Small Bathrooms

The Pitfalls of Designing a Bathroom in a Small Space

In any residential project the bathroom is one of the most important spaces yet it's also one of the most difficult to design well. How do you plan a small bathroom space well? What pitfalls should you avoid? There really is so much to consider from lighting to flooring, from wash basin to shower choices, heating and privacy concerns and colors and safety issues.

Bathroom Problems

The fundamental problem with most bathroom spaces is that there isn't much space. More so than in any other rooms, deciding what goes where is difficult especially when you have to take the plumbing into account.

For most bathrooms appearance is important and most visitors would prefer to see a wash basin or shower when they walk through the door rather than a toilet or bidet. Many think that light isn't important in bathrooms as windows will be fogged or covered with blinds but this isn't true. Light is important for anyone shaving, doing makeup or brushing their teeth and good lighting can enhance any room. Intelligently used lighting will also make a small space look bigger. Recessed lighting and under-cabinet lights will make the room look less sterile. While lighting is usually bright in bathrooms, there should also be dimmer lighting, for use at night, for example.

If space is critical, opt for shower doors which close inwards and go for a smaller wash basin or bath. Sliding doors will save so much space compared with doors which open outwards. Similarly, slimline cabinets and mirrors can create a positive effect and a smaller than usual wash basin probably won't stand out too much.

The location of the toilet pipes will probably determine where the toilet will be placed and moving it further from the pipes risks blockages. Pipework for wash basins, bidets, baths and showers is somewhat more flexible. 

It is important to remember that bathrooms can add value to a home - not as much as a kitchen or outdoor space, but a well designed bathroom can only increase the value of a property.

Small Bathrooms - a floor plan is necessary when planning a new bathroom
Monolithic ET105 and ET101 tiles from Kasor

other things to consider

A lot of attention is paid to the main pieces: the toilet, shower and wash basin but don't neglect other bathroom items. Where will you place hand rails? It is important for there to be rails within easy reach of a shower and wash basin. You will also need somewhere to hide other necessities like a toilet brush and plunger.

Storage space is important even in a bathroom. Towels, toiletries and other items will need somewhere to go but it should be within easy reach of the wash basin and shower. Mirrored cabinets can be one way to combine storage and mirrors. As for mirrors, an oversized (but slim) mirror can be one way to exaggerate the limited amount of space.

Most people would prefer a separate shower and bath if it's possible but if space is limited then consider installing a shower over the bath. If you are fortunate to be able to include a bath then a cast iron bath, while more expensive, looks great and offers heat retention properties. Standard baths which snugly fit beside the wall are recommended for smaller spaces.

Try not to cram too much into one space. Having as large a floor uncluttered as possible can ensure the room feels bigger and more comfortable at the same time.

Small hints of luxury can be achieved by selecting taps in black, brass or bronze colors, by positioning bath taps in the centre of the bathtub rather than at the end or by adding a jet function to the bath or a rain shower.

tiling considerations

Bathrooms are heavily trafficked areas and the combination of water and heat means that porcelain tiles are frequently used, with slip resistant tiles for flooring when possible. Tiles also have the added advantage of being durable and low maintenance when compared with wood or other materials. Matte finishes are best for anti-slip properties.

For a small space, consider less patterned tiles because these will make the bathroom seem larger. Simple, less decorative patterns will suffice.

White textures, off-whites and shades of brown are most popular in bathrooms because bathrooms are usually seen as a relaxing and clean environment and these colors will also increase the sense of space. In a small space you can, if you choose, use different tile patterns and colors in different parts of the room - doing so can add extra depth to the bathroom.

When selecting tiles for a bathroom ensure that tile pieces are suitable for use in a wet environment, think about whether you want wall to wall tiling or just select areas of the room and be sure that you can live with the color and pattern because it will need to stay in place for many years.

Monolithic KS60051R1 tile piece from Kasor

tiles from kasor

mistakes to avoid

No matter how tempting it is - don't use carpets in a bathroom. Also, small rugs are also best avoided as they will quickly become dirty in the humid environment. If a cold floor is really that big a problem then underfloor heating may be a good solution.

Ventilation needs to be an early consideration. How will the bathroom be ventilated after showers? If the window doesn't open fully then where will you install extractor fans? At the same time, you also don't want an extractor fan which is too loud and ideally you want to be able to turn it on and off independently of the bathroom lights.

Avoid expensive and decorative features in family bathrooms as they may become damaged easily. Family bathrooms should be more practical. Private, ensuite bathrooms are where fancy bathtubs and high tech showers can be used. At the same time, ensure that family bathrooms are safe with proper flooring and anti-scald settings on bath and shower taps.

Measure everything. Create a floor plan and ensure that all the elements of the bathroom will fit together. Do this before you start.

Small Bathrooms - how to make the most of a small space