Decorating & Design

December 16, 2008

Bathroom Design Planning

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