are several differences between traditional and contemporary bathroom design, as you’ve seen. Essentially, it’s a matter of creating a sleek, cool space that features unique elements or making a bathroom that’s warm, inviting, and embraces several design aesthetics from the past. The materials used are different, with contemporary spaces using more modern materials that haven’t been around for very long.

Traditional bathrooms feature a lot of wood, porcelain, and stone. Contemporary designs use glass, metals, and even laminates and plastics, to stand out. Finishes on fixtures and hardware are also different between the two. Speaking of which, can these two designs go together?

Related: Master Bathroom Remodeling Trends

36 Inch Distressed Single Sink Bath Vanity

36 Inch Distressed Single Sink Bath Vanity

Transitional Style

Some people wonder if they can combine traditional and contemporary styles in their bathroom. The answer is yes, and there’s even a separate style named for that exact mixture: transitional style. This third option combines the best features of contemporary and traditional styles, creating unique and versatile spaces. A contemporary vanity paired with a traditional vanity is one example of transitional style.

Transitional spaces use muted colors and darker colors for accent furniture and pieces. They also incorporate metals and glass with natural elements for harmony, and minimalist design helps keep the space functional but still leaves room for character. Ultimately, you’re able to take the clean look of contemporary design and give it some personality with traditional elements.

How to use transitional style:

  • Choose a focal point or statement piece for the bathroom. This will be what you create the rest of the design from.
  • Mix and match colors, textures, and styles.
  • Avoid bright color palettes
  • Use simple designs
  • Avoid ornate details

Related: Bathroom Vanity Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right One

72 Inch Double Vessel Sink Bathroom Vanity

72 Inch Double Vessel Sink Bathroom Vanity

Is Modern Design the Same as Contemporary?

Modern design is not the same as contemporary. They are similar, of course, but a modern bathroom is more about the qualities that create a space that embraces both form and function. The modern style incorporates design aspects from the 1920-1950 era, including Art Deco, mid-century modern (MCM), cubism, and minimalist designs. The resulting look in a bathroom is a clean, cozy spaces that’s functional and inviting.

Modern design focuses more on woods and natural finishes than contemporary style, which lends itself to metals, glass, and other materials. So, while they’re similar, they are certainly not the same. Modern pieces and designs feature defining characteristics where contemporary styles favor clean lines and simple finishes. Contemporary designs are also more timeless and adaptable, making them a great choice for any bathroom.

48 Inch Single Sink Bathroom Vanity in Mahogany

48 Inch Single Sink Bathroom Vanity in Mahogany

How To Create a Timeless Bathroom Design with Traditional and Contemporary Styles

If you decide that you want to mix and match these styles to create your perfect bathroom space, you’re in luck. There’s plenty of help out there that can guide you in designing the perfect bathroom, no matter what you have in mind. Combining traditional and contemporary styles can be done in several ways, but here are some tips to make it easier for you to accomplish.

  • Create contrast. This includes in every aspect of the room: materials, shapes, textures, details, decor, colors, etc. The idea is to get attention and make a focal point to accent the transitional space.
  • Keep proportions to scale. Items that are differently sized may look out of place in a transitional design.
  • Choose accessories carefully and deliberately. The little things add up and in a combined style like this, you need to make sure that you tie everything together.
  • Update all the outdated items. Even traditional pieces can be out of place in a traditional design if they’re outdated and out of style.
  • Use antique-style lighting accents with a contemporary vanity, then add some marble tile to finish off the space.
  • Select interesting pieces that create a feeling of timelessness. While you want to embrace the contemporary aspect, pieces that are too modern can change the space entirely.
  • Wood paneling and wallpaper are a good way to add depth in the design, and allow you to accent the contemporary features with traditional touches.

Related: 10 Tricks To Create A Spa-Like Bathroom


Other important aspects of your new bathroom design include:

  • Color schemes
  • Silhouettes
  • Separate shower and tub
  • A touch of character
  • Statement pieces
  • Unique accents

Take the time to learn as much as you can about bathroom design and you will be on your way to creating the perfect timeless space in no time at all.

72 Inch Double Sink Bathroom Vanity

72 Inch Double Sink Bathroom Vanity

Choosing Your Components

Once you’ve narrowed down your style preference and started planning your renovation, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right pieces for the project. This includes everything from the toilet to the mirror, the vanity, walls and floors, and any other part of the bathroom that’s getting upgraded. Before you start shopping, have the style that you like in the back of your mind. That will make it easier for you to find pieces that fit your design and style preferences.

Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with a bathroom design in the traditional or contemporary styles, no matter what kind of space you have to work with. There are plenty of materials, fixtures, and finishes out there to complete the look, no matter what the look might be. Take the time to shop around and get inspired. You might find something that launches your whole design.

Related: Tips to Care for Your Bathroom Vanity

25 Inch Single Sink Bathroom Vanity with a Walnut Finish

25 Inch Single Sink Bathroom Vanity with a Walnut Finish

The Final Call

Traditional and contemporary styles are uniquely different in several ways. However, it’s also easy to combine these two styles to create a unique space that features all the elements that matter to you. Whether you start with a focal point and work out from there or you start big and work down, you’re going to find that it’s easier to do when you know what kind of style you prefer.

Although everyone has their own tastes and preferences, these tips and insights will help you get more out of your bathroom renovation. Plus, when you’re trying to create the perfect style, you’ll have all the information and resources that you need to do just that. Which is it for you: contemporary? Traditional? A little of both? When designing your perfect bathroom, keep these things in mind.


My name is Julia Ritzenthaler, Founder and President of Unique Vanities, started in 2005. I started this business as an extension of our residential remodeling business, which focused on the design and build of custom cabinetry and architectural trim. I also worked as a financial advisor for 10 years at Ameriprise Financial, helping clients make sound money decisions, including budgeting for home improvement expenses. This expertise led me to start Unique Vanities, which offers a handpicked selection of high quality bathroom vanities, sinks, mirrors and more. You can find me most days sitting in Starbucks, my second office, or in my car driving my daughter across Dallas to gymnastics training.