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Small Bathroom Designs

It’s lovely to look at the pretty pictures in the glossy magazines, and we can often get some great renovation ideas from them, but for most existing bathrooms in the real world that need remodeling, they are not very useful.

If your bathroom is a standard 5′ x 7′ shoebox surrounded by stairs, kitchens, and other non-grabbable areas so you can’t make it any bigger, your problems are of a different kind than those of the person designing the 10′ x 16′ master bath.

Small bathroom designs come with a limited number of possible layouts, depending on the size of the room, location of doors and windows, location of exterior walls and existing plumbing, and what you want to squeeze into the room.

Let’s look at a few small bathroom floor plans and discuss pros and cons of each.

small bathroom designs example 1

Small Bathroom Designs example 1

In this 5′ 6′ x 7′ 6″ room, the bathtub/shower combo occupies one complete end of the room, and the toilet and vanity occupy the rest of the long wall.


  • no plumbing in exterior wall (good in cold climates)
  • all plumbing in the same wall – makes vents and drains easy, supply lines short.
  • tub in its own niche – easy to waterproof all 3 walls and install shower curtain rail
  • space for a towel hook between the tub and the door


  • toilet in full view through door
  • shower and bath faucets are harder to reach past the vanity/sink
  • door may bang against tub
  • window right by toilet (OK if it’s high, otherwise may need curtain or obscured glass)
  • required floorspace for all 3 fixtures overlaps, hard to have multiple people using the space unless they are VERY close friends
  • Little storage space: mainly wall cabinets over the toilet and sink, sink vanity cabinet. Could add a high shelf over the window.
small bathroom designs example 2

Small bathroom designs: example 2

This room is square rather than rectangular, and a tub would make the whole room very cramped. This design uses a corner shower instead of a tub.


  • toilet protected by door, instead the vanity is the view through the door
  • no plumbing in exterior wall
  • corner shower is attractive and easy to install


  • door may bang against toilet, or even a person using the toilet
  • required floorspace for all 3 fixtures overlaps, hard to have multiple people using the space
  • Little storage space: mainly wall cabinets over the toilet and sink, sink vanity cabinet. Could add a high shelf over the window.
  • nowhere convenient to hang a towel ready for when you’re done in the shower
small bathroom designs example 3

Small bathroom designs: example 3

This alternative layout for a 7.5 x 5.5 foot room shows the toilet and sink on the wall at the far end of the room from the tub. This assumes a door which is no wider than normal, and a pedestal sink that doesn’t stick out too far.


  • required floorspace for all 3 fixtures overlaps, but the area feels a little more spacious than in the other layouts.
  • tub in its own niche – easy to waterproof all 3 walls and install shower curtain rail


  • toilet in partial view through door
  • door may bang against tub
  • Little storage space: mainly wall cabinets over the toilet and sink. Pedestal sink doesn’t provide storage underneath. High shelf is possible on the sink/toilet wall, or the long wall from toilet to bathtub.

Some of the factors to take into account when you’re designing your small bathroom are:

  • Existing plumbing locations, if any: while it’s cheaper to keep locations as they are (and perhaps means you don’t need to get a plumbing permit), if the bathroom is small anyway the cost of moving the tub or sink may not be very much. Moving the toilet is a much more expensive and complex proposition.
  • External wall location: in a cold climate it’s better to keep water supply lines, at least, away from cold exterior walls.
  • Door location: in a rectangular room a door is better in the middle of a long wall, giving you more options for fixture locations. Worst is right in a corner, which blocks off the wall next to it completely. In a small square room the corner location may be better.
  • Type of door: while a pocket door saves space inside the room, my experience is that the water vapor from the bathroom gets into the wall pocket, condenses there, and then you get mold. In a very tight space an outward-opening door may be the only solution.
  • View into the room: if you can work it so that the view through the open door is of the vanity area or a pretty shower curtain, do so. If your only option is a view of the toilet, maybe you’ll just need to get into the habit of leaving the door closed.
  • Required floor space for fixtures: there are minimum standards for the amount of floor space next to each fixture to make it possible and comfortable to use. In a small bathroom design these will almost always overlap to some extent. If you know that more than one person will use the bath at a time, try to make the free floorspace long and narrow rather than square, making it easier for 2 people to be in the room at once.
  • Storage space: while a pedestal sink leaves more floor in view and can make the room feel larger, a vanity cabinet gives you storage. In a small bath your best bet is usually wall storage as there’s no floor space for freestanding cabinets. Storage set into the wall studs (not just medicine cabinets but full height storage) is a good option where a door opens against a wall so you can’t project into the room much, and storage above head height, such as a wall to wall shelf for towels, can take a surprising amount of stuff.
  • Fixture choices: do you have to have a tub? Replacing a tub with a shower can give you a better shower experience and more space in the room, maybe even enough for a double vanity.

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about and many options for improving the layout, comfort and function of your small bathroom.


Tiling Ideas for Bathrooms and More

Tiling ideas come from all kinds of sources – friends’ homes, pictures, quilts, fabric patterns, store displays, magazines, books, TV shows, and web sites. Nature even. Your job is to combine your creative tiling ideas with the practicalities of safety, durability and the availability of suitable tile for your location and purpose.

Subway tile (rectangular)

Very popular nowadays, this early 20th century style has made a big comeback. It was originally used in subways as an easy to keep clean and almost indestructibe wall surface, and it can serve the same purpose in kitchens and baths today. With rectangular tiles, often 3″ x 6″, laid in a running bond brick pattern, the style is slightly more linear than you can get with square tiles, but doesn’t have the excessive number of grout lines that the long thin glass or stone tiles do.


many colors as well as white (pale green is especially popular)
grout colors to blend in or stand out
sizes from 1″ x 2″ to larger than standard, including liner tiles as borders or horizontal stripes
set vertically instead of horizontally.
If you want a truly stunning but labor-intensive effect, use small rectangular tiles horizontally or vertically to form “flame” patterns as used in bargello or florentine style needlepoint (picture).

The rectangular shape can also be used in other traditional brick patterns as well as running bond – any brick pattern will work such as herringbone or flemish bond, although you’ll need to do some cutting to get half tiles.

Square tiles

These are a standard shape but they can be found in many sizes from less than 1″ across to over 12″, smooth or textured, glossy to matt, all colors including metallic, or transparent or translucent glass.

Setting patterns include, as well as the normal square-by-square: running brick pattern, diagonal (“on point”), large and small tiles combined, square and liner (long and thin) tiles combined.

Round tiles

These are usually mosaic-size (2″ or smaller), otherwise the pattern would include a lot of grout. Gives a pebbly effect and can look great in glass tile, particularly.

Mosaic Tiles

Small tiles, usually bought already set onto a 12″ square backing sheet for easy setting. They can be square, rectangular, round, oval, or hexagonal. Get them in all one color, stripes, random patterns, even design your own random color blends on a website and get the tiles shipped to you. The small tile size means lots of grout lines, which is good for grip (especially on a bathroom floor or shower pan) but can mean lots of cleaning.

Glass tiles

Very fashionable at the moment, glass tiles are beautiful but more finicky to set than regular ceramic tiles. They are often transparent or translucent, which means you can see the setting mortar behind them, along with any gaps or discoloration in it! White mortar is normally required, so as not to change the glass color.

Stone tiles

Stone tiles come in many finishes, from polished through honed (matte) to tubmled, with rough edges and surfaces. The colors are often variable, and the edges may be uneven, requiring wider grout lines; stone tiles may also require sealing, like countertops, if tey will be exposed to food splatters etc. Tumbled stone tiles may collect dirt in their crevices if used on a backsplash behind a range, for example, so be cautious about where you use them.

Tiling ideas can be used in many areas of your home, but the bathroom and kitchen are the most popular.


Small Bathroom Designs – Questions to Ask and Answer

Those of us who live in the real world, instead of the world of glossy shelter magazines, often have bathrooms which are much smaller than those in the pretty pictures. Many, if not most, existing homes have bathrooms built when bathrooms were just that, not luxury spas or excercise rooms, and we have to deal with the realities of 5′ x 7′, 6’x 6′, or perhaps even smaller.

Typical small bathroom designs include a toilet, wash basin or vanity, and a bathtub which usually does double duty as a shower. Some small bathrooms are large enough to include a separate shower, or double vanity sinks. There are all kinds of tricks to making the small space work as well as possible.

Tubs and Showers

One big question to answer right away is: do you really need a bathtub? Many people nowadays take showers all the time and never lie in the tub, so if that describes you, consider the possibility or doing away with the tub altogether. Most people want to have one tub in the house somewhere, but if you have more than one bathroom you may not need a tub in every one of them. If you feel you must include a tub, does it need to be full size? Tubs come in different lengths as well as the standard 5ft, and you also have the option of using a Japanese-style sitting/soaking tub.

Whirlpool tubs can be incredible space hogs but you can also get models which fit into the same footprint as a standard tub.
A curved shower curtain rod over the bathtub gives you a much more spacious feeling in the shower but takes up no extra space when the curtain is pulled back. It does take up more visual space when the curtain drawn across, but you’re standing in the tub then so probably no-one is looking at the curtain from the outside!

Sinks and Vanities

Pedestal sinks take up less floor space than vanities and make the room seem bigger because you can see more floor, but they remove the potential storage space of the vanity cabinets. A pedestal sink with a skirt round is the worst of all worlds – the fabric skirt gets dirty and needs washing frequently, gets wet and attracts mildew, doesn’t create a dust-free, clean storage area, and takes up space.
A halfway-point between a pedestal sink and a vanity is a half-depth vanity with a sink that projects over the front of it, sometimes called a “belly sink” because of its shape. This gives you a full size sink, often with some landing space at either side, and enclosed storage space, but the cabinet takes up less floor space than a regular depth vanity.

Double vanities don’t take up a whole lot more space than a single and can really make a difference if you have a “morning rush hour” in the bathroom. Back-to back sinks may be an alternative to side by side.


Wall hung toilets, like pedestal sinks, make more floor space visible and make the room seem bigger.


Storage high on the walls can provide space for towels etc without using space where your body needs to go. Storage outside the bathroom for major piles of spare towels can free up space.

Small bathroom designs often use the tiniest sliver of space to provide more storage. Does your tub reach all the way to both sides of the bathroom? If not, there may be space for shelves at the non-plumbing end. How about a space between the vanity and the tub – could it be used for cubbies to hold towels? It’s common to find bathroom medicine cabinets intended to fit between the wall studs, but you can expand on this idea and make full height cupboards which do the same and can hold huge amounts of toiletries, cosmetics and medicines, all of which normally come in small containers which fit nicely in the small shelves.

For some folks, book storage in the bathroom is important. Make sure it can be reached by a person sitting on the throne!

Hooks and Towel Rails

Use every possible spot to provide hanging space for towels and facecloths. While pictures often show towels neatly hung on a rail in stacks – bath sheet, hand towel, and facecloth – in practice this doesn’t last longer than about 5 minutes because people need to USE the towels, and let them dry after use.
You’ll also need hooks for clothing: nightclothes, robes, the clothes you take off before getting into the shower, and the clothes you plan to put on after you get out. If there aren’t enough places to hang clothes and towels, expect to find them on the floor instead!

Small bathroom designs are like playing the computer video game Tetris: you have these items of various shapes to fit together into a neat pattern without wasting any space.


Bathroom Tile Designs: 7 Ways to Add Style and Save $$

It’s very easy to make your bathroom tile designs much more stylish than a field of plain square tiles, by adding special colors, shapes, or patterns of tiles. I’ll show you 7 ways to add pizazz to your design without pushing the cost through the roof.

1. Add color bands or panels

Instead of tiling a wall or shower surround in the same color of tile all over, you can break up the expanse of single color tile and create interest by using one or more different tile colors of the same type and size. The way you use the colors to make patterns, and the colors you pick, will affect how the pattern looks: a checkerboard of high contrast colors will wake you up and energize you, while a subtle stripe of similar colors will be more soothing.

2. Add a liner stripe

“Liner” or border tiles are long thin tiles which form a stripe or border when used with field tiles. While liners are more expensive, you don’t have to use many of them to get the effect you’re after. You could create a bordered panel, add a stripe round the edge of your tiled area, or include just one stripe at wasit or eye level. Other good uses are as borders round windows, doors or fixtures. Another way to get a narrow stripe is to use the long narrow glass tiles which are in fashion at the moment. These are sometimes called “mtchstick” tiles and they come on a mesh backing by the square foot, like mosaic tiles. You can easily buy a few square feet and cut the tiles off the backing to use them as stripes.

3. Use a different layout

The most basic layout for tile is a plain, lined-up horizontal column / vertical row design. Without even changing your tile colors you can add interest by changing the layout: perhaps use a brick-style “running bond” (this works with square tiles as well as subway tiles), or set a panel of tiles “on point”. You can get much more complex if you want to – try adapting one of the many quilt block designs – but you may find that the more complex your design, the more important it is to feature the complex part as a panel surrounded by a simple layout.

4. Use different grout

Grout that is the same color as your tiles will make the joint lines less visible, and the tiles themselves and their color(s) will take over as the main design element. Contrasting grout lines make the tile layout itself “pop out” so if you’re using special or complex layouts as part of your design, an appropriate grout color is important to make them visible. If you have a really complex layout, a mild contrst may be a good choice so that the layout reads, but is not overwhelming visually. Grout line widths can also be adjusted to get different effects.

5. Use different shaped tile

Not all tiles are square! Rectangular tiles of different proportinons are readily available, from the currently-popular subway tiles to long, skinny glass tiles called matchsticks. There are many other shapes too: octagons and hexagons, circles, triangles, petals, flowers and leaves, pebbles, ogees, even hearts! Mosaics are currently very popular and can consist of shapes other than squares, too.

6. Add a feature panel

Painted tiles are often expensive, but you can still feature them without breaking the bank. A painted panel or set of painted tiles surrounded by one or more borders makes a great feature on the back of a shower or tub surround, or anywhere else where you have a large expanse of tile. Individual painted tiles can also be scattered through a field of plain tile.

7. Use patterned tile

Tile with printed patterns evokes some decorative periods we may want to forget (though even the seventies are starting to come back into fashion), but it’s also typical of specific styles from many areas of the world. An entire bathroom done in moorish patterned tiles might feel a bit overwhelming to you, though to someone else it might feel wonderful – but you can always feature patterned tiles in a panel or limited area, and surround with borders and plain tile.

As you can see, there are many, many ways to customize and personalize your tilework with different bathroom tile designs. Don’t settle for something boring when you can have “The Unusual” so easily.


Bathroom Renovation Ideas

Most people know pretty well what they want to get out of a bathroom renovation: after all, there are good reasons why you’re planning to renovate the bathroom, right! However, once you get beyond the obvious (fixing a rotten floor, replacing worn or ugly colored fixtures) it can be diffficult to come up with ideas for how the rest of the room should look.

Here’s a variety of bathroom renovation ideas to help you come up with a pleasing design for your new bathroom.

Have a theme

This may be a topic theme (e.g. beach or spa) which is mostly carried out in decorative items and surface finishes, but you can also have a theme that’s carried out more subtly in the shapes and directions of your fixtures and permanent decorations. A rounded theme may be carried out by a curved-edge tub, rounded sink, curved shower rail, curved or rounded ends to towel rails, and curved backsplash edges, for example. A diagonal theme might show up as diagonally laid floor and/or wall tile, wallcovering with a diagonal motif or stripes, and diagonal patterned fabric.

Don’t be afraid to use COLOR

It makes sense for your fixtures and tile to be white or neutral, so they don’t date (pink tub, anyone?), but that means you have plenty of scope to use color elsewhere. In a small bathroom, painting the walls takes little time and less paint, so you can experiment and it’s no big deal to paint over it if you hate it. The door is also a good opportunity for a burst of color. Accessories are even easier to use for color themes.

Consider a monochromatic color scheme

If everything in the background is white, the colored towels and shower curtain make even more of a statement – and you can change colors every so often quite easily.

Try Out Expensive or Labor-Intensive Finishes

In a small area you can use labor-intensive paint finishes that might take too long in a larger room, or expensive wall-covering, or beaded board, or paneling, or anything else which you’d like to try out on a small scale. Just make sure what you choose is, or can be made, water resistant.

Focus on Storage

Most small bathroom designs have a hard time squeezing in enough storage. Consider high storage: a shelf 1ft below ceiling hight along one entire wall will hold a lot of towels and they’ll look decorative too.

Don’t do what a previous owner of my house did though, and install cabinets so low over the tub that they make it impossible for anyone taller than 5 feet to stand up and take a shower!

In-the wall storage is also a possibility: if you have some wall space in an internal wall that doesn’t have plumbing or wirirng in it, but you can’t have anything there that sticks out into the room very far, recessing a cabinet into the wall between the studs may be an option. Not just medicine cabinets, either: a tall cabinet works just as well and can hold a lot.

Improve Ventilation

Improving ventilation is often one of more the neglected bathroom renovation ideas but it can make a surprising amount of diference to your enjoyment of the space. The critical factor here is where the duct to the outside will run: between joists in the ceiling? Through the attic? It absolutely must exit to the outside, not just into the attic.

Size your fan so it’s big enough for the room, but not too big; quiet; and consider installing a timer so the fan doesn’t accidentally get left on for hours. I f you have major moisture problems in the bath (or family that doesn’t turn the fan on) you can hook the fan to a humidistat which measures moisture in the air and automatically turns on the fan whenever needed.