The Well-Designed Bathroom

Pro tips from designers on key elements of a well-designed bathroom

By Sharon Johnson

The humble bathroom is humble no more. The room once relegated to the role of understudy is now commanding center stage in its own right. And while the bathroom will always have, at its core, some basic utilitarian requirements, today's designers know that the bathroom is a place where function and form can each play a starring role. We spoke to designers across the country to get their take on the key elements of a well-designed bathroom.

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The Well-Designed Bathroom is . . . Safe

Light Contemporary Bathroom
Ines Hanl

Perhaps more than any other room in the house, the bathroom must be designed with safety in mind. That means floors must have a good grip, outlets must be properly placed away from water sources, and doors must swing freely without endangering anyone's life or limb. The experts at the National Kitchen & Bath Association have put together a comprehensive manual detailing all the "Dos and Don'ts" of safe bathroom design. You can download a free copy of it here.

Look at more Great Bathroom Designs.

The Well-Designed Bathroom is . . . Structurally Sound

A bathroom's structural integrity is an important safety feature in its own right. You may start to renovate an existing bathroom with a view to simply improving the aesthetics, only to find crumbling wallboard and leaking pipes. Tempting as it may be to throw on an extra layer of wallpaper and hope for the best, doing so puts you at risk for further—and potentially more costly and dangerous—damage down the road. Make sure the "bones" of the room are solid before adding those coveted "bells and whistles."

Admire these designer bathrooms: 

Sunny Contemporary Bathroom
Gabriel Benroth, Adam Rolston & Drew Stuart

The Well-Designed Bathroom is . . . Bright

If you're building a bathroom from scratch, consider adding windows and skylights. "Lighting is the most critical element to making a bathroom feel open and airy," says Komal Sheth, ASID, and founder of Spaces Designed interior design studio in Austin, Texas. The flood of natural light not only benefits one's sense of well-being, it also makes the space appear larger than it is.

For adding light in an unexpected way, Komal recommends a backlit mirror. "It is really a stunning feature for a bathroom," she says. "The illumination highlights the mirror as well as the paint color or tile behind the mirror."

TIP: Consider a bathroom door made of frosted glass. It will bring in light from the bedroom or hallway.

The Well-Designed Bathroom is . . . Efficient

Light Contemporary Bathroom
David Howell

The typical American bathroom is 5' x 10'. That may not seem like a lot of space, but a successful outcome is less about the amount of space you have to work with and more about how you work with the space you have.

"Just because you have a small space doesn't mean you have to compromise on the design," insists Komal. She is a firm believer that bathrooms should be as practical as they are tranquil. She recommends making use of every available inch of space to create niches and drawers for tucking away the clutter that inevitably litters the bathroom countertop. "You've got to incorporate the maximum amount of essentials in the least amount of space possible," she insists. "It is critical to a well-functioning bathroom."

If you're struggling with space constraints, Mark Karas, president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association, and owner of Adams Kitchens in Stoneham, MA recommends eliminating the bathtub altogether. It may seem like a drastic move, but there's no arguing that it gives you a lot more square footage to play with.

Take a look at:

The Well-Designed Bathroom is . . . All-Natural

Elegant Contemporary Bathroom
Lori Dennis

We tend to think of the "look" of the bathroom as most important, but Anna Marks, ASID, senior designer and owner of Interior Atelier in Chicago, stresses the importance of incorporating the other senses as well. "The sense of touch and the sense of smell play an equally significant role in the well-designed bathroom," she says. "It's important to awaken all the senses."

Renovating a bathroom presents the perfect opportunity to make changes that are as good for your health and the environment as they are for the aesthetics. The major brands of toilets and faucets now come with water-saving features. Paints are available in beautiful colors that are low VOC. And countertops, tile, and flooring are all available in recycled or natural materials, such as glass or stone.

"Green" is not a trend," insists Komal. "It is here to stay. People are beginning to understand that what is good for the environment is also good for them. I love the look of Ice Stone countertops made of 100% recycled glass chips, and you can't beat river rock for a feel-good flooring in the shower."

More "Green" ideas you can integrate into your bathroom:

The Well-Designed Bathroom is . . . Cost-Effective

Casual Contemporary Bathroom
Scott Gjesdahl

Whether your budget is limited or limitless, it always pays to keep an eye on costs to make sure you are spending wisely. The National Kitchen & Bath Association offers these guidelines for how you should expect to allocate your expenses:

Installation: 20%
Cabinetry & Hardware: 16%
Fixtures: 15%
Faucets & Plumbing: 14%
Flooring: 9%
Countertops: 7%
Lighting & Ventilation: 5%
Walls & Ceilings: 5%
Doors & Windows: 4%
Design fees: 4%
Other: 1%

Other tips on how to plan a DIY bathroom renovation.

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