Planning Your Dream Bath

Does a well-lit, well-organized, well-appointed bathroom seem like a fantasy? With proper planning, it can become reality. Here's your guide.
Make your new bath asuseable as it is beautiful.

Bathrooms are small, but when you scrutinize yours for remodeling, you'll find it densely packed with potential projects. To narrow the list to what's most important, begin by asking yourself these questions about your current space and ideas for change:

  • Do you want privacy, or should two people be able to use the bathroom at the same time? In your current space, are there frequent traffic jams?
  • How do you want the bathroom to relate to adjacent rooms?
  • Do you want the basic ensemble of toilet, tub/shower, and sink, or would you like something extra, such as a spa, a double sink, or a luxury shower?
  • Do you want space to shave or apply makeup in the bathroom?
  • Do you need more light? If you have a window, is it in a place where water collects and causes problems?
  • Do you need better ventilation, another electrical outlet, or more counter space around the sink or at other places?
  • What do you like or dislike about the wall, ceiling, and floor materials in your current space?
  • Do you have enough towel racks and other storage room?
  • Is the shower or tub large enough?
  • Does anyone who will use the room have special needs, such as a child or a disabled person?

You may be surprised at how much of your present bathroom can be salvaged. If the basic layout works -- the fixtures are placed comfortably apart and there is enough room left for storage and towel racks -- then you can keep your basic plumbing and only replace fixtures. This is the least expensive remodeling option; moving plumbing or walls adds to the bottom line.

Here's a list of essential elements that will need your attention when you are planning a bathroom remodel. Depending on the scope of your project, some or many of these items will also need a line on the budget:

  • Basic plumbing, including vented drains for all fixtures; hot and cold supplies for tub/shower and for sink; cold supply for toilet
  • Bathtub or shower stall
  • Tub and shower faucet
  • Wall-hung, pedestal, or vanity-installed sink
  • Toilet
  • Lighting: overhead, medicine cabinet
  • Electrical receptacles
  • Vent fan and ductwork
  • Heat
  • Paint or wallpaper for walls and ceiling
  • Tiles or sheeting around tub, on shower walls
  • Countertops
  • Cabinets and shelves
  • Towel racks and hooks
  • Space for the bathroom scale

When it comes to bathroom fixtures, an inch or two can make the difference between feeling comfortable and feeling cramped. These guidelines have been established by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Usually, it's best to give yourself more room than the minimum, but don't go overboard and space things too far apart. If you're extra tall or require more elbowroom, plan for additional space. And don't forget the details: Plan your towel racks at the same time as you plan your fixtures.

Shower Stall

Make room for the shower.
  • Reserve a space at least 34 inches square for a shower enclosure. Moving up to a 42 x 36-inch enclosure will provide greater elbowroom and comfort.
  • Allow a minimum 30 inches of clearance space in front of the shower stall.
  • Mount a showerhead at a height that accommodates the height of users. The height for a 5-foot, 10-inch person is 78 inches; for a 5-foot, 4-inch person, it's 72 inches. To take care of both people, compromise between the two recommended measurements. Other options: mount two showerheads, install a handheld fixture, or purchase a showerhead that adjusts for height.


Find space for the tub.
  • Plan on a space 30 to 32 inches wide and 54, 60, or 72 inches long for a standard tub.
  • Reserve a space that is 36 inches wide and 72 inches long for a typical whirlpool tub. Many shapes and larger sizes are available.
  • Allow 30 inches of clearance space in front of the tub.


  • Allow 36 x 36 inches of clearance space in front of the toilet or bidet, and 16 inches from the center of the fixture to an adjacent wall or fixture.
  • Ensure that an enclosure for the toilet measures at least 36 inches wide and 66 inches deep.


Two need more room than one.
  • Provide at least 30 x 48 inches of clear space in front of the sink and 15 inches from the center of the sink to an adjacent wall or fixture.
  • Separate twin lavatories on a vanity by 30 inches, measuring from the center of each basin.
A pedestal sink saves space.

Even baths with minimal measurements can offer full-scale convenience. Here are some ideas to help you transcend those spare-space problems.

  • Replace a bulky vanity with a sleek pedestal sink. To make up for lost countertop space, add a narrow ledge to the wall behind the sink.
  • Investigate tub options. Choosing a nonstandard size or shape may allow more efficient use of floor space. Check out corner tubs, old-fashioned freestanding units, small-but-deep soaking tubs, and models specifically scaled for small spaces.
  • Improve efficiency with special cabinetry fittings: pull-out laundry hampers, tilt-out waste cans, drawer organizers for cosmetics and toiletries, and appliance garages for personal appliances.
  • Be creative with shelving. Stack a corner with out-of-the-way wedge-shaped glass shelves. Stow rolled towels in a wall-mounted wine rack. Build a labyrinth of recessed cubbyholes in spaces between the wall studs.
  • Use pocket doors instead of hinged doors, so there's no need to make room for swing clearance.
  • Make a small space feel larger with mirrors, shiny metals, and glass. Reflective materials create the illusion of more space. Glass lets the eye see through a solid surface.
  • Consider sneaking a few extra feet into your bath by annexing space from an adjoining closet, hall, or room. Look at bump-out possibilities. Can you push out a wall to gain extra square footage?
Good lighting is crucial to comfort.

A well-planned bath incorporates general lighting for overall illumination and task lighting to spotlight grooming activities. For the most complexion-flattering light, choose incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes that cast a warm white glow.

In small baths and powder rooms, a central ceiling fixture or fixtures that flank the mirror provide adequate general lighting. For a bath of medium to large size, however, you'll probably want to plan a lighting scheme that includes fixtures near the shower or tub, the toilet, and the vanity and/or mirror.

General Lighting

In the toilet compartment, install a ceiling fixture with a 60- to 75-watt incandescent light or a 30- to 40-watt fluorescent tube.

The tub and shower areas need 60 watts of incandescent illumination. Most building codes call for an enclosed vaporproof light fixture for use in wet areas.

Position overhead light fixtures in the tub area so there's no glare in your eyes when you're relaxing in the tub. You may want to install dimmer switches on fixtures with incandescent or dimmable fluorescent bulbs.

Task Lighting

Good lighting is critical in the grooming center. The goal here is to prevent shadows on the face. To do this, arrange fixtures so that light is directed from above and from both sides.

To light a small mirror, align a 100- to 120-watt downlight with the front edge of the sink. For side lighting, install wall fixtures or pendants with 75- to 120-watt bulbs on both sides of the mirror. If you're using fluorescent fixtures, use a ceiling fixture of 32 to 54 watts and sidelights of 20 watts.

If the mirror is wider than 36 inches, sidelights are too far away to be effective. Instead, plan on groupings of recessed ceiling fixtures or mount a long multiple-bulb fixture above the mirror.


Windows give a bathroom cheerful, energizing light, but can also steal privacy. If clear glass lets the world into your bath, consider options such as these:

  • Semisheer window treatments can let in light but maintain privacy. Blinds or curtains offer full coverage, and also may help maintain the inside temperature.
  • Punch a hole in the ceiling for a skylight.
  • Replace windows with glass block or prefabricated acrylic-block panels.
  • Substitute clear glass with frosted-, etched-, or stained-glass panes.

Designer Tips for a Luxe Bath

These show-stopping bathroom designs offer remodeling tips and decorating ideas for any budget. If you're renovating a bathroom, see how to take high-end inspiration and turn it into real-life solutions.


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