Small bathrooms, those that are less than 75 square feet, can present design challenges when you consider everything that has to go into them… tubs, toilets, showers, sinks, etc. Plus, you’ll need to include enough storage space for toiletries and towels. And, of course, you’ll need to make it look pretty. Yet all is not amiss if you think beyond the existing space and how it’s currently being used.
Kitchen & Bath Design News asked several designers to share their thoughts on turning small baths into useful, efficient – and beautiful – spaces that can rival their much larger countertparts.
Designer: Richard P. Landon, CMKBD, Richard Landon Design, LLC, Bellevue, WA
Size of space: 56” x 90” with an alcove for the 4’-long tub.
Design theme: This multi-purpose bathroom, which serves as a boys’ bath, a guest bath and a powder room, is part of a bungalow with a traditional feeling. “We needed it to be attractive if the door is left open,” Landon says, noting that adding furniture-like elements – the vanity and the vitrine – creates a connection to the adjoining living and dining room areas. “It’s a great illustration of how you can take a bath and make it much more. This split-personality room offers clean, white space on one side and a more formal powder room on the other.”
Design goal: The room felt cramped and was unappealing as a powder room. “They struggled with limited storage and lots of bathtub toys,” he explains. “Plus, what you saw from the kitchen was a whole lot of the toilet bowl. They also needed a floor that could handle a lot of water splashed on it.”
Design challenges: The previous space included a 5’ tub which affected headroom on an adjoining stairway because the former owners’ bath/stairway-to-the-basement remodel had passed the stairs under the end of the tub.
‘Small space’ design solutions: Landon replaced the tub with a 4’ model to eliminate the headroom issue. “This size of tub offers plenty of room for two young boys to bathe,” he says. “And adults who are showering don’t need that extra space.”
The additional foot of space in the tub alcove gave the designer the ability to add a linen cabinet, which was then built over the basement stairs to maintain headroom. It is painted white and topped with marble which connects with the marble counter on the vanity. “I created a ledge above the stairs where a blank wall existed previously,” he says. “That same shape is echoed on the other side by the sink so the two sides of the room talk to each other through color, pattern and texture.”
Instead of using a traditional vanity, Landon designed a cabinet with three drawers that are all usable and fitted around the sink and drain. To gain more floor space, he extended the deeper wall behind the toilet and recessed the vanity into the wall. This gave more wall space for the mirror. A wall-mount faucet adds to the open feeling.
The mirror visually expands and unites the space. “Its arched top draws the eye upward and away from the toilet,” he says, “and it provides an effective backdrop for the ripple pendant lights.”
Small bath design tips: Develop the seldom-used (effectively) storage under the sink. “Have pullouts shaped to flank a recessed bowl, using extended corbels to support the guides,” he says. “Mount your shutoff valves above one another, aligned with the drain, and add more pullouts behind each door, flanking the drain. Add another pullout behind each door again at the bottom. You can literally have six pullouts in one sink cabinet!”
Photos: Roger Turk, Northlight Photography
Designer: Cassia Wyner, CW Design, Brookline, MA
Size of space: 69 square feet, with an additiona 9 square feet for the laundry
Design theme: The client wanted to keep an overall feeling of the bathroom natural to the old Cambridge townhouse.
Design goal: Wyner reconfigured a small bedroom to convert it into this master bath with a large walk-in shower and laundry. A portion of the former bedroom was also allocated to a separate storage and closet area.
Design challenges: “Everything about this room was a challenge,” she notes, adding that there were no square corners. “It was more of a parallelogram with a clipped corner.”
In addition, this space featured a mansard roofline and was located on the third floor level, with a separate condo on the basement and first-floor levels. There was also no toilet stack on the required side of the building.
‘Small space’ design solutions: Glass shower walls add to the openness. “The shower takes up about 20% of the floor space, but with the glass, it doesn’t feel that way,” she says. “It offers transparency, without losing functionality.”
While Wyner oftentimes includes a floating vanity where space is limited, these clients preferred a full vanity for extra storage. “We painted it the same color as the trim,” she says, noting that the lighter color also makes the space feel larger.
The designer included niches where possible – including one in the shower and another across from the washer/dryer – to organize toiletries, detergent, etc., and she recessed the medicine cabinet for additional storage. “When structure and budget allow, I also like to include an outlet for electric toothbrushes and razors in the medicine cabinet so they don’t take up valuable countertop space.”
Additional elements include the dark tile floor, which mimics walnut and fits the energy of the building. The complementary shower tiles lend contrast without distraction – one is large and smooth, the other small and rocky – while the red barn door infuses color, saves space and, “adds an eclectic, funky detail.”
Small bath design tips: “Whenever I can, I replace a solid shower wall or shower curtain with glass walls,” she says. “This opens the space and makes it feel larger than it is.”
Wyner also ‘steals’ space whenever possible. “Niches are great place to tuck things away so they don’t take up additional real estate,” she says. “In a small space, it’s always a challenge to get everything in, without it feeling cluttered.”
Photos: Isaiah Wyner Photography
Designer: Christine Nelson, AKBD, Christine Nelson Design, Minneapolis, MN
Size of space: 55 square feet
Design theme: “My client came to me with a photo of the glass artwork and asked me to design the bathroom with the artwork as the inspiration for the design of the room,” she says. “She has a very traditional, early 1900s house with lots of antiques, however, she wanted a contemporary styled bathroom!”
Design goal: The homeowner wanted to keep the room as spacious as possible, to have unique colors and glass in the room… and to add an element of whimsey!
Design challenges: The space for the tub was very small, however, the client loved to take baths. “We were not able to locate the tub wall to wall alcove since there was an old electrical box on the left wall where the showerhead needed to be placed that needed to stay and have access to it. So we had to build a false wall to cover the electrical box and it became the shower plumbing wall, plus storage!”
The designer also wanted to leave the centerlines for the toilet and sink in the previous locations.
‘Small space’ design solutions: The vanity features cone-shaped legs to visually keep the space more open. Thin, curvy sink and bath fixtures add whimsy and airiness, as does the open glass shelf. “It was a great way to make the artwork feel as if it was floating, rather than anchored on a heavy shelf,” she says. “We could also see the painted and etched panel on both walls.”
A recessed niche in the tub area enhances storage.
Small bath design tips: Keep the space as “open” as possible and strive to keep most of your elements cohesive in style and colors.
Photos: Mark Ehlen, Ehlen Creative
Designer: Mark Russo, Mark Russo Kitchen & Bath Design, Iowa City, IA
Size of space:
Design theme: The homeowner liked the idea of large tiles, “and she fell in love with this metallic tile,” says Russo, adding that she also wanted the new master bath to be congruous with the connecting master bedroom that had been updated. “This material choice can imply a contemporary aesthetic, yet still sit inside a 1980’s home.”
Design goal: Russo was challenged to create a spa-like area that was more user friendly. “The idea was to give them a major upgrade in a room that was easier to use, and with materials that were easier to maintain,” he says. “She liked the idea of a private spa area where she can close the door and retreat.”
Design challenges: The previous space included two long, narrow rooms. The homeowner still liked the idea of a separate vanity area, but the space was less than 6’ wide. When Russo moved the tub from its former position along the back wall to its new location, he was left with a narrow space that served little purpose so he turned it into a walkway/shower.
Small space’ design solutions: Russo essentially combined the tub and shower, while maintaining their separate identities. “I didn’t want a hard partition separating the shower area from the toilet,” he says. “It formalizes the bathroom, plus there just wasn’t room. So I added a small, vertical receptacle at the edge of the shower for a curtain that can be pulled across to the knee wall to keep the toilet area dry. Everything else in that area, including the tub and window sill for the large picture window, is waterproofed.”
The designer also incorporated a bench into the tub apron that provides seating when desired. The barrier-free shower floor also offers an aging-in-place feature, allowing wheelchair accessibility.
In the sink area, Russo added two narrow windows and a floating vanity, both of which help the room feel larger. To eliminate space needed to swing a door, Russo added pocket doors to separate the vanity area from the tub/shower and from the adjacent closet, and removed the door to the bedroom.
Small bath design tips: Include something out of the ordinary. “I approach bathrooms as a place where people should have visual fun,” he says. “Baths should be surprising, and I want my clients to be just as surprised, and proud, of their spaces years after a remodel.”
Designer: Scott Haig, CKD, Bay Area Kitchens, Houston, TX
Size of space: 48.5 square feet
Design theme: The bathroom is part of a ranch-style home built in the 1940s. It needed to be updated quickly and efficiently, while adding a bit of elegance.
Design goal: The small space serves as the master bath, shared bath with the homeowner’s daughter and guest bath for a family who entertains large groups of family and friends weekly. “I needed to reallocate the space to make it more usable,” he says, “… to squeeze every ounce of useful space out of the existing tight envelope while allowing finishes to express some sophistication and character.”
Design challenges: The project began with a mysterious water leak into the basement. “It developed into a complete demolition, which included removing a ‘surprise’ 3”-thick concrete pad that was poured over the wooden subfloor!”
Haig also had to work within the confines of a tight budget, as well as the existing floor plan.
‘Small space’ design solutions: Haig removed a cumbersome utility closet and replaced it with a tall cabinet, gaining nearly 5” of space in the process. Relocating the toilet as well as the entry door enhanced functionality and offered some privacy. He replaced the tiny vanity sink with a large vanity that provides storage as well as countertop space, both necessary elements for the homeowner who is a beautician. The designer also rotated the tub 90 degrees from a dark corner, relocating it toward the natural light of the existing glass block window.
One judicious splurge was the mosaic glass tile in the tub/shower. “We wanted to make it elegant, while keeping the budget in mind,” he says. “The tile makes a statement and adds refinement to the space, without overwhelming it. It’s important to not overdo, or underwhelm… to use one element to evoke a sense of space so it isn’t just utilitarian.”
Decorative shelves between the tub and vanity offer additional storage. “Corners are difficult, so we included some shelves, trying to use every square inch of the space,” he says.
Small bath design tips: Don’t overwhelm with elements. “Subtly goes a long way toward making a strong statement,” he says. “Details can be more important in a small space because they’re more noticeable, and they’re all within reach. In larger baths, you have room to walk around. In small baths like this one, you’re in the midst of everything immediately when you walk in the door.”