A Six-Step Process for Designing Your Bathroom


Step 1: Investigate Space:

How much space can I have? The next step is to learn more about the available space for this new bathroom. Is it limited to the current bathroom footprint? Is it possible to remove the linen closet and repurpose the space? Do you make use of the whirlpool tub? Is it possible to use an adjacent closet, a coat closet, or a portion of the adjoining bedroom? Empty nesters may be willing to give up a bedroom to create a new master bath. Master baths with all the bells and whistles can quickly consume a lot of space. Consider all of your options. Think outside the “box” and be creative. Guide on custom bathroom solutions.

Examine the available room(s). Are there any windows that will influence the design? Is there a finished or unfinished basement beneath the house? Is there a crawl space underneath? How easy is it to get to the plumbing, electricity, and HVAC? What is it that is above? Is it an attic or a finished room? Baths are most likely stacked in a two-story home. Take note of this and consider the waste and supply lines (the waste lines are far more critical and challenging to re-configure). What barriers do you believe the waste lines will breach? Are the walls thicker than standard house walls?

Another question to consider is whether the current configuration is satisfactory. Does it meet your new requirements? Is it secure, efficient, appealing, comfortable, and inviting? How much natural light is available?

[Tip: Using a light tunnel is an easy way to get light into a bath with little or no natural light. Velux Sun Tunnel skylights and SolaTube skylights are simple to install and perform admirably. Of course, attic space above the room in question is required.]

If you intend to use an adjacent room, consider what is bearing on the wall(s) to be removed. Abeam will be required to support the load if they are taking it. However, most clients would prefer no evidence of a wall being removed. In other words, they want a flush ceiling, which requires splitting the joists and installing an in-ceiling beam. It’s not difficult, but there is a specific technique to follow. I recommend that you hire a qualified remodeler to do this.

In summary, you are considering the space available, the existing configuration, the design constraints that openings or other physical objects impose on your design, how the existing mechanical parts are run and your access to them, and the bearing points that may be involved with your design.

Step 2 – Purpose:

“How do I want to use this space?” What do you require in this space? How do you want the room to work? How will the restroom be utilized? Who is going to use this restroom? How many at once? Who is the first to awaken? Is there a requirement for privacy? Does one partner get up earlier than the other? Is the room in need of more than standard soundproofing? Is it necessary to separate the water closets (toilets)? Is it essential to have a door(s) on the water closet(s)?

Will the children use this room? What are their ages? Are they organized or disorganized? Is a tub required in this room? Is it necessary for someone to dress in this room? Should this room include a walk-in closet? If so, who will make the most use of the WIC? Is accessibility the most important consideration? Are there any special requirements that should be met?

You’re starting the design process by writing down the answers to some of these questions. Regardless of how many designs I’ve done, my clients have always been very involved, often to the point of designing the bathroom themselves. Use these design pointers as a guide. Collect all of the puzzle pieces. Put everything in the best possible place. Create the desired look and feel. When you’re finished, consult a reputable contractor to ensure the design is feasible, functional, and aesthetically pleasing within your budget.

Step 3 – Budgeting is the third:

What is the purpose of having a budget? Isn’t it true that it costs what it costs? Nope. Part of your research should include how much money you might spend on this project and what is included. This will necessitate some discussion with a potential contractor. You can’t figure it out alone because you’ll be way off. I’ve met many people who have added up all the materials, added a few dollars for labor, and think that’s it. However, the contractor is aware of numerous tasks you are unaware of that must be completed. That is why they are independent contractors. Remember that they do this for a living and must be compensated for their efforts.

Bathrooms are pricey. After the kitchens, this is the most expensive room. Your potential contractor (PC) should be able to give you a ballpark figure based on previous work. Do this early in the planning process. It would be a massive waste of time to go through all of the planning and design only to discover that the project as designed is way out of your price range.

After your PC has listened to what you want from your bath and given you some examples and price ranges, you must decide whether to proceed. The job you wish to do will cost a set amount of money, and there is no way around it. As you learn about these realities, you must have faith. It’s a game of give and take. Neither you nor the computer will want to display all of your cards. The PC has no way of knowing the final cost and doesn’t want to make a guess, and you won’t want to tell him how much money you have. The moment of truth will come when the contract is signed.

Remember that the design and materials you choose will significantly impact the cost. Likewise, the finishing touches can account for a substantial portion of the project’s cost.

Phil Rhea, a well-known remodeler and industry speaker, shared a story about a meeting with a potential client. When asked how much an addition would cost, he replied, “I can build you an addition for $1,500, or I can build you one for $250,000. I can build your job for whatever you want to pay, but you’ll only get what you pay for.” In other words, he could build a dog house or a perfect addition, but he needed to know how much they were willing to invest in the project.

And the costs of remodeling are investments that will provide you with years of enjoyment and a return on your investment. A well-designed project will provide a higher return on investment. Unlike cars, boats, or RVs, which depreciate rapidly, investing in a home will yield a positive return on investment. So invest your time in research. Consider how much time you spend shopping for a car or a product. These are minor investments in comparison to what you might spend on your home.

Let’s go over what you’ve done so far. First, you’ve identified the available space and how it will be utilized. Second, you’ve determined a budget range for the project. Third, you’ve begun to “paint a picture” of the new bathroom, which is exciting. Step 4 is now complete.

Step 4 – The Design:

Configuring the bath – So far, you’ve considered the available space. You also know who will use the room and how they will use it. And you’ve calculated an approximate budget. It is time to consider the bathroom layout or the configuration of everything you intend to put in your bathroom. In this fourth and most crucial step, you will list all the items you want in the bathroom and roughly where you want them. Things like the soaker tub, toilet, walk-in shower, sauna, sink(s), and other fixtures like lighting and faucets.

The layout is divided into five sections:

1. General Guidelines

2. Accessibility

3. Configuration

4. Accessories

5. Lighting.

(1) General Guidelines – First, place the toilet in the least visible location possible. The first thing you should see when you walk into the bath (or someone else does) should not be the toilet. This is especially true in powder rooms, where visitors unfamiliar with the house will enter. Place the toilet behind a 48″ high door or knee wall, and allow at least 36″ – 42″ width for the toilet area, with a 32″ minimum. If space in front of the toilet is limited, consider a round bowl; otherwise, use an elongated bowl.

Kohler sells a Class 6 unit that uses only 1.28 gallons of water per flush. If you have a large room, you may want to build a separate room for the toilet. Some master suites have two separate bathrooms. Use windows or sun tunnels to bring in natural light cheaply. Allow as much space as possible for your shower. Showers can be configured in countless ways.

Nonetheless, pay close attention to water consumption and other costs such as tile quantity and those fancy valves and diverters. Let me give you an example of how much water you will use daily if you use four body sprays at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), one overhead shower head at 2.5 gpm, and two people each take a 15-minute shower. That’ll make you think, won’t it? If you go this route, make sure your supply lines are at least 3/4″ pipe and that you purchase a larger water heater.

The minor shower I would recommend is 3′ x 3′. 3′ x 3′ Neo Angle showers are sold as a unit and are helpful in small baths or rarely used bathrooms. A good starting point is a 4′ x 3′ shower. A 4′ x 3-6″ battery would be even better. You could also install a tub shower, in which the tub serves as the shower’s base. Having at least one tub in the house is a good idea for various reasons.

For this purpose, I prefer more giant tubs, such as the Kohler Bellwether K-876. They’re slightly more comprehensive and have higher sides. Adding a curved shower rod gives you even more space. Moen has a model that is simple to install. Consider installing the shower valve(s) on an interior wall rather than an exterior wall. There is less chance of freezing. It is even better to access the valve from the other side of the wall (for example, in an adjacent closet).

When a repair is required, sheetrock is less expensive and easier to repair than tile. Consider placing the shower valve near the shower’s entrance so you don’t have to enter the rain and get wet when you turn on the water. The valve does not have to be directly beneath the shower head. Make sure there is plenty of light. Keep the floor space as open as possible to make it easier to navigate the bathroom.

Rather than framed linen closets, tall cabinetry takes up far less space. Floor tiles should have a minimum coefficient of friction of 0.5. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) suggests 0.6. Instead of wood baseboards, use tile baseboards. Much easier to keep up. Use high-quality paint when painting the walls. Moisture accumulates on the borders daily. I like to use semi-gloss paint on the bathroom walls because it is durable. However, be aware that a semi-gloss has a lot of sheens and will not suit everyone.

(2) Accessibility – Make the bathroom and its fixtures easily accessible, regardless of your age. Make your doors 32″ or more comprehensive, and keep the floor plan open. Making your shower curbless costs more (custom showers), but they are a joy to use. If you ever need a wheelchair, no further modifications are required. Eliminating the door makes the battery much more accessible and saves money on a significant item.

(3) Configuration – The configuration is mainly determined by the available space and the placement of doors and windows; leave at least 18″ between the center of the toilet and the nearest bathroom fixture or wall. Code requires a minimum of 15″ between the centerline of the toilet and an obstacle, a bath fixture, or a barrier. You may have a window above the tub if you have an older home. Replace the window with a good-quality vinyl window that can withstand moisture. Tile around the window. Or cover the window with tempered glass, either frosted or clear.

(4) Accessories – Towel bars, toilet paper holders, and medicine cabinets are examples of accessories. Typically, you’ll need two 24″ towel bars, a small hand towel bar, a towel ring, one toilet paper holder, and one or two robe hooks. Medicine cabinets that double as mirrors can also be handy.

One of my favorites is the Kohler Archer K-3073, with a front mirror, a mirror on the backside of the door, and a mirror on the back of the shelves. With two of these installed and the doors open, you can see yourself from every angle. Heated towel bars are a luxury, but what a luxury. Some of the larger ones can even generate some heat in the room. During the design process, select your accessories.

This is required because wood blocking must be installed between the studs in specific locations to quickly and securely fasten the accessories. Blocking must be completed during the rough-in (the first construction phase). Scraps of 28’s, 210s, and 212’s make good blocking.

[Tip: Once the blocking is in place, draw a diagram or “map” of your bathroom. Because the finished floor may not yet be installed, measuring from the ceiling rather than the height above the finished floor (AFF) is best. Measure from top to bottom, not from the center of the blocking, so you’ll know how much latitude you have if a location preference changes. Measure from one end of the siege to another and record it on the drawing. Also, make sure that you thoroughly photograph your rough-in. Someday, you’ll realize how useful this is.]

(5) Lighting – Lighting is essential in the bathroom. You must be able to see where you are going as well as yourself to perform everyday bathing tasks such as shaving, applying makeup, grooming, and showering. Lighting can be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Using various types of fixtures, well-designed lighting can produce a variety of effects. Installing dimmers on the lights, my favorite being the Lutron Maestro, is the simplest way to add zing to your bath. Also, ensure your “entry” light is dimmed so it doesn’t blind you when you enter the bath in the morning.

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

Unfortunately, some of the most functional light fixtures for applying makeup are downright ugly. You’ve probably seen them in theatrical makeup rooms with lights on both sides of the mirror and above it. This is about the best way to position makeup lights. Although this is not the best solution, it does the job. Make sure the recessed light has a dimmer so you can control the amount of shadow it casts on your face. Southern Cabinets and Lighting have the best selection and service for all your lighting needs. Allow space in the ceiling for a good exhaust fan, such as Panasonic’s ultra-quiet WhisperCeiling exhaust fan. In the shower, install one or more vapor-proof recessed lights. Put some lighting near the door and over the toilet if you have a large bathroom. Install a lamp with a switch near the closet door if you build a linen closet in the bathroom. Check codes to ensure you have the correct type of light fixture. We typically use a fluorescent light bulb.

In conclusion, you now have a general checklist of items to consider as you plan your bathroom layout. The majority of it is common sense. However, some of it is based on personal experience and research. Next, examine your progress after completing four of the six steps. You appear to be finished, but there is still more to come. Step 5 will go over material selection. With what you are about to spend on a bathroom, material selection will play a significant role in the price and durability of the toilet.

Step 5 – Choose products for your bathroom:

Product selection – You’ve completed four steps to designing a fantastic bathroom. Your design is nearly complete. It is time to choose this project’s specific products and materials. Your contractor can be an invaluable asset. This is especially true if they are design-build contractors specializing in this process during design. They’ve probably constructed far more bathrooms than you have. Examine their photographs and inquire about the products they used. Then, review your photos again and start making a list of materials and products that interest you.

Research and read reviews – The internet is the best place to review products. You can search for almost anything and find it. Examine the feedback. Reading reviews on Amazon.com is a good idea. People can leave comments on some websites. With the help of a program called Snagit, you can “grab” images and information from the internet. Put them all in a folder on your computer. Visit showrooms to get a sense of the products. Examine the brochures. Talk to your coworkers. Visit your friends who have recently had work done.

Choosing a Product – How do you know what is a superior product? One important consideration is whether the product is a good value, which means it is the best product at the best price. It may be of good value if it is long-lasting. It might be a good deal if your contractor and their tradespeople are familiar with it. If you choose something too exotic or unknown, installing it may be challenging, and repairing it may not be easy. For example, while beautiful, some foreign plumbing fixtures may take months to obtain replacement parts if necessary. Kohler, Moen, American Standard, and Delta are examples of deserving American companies with excellent products.

Cabinets – The vanity is the most common type of bathroom cabinet. Most vanities sold today are 34 1/2″ high, resulting in a finished height of 36″ when the countertop is installed. Most vanities in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were 32″-34″ tall. (Your kitchen counter is probably 36″ above the finished floor or AFF.) Cabinets also make excellent linen closets. They take up less space than a built-in linen closet and improve the bathroom’s appearance. Classic Cabinetry is a great place to get your cabinetry. An antique replica vanity is another great option for your bathroom. These are now available reasonably priced and look great in powder rooms.

Make good use of your available space. In wall cavities, install open shelves. Design your storage in the walk-in closet or linen closet with care. Chattanooga Closet does an excellent job with both design and installation.

Consider how long it will take for your products to arrive. Do they work with your schedule? A missing component can put a project on hold. How long will it take to get the cabinets? Are all of your products sourced from companies with a good customer service track record? On some of these points, you can rely on your contractor. Ultimately, they will be responsible for dealing with this and staying on schedule.

Now that you have a list, review it to see if it fits within your budget, ships quickly, and has positive reviews. Keep it on your list if it does. If not, avoid it and consider other options.

Allow your contractor to assist you – A good contractor will have attended numerous trade shows and seminars to learn everything they know. They should only give you a few options for each bathroom item. Anything more is simply perplexing. They will understand what works for them. You must then decide whether it is beneficial to you. I can tell you from personal experience that if you go out and buy all of your products without first consulting with your contractor, you will run into problems. We try to avoid this as much as possible because we know the consequences.

To summarize:

  • Make a list of the products that must be chosen.
  • Next, make a list of optional items.
  • Determine where you will locate these items.
  • Determine whether you will go shopping with the contractor or on your own.
  • Create a product selection sheet or web page to share with others.
  • Determine the dates on which the products must be ordered.
  • Determine who will place the orders.
  • Determine when the items will be required on the job.

Step 6 – Constructing the Bath:

You are ready for Ready-Set-Remodel. You’re all set. It’s time to start working on that bathroom. Step 6 discusses the bathroom’s construction or the processor you can expect when building your bathroom. Again, your planning and design efforts will be rewarded. Because of your diligence, building your bathroom will be much easier.

Every contractor has a different construction method, but they will all follow some basic steps. Before the job begins, some companies hold a pre-construction conference (PCC). That meeting could be just you and your designer or contractor going over everything involved in the project for the umpteenth time. Most will hold this meeting at your residence. They might bring in the lead carpenter or subcontractors. This is done differently by each company. Some people don’t do it at all. The PCC should include a review of the final contract and points that aren’t in agreement, such as paint colors, portable toilet location, notes about your pet(s), starting hours, your routine, or noting any bushes or furniture that may require special protection. Make sure to obtain a copy of the PCC once it has been transcribed.

The long-awaited day has finally arrived. It’s time to get started on the project. First, with your permission, your contractor may place a job sign. Next, protect your property from dust, dirt, and traffic wear. And there will be a lot of this. Depending on the complexity of your job, it could last a few days to more than a month. And that’s a lot of coming and going. So prepare mentally because this will completely disrupt your routine.

Floor runners or carpet masks (adhering plastic runners), plastic set up at doorways, and painter’s plastic on beds and furniture can all help to keep dust at bay. Remember to cover the clothes in your closet. This can be an expensive oversight. Even with the door closed dust will get in.

Request a job schedule so that you are prepared for the various phases. The plan could be detailed or straightforward. Understand that this schedule will shift daily. That is how remodeling works. At the very least, the program gives you an idea of when something will happen and defines the various phases.

Setting up a message center at home or a collaboration website like Basecamp is a good idea. You’ve spent a long time planning this project, and the paper trail must continue. Maintain contact with your contractor, remembering they may have other projects. Nonetheless, your job is critical, so you must maintain open lines of communication.

The owner of the company or one of their lead carpenters may be in charge of your job. You might even have a job supervisor who keeps things organized. Ensure you understand who is in order of the job at this point.

You’ve hired a reliable contractor. Allow them to construct your ideal bathroom now. This is the motivation behind all of the planning and design work. Everything will fall into place. The first phases will make it appear like they will complete the entire bathroom in a few days. Don’t be fooled by how quickly the demolition is completed or the job is framed and roughed in. When the sheetrock finishing begins, the position appears to halt.

That’s just the way things are. The sheetrock finishing will take about a week, during which not much else will be done. After that, a first coat of paint on the walls and possibly some trim. The finishing touches have begun. It takes a long time to complete work. A custom tile shower can take up to three days to complete. Hopefully, your vanities and cabinets, as well as your fixtures, will arrive on time.

There will be a delay if you have granite countertops. They can’t measure the awnings until the cabinets are installed, and then you have to wait 3-7 days for the tops to be seated, depending on the granite company. The sink fixtures cannot be installed until the countertops have been installed. Everything must be completed in a specific order. Please be patient. It will be over soon, and I assure you it will be worthwhile.

Finally, I hope you enjoyed these design ideas and that this process leads to a better bathroom design. Take pictures of the job site daily. Take notes. Communicate with your contractor. Get a warranty in writing. Write a testimonial for the contractor, expressing your gratitude for their efforts. Most importantly, enjoy your new space, which was once a fantasy.

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