Small Bathrooms, Big Design

Get tips for designing a master bath as luxurious and enticing as those found in the finest spa retreats.
Adeeni Design Group Urban Bathroom

Adeeni Design Group Urban Bathroom

Design by Adeeni Design Group; photography by Crystal Waye

Design by Adeeni Design Group; photography by Crystal Waye

By: Barbara Ballinger

Even when space is limited it needs to serve numerous functions. Besides the obvious utilitarian functions, homeowners want a soothing escape from hectic daily life, as well as a good environmental partner that conserves water and energy.

Small Baths With Big Style

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Be Consistent With Patterns

Don’t be afraid to add dimension to small spaces by using a graphic wall covering. This black-and-white pattern adds depth to a small powder room designed by Jennifer Jones. The simple sink adds visual space to the room, without distracting from the statement of the wallpaper. Photo by Hale Photography

Create Storage As a Focal Point

Filling a blank wall with open shelving maximizes storage and function while keeping the space feeling light. Make your space even more functional by adding baskets or other found objects you may have throughout your home.

Take Tile All the Way

Floor-to-ceiling tile can help a space feel larger by adding continuity, like in this design by Joseph Pubillones. The floating vanity gives a light feeling and frees up floor space visually, while keeping the colors neutral further expands the space. Photo by Daniel Newcomb

Be Bold Yet Simple With Color

Bold colors and textures can actually make a small space feel larger. Using one bold color, balanced with neutrals — like in this design by Gary Lee Partners — is one way to do it. Keeping the bold color glossy makes it feel brighter, visually stretching the space. Photo by Nathan Kirkman

Photo By: Nathan Kirkman

Textures Add Interest

The textured tile used in this small bathroom by Amelie de Gaulle adds depth and impact to the space, while the reflective quality of it tricks your eye, making the space feel larger. Taking the tile floor to ceiling again unifies the room, creating even more visual space.

Use Vertical Space

Add function and style by utilizing wasted vertical space. Adding shelves above the toilet maximizes the space in this small-bathroom design by Erica Islas.

Mix Textures Within a Color Scheme

Mix and match tile choices to add visual interest to small spaces, but keep elements monochromatic like in this bathroom design by Erica Islas. Keeping the color consistent makes the space feel unified.

Add Reflective Surfaces

Use reflective materials such as mirrors and stainless steel to visually expand small bathrooms, like in this design by Belmont Freeman. Using frameless glass for the shower divider helps merge the areas and make it feel roomy.

Build Storage

Building shelving into the wall can add a charming detail, while adding ultimate functionality like in this design by Gail Drury. Using a reflective, textured wall treatment adds sparkle; moving light around the space tricks your eye into thinking it is larger.

From: Drury Design

Free Up Floor Space

Using a wall-mounted vanity and sink frees up floor space, making a small bathroom feel spacious while remaining functional. In this design by Marie Burgos, the frameless glass shower door again helps to make the space feel more continuous.

Mirror a Wall

The metallic accents in this small bathroom by Pepe Calderin Design add a bit of style to the all-white color palette. The white walls make the room feel expansive, while the mirrored wall behind the toilet visually doubles the space. Photo by Barry Grossman

Photo By: Pep Escoda

Spa Inspired Small Bathroom

Spa Inspired Small Bathroom

Small bathrooms can have big style, too. Get inspired by the design and decorations at top hotels and spas.

Small bathrooms can have big style, too. Get inspired by the design and decorations at top hotels and spas.

Cabinetry is Essential

Cabinetry is Essential

Cabinetry that can store more personal items is essential for a small bathroom and can double as decoration.

Cabinetry that can store more personal items is essential for a small bathroom and can double as decoration.

The average bathroom is 5' by 8', and a well-planned space can do it all. Manufacturers today are working to make fixtures that save more water and medicine cabinets that store more personal items. Design stars know how to fulfill the retreat fantasy, inspired by top hotels and spas that incorporate swank marble and porcelain, soft palettes, fluffy warm towels, flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations and coffeemakers. Bottom line: Nobody wants to leave. Now at home, you won't want to, either.

Here are ways to make a small-space bathroom look and function better for your lifestyle.

Think Bigger

Even if rooms are smaller, some of the elements needn't be. Many designers think bolder, bigger scale makes a small space look more important and large — a floor tile with a format of 12" by 24" tricks the eye into reading the space as being larger than it is than small mosaic tiles would. A major reason is that smaller tiles have more grout lines, and grids make a space seem smaller, says Travis Rotelli, senior interior designer at The Kohler Design Center. Bonus: There's less grout to clean.

Extreme Small Space Videos

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Attic Bathroom

Attic Bathroom

To conserve floor space in this attic bath, Julia Kleyman chose a pedestal sink and built storage into the wall. Photography by Linda Alvino of Ulrich, Inc.

To conserve floor space in this attic bath, Julia Kleyman chose a pedestal sink and built storage into the wall. Photography by Linda Alvino of Ulrich, Inc.

Make Every Inch Count

It's all about making smart use of the space with the right-sized fixtures, such as slimmer vanities, compact elongated toilets and even smaller tubs, though Carolyn Thomas, senior bath designer at Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, suggests not going with a tub that's smaller than 60" for comfort.

As long as clients have a bathtub elsewhere in the home and don't use a tub frequently in the master bath, Rotelli advises taking it out to make room for a bigger shower. And make that shower luxurious; most of those Thomas includes feature steam with body sprays.

Many toilets are 1" to 2 ½" shorter from front to back to save space. More vanities may include only one sink since many people don't use a bathroom at the same time or can share. If so, that frees up counter space for other uses.

Focus on Storage

A great way to get more functional storage space is to mount cabinetry on walls rather than install a big wall mirror. "It's similar to what you do in a kitchen," says Thomas. "You may not make them as deep as base cabinets, and shallow storage is better for seeing smaller items."

Niches are also a key way to arrange essentials. Do so by using space between wall studs, which doesn't eat up precious floor space, says Rotelli. He likes to place one or two in a shower to store shampoo and soap. A towel rack is another good idea that keeps them neat and warm — perhaps above a toilet, which is often wasted space.

Illuminated Space

Illuminated Space

Good lighting is essential to a small bathroom. For optimum lighting, install a light at each side of the mirror and a light source overhead to eliminate shadows.

Good lighting is essential to a small bathroom. For optimum lighting, install a light at each side of the mirror and a light source overhead to eliminate shadows.

Small Gray Modern Bathroom with Brown Tile Wall

Small Gray Modern Bathroom with Brown Tile Wall

A brown tiled wall pops in this small, gray bathroom featuring a modern light fixture and sink. A built-in towel rack underneath the sink is an unexpected touch.

A brown tiled wall pops in this small, gray bathroom featuring a modern light fixture and sink. A built-in towel rack underneath the sink is an unexpected touch.

Play Up Illumination

Good light remains essential when more time is spent in the bathroom. For optimum lighting in front of the mirror for tasks like shaving or applying makeup, install a light at each side of the mirror and a light source overhead to eliminate shadows, says Rotelli.

You also want a light in a shower and over a tub, and one in a magnifying mirror if you install one by the vanity, says Thomas. She urges homeowners to use LED lights, which are much more expensive than incandescents, but they last almost forever.

Stay Connected

A lot of innovative products have hit the market that seamlessly integrate technology without taking up space or requiring expensive installation. You can program your steam shower to go on at 6 a.m. from your cellphone and also stream music from your smartphone, tablet or MP3 player into your shower through innovative showerheads.

Kohler recently debuted its "StereoStik," which attaches to the side of one of its medicine cabinets and lets you play AM/FM radio or plug in your MP3 player. You can bring your TV into a corner of your medicine cabinet and defog your mirror with a flick of a switch.

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