Designing a small bathroom can at first glance seem relatively easy. What can you get wrong? All you need is a loo, sink and either a bath or a shower, right? However, with closer investigation it becomes clear that actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that. In this article I’m going to show my tips for getting it right without having to spend a fortune. I’m no expert, but we have designed and built a lot of bathrooms in our time and it’s good to share the knowledge!
The dream bathroom for most people is pretty huge with a roll top bath fit for a reigning monarch, a rain shower wet-room area and sumptuous tiles and fittings. I can’t guarantee your going to get much of that in a small space, but what I can guarantee is that it will be beautiful, perfectly formed and potentially pack a punch when it comes to space and utility.
Designing Our Bathroom
We have recently finished a bathroom redesign at our holiday let @theharbourdeckhouse (open for bookings right now – direct message me – shameless plug, shameless!). It was incredibly small and ugly, but somehow managed to fit a 200kg cast iron bath/shower, toilet, heated towel rail and a sink. We removed the bath with the help of two other burly men and replaced it with a large walk-in shower, luxurious vanity unit and a corner toilet to maximise space.
We do all the work ourselves, all self-taught and well before the age of the internet and YouTube videos. However, those online tutorials are super helpful and if you think you could possibly have a go at doing it yourself, then you will save thousands!
Key Points To Consider When Designing A small Bathroom
One of the first things we always consider is where the current water inlets and waste pipes are. The entire project will cost you far less money if you can try and keep them where they are. If you can’t, then where could they be redirected with the least amount of work and cost? Often, it’s a good idea to make sure the waste pipes go through an outside wall for easy drainage, the least distance to the public sewer and for cost implications.
We kept the toilet in almost the same position because changing the waste pipe would have cost so much money. What we did do though was buy a compact corner toilet. It still fitted into the original waste, but saved so much more space. It actually gave the “sitter” more room to do their ablutions and paper work! A little note on corner toilets though: make sure the cistern is a true corner model and not a normal back to the wall variety with a ceramic triangle attached to it. If you buy these then you aren’t saving any space at all, your taking it away!
Can You Steal Some Space?
The second thing we always consider is whether the bathroom can be extended in any way. It’s something most people don’t think of, but try to imagine your rooms without any walls for a moment. If a wall is not a supporting wall, then it may be possible to “steal” some space from another room to make your bathroom more palatial. Our deckhouse bathroom design was extremely tricky as we took down the wall between it and the 2nd bedroom, moving it 30cm further into the bathroom to be able to turn the bedroom into a worthwhile double room. This, of course solved one problem, but created another in the already tiny bathroom.
So, what did we do? Well, we imagined the walls on the other side between the bathroom and the kitchen had been removed. What space could we pinch to be able to make the bathroom a good size, but without compromising the kitchen? There was a large floor to ceiling cupboard, which housed the water storage heater. We removed it and added a combi-boiler in a different location. We also figured we could take away another 20cm from the kitchen area without ruining the space.
By designing the shower in almost the same space as the original bath, we knew we had the water and waste in the right place. However, by taking the space from the kitchen and the cupboard we were able to add quite a large area to the shower enclosure. This meant we could fit in a 1.4m shower tray.
We decided to move the sink from its current location to where one end of the huge bath would have been. This allowed more space for the toilet, but also gave the vanity unit a space of its own, like it belonged there, rather than fighting for it’s right to exist. The only issue was that the sink would now be below a window. However, the window is quite high-up. We will also be putting a little roller blind there for shy ones amongst you.
When designing a small bathroom you are always robbing Peter to pay Paul. There will always be compromises to gain other things. We added a small mirror that sits on the window sill and a larger side mirror for the wall.
Make The Space Feel Larger
There are a number of tricks you can use to make a bathroom feel larger. Mirrors are an obvious choice and should be used wherever you can. Another way is to keep your colour palette really simple. In our bathroom design we wanted to mirror the monochromatic tones of the exterior of the deckhouse. So, black and white was the order of the day. I would say either keep it light and bright or, if your room faces North, then go deep into the dark side and make it plush, warm and exuberant! A North-facing room always feels cold, in my opinion, if you try and make it light, better to go hell for leather in what it actually is and make it a plus point. In both cases though, keep it simple and don’t clutter the space.
Use as much glass as you possibly can and if you have a shower screen, try to make sure there are as few moving parts, hinges and joints as possible. Simple glass screens are always the best, don’t gather dirt, reflect light and allow you a view through the room. A wet room can be a very good idea, blending the shower area with the rest of the bathroom seamlessly using beautiful tiles. However, in my experience they often leak unless professionally installed and can cause no end of problems and expense.
We tend to opt for a very low threshold shower tray instead. Another trick we use is to make the shower tray the same colour as the floor tiles, which immediately makes the space feel larger. This time, we opted for a black slate effect shower tray, which is slip-resistant and then laid real black slate tiles on the floor surrounding it.
If you just have to have a bath then you will probably have to have the shower attachment above that rather than having a separate shower cubicle. Again, compromises are painful – what are your priorities? However, if there is just enough room for both, then do look into space saving baths. A lot of them come as small as 1.4m in length now. I’ve even seen one that is a meter long, although I think I’d struggle to get out and don’t fancy having to call out the fire brigade to winch me like a wet seal from the tub!
Choosing your Ceramics
Now that you have your bathroom design layout it’s time for the fun bit. Choosing bathroom ceramics is a minefield as there are so many companies to choose from. My big tip is to try and make sure that all your fittings match or blend. The best way to do this is to use one company and that also makes it much easier to make your choices.
We used Saneux bathrooms for most of our fittings, mainly because I totally fell in love with a vanity unit they offer. I have to say they were a delight to work with. Everything else seemed relatively easy after I chose that. It’s a good tip actually; choose something you love first and let everything flow from that. I do that when designing any room. I often start with a lamp or a chair and then I let my imagination tumble away with ideas!
We couldn’t get the toilet that we wanted from Saneux, but I just made sure that its proportions and shape mirrored the other pieces. We predominantly used Matt black fittings as the vanity unit stood on a Matt black stand already. The taps were designed to match and also came from Saneux. So, the loo roll holder, heated towel rail, door handle, light pull, clothes hook etc were all bought to match.
A little note on the toilet paper holder: please make sure you buy one that actually holds it in place. There’s nothing more annoying than reaching for a sheet or two to find that the entire roll is now half way across the room. No one fancies clambering around on their hands and knees for the runaway roll like a demented Andrex puppy! While I’m there, why not make it a 21st century toilet-roll holder too? Buy one that has a little shelf for your phone? I’m not one for spending hours on the throne, but Mr C doesn’t give up anything easily and can be there for hours!
Use All Your Nooks And Crannies!
I’m a firm believer in the cubby hole, its true! If you have stud walls, then you have room for little nooks to store things. Storage is key when designing a small bathroom. You’ve just got to make sure you think of them before you start tiling. I’m not a fan of wirework in a shower area, they always go rusty. A well positioned nook in the wall for your shampoo and conditioner is much better. Storage space can be created all over the bathroom in this way, again stealing space. You can even use the space underneath your bath, if you have one. Don’t just cover it up with a bath panel!
One more thing I’d like to mention is light pulls. The latest building regulations in the UK require us to have our light switches outside of the bathroom. This is a major bugbear of mine as I often forget to turn on the light. It’s also been known that someone accidentally on purpose turns it off when you’re in there at night! However, if you have a light pull-switch then you can get around the regulations and have the switch inside the bathroom. I know some people think they are old fashioned, but the one I found from Dowsing & Reynolds is beautiful!
So, that’s it! I hope it’s been helpful. Sorry for the break in post writing recently. It’s been a bit busy in our household. In the coming weeks I’ll be writing about our kitchen renovations. There will also be an overall post about where we bought all the lovely things for the deckhouse and I’ll be starting to write about our new Victorian home too. Until then, take care and thanks for reading.
Ad/PR products from Saneux bathrooms include the vanity sink, taps, waste, bottle trap and shower screen arm. All other items were bought and paid for.
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