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Small Bathroom Design: How to Make a Lot Out of a Little

by Marc Dickinson

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Many people think of bathrooms as merely functional: it's where you bathe, wash your hands, and relieve yourself. However, we all know that there's more to the story. On the Interstate, when you decide to stop at a gas station, the first criteria to consider are the cleanliness of the restrooms. When you eat at a restaurant or have a drink at a bar, you inevitably inspect, scrutinize, and grade the state of their facilities, which tends to reflect the establishment's overall quality. And the same rule applies to homeowners: guests and prospective homebuyers attach a lot of importance to bathrooms, so you should as well.

Yes, Size Matters!
The biggest concern when it comes to bathroom remodeling is its size. When you renovate, creating more space should always be a priority. No matter how many fresh fixtures or state-of-the-art features you install, it'll all be useless if the room feels cramped. This is especially important when it comes to small bathroom design. Lavatories, even if they're only 1/2 baths, are meant to be luxurious and relaxing. And although it's great to have a cozy, private retreat, you should also feel comfortable and at ease. So when it comes to undersized restrooms, you need to find ways to utilize the space you've been given in order make a tiny area feel like an airy sanctuary.

Let Space Speak for Itself
The simplest way to deal with a small bathroom design is to highlight the pre-existing space. This means you have to trick people into seeing more than what is really there. Giving the illusion of space is a very effective way to enlarge a room:

De-clutter: One bathroom design idea is to remove the clutter. Get rid of the busy wallpaper. Take down the picture frames. Remove excess furnishings. Eliminate those ugly towel bars.

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Storage: Now that you've ridded yourself of the clutter, where the heck are you going to put your stuff? To hang towels, install a hook on the back of the door or buy a shower rod with towel bars already attached. If you have to have furniture, make it do double-duty. Get a decorative chest that can also act as an additional storage unit. Or invest in a small magazine rack that can be placed out of the way. But it's best to get things off the floor by hanging tiny shelves or buying a mirrored medicine cabinet to conceal your toiletries.

Lighting: Now that your stuff is out of the way, you now need to spotlight the space you've created. In small bathroom design, natural illumination is a great way to cast some light in dark corners. So install a skylight or add a window. If that's impossible, make use of the light you have. Put in a glass-block window that lets light in from other rooms. Mount some wall sconces that take up little space yet shed lots of ambient light. Or just fire up some candles to generate a romantic mood.

Walls: Along with lighting, another key bathroom design idea is color coordination. Letting your walls stay neutral (white or beige) generates an impression of more space. Plus, if you draw the eye upwards, the room will look taller; so add a border around the ceiling to create more vertical depth. Also, installing polished tiles and hanging mirrors lets the area reflect itself, thereby creating the feel of additional square footage.

More Out of Less
In any type of small bathroom design, it's the plumbing fixtures that eat up the room. But there are ways to make these cumbersome necessities fade into the background.
Toilet: A hung toilet has no tank attached so it slides right up against the wall.
Sink: Most vanities come with small, useless counter spaces and cabinetry systems. Instead, eliminate the waste by installing a wall-hung sink which frees up floor space. Or a pedestal sink installed in an out of the way corner can deliver the elegance you want with the openness you need.
Tub: Make this particular fixture do the work for two by installing a unit that works as both shower and tub. If you still want luxury, clawfoot tubs actually free up space around the walls and can be turned into a shower or Jacuzzi depending on the model.
Shower: If you have a half bath, a quick bathroom design idea is to simply install a single-stall shower in a corner. And to make it invisible to the naked eye, invest in frameless doors or a clear shower curtain for a transparent appearance.

Bathroom Remodeling Project Guide
If you enjoyed this article, check out our free Bathroom Remodeling Guide, which features expert advice, design & material comparisons, and custom price estimates for your remodeling project.
Marc Dickinson has worked in both the general contracting and landscaping trades and is currently a home improvement freelance writer with over 300 articles published.