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Top 10 Things to Think About When Planning a Bathroom

By Jeff Pelletier
August 10, 2011

Bathrooms are some of the most commonly remodeled spaces in anyone's house. It is easy to see why: we spend a bunch of time in there every day, looking at ourselves in the mirror, and being extra critical. So, when we're being extra critical, we're bound to give a side eye to the nasty bathroom behind us. Coupled with the fact that styles come and go, and the square footage of most bathrooms is pretty small, they're an easy target for remodeling. Unfortunately, they're also an easy target for bad remodeling ideas. Oak toilet seats anyone?

My (Current) Top 10 List of Things to Consider When Remodeling your Bathroom:

Timeless Design

(Unlike these. Don't miss you, oak toilet seats.)

Bathrooms are certainly able to be remodeled far more frequently than the rest of the house, and are often expected to be: I mean, as quaint as a lovely 1910 bathroom may be, we're all going to want to have our modern conveniences. Don't be afraid to bring things up to the 21st century, but be careful to make decisions that will look good in five years, or 20. Horrible oak and brass accents from the 1980s, I'm looking at you (but with some squinty evil eyes, don't worry).


This is a pretty simple one, but easy to ignore when space is tight. You need storage for toilet paper, at the very least. The wiggle walk down the hall with your pants around your ankles is not a pretty image. I've found that good drawers in a vanity are a great spot for things like toilet paper and your typical variety of toiletries. Medicine cabinets are also a great idea in super small bathrooms, but I still prefer a small linen closet, if possible, as you can avoid the chopped-up-mirror look.

Friendly Fixtures

Get some great fixtures that are friendly to our planet! The building code dictates a lot of low flow water fixtures, but you should also get a dual-flush toilet. I've had a Sterling Karsten dual-flush toilet in my bathroom for a few years, and think it is a great toilet, that works well, and is at a good price point.

Appropriate Exhaust Fans

This is something that is always forgotten, but here are the general rules. Bathrooms used by your guests on the main floor of your house get nice and loud fans. Bathrooms in guest rooms, or kids rooms, can get fans of a medium noise (loud enough to help obscure sound, but not so quiet that they cost a good amount). Finally, master bathrooms are typically far enough away from other rooms in the house to justify the cost to get a nice quiet unit. Panasonic makes some great fans. You'll need at least a 50 CFM to meet code, and you'll want to jump up the CFM in larger bathrooms. Steam is stupid. So is sitting in a powder room next to people at a party with a whisper quiet fan. Let's not let this happen, OK?

Tub or No Tub

Do you really need that tub? Really? Are you sure? The standard 30" by 60" tub that is in most American homes is great for bathing our kids. Beyond that, they pretty much suck. You're not going to be washing more than one kid, in two different rooms, at the same time, unless you run a daycare and I'm betting you don't. (Unless, of course, you have twins or triplets, but in that case, I'm betting you'll still wash them in one tub, not two). So stick to one of those tubs in the main central bathroom nearest your kids. In your other bathrooms, especially in guest rooms, just stick to a shower (36" x 42", or ideally: 48" is perfect for a guest room - go with rectangular and not perfectly square for a little more upscale appearance). And in your master bathroom, just think long and hard about if you'll actually use that tub. Do you have a hot tub outside (very common in climates like the Northwest)? Chances are you'll never use the one in your master bathroom except for storing towels. A $5,000 towel holder seems like a poor investment, doesn't it?

Durable Finishes

Don't let this happen.

Pretty straightforward here. Stick to solid woods for cabinets (laminates will peel and warp and ruin your life. (I'm looking at you, Restoration Hardware, for a prime example of a vanity that will look great for a week and then ruin your life with endless peeling and misery.) Stone and porcelain tile are fantastic, but remember that stone will often require being sealed. (I have marble in my bathroom, and I can tell you that it is hard to stick to the annual sealing schedule.) The smaller the tile is, the more grout you have and the more grout you'll have to clean. Find the perfect balance.


I've said this before, but an extra laundry closet near your bathroom is perfect.

Lighting Is So Important

Do you want to look like this in your bathroom?

I love good lighting, and I hate bad lighting. Every good project needs to think about lighting either with a good trip to a lighting store like Seattle Lighting, or by hiring a lighting designer to think out some of the more unique conditions. Architects know a lot about lighting to get you started, but the final leg of the marathon is best handled by someone in touch with the newest products. But for heaven's sake, light your face from the front. And put a light in your shower, it will help wake you up in the morning (or get a skylight!)


I was going to have a point about one sink or two, but realized the issue is much bigger than just that. (But, really, think long and hard about the two sink situation. Everyone has really particular needs about this; just remember you need, at the bare minimum, 60" to get two sinks in and be somewhat comfortable. 72" is far more ideal.) Leave enough space so your toilet isn't front and center. Ensure you have enough room to pass someone at the sink, and make sure when you towel off, you don't smack into things. But all that said, you should also try not to have a ballroom in the middle of your bathroom. Do you really need an 8' by 8' clear area in your bathroom to make it feel like a "spa"? No. Double-loaded rectangular layouts are the most efficient and require about 8' in width for the room TOTAL.

Make the Space Your Own

Add some charm to this space! If you're worried about resale, know that no one will totally love what you've done. So aim to be timeless, but throw in some personality. You'll be happier for it, and your investment will feel a little more worthwhile.

And, oh, you should hire an architect. We think about bathrooms a lot, and will save you lots of headache. I promise.

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