Ten Tips For Designing a Great Small Bathroom
Judging from the number of sub-par small bathrooms out there leaving you wanting more, it must be hard for some people to design them! It's true, it is tricky to design a great small bathroom, but it is completely doable. Here are ten tips to help you design one that feels just right.
January 24, 2019
Designing a great small bathroom isn’t as easy as just making things smaller.
From the number of really awful small bathrooms I’ve seen in my travels and professional career, I can promise you, it (apparently) is not easy to design a small bathroom.
Truly, there are some awful small bathrooms out there. Like, painfully awful, and they always make me scratch my head and then spend too much time debating how to redesign them.
Because I don’t have endless time in my life to redesign the small bathrooms of the world, I thought I would offer some helpful hints for how I approach designing small bathrooms, so you can avoid being the owner of one of the less-than-fantastic small bathrooms out there.
- Hire an architect. OK, a bit obvious, but I can promise you, it takes some thinking to not only get the bathroom right, but to get it to flow with the rest of the house. It is what architects are trained to do and it’ll make getting a great small bathroom built that much easier.
- Don’t stop designing too soon. You won’t get the design right the first time you lay it out. Or probably the first ten times. When you’re down to inches, it takes a bunch of options to fine tune everything. That effort may not seem worth it initially, but (again), I promise in the end, it’ll pay big dividends.
- Don’t skimp on anything. This may seem ridiculous because we’re talking about designing a small bathroom, but you still need storage. One big thing that makes a bathroom not work is when you go into it and you don’t have a spot for your towel, or have no storage for supplies, or smack your head on the glass as you bend down to grab the shampoo down by your feet because there’s no shower niche. Plan to accommodate all the storage you’ll need, and you’ll never notice how small the space is.
- Wall-hung toilets are your friend. Not only do they save about a foot of floor space, but since they float above the floor, the floor space looks larger. They can go into 2x4 walls and work beautifully. (I don’t recommend them for exterior 2x4 walls, however, as there’s no space for insulation outside of the tank.) I have three wall-hung toilets in my house, and couldn’t sing their praises any higher.
- Wall-hung cabinets are also your friend. Make the floor feel larger and give your toes a little extra room. Even still, there will be plenty enough space for storage.
- Bump up the level of finishes. Small spaces inherently have less square footage for materials and so it is easier to splurge on nicer tile or other finishes. It’ll make the space feel more premium and help offset any lack of “luxury” created by the lack of space.
- Layer your lighting. I hate zombie lighting and it is tempting to just use one simple light in a small space. Don’t do that. Put a light above the shower, sconce lights at the mirror to actually light all of your face, and then a general light, if it has room for it. And, put them all on dimmers.
- Go for something special. I love telling people that when they give a tour of their home to guests, it should take a long time, as there should be something with a story behind it in each room. In the bathroom of the little cottage on my property, I love telling people to pop into the bathroom to take a look at the shower wall. There’s a great little tile detail that slides into the niche and it is just one of those nice surprises that makes any size space feel special.
- Custom isn’t the only answer. While small spaces typically benefit from some custom solutions for things like cabinetry, there are often great options that are all readily available. In the bathroom at my guest cottage, the simple wall-hung vanity from IKEA worked perfectly. Additionally, the 30” wide shower perfectly fit a standard 30” wide glass shower door with careful planning.
- Think through every inch. Don’t take a single inch for granted when designing your bathroom. While showers can legally be 30” wide, making them 30” in both directions can be miserably tight. Going longer in one dimension allows someone to actually spread their arms to wash their hair. Know the codes for how much space your fixtures require and think carefully about how to overlap those clearances to save space and maximize the room.
In the end, small bathrooms done right are some of my favorite spaces. They always feel bigger than they actually are, and it’s fun to surprise people with them. Think carefully about how you design your space and you’ll also be surprised by the small details.