Small Bathrooms, Big Design

Get tips for designing a master bath as luxurious and enticing as those found in the finest spa retreats.

Small Bathroom in a Office Area.

Adeeni Design Group Urban Bathroom

Design by Adeeni Design Group; photography by Crystal Waye

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

Create Storage As a Focal Point

Take Tile All the Way

Be Bold Yet Simple With Color

Textures Add Interest

Use Vertical Space

Mix Textures Within a Color Scheme

Add Reflective Surfaces

Build Storage

Free Up Floor Space

Mirror a Wall

Neutral Colored Bathroom with a Red Sink and Towels.

Spa Inspired Small Bathroom

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

Brown Wooden Cabinetry with Red Towels.

Cabinetry is Essential

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.

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Small Neutral bathroom with Brick Backsplash.

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.

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.

Neutral Bathroom with a Large Window and Lighting Over a Mirror.

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.

Modern Bathroom with Brown Tiled 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.

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.

Next Up

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