Have you ever been approached by a guest during a party in a friend’s home and they say,“Check out the guest bathroom, you will not believe it”? Then, upon entering the room you understand why your friend was so impressed. It’s clear this homeowner knows the guest bath is the one room in the home where they can make the biggest impression with the least amount of money.

Several years ago a friend of mine told me of a client that wanted to create an elegant foyer to impress her guests. The foyer would consist of marble floors, walls and staircase. The plans changed when the client was presented with the estimated cost of marble for the large foyer. My friend — a kitchen and bath designer — suggested the client place the marble in the guest bath instead. Upon completion, the client was pleased with her friend’s suggestions.

Planning a guest bath involves more than making a visual impact. The function of a guest bath is different from any other bath in a typical home. The average user will be in the space for a limited amount of time unless he/she is an overnight guest. Regardless of the time spent in the space, the bath needs to meet basic codes. The National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 27 Bath Planning Guidelines are helpful when planning bath space since they mix their recommendations with the requirements from the International Residential Code.

When placing a toilet in a confined area, plan enough space for any guest regardless of their size. The IRC requires the center of the toilet to be no less than 15 in. from any vertical surface such as a wall or vanity cabinet. If you have found bathroom stalls in public places somewhat cramped, you may want to consider NKBA’s recommendation of 18 in. or more. Even the NKBA recommendation may not be enough if you have guests with special needs such as a walker, cane or wheelchair. And don’t forget the location of the toilet paper holder. It should be slightly in front of the bowl and centered approximately 26-in. above the floor. Be sure additional paper storage is located nearby and easy to find by someone unfamiliar with the bathroom.

Grooming area

The grooming area for a guest bath often can be improperly designed unless early in the process you determine the use of the space. The requirements for a hall bath to be used primarily by guests for short visits will not need the same counter and storage space as a bath for overnight guests. For a hall half bath requiring short visits, the focus can be more on elegant pedestal or vessel lavs and accent lighting. Bathing would not be required so large amounts of towel storage would not be an issue. Use the wall space instead for artwork. Since most half baths are designed for use by a single person, maximize the small space by eliminating useless toilet compartments. Consider placing the exhaust fan low on a wall near the toilet. This will more quickly eliminate odors generated in the toilet area. Specify a fan that has a low sone rating of 2 or less. Connect the fan to a timer switch to save energy and avoid removing conditioned air from the home while off.

If the space is to be used for overnight guests, consider plenty of counter space. There needs to be room on the counter for temporary storage of his and her toiletries. If a makeup area is available in the guest bedroom, the bath counter would primarily serve his storage needs. Optional hidden storage near the lavatories is acceptable if the overnight guests know it is available. Two lavatories are not necessary for the guest bath unless there is plenty of space.

I have seen guest baths with two lavs placed in a 60-in. long counter. This would meet the current IRC code but would leave no room for temporary shaving storage for overnight male guests. The IRC requires a minimum of 15 in. from the center of a lav to a vertical surface such as a wall or tall cabinet. If two lavs are used, there must be a minimum of 30 in. from the center of one bowl to the center of the other. NKBA Bath Planning Guidelines suggest
20 in. from the center of a lav to the wall and at least 36-in. between the centers of two lavs.

A few more ideas

An important item frequently overlooked is a supplemental heat source. While homeowners may like taking a shower with the air conditioner set at 68 F, that might be too cold for the overnight guest. This is especially true when guests are older such as grandparents. Heat lamps, or ceiling-mounted or wall heaters are typical in many homes for bathroom heating. However, newer products such as towel warmers that serve as heaters or heated floors can do the trick.

Lighting is important for any bath space but especially the guest bath. Different light levels will be required to accommodate the variety of people using a guest bath. As we age we will need more lighting. Consider both general and task lighting for the guest bath space. Avoid placing light fixtures in locations that allow the light to reflect back into the user’s eyes while standing in front of a mirror. As you are aware, switches cannot be placed near a bathtub or shower. This often requires the light switch to be in some unusual places. Consider a fan with a night light or a lighted switch.

Use nonslip flooring especially in the shower compartment. And finally, make sure the entrance to the guest bath space has a clear opening of at least 32 in. Today’s designers and builders should be planning 36-in. doors for all bathrooms. You never know if your next guest will be using a walker or possibly a wheelchair.

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