His and Hers Bath
Photo: Francine Zaslow
A small bathroom must contain all the elements of a large bath in less space. That's why planning a new one or remodeling your existing one is so challenging. You have to think about function, appearance, fixtures and storage, along with how much room you have—and how much you can afford to spend on the project.

When every inch counts, you might want to consider getting professional design help at a kitchen and bath dealer or from the design staff at a home center or plumbing distributor. Also contact the National Kitchen & Bath Association for a copy of “41 Guidelines of Bathroom Planning.” Then check your plans against the guidelines to be sure your bath looks and functions its best. We've distilled the NKBA guidelines to get you started.

Stretching Strategies

To create a powder room, you'll need at least 16 sq. ft.; a full bath requires a minimum of 36 to 40 sq. ft. The finished room must measure at least 5 ft. in one direction to accommodate a tub. Building codes typically require 32x32 in. (finished dimensions) for a shower; if you have the space, larger is better. Just make sure the shower is large enough so you-and all your family members-can comfortably raise your arms when washing hair or bend over to pick something up.

Once you've determined how much space you have, there are a wealth of ways to make it look bigger. For example, use a pocket, rather than a hinged, door. Choose as large a mirror as possible (use only one; more than one confuses the eye). And go with light-colored finish materials. Clear-glass shower doors stretch space visually, and you can unify the bath by using one finish for all trim and hardware.

Storage space usually is at a premium in small baths, so consider recessing an 8-in.-deep bath cabinet above the vanity. Install the vanity at a comfortable height—36 in. off the floor for most adults, 43 in. if you're taller than average. Select a vanity with drawers or bins, or add organizers for toiletries and cleaning supplies to a unit that comes unequipped with these items.

Finally, avoid pedestal sinks in a small, full bath. They look great but are impractical because they don't provide storage. Save them for powder rooms where storage isn't as crucial. If you must use a pedestal sink, include open shelves or a tile-lined niche behind or adjacent to it. Or consider using cabinetry 16 or 18 in. deep instead of the usual 21 in. A small-scale pedestal lav, available from every major plumbing manufacturer, is another viable option worth considering.
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