Small bathroom design ideas

by Brendan Charters
small bathroom

Location, location, location

The placement of a bathroom is directly proportionate to the level of personal use, and similar desire of being in proximity to it, when in use by others. In small urban settings, the floor space of these rooms can rival that of an airplane lavatory but retain their functionality over climbing up and down a full flight of stairs every time nature calls. It also keeps guests from using the main bathroom on the second level (and seeing what a mess you left it in) or resorting to the scary basement bathroom that spiders always seem to occupy.

Size matters

Most people have experienced the acrobatics required to wedge into an airplane bathroom (we are talking coach travellers here, like me). At 24-in. wide by 48-in. long, it's strictly a scenario of basic function and not one we recommend for the home. In these tight spaces, scale of fixtures and cleanliness is key. For powder rooms, we suggest 36-in. of interior width minimum, and 72-in. or six ft. in length. The tightest toilet space we have executed was 27-in. wide and shy of five ft. long, and while it worked, the space was almost comical. In a square shape scenario, four by four ft. is the minimum, and a wall hung or round bowl lavatory, along with a slim or corner basin is critical to the success here. For a full size or three-piece bath, the traditional five by eight ft. is very comfortable for a combined tub-shower, the toilet and vanity. That can be reduced in a pinch to four by seven ft. with some fixture choices, or 5.5 by six ft. in a squared configuration. Anything less than that and functionality is lost.

Swings and placements

When the door is open, the toilet should not be the first thing you see. We have spent the last 20 years fixing improper door swings (it should swing to hide the toilet, if possible). We have also spent years relocating ill-conceived powder and main bathrooms, which are located in, adjacent to, or within direct eyesight of the kitchen or the dining room. Even if open to a hall or a bedroom, when the door is open, the toilet need not be the focal point. Think food prep, food waste, dinner party and either you or anyone, having some business to do away from the table or the prep zone. No thanks! In a really tight space, an outswing door can prove useful, albeit potentially hazardous if quickly opened into a hallway. They tend to stay closed more frequently, though, which hides the room from view when not in use. What pocket or barn style do for space preservation, they lack in providing true privacy. Avoid them if possible.

Sound – plan for it

We all reach for the whisper-quiet fan when remodelling, but in some cases, the hum of white noise can contribute to privacy desires of the bather and those within earshot. Louder sounds drown out other less pleasing and embarrassing ones. In this case, the lower cost option can actually be helpful, so long as it can still adequately vent the space. Insulating walls of any bathroom and ceiling below these rooms is a wise investment. Pocket doors and those cheap builder basic hollow core ones do not do as well as a tightly fitting, solid core door. Flushing lavatories, running water and fans all can create noise that is disturbing to others – don't skimp on the few dollars it takes to address this.

The final thought

These rooms are a great indicator of where society is moving. Health and wealth directly impact why bathrooms are built, both by number in a home, size, finish quality and style. Every home needs at least one, and while our focus is on small bathrooms, we must highlight that universal design is always a key consideration. Access and function of this room must never be forgotten in the planning and design stage. No matter the style, if a space does not function as required, the design and execution have failed. If you want help to design and build your own perfect bathroom, remember there is real value in working with a professional, and associations such as the Ontario Association of Architects and, the home of the professional renovator, are great places to start your search.