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Bathroom Design Planning


Renovate your entire bathroom or make small upgrades with these helpful tips.

Although the bathroom is typically the smallest room in the home, its planning requires some of the most attention to detail. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you make smart choices about bathroom planning, fixtures and finishes.

In this article:
Planning tips
Floor finishes
Wall finishes
Bathroom layout samples

Planning tips

  • Door opening should not impede use of any fixtures
  • All receptacles should meet local code requirements
  • Allow for 6” between fixtures to facilitate cleaning
  • Flooring finish should be slip-resistant
  • Provide ambient and task lighting
  • Allocate adequate storage space
  • Privacy should be accommodated
  • Proper heating and ventilation are required by natural and/or mechanical means


Space Requirements

  • Minimum clearance of 30” required in front of tub
  • Faucets should be accessible from outside of tub
  • There should be no more than one step to enter tub
  • Grab bars should be installed for safety


  • Wall surround must be waterproof, options include ceramic tile, plastic laminate and fiberglass
  • Typical sizes are: 5’ and 5-1/2’ long, 28” to 32” wide and 14” to 16” high

Tub Types

Rectangular bathtub

  • Standard size is 60” x 30”, other sizes also available
  • Typically fitted into a corner and enclosed on three sides
  • Standard contemporary bathtub

Corner bathtub

  • Fits into corner and allows for alternative configuration of fixtures
  • Average size is 54” x 54”
  • Acrylic is most common material owing to moulding ease
  • Works well in bathrooms where typical rectangular tub will not fit

Freestanding bathtub

  • Traditional Victorian tub design is enjoying a revival in modern reproductions
  • Roll-top tub is supported by ball and claw feet
  • If purchasing an antique, be sure to have appropriate hardware as modern models may not fit

Contoured bathtub

  • Commonly made of acrylic and fiberglass
  • Shape is more organic than other tubs with cinching at centre
  • More comfortable than standard tubs

Whirlpool bathtub

  • Also known as Jacuzzi or spa
  • More costly than other tubs
  • Nozzles circulate the water for ultimate relaxation

Sit-in bathtub

  • Square shape and taller than ordinary tubs
  • Good solution for small bathroom
  • Provides easier access for disabled and elderly


Enameled cast-iron

  • Traditional bathtub material
  • Expensive and durable
  • Water cools quickly
  • Non-abrasive cleaner is required

Enameled steel

  • Shape is moulded from steel then coated with vitreous china or porcelain enamel
  • Less expensive and lighter alternative to enameled cast-iron
  • Structure is sound and rigid


  • Allows for unusually shaped bathtubs
  • Less rigid than other materials
  • Resists chipping and any scratches can be removed with sandpaper
  • Retains warmth of water longer than other materials


  • Endless shape possibilities can be moulded
  • Most luxurious and expensive of all materials
  • Hand-built in layers
  • Abrasive cleaners can discolour surface


Space Requirements

  • Minimum dimensions are 32” x 32”, but 54” x 36” allows for more movement
  • Minimum clearance of 30” is required in front of shower
  • Shower door should swing out into bathroom
  • Showerhead should be within arm’s reach


  • Popular choice for convenience, speed and economy of water
  • Floor of shower should be non-slip and as wide as possible
  • Walls around shower must be waterproof using ceramic tile, plastic laminate or fiberglass
  • Can be integrated into bathtub or its own enclosure
  • Good solution for bathroom with insufficient space for tub

Shower Types

Prefabricated stall

  • Self-sufficient unit with door
  • Simplest to install
  • Shapes include square, rectangular or angled with diagonal front
  • Usually made of acrylic or fiberglass

Custom-made stall

  • Materials must be waterproof
  • Common materials used include glass block, acrylic and stone
  • Any shape can be created

Prefabricated pan

  • Stall without the enclosing walls
  • Used for custom-made units, prefabricated stalls or on their own
  • Moulded out of plastic, terrazzo or chipped stone


Shower curtain

  • Most common and inexpensive enclosure
  • Easy to maintain and clean
  • Waterproof and washable


  • Made of plastic or glass
  • Connects to side of tub, prevents water spillage and minimizes splashing
  • Can be full or half-length of bathtub
  • Typically made of two or three parts that are hinged or folded up


  • Made from safety glass or plastic
  • Can hinge, pivot, fold or slide open and shut


Space Requirements

  • Minimum clearance required in front of sink is 30” to 42”
  • Minimum clearance from centre of sink to side wall is 12”
  • Should be mounted 32” to 36” from floor
  • Deep shelves should not be placed above sink
  • Typical sizes range from 12” x 31” to 22” x 44”


  • As the sink is the most used fixture in a room, a mirror, storage and lighting should be placed in close proximity
  • Largest size sink possible should be selected

Sink Types

Pedestal sink

  • Two-piece unit consisting of bowl and stem
  • Stem supports bowl and also conceals plumbing
  • Takes up less floor space; good for small bathrooms
  • Bowl requires wall installation

Wall-mounted sink

  • Suspended directly from wall exposing pipes
  • Good choice for small bathrooms with limited floor space
  • Can be mounted at any height

Countertop sink

  • Bowl is installed into countertop or vanity unit
  • Cupboards below provide storage and conceal plumbing
  • Single piece countertop with sink can be made from acrylic or Corian


Vitreous china

  • Traditional material that is hard-wearing, hygienic and easy to clean
  • Heavy — requires sufficient support
  • Enamel finish should be cleaned with non-abrasive liquid cleanser
  • Used for pedestal sinks


  • Cast-iron with enamel finish: heavy and requires good structural support
  • Pressed steel: finished with enamel and used for countertop basins
  • Stainless steel: hygienic and hard-wearing material


  • Can be moulded into integrated sink and countertop unit
  • Colours are limited
  • Surface may scratch (can be removed with sanding)
  • Water will retain heat longer than other materials


  • Unlimited colour range
  • Typically moulded into countertop and bowl
  • Does not maintain shine like other materials


Space Requirements

  • Minimum clearance required in front of toilet is 24”
  • Minimum clearance required from centre of toilet to obstruction on either side is 15”
  • Toilet paper holder should be located at 26” high and 12” beyond front of toilet


  • Almost all toilets are made of vitreous china, which is hygienic, resistant to stains and easy to clean
  • Needs to be located near main stack
  • Standard height is 15”
  • Consider models that conserve water (maximum 6 litres/flush; dual flush toilets are also available and use even less water)
  • Can be floor or wall mounted

Toilet Types

Close-coupled unit

  • Tank sits directly behind bowl without touching wall
  • Space saver with neat appearance

One-piece unit

  • Tank and bowl are integrated into one unit
  • More expensive than others
  • Common construction for wall-mounted models


  • Siphon-jet: common modern flushing mechanism, fairly low noise
  • Siphon-vortex: most expensive and quietest flush
  • Reverse-trap: moderately noisy flush, better than wash-down


Space Requirements

  • Minimum clearance required in front of bidet is 24”
  • Minimum clearance required from centre of bidet to obstruction on either side is 15”
  • Soap and towel should be within reach


  • Standard fixture in Europe that is gaining popularity in North America
  • Should be located next to toilet
  • Standard height is 15”
  • Usually made of vitreous china for hygienic qualities

Bidet Types


  • Basic model
  • Hot and cold water fill over the rim like a sink


  • More sophisticated and expensive
  • Hot and cold water fill from top of the rim down



  • Aesthetically cleaner application
  • All plumbing is hidden behind wall


  • Plumbing is visible
  • Bidet stands on floor

Floor finishes


  • Material used on floors must be waterproof, durable and easy to clean
  • Must be slip-resistant when wet


Stone tile

  • Can be heavy, check to ensure floor can support load
  • Most common materials are granite, slate and terrazzo
  • Hard-wearing but cold underfoot
  • Marble should be limited to details as it becomes slippery when wet and is easily damaged
  • Requires professional installation

Ceramic tile

  • Most popular of floor materials
  • Durable, water resistant and requires minimal maintenance
  • Can be cold underfoot
  • Can be used on walls and around fixtures
  • Non-glazed tiles offer best slip resistance


  • Warm to the touch with a bit of bounce
  • Economical choice
  • Variety of materials available in tile or sheet form
  • Sheet form is better as there are no gaps for water seepage
  • Impervious to water, durable and easy to clean


  • Should not be permanently fixed wall-to-wall, should be able to lift for drying
  • Use only synthetics like nylon or polyester
  • Natural materials like wool will rot from the moisture
  • Look for bathroom-specific carpet
  • Non-slip, soft and warm
  • Becomes dirty easily
  • Consider area rugs as alternative

Wall finishes


  • Materials must stand up to moisture and heat
  • Should be easy to clean
  • Easiest way to redecorate bath



  • Most economical of all finishes
  • Gloss surfaces are easier to clean than flat finishes
  • Semi-gloss is best because it collects less condensation than gloss paint


  • Must endure exposure to water and humidity
  • Should not be used in shower surround
  • Select vinyl or plastic-coated wallpapers which are more resistant to moisture than standard wallpapers
  • Moderately expensive

Ceramic tile

  • Easy to clean, durable and waterproof
  • Can be used throughout bath, especially in areas in contact with water including bath and shower surround
  • Grout used between tiles should also be waterproof
  • Expensive but will last a lifetime

Bathroom layout samples










Ted Yarwood

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