How to Design a Bathroom


Maryland Photography for yZiGN Interiors

Designing a bathroom is certainly no small project, but if you follow the pro-approved steps below, you're well on your way to success. Keep reading for tried and true advice from designers and architects that you'll want to keep top of mind as you tackle your bathroom reno.

Find Inspiration

This is a key initial component of the bathroom design process, notes Iwona Petrov, principal of yZiGN Interiors. "You can't skip this step," she says. "You have to go through enough images to start seeing a pattern of the things you like versus [those that] are not attractive to you." This way, you'll feel confident once it's time to meet with a pro. "You don't want to be unprepared and be talked into the design by a sales representative or your contractor based on what everyone is doing," Petrov explains.

Luke Olson, senior associate at GTM Architects, agrees. "I’d recommend looking online and in design magazines to identify photos of bathrooms that you like and compare them to see if there are shared design elements you can use to create your style," he suggests. "Once you have a sense of what you like, you can either reach out to a design professional to assist you with the overall design and material and finish selections, or you can go to kitchen and bath and tile showrooms yourself to meet with their in-house designers and price out options."

bathroom design

Stacy Zarin Goldberg for InSite Builders & Remodeling 

Prioritize Function

Layout and functionality should be top considerations when designing a bathroom, says Lauren Sullivan of Well x Design. "Style should be considered up front as well—both modern and more traditional fittings can each have their own space requirements," she says. In terms of function, think specifically about storage needs in your bathroom space. "Do you need a linen cabinet, built-in, or closet—or will a vanity provide enough storage? Vanities with drawers, rather than doors, often maximize vanity space and provide more storage options," Sullivan shares. Medicine cabinets are no longer just utilitarian. "With all the good looking medicine cabinets on the market, don’t be afraid to use them," comments Miriam Silver Verga of Mimi & Hill. A bathroom is only as beautiful as its storage.

In terms of style, think about whether you're interested in mixing metal finishes—according to Sullivan, this "will give a more timeless design that likely won't date as quickly." What do you want your cabinetry to look like? "The cabinetry finish is key since it will help determine tile and stone selections," Sullivan says. "I typically recommend varying the scale of the tile in your bathroom space to create more visual interest and dimension."

Consider Lighting Type

Your bathroom is a place in which you'll be getting ready for the day, perhaps quite early in the morning before the sun is up, and you'll therefore want to ensure that the space features sufficient lighting. "I always recommend incorporating lighting from multiple sources—recessed lighting, wall sconces, natural light, et cetera," Sullivan notes. Even after you determine the types of fixtures you'd like to include, you'll need to consider their placement in the bathroom, too. "Speaking of wall sconces, do you prefer them beside your mirrors (if space allows) or above them?" Factors such as this one are all important to consider during the planning process.

bathroom design

Stacy Zarin Goldberg for GTM Architects

Think About Key Shower Features

Showers aren't as simple as you may think. There are many special features on the market these days, and you'll want to consider which type best suits your needs. As Sullivan comments, "Do you want a steam shower? Do you need a shower niche and/or shaving ledge? Will the shower be curbless/zero entry? A zero-entry shower can often be a costly upgrade, especially if you're remodeling vs. building new."

If your bathroom is solely for the adults of the home, perhaps you can forgo a tub. "Often I find that a lot of people don't use large soaking tubs very often, so as long as there is another tub in the house for kids, there is no need for a tub in the primary bath," notes Tanya Smith-Shiflett of Unique Kitchens & Baths. "A larger shower is much more practical (and luxurious)!"

If you do plan to incorporate a bathtub, consider stationing it underneath windows, suggests Leslie Murphy, co-founder and creative director of Murphy Maude Interiors. "Not only does this create a relaxing spa-like atmosphere, but it logistically makes the most sense in terms of where you end up placing cabinetry as well."

bathtub in front of windows

Lisa Hubbard for Murphy Maude Interiors

Determine Whether You'd Like A Toilet Room

"Often we are deciding between a private toilet space, sit down vanity, and tub," Verga notes. When designing shared primary bathrooms, Verga and her team aim to designate a separate toilet area with a closed door. "Check your local codes for standard allowances," she advises. "It allows the room to be shared more easily."