Designing a Full Bath

Get tips for creating a space that stands up to a lot of traffic
Prim and Polished Bathroom

Prim and Polished Bathroom

Lori Dennis

From: Designed to Sell

Lori Dennis

The children use it, overnight guests use it, and for homes without a master bathroom, the full bath (or family bath) is where all the action happens. It’s a high-traffic space, and for this reason, functionality is the theme. The bathroom must work for everyone. And that’s a tall order.

When planning a full bathroom remodel, take the time to seriously review how you use the space and set goals for your remodel so you can stay on track as you make important decisions about floor plan, fixtures, tile and more.

Full Bathrooms

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Family-Friendly Bathroom

Full bathrooms often have to accommodate multiple family members plus overnight guests, so an ultra-functional space is crucial. This bright and spacious bathroom is equipped with a bathtub, a glass-enclosed shower and dual sinks. The large vanity offers plenty of room to store toiletries, while the open shelving above the tub provides additional space for towels. Design by Gail Drury

From: Drury Design

Space-Saving Shower

A shower/tub combo is a great space-saving feature for a full bathroom. This bathroom's shower and tub are enclosed with a frameless glass panel, making the space feel larger. The mirrored medicine cabinets provide extra storage space, while oversized lime green glass tiles add pizzazz to the room. Design by Celia Berliner

Tons of Tile

Tile is durable and easy to clean, making it a practical surface for busy full bathrooms. This guest bathroom features a mix of ceramic tile on the floor and walls with a glass mosaic border. Design by Erica Islas

Bright Idea

Designer Andreea Avarm Rusu made this full bathroom feel twice its size with an all-white design. Large glass wall tiles are paired with a glossy lacquer vanity cabinet. The Carrara Gold marble countertop adds an elegant touch.

Functional Elegance

This full bath is both practical and beautiful. Wide-plank hardwood floors and a furniture-style vanity add a rustic touch to the space. The vanity offers ample storage space, which is supplemented by the two medicine cabinets. Design by Lori Dennis

Vibrant Kid's Bathroom

For the children's bathroom in HGTV Green Home 2010, designer Linda Woodrum used chair-rail striping to pull together a color palette of bright tango orange and hearts-of-palm green. A pedestal sink is located just outside the door, allowing other family members to wash up while the bathroom is occupied.

Photo By: Eric

Classic Meets Contemporary

This hip teen bathroom takes traditional elements, such as black-and-white tile and a claw-foot tub, and brings them up to date with bright pink walls. Custom cabinetry built next to pedestal sinks hides electrical outlets and provides adequate storage and counter space. Design by Cindy Aplanalp

From: Cindy Aplanalp

Space-Saving Features

In this full bath, designer W. David Seidel made the most of limited square footage with a shower/tub combo and a pedestal sink. A triple-door medicine cabinet adds much-needed storage space.

Classic Kid's Bath

Kid's bathrooms don't always have to feature bright colors and juvenile decor. This children's bathroom feels youthful yet timeless with beadboard wainscoting and subway tile walls in a soothing shade of gray. The cabinets, lighting and plumbing fixtures were all custom designed. Design by Alicia Friedmann

Spa-Like Appeal

Originally built in 1904, this full bathroom now features a clean and modern Asian-inspired design. Designer Thomas A. Conway paired a classic freestanding bathtub with a sleek, glass-enclosed shower. Blue tile walls lend a soothing look to the space.

Questions to Ask

As you begin to plan and design your full bath, keep these questions in mind:

  • Who uses the bathroom, and how old are they? (Children?)
  • How many people use the bathroom at one time?
  • Do you need a bathtub in this space? If you choose to not include a tub, is there another bathroom in the house with a tub?
  • How many sinks do you want in the bathroom?
  • Do you have enough storage?
  • Is toilet privacy a necessity?
  • What appliances do you use, and are there enough electrical outlets available?
  • Do you bathe children in this bathroom?

Choosing Features

Right-height countertops. Rather than counting on step stools to boost small children up so they can reach the sink and faucet, consider lowering the countertop, suggests Ellen Rady, designer/president, Ellen Rady Designs, Cleveland, Ohio. “But of course, kids grow...”

Bathroom Design Trends

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The Spa Shower — Let It Rain!

Body sprays, rain showerheads and hand showers will give a bath loyalist a reason to stand up and relish the latest in shower fixtures. The master shower is gaining more square footage in the overall bathroom floor plan — it's a shower room, not a stall. And the area is completely tiled and often features a bench and nooks for storing soaps and towels. Image courtesy of Lori Carroll & Associates

A Private, Practical Bath Vanity

Double vanities gain storage and give him and her some personal space when a tall cabinet is installed between the two bathroom sinks. Outlets installed inside drawers and doors mean appliances can be plugged in and ready to use, yet concealed to avoid cluttering the countertop. Image courtesy of Collaborative Design Architects

Radiant Heating for Tile Floor

Low-energy radiant heat mats warm up specific floor spaces in a bathroom, such as near a tub or shower entrance, or in the toilet area — anywhere bare feet frequent. This technology allows you to pick and choose spots to heat. Traditional radiant heating requires a more sophisticated house system. Image courtesy of Viega

Photo By: Viega

Tucking Away the Toilet

Who wants to get a gaping view of the commode when walking into the bathroom? That's exactly why hiding the loo wins points in remodeled bathrooms. You don't need a large space to privatize the toilet. In fact, you don't even need full-wall coverage. Fogged glass, a half-wall or a decorative screen can provide enough of a hideaway without making the space feel claustrophobic. Design by Shane Inman

Photo By: Designer, Shane Inman

Cabinets With Furniture Appeal

The basic vanity cabinet gets a sophisticated overhaul with sculpted legs and paneling that helps the piece look like a piece of furniture rather than a bathroom cabinet that holds a sink. Design by Linda Maglia

Photo By: Designer, Linda Maglia

Splashing the Wall With Subtle Color

Neutral bathrooms evoke a mood of relaxation, but that doesn't mean having a blah backsplash. Work recycled glass or metallic mosaics into the tile design, using specialty tiles as the "jewelry" — this will also keep the project from sabotaging your budget. Take the tile from floor to ceiling for a seamless look that's also easy to clean. Design by Amy Bubier

Pick a Vessel Sink

The powder room is an ideal bathroom for a vessel sink, which can serve as the focal point of the space. Explore the range of materials available in this sink design today, from clear glass to cast stone. Design by Trish Beaudet

Photo By: Designer, Trish Beaudet

A Right-Sized, Deep Jacuzzi Tub

Rather than the corner Jacuzzi tub, which takes up valuable square footage in a master bathroom, opt for a smaller, deeper tub that is large enough for two people but will slide against a wall or next to a shower room. Tubs aren't essential in the master bath. In fact, some people are choosing to expand the size of their shower stall instead and leave the tub for the family bathroom. And as for tub bubbly, check into heated water jets that are essentially self-cleaning and won't cool down the bath by shooting air into the water. Design by Shane Inman

Photo By: Designer, Shane Inman

Jazzed Up Bathroom Lighting

Go ahead — indulge yourself with a chandelier above the soaker tub. Amp up the ambiance in your bathroom by installing backlighting around a mirror — it's not functional light, but it provides soft, warm lighting. Toe-kick lighting underneath cabinets serves as a handy nightlight. And do install a dimmer on your central ambient light (the fixture that fills the room with light). Image courtesy of Kohler

Photo By: Kohler

Think Accessible

Design a bathroom that allows you to age in place by focusing on aesthetically pleasing yet highly functional features: a curbless shower, a shower bench, grab bars that can also hold towels, slip-resistant tile (and larger grout lines on shower floors) and proper lighting. Image courtesy of Kohler

Photo By: Kohler

Save Water

You can save water and still get a powerful flush with today's water-conserving commodes, available in a range of prices from economy to luxe (with bidet functionality — a bonus). Image courtesy of Gerber Plumbing Fixtures LLC

Photo By: Avalanche

Low-maintenance materials. Be careful what material you choose. “I would incorporate quartzite materials that are durable,” recommends Lori Carroll, president, Lori Carroll & Associates, Tucson, Ariz., adding that the price of some granite surfaces are comparable and suitable for family bathrooms. But avoid overspending on flair when function is the main theme in this space.

Durable fixtures. If children use the bathroom, “don’t choose high-end plumbing fixtures that won’t hold up to yanking and pulling,” Carroll points out. “Choose faucets that are easy to turn on and off, and easy to clean and maintain.”

Functional hardware. Even drawer pulls can make a bathroom “work” better for a family. “Choose vanity pulls that are easy to get your fingers in and out of, and be sure that drawers open up easily,” Rady says. You might opt for soft-close drawers.

Tub-shower combo. A space-saving and economical choice is the traditional bathtub-shower unit for families who depend on the full bathroom for their “house tub.” (The master bath might be equipped with just a shower.)

Make it a double. For households with children, be sure everyone gets their own drawer for storing toothbrushes, etc., and ideally separate sinks. Jack-and-Jill bathrooms are still very appealing for this reason.

Ample storage. Full bathrooms are often the “hall bathroom” in a traditional home with upstairs bedrooms, and you need a place to store linens. In layouts where a linen closet is positioned outside of the bathroom in the hallway, Cameron Snyder, president, Roomscapes Luxury Design Center, Boston, Mass., likes to open up the wall so there is access to the storage from the bathroom. “You don’t want to walk out of the bathroom to get a towel,” he says. Hotel shelves built into the shower above the shower head are a storage alternative for smaller spaces.

Other considerations.

  • Tile is easy to clean, so use it generously (on walls, floors).
  • Vanity tops can go economical-functional in the family bathroom with laminates that are patterned to look like solid surface materials; or for a higher price tag, quartzite materials (CesarStone, Cambria and others).
  • You may decide to integrate laundry into family bathroom by incorporating a stacked washer-dryer unit (clothes won’t stay on the floor long that way).

Next Up

Kid-Friendly Bathrooms

Outfit the space with right-sized features that will function as they grow.

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