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Bath Design – Step 4

in Bath design


The Layout: So far you have thought about the available space.  You also know who is going to use the room and how it will be used.  And you have come up with an approximate budget.  Now its time to think about the layout of the bathroom or the configuration of everything that you plan to put in your bathroom.  In this fourth, and very essential step you will list all of the items you want in the bathroom, and roughly where you would like them.  Items such as the soaker tub, the toilet, the walk-in shower, the sauna, the sink(s) and other fixtures such as lighting and faucets.

Here are the six steps in a bathroom design process:

  1. Space - what space is available for this bathroom?
  2. Function - how is this bathroom going to be used?
  3. Budget - how much do you plan to invest in this bathroom?
  4. Layout - what is the best use of the available space?
  5. Product selection – within the defined budget, what products fulfill the function of the bathroom, fit your lifestyle and your budget?
  6. Building the bath – what process will be used to build this design?

The layout consists of these five parts:  Some General Rules of Thumb, Accessibility, Configuration, Accessories and finally Lighting.

General Rules of Thumb - First you need to put the toilet in the most inconspicuous location.  When you walk in the bath, (or someone else does), the first thing you see should not be the toilet.  This is especially true in powder rooms, where those not familiar with the home will be entering.  Put the toilet behind a door or a knee-wall about 48” high.  You’ll see some examples later.  Allow at least 36” – 42” width for the toilet area.  An absolute minimum should be 32” wide.  If you are limited by space in front of the toilet, consider a round bowl; otherwise use an elongated bowl.  Kohler sells a wonderfully efficient unit that is a Class 6 and uses only 1.28 gallons of water per flush.

If you have a large room, you may want to build separate rooms for a toilet.  Some master suites even have two separate water closets.  Use  windows or sun tunnels to bring in daylight at a minimum cost.

For your shower, allow as big a space as you can.  There are hundreds of ways to configure showers.  Even so, pay close to attention to water usage and other expenses such as tile quantity and those fancy valves and diverters.  Let me give you a water usage example:  If you use 4 body sprays at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), one overhead shower head at 2.5 gpm, and if two people take a 15 minute shower each, you will use 375 gallons each day.  That will give you pause won’t it?  If you go this route, enlarge your supply lines to at least 3/4” and buy a bigger water heater.

The smallest shower I would recommend is 3’ x 3’.  3’ x 3’ Neo Angle showers are sold as a unit, and are handy in small baths or bathrooms that are rarely used.  A good starting point is a 4’ x 3’ shower.  A 4’ x 3-6” shower would be even better.  You could also install a tub shower, where the tub doubles as the base of the shower.  It is a good idea to have at least one tub in a house for a variety of reasons.  I like larger tubs for this purpose such as the Kohler Bellwether K-876.  They are a little bit wider and have higher sides.  Adding a curved shower rod even gives you more room.  Moen has an easy-to-install model.

When placing the shower valve(s), see if you can put it on an interior wall rather than an exterior wall.  Less chance of freezing.  If you can access the valve from the other side of the wall (such as in an adjacent closet) it is even better.  It is cheaper and easier to repair sheet rock rather than tile when a repair is needed.  Also consider putting the valve near the entrance to shower so you don’t have to enter the shower and get wet to turn the shower on.  The valve doesn’t necessarily have to be right under the shower head.

Make sure that light is plentiful.  Keep the floor space as open as possible so the bathroom is easy to navigate.  Use tall cabinetry instead of framed linen closets because they take up far less room.    The tile on the floors should have a minimum coefficient of friction of 0.5.  The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, recommends 0.6.  Use a tile baseboard rather than wood baseboard.  Much easier to maintain.  When painting the walls, use a high quality paint.  The walls get a lot of moisture, usually daily.  I like to use semi-gloss on the bathroom walls because it holds up well.  Be aware that a semi-gloss has quite a bit of sheen, so it won’t suit everyone.

Accessibility – Whatever your age, make the bathroom and its fixtures easily accessible.  Make your doors 32” wide or more, and keep the floor plan open.  Making your shower curbless costs a little more (custom showers), but they are a joy to use.  And if you ever need a wheelchair, no further modifications are needed.  Eliminating the door will make the shower much more accessible and saves money on a major item.

Do some research on Universal Design, which promotes accessible design for everyone, regardless of age.  Use grab bars in all your showers and tubs.  Grab bars make a lot of sense.  If you are retrofitting grab bars and can’t put the wood blocking in the wall, which you need to fasten the grab bar, Moen has a really clever grab bar you can install right in the tile.  It uses a fastener called SecureMount.  They also have some of the best looking bars in the industry with matching finishes and styles.

Configuration – Configuration is dictated mostly by what space you have and the locations of doors and windows.  Leave at least 18” from the center of the toilet to the nearest bathroom fixture or wall.  Code requires a minimum of 15” from the centerline of the toilet to an obstacle, a bath fixture or a wall.


If you have an older home you may have a window above the tub.  You can replace the window with a good quality vinyl window that can withstand the moisture.  Tile around the window.  Or cover the window with a piece of tempered glass, either frosted or clear.  See an example of this type of installation below.  Note the stainless steel fasteners used so that the window can be easily accessed for maintenance.

Glass with etched edges covering window in the shower

If you have room, install a linen closet or tall cabinet.  If you don’t have enough room, use nooks, hooks and shelves for towels and linens.

Accessories – Accessories are items such as towel bars, toilet paper holders, and medicine cabinets.  Usually you’ll need about two 24” towel bars, a small hand towel bar, a towel ring, one toilet paper holder, a robe hook or two.  Medicine cabinets that double as mirrors can be very useful too.  I like the Kohler Archer K-3073 that has a front mirror, a mirror on the backside of the door, and a mirror in the back of the shelves.  With two of these installed with  the doors open, you can look at yourself from all sides.

Heated towel bars are a luxury, but such a nice one.  Some of the larger ones can even add a little heat to the room.

Choose your accessories during the design process.  This is necessary because you need to put wood blocking in between the studs in specific locations so that the accessories can be easily and securely fastened. Blocking needs to be done during the rough-in (the first phase of building).  2×8’s, 2×10’s, and 2×12 scraps makes good blocking.

[Tip: Make a diagram or “map” of your bathroom when all of the blocking is in place.  Instead of the height above finished floor (AFF), it is best to measure off the ceiling, since the finished floor may not be installed yet.  Don’t measure to the center of the blocking, but rather from the top to the bottom, so that if a location preference changes, you will know how much latitude you have.  Measure from an adjacent wall from one end of the blocking to the other end and note this on the drawing.   Also make sure that you photograph your rough-in thoroughly.  You’ll find this to be a real life saver someday.]
Mapping Your Blocking

Lighting – Lighting is very important in the bathroom.  You need to see where you are going, and you need to see yourself clearly to carry out the usual everyday bath tasks such as shaving, applying makeup, grooming and showering.  Besides being very practical, lighting is also quite beautiful.  Well designed lighting can create a variety of effects using different kinds of fixtures.  The simplest way to add some zest to your bath is to install dimmers on the lights, my favorite being the Lutron Maestro.  Be sure that you put a dimmer on your “entry’ light, so when you enter the bath in the morning it doesn’t blind you.

[Tip: I usually put the shower light on the first switch you come to as you enter the bathroom.  The shower light is usually out of the way enough so that it doesn’t blind you in the morning, or you can even use it as a night light.]

Be sure to allow space in the ceiling for a good exhaust fan, such as the ultra-quiet Panasonic WhisperCeiling exhaust fan.

It is unfortunate that some of the most functional light fixtures for applying your makeup, are downright ugly.  You’ve seen them in theatrical makeup rooms where the lights are on both sides of the mirror and above the mirror.  This is about the best way to position makeup lights.  Many times I put two attractive sconces on the sides of the mirror and a 4” recessed low voltage in the ceiling.  Although this is not the best solution, it works fairly well.  Be sure to put a dimmer on the recessed light so you can control the amount of shadow that it throws on your face.

Install one or more vapor-proof recessed lights in the shower area.  If you have a large bathroom, put some lighting near the door and over the toilet.  If you build a linen closet in the bathroom, put a light in it with a switch near the door to the closet.  Check codes for the proper type of light fixture.  We usually use a fluorescent bulb.

In summary – You now have a general checklist of items you should consider as you plan your bathroom layout.  Most of it is just common sense.  Some of it comes from experience and research.

Look over your progress now that you have completed 4 of the 6 steps.  It sounds like you are all done by now, but there’s more to come.  In Step 5 we’ll discuss material selection.  With what you are about to spend on a bathroom, material selection will play a big part in the price of the bathroom and it durability.

Here are some examples of Before and After floor plans:

Master Bath 1 - Before

In this design we want to increase the open floor space, remove the old, unused whirlpool tub, move the shower over where the tub was, move the toilet where the shower was and remove the wall you see as you enter the room.  The shower will be curbless and will have no door.  The only enclosure in the room side is a slab of glass from the floor to 84″ high.

Master bath 1 - After

In the next example you’ll have to think outside the box.  A lot of  things will have to be shuffled to make this bathroom design work.  You’ll notice that the entrance to the master bedroom is from the hall.  The new entrance will be cut into the wall between the bottom of the stairs and the laundry closet.

Master Bath 2 - Before

The wall with the entry door to the bedroom will be removed, and the hallway will become part of the new and improved master bathroom.  The coat closet under the stairs made a perfect place for the toilet.The whirlpool tub was removed and a beautiful free-standing white soaker was put in its place.  The shower was completely rebuilt in the same location.  The vanity was turned 90 degrees.

Master Bath 2 - After

You can see that with a minimum of wall removal, and very little additional framing, the entire configuration of the bathroom was changed.  It is much more open now, with the toilet in a private space.

Here are some finished pictures of the bathroom:

Vanity and Mirrors

And here’s the soaking tub with shower, enclosed by reeded glass.

Shower and Tub

Next is Product selection – within the defined budget, what products fulfill the function of the bathroom, fit your lifestyle and your budget?

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  • Chuck

    Thanks for the article there are some very good suggestions in it. A dimmer is a great idea for the light however will not work in my case so I picked up a cooper night light/plug and plan on switching out the regular plug with it. I wish I would have seen your article before I started on my bath I would have changed a few things.

  • rss3

    Chuck, thanks for the compliment. I don’t know if I mentioned this in the article, but in lieu of a dimmer just add a light to your shower. Use that light as you enter to avoid the glare of all the light bulbs over the vanity. Glad you found a work-around.

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