Bathroom Space Planning

Consider how you will use the space and arrange the room layout to suit your lifestyle.
Earth-toned Master Bathroom

Earth-toned Master Bathroom

This spacious master bath combines brown, blue and gray tones to create a stylish and elegant space. A vessel sink, large glass shower and separate toilet area are this bath's unique features.

Photo by: E.PERRY**Y


By: Kristen Hampshire

When planning a bathroom renovation, the first question you should ask is “What is the footprint of the bathroom, and does it work for me based on the way I live in that space?”

Consider what the bathroom offers you now in the form of plumbing fixtures (tub, shower, sink, toilet); surfaces (floor, countertop, backsplash); finishes (cabinets, hardware); lighting (vanity, general) and the overall look and feel. What are the trouble spots? Get those on paper. And don’t forget to refer to your completed Day in the Life of Your Bathroom Questionnaire and Bathroom Goals Worksheet.

Common pitfalls in a bathroom include vanities that are too low. “We bring those up to 36 to 38 inches, depending on the client’s height,” says Lori Carroll, president, Lori Carroll & Associates, Tucson, Ariz. Dated plumbing fixtures, as in the avocado sink and tub, are also reasons for a remodel. Neutral is the name of the game in today’s fixtures.“

Compact and Complex

The bathroom might be the smallest room in the house—and this is certainly the case in a powder room—but it can be the most complicated area to remodel because of its tight quarters. Plus, a lot happens in the bathroom, and the design must accommodate all of your activities.

There’s a whole lot of nitty-gritty. We’re talking about everything from laying tile (you’ll be making lots of cuts to accommodate for nooks, crannies and downright cramped spaces) to door-swing allowances.

Trades work one at a time. Because there isn’t a whole lot of extra elbow room, even in a master bathroom, you generally can’t have more than one person working in the space at a time. That means timing the project perfectly to ensure that it stays on schedule.

Technology changes everything. Toilets that conserve water, warming drawers for towels, whatever you can think of likely exists for this compact space. The question is: How many features will you actually use in the bathroom—and how much can you fit into the existing (or expanded) footprint? This is where your Day in the Life of Your Bathroom Questionnaire and Bathroom Goals Worksheet come in handy.

High-Tech Bathroom Features

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Digital Spa Experience

Digital showers create a personalized shower or bath based on the bather’s preference of temperature and water delivery. The ioDIGITAL Vertical Spa by Moen surrounds you in water from every angle and allows for complete customization. It can be programmed from the wall pad or via remote control.

Chromatherapy Bathtub

Chromatherapy tubs are integrated with colored lights to create a therapeutic experience. Kohler's Purist tub allows you to bathe in eight colors, a full spectrum of light, for an experience that's both relaxing and invigorating.

Photo By: Kohler

TV Medicine Cabinet

Robern's M Series with TViD medicine cabinet features a mirrored door with an 8-inch wide-screen LCD TV, allowing users to watch news, sports, weather or other television programming while grooming. The electrical shelf inside includes an MP3 hookup so users can play music directly through the TViD cabinet, plus a duplex outlet to charge electronic personal care items.

Photo By: Kohler

High-Tech Toilet

Priced at more than $6,000, Kohler's highly advanced Numi toilet features a self-opening and closing lid, a deodorizing system, a heated seat, a bidet with adjustable controls for temperature and water pressure and a built-in speaker system with a docking station. A touch-screen remote allows users to customize every option to their personal preference.

Digital Bidet

This Premium Digital Bidet Seat by Coway comes with a remote control for hands-free operation. Two self-sterilizing, stainless steel nozzles spray gentle aerated streams of water, which can be adjusted for temperature, pressure and spray width. The bidet is also equipped with an air dryer and a deodorizer.

Long-Lasting Touchless Faucet

The Kohler Hybrid Energy System is the world's first commercial touchless faucet that has been tested to last a minimum of 30 years. The faucet's innovative sensor technology uses only a fraction of the power that standard infrared sensors use.

Photo By: Kolher

Illuminated Shower

Novellini's Sparkle shower screen is embedded with 20 LED lights, turning a shower into a dazzling focal point.

Photo By: Sparkle

Or, you could be remodeling because your bathroom didn’t grow with you. You’re older now, and you need certain comforts to improve functionality, such as grab bars that are disguised as towel bars and a larger door entryway that’s easier for you to maneuver in and out.

Dealing with ‘The Guts’

The most daunting aspect of bathroom remodeling is what surprises linger behind existing walls. When the old bathtub-shower is removed, is that wall coated with mildew? (The answer in older homes without proper ventilation is likely a “yes.”) And what about electrical? Where are outlets located, and if you will move them what implications does this create?

A bathroom’s plumbing and wiring are the main arteries behind the scenes that power the fixtures and features in this space. This is also one area where DIY doesn’t pay off unless you’re a plumber or electrician. You need to hire a professional.

“Leaky plumbing can cause mold and destruction of the ceiling,” says Brian Johnson, principal, Collaborative Design Architects, Billings, Mt. “Water can be a bad deal. It can hurt your structure—your foundation.”

Depending on the scope of the project, the placement of toilet, sink and tub can depend on where existing plumbing is placed.

Your plumber will prepare the underbelly of the bathroom, which includes these key components:

  • Copper supply lines
  • Drain and vent lines
  • A wet wall to enclose pipes

When considering electrical wiring, review how you use the space and whether outlets are currently located in a convenient spot. Will you be moving these outlets? Adding more of them? And how about in-cabinet electrical outlets that will allow you to keep appliances plugged while tucked away?

Outlet placement: You don’t want to drag cords over the sink (hairdryer, etc.), and outlets should be placed in safe distance of fixtures like the tub and shower.

Circuits: Some codes require separate circuits for the bathroom. Be sure to check your local utility requirements in advance.

Vent fan: This is generally required by codes, some of which require a light and fan to turn on together (other codes do not require this—check yours).

Water-tight fixtures: Just plan on everything in the bathroom getting wet at some point. That said, be sure the fixtures you choose are watertight. A professional at a lighting show room can help you make fixture choices as can a certified bathroom designer.

Universal Design Features in the Bathroom

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Ample Space for Wheelchair

To create enough room for a wheelchair to make a 180-degree turn, there must be at least 5 feet of open space in a bathroom. This bathroom flows right into the sleeping area, providing plenty of space to move about. Design by Belmont Freeman

Curbless Roman Shower

The Roman shower is the best option for people of all ages, especially those who use walkers or wheelchairs. The shower has no rim to step over, allowing easy access for all users.

Showers With Grab Bars

Whether a bather is 6 or 60, anyone could use the security of a grab bar in the shower. Sleek grab bars can double as towel holders, and there are modern options that will complement the overall look of your bathroom rather than detracting from it. Image courtesy of Kohler

Photo By: Kohler

Slip-Resistant Floors

By increasing grout lines on the floor of your shower, you can create a more slip-resistant space while maintaining a cohesive look. This bathroom has thicker grout lines in the shower and throughout the room, and the rug outside the shower makes for a safer space as well. Design by Trish Beaudet

From: Trish Beaudet

Hand-Held Shower

A hand-held shower is a necessity for those with physical limitations. But the fixture needs to be placed low enough to reach your feet when you sit on the shower bench. This hand-held shower is mounted lower, giving it full range. Image courtesy of Toto

Shower Seat

A bench in the shower is the perfect addition for all ages. Besides using it for seating, you can use it for storage or to prop your leg up while shaving. This bench has a contemporary look and doesn’t take up too much space in the shower. Photo by Becket Logan. Design by Celia Berliner

Photo By: Designer, Celia Berliner

Try Grab Bars for Safety

Try to create a shower space that is as flat as possible. When soap dishes and shower shelves protrude, people are tempted to grab on for support if they slip. This shower has only a faucet control within arm’s reach. With a grab bar, it would be perfect for an aging owner. Design by Lori Dennis

Tall Toilets

Choose a toilet that is 16 to 18 inches high, rather than the standard 14- or 15-inch high seats. This is more comparable to a chair and is ideal for most everyone in a household. Image courtesy of Gerber

Photo By: Freelance

Wall-Mounted Sinks

Wheelchairs and walkers can easily slide under sinks that are mounted to the wall because there are no cabinets or pedestals in the way. This wall-mounted sink is a great option because of the counter space that is also included. Image courtesy of Kohler

Photo By: Kohler

Grand Entrances And Cozy Transitions

If the bathroom is your sanctuary, wouldn’t it be nice to make a smooth transition from the noise of other spaces into this retreat? This is possible by including a sort of entrance to your bathroom. In a master bath plan, this entrance could actually be the dressing room/closet.

“I’m seeing more direct closet access in the master bedroom,” Johnson says of design trends. The bathroom can be the transition space to the dressing room, or vice-versa.

Johnson describes a bathroom he designed for a doctor who often woke up in the middle of the night or very early. The master bedroom connected to the bathroom, which flowed into a dressing room with a separate exit to the hallway. Johnson compares this layout to a car wash: “Dirty car goes in one end and comes out the other end clean.”

When creating the dressing room/master bath combo, insulation value in the walls is critical, Johnson says. “And you want nice, solid core type doors,” he says. “If the walls aren’t constructed with the right amount of insulation, I ask contractors to tear out the sheet rock and spray in insulation so there is a nice separation of sound between the master bedroom and bathroom.”

On the other hand, a dressing room might serve as the quiet zone between the bathroom and bedroom to block sounds of running water and general scrambling to get ready.

In general, a wise use of the space that leads into a bathroom—whether the entrance is grand or just large enough to outfit recessed drawers and cabinets—is for always-coveted storage. Let’s face it: you can’t build in enough room to store linens, supplies, you name it. “If you have a place to tuck away a cabinet with beautiful things to display on top, that makes it a great transition space,” says Cassia Wyner, designer/owner, CW Design, Brookline, Mass.

Another transition space solution: a dry vanity for doting over makeup application or getting dressed.

If you have the space, consider adding an interesting, upholstered chair to the transition area, or build in a niche where you can display a lit piece of artwork. Speaking of which, lighting in this entry is critical. “You want a mellower light—a mood lighting,” Wyner says.

Poor lighting is a common problem. Sometimes, there’s a window in an awkward place, or the ventilation is such that the ceiling is peeling away because of the dewy layer that coats the bathroom for hours after you shower.

“Most of the time, the reason for a bathroom renovation is just age,” says Cameron Snyder, president, Roomscapes Luxury Design Center, Boston, Mass., and past-president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). “The tile is cracking and fixtures are rusting. The bathroom just doesn’t ‘work’ anymore and the client needs an upgrade.”

When remodeling a bathroom, that’s the perfect time to think beyond those four walls and consider surrounding areas. Can you borrow square footage from a next-door bedroom that belonged to a child who has since moved out of the home? Can you mesh the master bedroom and closet to create a dressing room/spa environment? Is there a way to increase natural light, and what rooms will be affected negatively by structural changes? “Many master baths are on the second floor, so when residents are moving plumbing, and especially ‘water closets,’ it becomes challenging because you are dealing with a finished room below,” Snyder says.

Bathroom Layout Tips

Consider these tips when planning your bathroom space:

  • Pack features in the compact space
  • Plan your layout around plumbing and wiring
  • Create an entrance or transition area
  • Look for opportunities for storage
  • Consider a separate toilet room

But don’t feel inhibited when considering the current space layout. Here are four key factors to consider as you plan the space:

Alcoves and Niches

“Steal space wherever you can,” Wyner advises, noting that recessed cabinet, shelving and “nooks” are smart solutions for gaining storage without encroaching on the footprint of your bathroom. Medicine cabinets are a classic example of grabbing hidden space for convenient storage at the vanity.

But there are blank spots in a bathroom that can provide storage opportunities. Consider the possible extra room at the end of a tub (imagine a 6-foot tub along a 7-foot wall). “You have this blank corner that you don’t know what to do with,” Wyner says. “What you can do is build a wall there and make a nice, neat niche at the end of your tub with shelves.” Wyner has seen where this wall is built all the way up and houses a complete linen cabinet.

Inside the shower, niches can hold soaps and other toiletries. Just be sure the exterior wall has ample insulation, Wyner says.

Hiding the Toilet

The toilet is one feature you don’t want glaring at you when you walk in the bathroom door. The commode is a necessity and you can spend thousands on a fancy model, but the best strategy is to hide or enclose it. The reason for separating the toilet from the rest of the bathroom is both functional and aesthetic. More than one person can comfortably use the space if the toilet is private.

Not all bathrooms have the space to create a literal water closet with a true wall and separate door. This arrangement is not good for some open, airy spaces that would benefit instead from a stylish partition rather than drywall. Some alternative partitions are a Japanese-style screen or frosted glass.

“We have done spaces where we include a built-in shoji screen that allows light into the [water closet] so the room still feels light and ethereal but the person who is sitting in there has a bit of privacy,” says Cameron Snyder, president, Roomscapes Luxury Design Center, Boston, Mass., and past-president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA).

The toilet room should include a light and fan for ventilation. You also may want to include a magazine rack on the wall, or a dedicated vanity within the space. “If you’re going to put that toilet in its own little room, it’s a good idea to have some type of cabinet over the sink to hold necessities,” says Lori Carroll, president, Lori Carroll & Associates, Tucson, Ariz.

For bathroom layouts where a dedicated toilet room is not possible, there are still ways to conceal the toilet by placing it out of sight, namely behind the entry door. “The focal point should be what you see opposite the door in a bathroom,” says Ellen Rady, designer/president, Ellen Rady Designs, Cleveland, Ohio. A shower or sink are common focal points, she says.

When creating a separate toilet room, here are some points to consider:

  • Ensure proper lighting in the space, including ambient (such as can lights) and task lighting above a vanity, which can double as a decorative light if an attractive pendant is installed.
  • Ventilate the space with a fan so you don’t close in stale air.
  • Keep it simple and avoid busy design, sticking to neutrals that will make the space feel clean, crisp and larger than a closet.
  • Consider wall alternatives that allow light into the water closet but still offer privacy, such as decorative screens or specialty glass.

Creative Bathroom Storage Ideas

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Use Curtains to Conceal Storage

This bathroom's storage area features a pink and green color scheme that coordinates with the entire space. The delicate curtains create a whimsical feel while hiding the built-in storage area. Image courtesy of ClosetMaid

Add Extra Cabinets for Storage

If you are willing to sacrifice some counter space, you can increase your storage space by adding a cabinet on your countertop. In this bathroom, the butter-colored, furniture-style cabinet provides extra shelving space without making the room look cluttered. Design by Gail Drury in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

From: Drury Design

Hide Your Laundry Hamper

A small makeup area is nestled below a window, which is bordered by two functional cabinets below a lowered ceiling. One cabinet is loaded top to bottom with 10 customized jewelry pullouts. The other contains a laundry hamper and is used to store linens. Co-designed by Marilyn Akins and Gail Drury

From: Drury Design

Save Space With Medicine Cabinets

A dark-stained vanity is the only piece of furniture in this minimalist master bathroom. The sparse furnishings make the narrow space seem more open, while the medicine-cabinet mirrors provide much-needed storage space. Design by Lori Gilder

Create His and Hers Storage Spaces

His and her vignettes border the whirlpool tub in this bathroom, providing ample storage for each individual. Design by Gail Drury in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

From: Drury Design

Take Advantage of Dead Space

In this Spanish-style bathroom, a tall shelving unit built into the wall effectively uses the extra space in the corner. Photo by Michael McCreary Photography. Design by Kennith Brown

Use Furniture-Like Storage

The focal point in this room is the custom vanity made from darkly stained wood. It was built to look like a piece of furniture, adding both beauty and storage space to this bathroom. Design by Velvet Hammerschmidt

Upcycle It

An ordinary wine crate was transformed into decorative bathroom storage by applying a coat of stain by Minwax called Weathered Oak. The nice gray tone gave the wood an aged look that blends well with this contemporary bathroom.

Love This? Make Your Own

Create a Jewelry Organizer

A fabric mannequin torso adds a unique focal point to this bathroom countertop. The funky piece stores an assortment of jewelry, adding a touch of glam to the space.

Add Built-In Shelving

Built-in shelves and cabinets not only add ample storage to this bathroom but also give the space character. The shelves add a rustic feel without overwhelming the small space. Design by Anissa Swanzy

From: Anissa Swanzy

Create Attractive Displays

This bathroom has his-and-her vanities with plenty of individual storage, plus built-in furniture to showcase towels, perfume bottles and other toiletries. Design by Gladys Schanstra in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Add Floor-Level Cabinets

This bathroom makes great use of limited space with floor-level cabinetry beneath slate benches. These cabinets are perfect for storing linens or other bathroom necessities. Design by Beth Haley Design in Nashville, Tenn.

Hang It Up

Cabinets in a small bathroom can take up a whole lot of space—create storage by using hanging baskets and rails on the wall, then make use of accessory containers to organize all the small stuff.

Photo By: IKEA U.S.

Customize It

For the bathroom of a longtime customer-turned-friend, designer Katie Gagnon created a unique storage unit for the space between a pair of pedestal sinks. The storage cabinet was custom made while the door is a vintage salvaged piece. 

Photo By: Katie Gagnon, Blue Moon Trading Co.; Stacy Larsen Photography

Floating Shelves With a Twist

When designing a bathroom for a busy family of five, Wanda Ely used a wide trough-style sink that lets all three children brush their teeth at once and she added clever storage solutions. The floating, rustic maple shelves had holes routed out of them to fit various glass and metal inserts that help hold and organize their belongings.

Photo By: Wanda Ely Architect, Inc.; Scott Norsworthy

Install a Cabinet Organizer

Adding a pull-out unit to a cabinet not only makes things easier to find, but creates more room to store essentials that would otherwise take up space on the counter.

Photo By: Elizabeth Swartz Interiors; Crown Point Cabinetry

Upgrade Your Vanity

In this guest bathroom, Alisa Hoffman designed the cabinetry with open storage for extra towels, baskets for toilet tissue and a space to sit down. 

Photo By: Alisa Hofmann, Design Set Match

Get a Hutch

Adding a hutch to the bathroom provides not only storage space but beauty. Paint the hutch in colors that coordinate with your bath.

Take Advantage of Unusual Layouts

In a home short on storage, builder Todd Best worked hard to provide his client with plenty of cabinet space. This custom sliding storage unit was built into an area of the master bathroom that is normally wasted space. 

Photo By: Todd Best, Best Builders Ltd.; Ema Peter at Ema Peter Photography

Turn to Baskets

To make the most of a nook in this bathroom, a built-in shelving unit provides open storage for towels and accessories. The lower shelves have baskets for hidden organization.

Round Up Those Towels

This neutral-toned contemporary bathroom is trendy yet practical, featuring unique storage spaces with plenty of room for towels and miscellaneous toiletries. These accessories add texture and color to the otherwise monochromatic hue of the room.  

Add Double-Duty Storage

A warm master bath features elegant touches such as windows flanking the mirror and illuminated storage shelves. A crisp white color palette makes the room feel clean and allows for pops of color from fresh flowers.

From: Lisa Vail

Take It Into the Halls

Running out of space in the bathroom? Make clever use of stylish storage units, like these baskets holding towels, and you can hide your necessities in plain sight!

Try This Budget-Friendly Trick

Repurposed white crates are creatively placed on the bathroom wall. The crates add functional storage for bathroom necessities and beautifully accent the room's light blue wall color.

Add a Ladder

This bright orange ladder adds a pop of color and dimension in this contemporary white bathroom, and was built for storing toiletry items and towels in an unused corner of the room.

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Next Up

Choosing a Bathroom Layout

Learn what factors to consider when planning your remodel.

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