Just add wa­ter

How to de­sign the best bath­rooms for your new home

Timber Home Living - - Contents -

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the bath is the pri­vate get­away. Mak­ing your bath a dream des­ti­na­tion re­quires thought­ful plan­ning. Dur­ing the de­sign phase, you need to con­sider fac­tors such as lo­ca­tion, space con­straints, types of fix­tures and fin­ishes, and any spe­cial needs your fam­ily might have.


Ev­ery home lay­out will be dif­fer­ent, but in gen­eral, when plac­ing a pow­der room, you want to bal­ance the need for easy ac­cess to the half bath from any public space in the home.

“I don’t like a pow­der room right off the din­ing room or liv­ing room,” says Ch­eryl Kees Clen­de­non of In De­tail In­te­ri­ors in Pen­sacola, Florida, “but per­haps down a short hall.”

If you en­joy out­door ac­tiv­i­ties like gar­den­ing or have chil­dren at home, con­sider plac­ing the pow­der room close to an out­door en­trance to limit the amount of mud and dirt tracked in­doors.

For full bath­rooms, lo­ca­tions near

bed­rooms is a given, but con­sider where the bath will be in re­la­tion to the beds. (You may not want to hear wa­ter whoosh­ing through the pipes in the wall be­hind your head­board.)

Although it may be im­pos­si­ble to avoid, place large cloth­ing clos­ets away from the steamy at­mos­phere of the bath, ad­vises Mary Fis­cher Knott, author of Kitchen and Bath De­sign: A Guide to Plan­ning Ba­sics. The moist air can be dam­ag­ing to clothes.

Keep in mind that, in a two-story home, stack­ing bath­rooms above each other will help re­duce the cost of plumb­ing in­stal­la­tion.


At a very min­i­mum, a pow­der room re­quires about 30 square feet, Knott says. A space that mea­sures 5 by 9 feet is suf­fi­cient for a full bath. Hav­ing more space will al­low for larger fix­tures such as a dou­ble van­ity or over­sized shower, but be­ware of su­per­siz­ing your bathroom.

“Do it well, have great prod­ucts and ‘wow’ fac­tor, and don’t worry about hav­ing a dance floor in the mid­dle of the room,” Clen­de­non says.

Your lo­cal build­ing code will dic­tate cer­tain min­i­mum clearances. For in­stance, it may call for 21 inches of clear space in front of the toi­let or 4 inches be­tween a sink basin and the wall. Your lo­cal codes may dif­fer from na­tional codes, so be sure you or your de­signer is aware of your mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s re­quire­ments at the start of the de­sign process.

To se­lect fix­tures and ameni­ties for your baths, think about how you use your cur­rent bath. Do you pre­fer long tub soaks or a shower? Will more than one per­son use the bathroom at the same time? Knott sug­gests ask­ing your­self a host of ques­tions and shar­ing the an­swers with your bathroom de­signer: Are you right- or left-handed? Do you like to have toi­letries and groom­ing ap­pli­ances out in the open or tucked away? Would you like a seat in your shower? How long do you plan to live in the home? How tall would you like your van­i­ties to be?

Your bud­get will play a role in your se­lec­tion of fix­tures. The best way to get an un­der­stand­ing of what’s avail­able is to hire a good de­signer who spe­cial­izes in baths, Clen­de­non says. The next best al­ter­na­tive is to talk to peo­ple who’ve re­cently out­fit­ted new bath­rooms, and dis­cuss their likes and dis­likes. Show­rooms and on­line

searches will help you de­fine what styles and fea­tures you like.


Baths re­quire at­ten­tion to safety, which means that light­ing is key. “You need light to get in the room, light for groom­ing, and then you need light that can cre­ate a par­tic­u­lar mood,” Knott ex­plains.

Light­ing fix­tures can be as or­nate or stream­lined as you like, as long as they pro­vide ad­e­quate il­lu­mi­na­tion and, if they are in­stalled near the tub or the shower, fol­low code for wet con­di­tions. In­stalling lights on a dim­mer is a good way to pro­vide for a re­laxed or ro­man­tic mood.

Mul­ti­ple elec­tri­cal out­lets make a bath ef­fi­cient and func­tional. Any lo­ca­tions near wa­ter must be grounded. Your lo­cal codes may put ad­di­tional re­stric­tions on place­ment of out­lets in terms of dis­tance off the floor and prox­im­ity to the tub or shower.

Spe­cial ap­pli­ances, such as heated towel racks or bidet toi­lets, may re­quire elec­tri­cal wiring, so be sure to tell your de­signer or architect if you’d like to in­clude th­ese in your dream bathroom.


Per­haps the most en­joy­able part of de­sign­ing your bath will be choos­ing its fin­ishes. Tile, flooring, wall­cov­er­ings and ac­ces­sories can all speak to your style. The choices are vir­tu­ally lim­it­less, so let your bud­get help you nar­row your se­lec­tions.

If a low-main­te­nance bath is high on your list of pri­or­i­ties, choose easy-to-clean fin­ishes and fix­tures, such as un­der-mounted sinks, flat-front cab­i­net doors that won’t collect dust and van­i­ties that mount to the wall, leav­ing the floor ac­ces­si­ble un­der­neath for easy sweep­ing and mop­ping.

Choos­ing tra­di­tional col­ors for your fix­tures will keep your bathroom from look­ing dated too quickly. If you want to add some pop, Clen­de­non sug­gests fo­cus­ing color on the walls and in other dec­o­ra­tive ac­ces­sories.

“Just think how big of a canvas the shower cur­tain is in a bathroom,” she says. “Do an in­ex­pen­sive but nice tile in a shower/tub, and spend the bud­get on a fan­tas­tic shower cur­tain.”


Even the strictest ad­her­ent to sim­ple liv­ing needs soap, a tooth­brush and toothpaste. To be liv­able, your new bathroom must ac­com­mo­date a host of items you use ev­ery day. Take a look

at what you store in your bath now to make an hon­est as­sess­ment of the types of stor­age you’ll need.

Knott sug­gests plac­ing shal­low cab­i­nets be­tween the studs or your bathroom walls. “That 8 inches of stor­age can be used for toi­let pa­per rolls, or wash­cloths or toi­letries,” she says.


By plan­ning your bath from scratch, you can make it ful­fill your needs com­pletely. Do you hope to stay in your home well into your golden years? Look for uni­ver­sal de­sign fea­tures for your bath. Knott rec­om­mends to all of her clients, no mat­ter their age, to add the block­ing nec­es­sary to sup­port grab bars when fram­ing the walls of their baths. Don’t worry that your bathroom will look like a clinic, she says. “Handrails are get­ting bet­ter look­ing.”

Pedestal sinks, or van­i­ties that “float” al­low floor space for some­one us­ing a wheel­chair. Cur­b­less show­ers are easier to get in and out of. The AARP also rec­om­mends 36-inch-wide door­ways, anti-scald faucets, rock­er­style light switches and other ac­com­mo­da­tions.

Is en­ergy con­ser­va­tion im­por­tant to you? Green fea­tures may be high on your list of pri­or­i­ties. Build­ing codes may re­quire some of th­ese fea­tures, such as low-flow toi­lets. Although they may come with a higher price tag up­front, green fea­tures save you money month af­ter month by low­er­ing the amount of wa­ter and elec­tric­ity you use. Talk to your builder or de­signer about the op­tions that are avail­able for other re­source-sav­ing fix­tures such as wa­ter heaters or gray-wa­ter cap­tur­ing sys­tems. An­other way to de­sign an eco-friendly bath is to choose lo­cal or sal­vaged ma­te­ri­als for your tiles or bathroom cab­i­netry.

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