Small Bathrooms, Big Design

Get tips for designing a master bath as luxurious and enticing as those found in the finest spa retreats.

CI-Adeeni-Design-Group-urban-bathroom_s4x3 Design by Adeeni Design Group; photography by Crystal Waye

Even when space is limited it needs to serve numerous functions. Besides the obvious utilitarian functions, homeowners want a soothing escape from hectic daily life, as well as a good environmental partner that conserves water and energy.


Browse Pictures of Small Baths With Big Style

The average bathroom is 5' by 8', and a well-planned space can do it all. Manufacturers today are working to make fixtures that save more water and medicine cabinets that store more personal items. Design stars know how to fulfill the retreat fantasy, inspired by top hotels and spas that incorporate swank marble and porcelain, soft palettes, fluffy warm towels, flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations and coffeemakers. Bottom line: Nobody wants to leave. Now at home, you won't want to, either.

Here are ways to make a small-space bathroom look and function better for your lifestyle.

Think Bigger

Even if rooms are smaller, some of the elements needn't be. Many designers think bolder, bigger scale makes a small space look more important and large — a floor tile with a format of 12" by 24" tricks the eye into reading the space as being larger than it is than small mosaic tiles would. A major reason is that smaller tiles have more grout lines, and grids make a space seem smaller, says Travis Rotelli, senior interior designer at The Kohler Design Center. Bonus: There's less grout to clean.

When husband and wife each wanted a separate bathroom, Claudia Juestel of Adeeni Design Group remodeled hers to be modern and luxe with space carved out for a big tub and glamorous red and black vessel sink. She built a tall kitchen-pantry-style cabinet to organize toiletries and towels in a small bathroom. Photography by Crystal Waye

Make Every Inch Count

It's all about making smart use of the space with the right-sized fixtures, such as slimmer vanities, compact elongated toilets and even smaller tubs, though Carolyn Thomas, senior bath designer at Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath, suggests not going with a tub that's smaller than 60" for comfort.

As long as clients have a bathtub elsewhere in the home and don't use a tub frequently in the master bath, Rotelli advises taking it out to make room for a bigger shower. And make that shower luxurious; most of those Thomas includes feature steam with body sprays.

Many toilets are 1" to 2 ½" shorter from front to back to save space. More vanities may include only one sink since many people don't use a bathroom at the same time or can share. If so, that frees up counter space for other uses.

Focus on Storage

A great way to get more functional storage space is to mount cabinetry on walls rather than install a big wall mirror. "It's similar to what you do in a kitchen," says Thomas. "You may not make them as deep as base cabinets, and shallow storage is better for seeing smaller items."

Niches are also a key way to arrange essentials. Do so by using space between wall studs, which doesn't eat up precious floor space, says Rotelli. He likes to place one or two in a shower to store shampoo and soap. A towel rack is another good idea that keeps them neat and warm — perhaps above a toilet, which is often wasted space.

Play Up Illumination

Good light remains essential when more time is spent in the bathroom. For optimum lighting in front of the mirror for tasks like shaving or applying makeup, install a light at each side of the mirror and a light source overhead to eliminate shadows, says Rotelli.

You also want a light in a shower and over a tub, and one in a magnifying mirror if you install one by the vanity, says Thomas. She urges homeowners to use LED lights, which are much more expensive than incandescents, but they last almost forever.

How do you fit all into a tight 4'6" by 9'5" space? This bathroom design did it with a European-style small all-glass shower and tiny round sink with integrated towel bar. The slim-lined toilet fits snuggly into a tiny corner; colorful mosaics and rich chocolate brown paint punch up the small room. Design by Claudia Juestel of Adeeni Design Group; photography by Crystal Waye

Stay Connected

A lot of innovative products have hit the market that seamlessly integrate technology without taking up space or requiring expensive installation. You can program your steam shower to go on at 6 a.m. from your cellphone and also stream music from your smartphone, tablet or MP3 player into your shower through innovative showerheads.

Kohler recently debuted its "StereoStik," which attaches to the side of one of its medicine cabinets and lets you play AM/FM radio or plug in your MP3 player. You can bring your TV into a corner of your medicine cabinet and defog your mirror with a flick of a switch.

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