Choosing a Bathroom Layout (page 1 of 3)

Learn what factors to consider when planning your remodel


When designing a bathroom, the key is to look beyond this space. Does the style blend with the rest of your house? Now, keep in mind, you don’t have to be matchy-matchy and blending doesn’t have to be boring. But if your door knobs and hardware throughout the home are oil-rubbed bronze and you choose nickel for a hall bathroom, the change in finish could be distracting to the eye.

Same goes for color scheme, except for the powder room, where drama reigns. If the master bedroom walls are painted a cheery yellow and you go for a burgundy wine colored bathroom, the jarring contrast will create a choppy feel, not the smooth transition you’re after. Unless you plan on renovating the bedroom and changing the colors there, you want an adjacent bathroom design to go with the flow.

“If the bathroom is part of a master bedroom, it needs to tie in with color or texture—something,” says Eileen Kollias, designer/owner, Eileen Kollias Design, Boston, Mass. “If the bathroom is in the hallway and not part of a suite, I don’t think it has to flow at all. It can have its own feel, its own theme, and be fun—totally different. It’s up to the homeowner.”

As you consider the layout of your bathroom, take advantage of every square inch. Tabulate configurations for plumbing fixtures and cabinets. Be sure the tub you choose is the right size for the space—a common mistake. Decide whether you want a tub in your master bath, or if you’d rather give that square footage to the shower and enhance that bathing area with soothing body sprays.

Remember, when planning a space, it’s all about you. (Sounds nice, doesn’t it?) And, in the bathroom, design must result in a space that is safe, and will grow with you.

See 9 Great Examples of Bathroom Layouts That Work

Functional Zoning

By organizing functional areas around a central space, you give the bathroom plenty of open space no matter its size. While kitchens apply a tried-and-true work triangle, there is no exact prescription for the best bathroom layout.

Space planning all depends on your lifestyle and the way you use the space. However, keep in mind when planning that if you must move the plumbing to accommodate your new design, the price tag of your project will be much higher than if the “guts” of your bathroom can stay put. That said, layout options are more limited when relying on existing plumbing hookups, drains, ventilation, etc.

Here are functional zones you might include in the design:

Vanity. The vanity area includes a countertop, storage and a sink or two. This zone also has a mirror, which is generally in a frame in today’s designs. Mirror walls and large mirror slabs are outdated. In master baths, some homeowners are giving up the double sink to gain more counterspace. On the other hand, dual sinks are useful in family bathrooms where children or other family members share the space and want their own station.

Shower/Tub Combination. The old standby for a full bathroom is still a functional, affordable way to incorporate a shower and tub in the same small space. Ideally, a home will have at least one tub (important for resale), and this traditional fixture fits the bill (and the budget).

Tub. Supersized Jacuzzi tubs are outdated. They’re out there, but who wants to pay the water bill to fill that thing on a regular basis? And you better plan on a separate hot water heater for those pool-sized vessels. Instead, master bathrooms that include a tub are equipped with deeper, smaller tubs that are still built for two.

Feature Shower. Tubs are less commonly used in master bathrooms, and when they are used, they have a smaller footprint and are deeper. Homeowners are choosing to use the floorspace to expand their showers. Forget the old stand shower that feels like walking into a vinyl can. “Showers are getting bigger and including seats,” says Rick Miller, president of Miller’s Fancy Bath & Kitchen in Louisville, Ky. “At least one of the shower walls is coming down to a partial or half wall and we are putting glass panels on top of that and doing attractive floor-to-ceiling tile.” Meanwhile, fixtures have evolved to accommodate the demand to “soak” in the shower rather than the tub.

Spa Shower/Tub Room. Take that feature shower and expand it, then place a tiled, sculptural tub in the middle. What you get is a contemporary space that incorporates the best of both bathing features. “The whole space is tiled, and there might even be a fireplace in the wall or a television,” suggests Brian Johnson, principal, Collaborative Design Architects in Billings, Mt. “Rather than being confined in the tub, you can stand up and turn on a shower head to rinse off. This design is becoming more and more popular.”

Toilet. It’s the most used feature in your bathroom and the one fixture you don’t want to position as your design focal point. The toilet can be tucked behind the entry door, placed beside a vanity alongside a wall and partially hidden, or closed in a dedicated “water closet.” A dedicated room is ideal in larger master bathrooms, and half-walls can help block the toilet space in roomier full baths or masters where an open-air feel is desired.

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