Common Bathroom-Layout Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Putting in a new bathroom can be costly, so you’ll want to be sure that it delivers. Although that striking freestanding tub or statement tile may be all the fashion today, it’s the layout that largely determines how well the space works and whether you can get a great return on your investment. 

What are the most common layout mistakes homeowners make and how can you avoid them?

Creating Separate Zones

When space is plentiful in a bathroom, it’s difficult to know how best to use it. Try to avoid placing the fixtures around the perimeter of the room and having an empty space in the middle. Create zones to make them far more functional and welcoming. 

Consider dividing a large bathroom into separate zones for the bath, shower, vanity and toilet. This may be as simple as putting a stud wall into the center of the room. Doing so will enhance your experience of the bathroom and make it feel more luxurious.

Not Considering Existing Infrastructure

What’s behind the wall is a big deal when you’re renovating or changing a bathroom layout.

Make sure you work with your plumber to figure out if the new layout will work with current plumbing points and infrastructure. You might need to rethink your layout if you don’t want to move these existing points. 

While changing plumbing points can give you the layout you really want, it can also blow out the budget.

Measuring Incorrectly 

Inaccurate measurements can end up being costly when you need to work multiple elements into your layout. It’s a common mistake not to take account of the little things, such as the way a door will swing or the gap between the toilet and the vanity.

Always measure twice before you select fittings and fixtures for your bathroom to make sure they’ll fit. Think how doors and drawers will open and how you will move through the space. Your builder, plumber or project manager should also be able to help you with this process.

Insufficient Storage 

Focusing too much on aesthetics and not enough on function often leads to insufficient storage.

Eye-level storage is critical in a bathroom. Rather than having a mirror adhered to the wall, choose a mirror cabinet recessed into the wall that incorporates storage for everyday essentials, such as your toothbrush, shaver and makeup.

A medicine cabinet above a vanity should be the same width as the vanity or slightly smaller — never larger. Recessing a medicine cabinet into the wall will give your bathroom a more streamlined look. 

The right length for a vanity countertop depends on the size of the room. For a family bathroom or en suite, 36 inches is considered a standard minimum length, but 48 inches is a little more practical.

A double sink will need a countertop that’s at least 60 to 72 inches long. The ideal depth for a vanity is 21 inches, although it will depend on the depth of your sink. If you have a semi-recessed sink, you may be able to make your vanity less than 21 inches deep.

When specifying your vanity depth, make sure you include enough room so that you can clean the sink and faucets.

Confining Storage to the Vanity 

Many home renovators often don’t consider storage options beyond vanity drawers and cabinets, and this often means the vanity ends up too clunky and dominating. As a result, the bathroom feels small and crowded.

Think of alternative places to house bathing products, toiletries and toilet paper: Can you work some custom cabinetry into the floor plan to store larger items? 

What about vertical wall-hung cabinets? You also can use these to incorporate mirrors, lighting and towel bars, saving even more space in the bathroom and giving it a more purposeful feel.

Storage That Lacks Function

Failing to consider exactly how you use your bathroom means that the items you keep there often don’t have a proper home and can leave your bathroom looking cluttered when items are left out.

Consider how you use the bathroom and exactly which items need to be stored there, and then measure them and give them a dedicated spot. 

For example, electric toothbrushes and shavers can be stored in a recessed mirrored cabinet with power inside, shallow drawers with dividers are great for makeup, and towels and standing toiletries can be placed in deep drawers.

Not Considering the Location of Accessories

Not giving enough thought to the location of accessories, such as towel bars and shower storage, will affect how the whole space functions. Frequently used items have to be positioned out of reach, or wall-mounted accessories end up in the way of drawers or cabinetry doors.

You also need to plan where accessories will go, so you can install enough secure fixing points. Ensure that structural supports are in place before the walls are finished so that accessories have something to attach to – nobody wants to have a wobbly towel bar or the toilet paper holder to fall off the wall — which is what can happen when they’ve only been screwed into a plaster sheet.

Put towel bars within easy reach of the shower, bath and vanity. Put hand towel bars where they won’t prevent vanity drawers and doors from opening. 

Tip: Consider a recessed tiled niche in the shower instead of a shelf affixed to the wall to give the area a more open feel.

Fixtures That Are Too Big

Although freestanding tubs look amazing, if they are in a space that can’t accommodate their size they end up taking over the space. This can happen with vanities and showers as well.

Ensure that the bath, vanity and shower are the right scale for your bathroom, and also make sure there is space around them for cleaning.

If a space is too small, a larger inset bath would be a much better use of space. Having a super large vanity that is right up to the shower does not look good and is awkward to clean. Instead, choose a smaller vanity and allow some space between the shower or bath.

Tip: A freestanding tub should be about 8 inches from the wall, with at least a foot of space at both ends to allow for cleaning access.

Having the Door Open to a View of the Toilet

Having the bathroom door open to directly face the toilet is neither stylish nor necessary.

Instead, tuck it behind the door or place it to the side where it’s not in full view when you open the door. 

Even more important, ensure that your main bathroom has a separate toilet so people do not have to wait when someone is using the shower.

If lines are forming outside your bathroom every morning, upgrade your powder room so that family members can use it to get ready. You can do this by making sure it has an adequate sink, storage cabinetry and a mirror.

Tip: When planning the position of your toilet, allow at least 8 inches on both sides for elbow room.

Poor Lighting

Inexperienced renovators often simply resort to down lights over the vanity, shower or toilet instead of putting in a proper layered lighting design. As a result, the bathroom is often too bright and lacks ambiance. Bright overhead lighting creates shadowing when you look in the vanity mirror.

Plan a layered design that includes several lighting sources. Light for ambiance by using concealed LED strips as they don’t consume much energy and can be left on to create a low-key mood. Put them under vanities and shaving cabinets, behind mirrors and in shower niches.

Add in lighting for other purposes. Incorporate task lighting to assist with grooming or putting on makeup, such as a pair of wall lights on either side of the mirror. These will illuminate your face from the front, which is the most effective and flattering direction.

Tip: Ask your electrician to wire lights so that they can be turned on independently.

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Charles McDonald
Charles McDonald
Charlottesville Solutions
2013 Woodbrook Court, Charlottesville VA 22901
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