If you're tired of picking roofing materials and deciding where wall outlets will go, put aside the mundane decisions and have fun with options that can have big payoffs in personal comfort and enjoyment.
Think about heated bathroom floors, an artistic bathroom sink, exotic wood flooring in the foyer or a sparkling chandelier for the dining room.
As you review your floor plan on paper or walk through a model home, think about where you can turn a space into something special. Where will you spend the most time? What areas should pop out to visitors?
For a favorable first impression, the foyer is a natural place to start. If the foyer has a two-story ceiling, look for a dramatic chandelier with multiple levels and sparkling teardrop glass accents. The chandelier can be positioned to show through a highly placed window for added emphasis as visitors walk toward the door.
Once inside, visitors will quickly scan the floor, which might be made from hand-scraped wood laid in a parquet pattern. The wood can be arranged to flow toward a central medallion design or to highlight a decorative table. The same floor can flow into the kitchen and family room, perhaps highlighting the island or fireplace area.
The next stop is the powder room, where guests often stop to freshen up. A sleek wooden vanity made from rich mahogany can do the trick. For added emphasis, top it off with a glass vanity top with etched designs that are underneath the surface. The placement of the etchings helps add interest while protecting the decorative portion from scratches and dirt.
"You still have a beautiful glass surface that is easy to clean," said Lynn Schrage, marketing manager for the Kohler Store in Chicago.
Mirrors are another way to add decorative accents throughout the house. They can be framed with decorative wood molding and placed above a bathroom vanity.
Instead of using a medicine cabinet, this creates a furniture-style look that can be carried through to other wood trim areas of the room. This design can work in a powder room or master bathroom, where there is more room for a larger display of glass.
In a master bathroom, the decorative mirror can be incorporated into the overall cabinetry layout. Some homeowners are adding cabinetry on top of the bathroom countertop to create a furniture look. The cabinets might match the vanity or be made from a darker or lighter wood species to add contrast. The cabinets would be installed on each side of the mirror and used for storing decorative elements or functional items, such as razors, soap and makeup.
"For years it was difficult to find out how to get a finished look over the vanity," said John Wozniak, president of J. Lawrence Homes, which is building homes in Joliet and Wadsworth. "Today you can mix and match cabinetry in the bathroom just like they do in the kitchen."
Decorative sinks create an adventurous display in the bathroom. Vessels, which sit on the countertop, are sold in a variety of materials, colors and styles. The options range from contemporary stainless steel to a traditional vitreous china to an earthy travertine.
"A vessel gives you that idea of sculpture and opens up the possibility for other materials in the bath," Schrage said.
Who says a bathtub has to be boring? Those who have an eye toward old houses may want to rethink the traditional whirlpool tub and go with an old clawfoot tub.
The curved and elongated design features ball or claw-shaped feet, a decorative "skirt" along the side, and perhaps a coordinating vintage-style faucet with separate "hot" and "cold" handles.
"We're taking a lot of whirlpool tubs out and putting in free-standing tubs," said John Dalbis, owner of Showcase Kitchens and Design in Geneva.
Many acrylic and cast-iron clawfoot tubs are priced around $1,000, with the copper versions priced from $4,000 to $7,000.
If you dread the thought of walking out of the shower onto a cold floor, it's time to join the many homeowners who add supplemental heating. "We add heat under the floor in just about every bathroom," Dalbis said.
Electric mats have become a popular product, as they are easy to install under the floor and can be used in any room. Heated floors also can be programmed to fit your schedule.
"You can time it to go on half an hour before you get up in the morning and then have it go off when you leave," Dalbis said.
The cost for underfloor electric heating is about $1,000, depending on the size of the bathroom. A small cost for keeping those toes warm for the long winter months.