25 Professional Small Bathroom Design Tips

Wide angle view of a very small bathroom
Robert George Young / Getty Images

Small bathrooms can be tough to design. On the one hand, because they are compact, you save money on materials because you are using fewer materials. On the other hand, small bathrooms are small, and no one likes being cramped. That's why it helps to have professional advice. Twelve home decorators, designers, architects, and remodel professionals convene to give you their best advice on how best to remodel a small bathroom.

Remove Items That Jut Out

Protruding items in any room create or add to a feeling of heaviness or complexity. "Avoid having anything that sticks out from the walls especially in very narrow bathrooms" advises Dawn Falcone of Dawn Falcone Lifestyles.

Dawn elaborates: "This means that maybe you forgo a towel bar and mount one on the back of the door. Go with built-in toilet paper holders and magazine racks. Even try to avoid decorative shelves. All of this takes away precious square footage."

Create Open Feeling With Sky Mural

What could be more infinite than the sky? You can have the sky in your bathroom, but you don't need to install a skylight.

Designer Emma Levine advises: "If you have a small space with a tall ceiling, play that up by painting the ceiling a light blue with some small clouds to draw attention up."

Extend Eyeline With Clear Shower Enclosures

"To give the illusion of more space eliminate as much visual clutter as possible when selecting fixtures and materials: Clear shower enclosures with minimal hardware; swinging doors rather than bypass if possible." This advice is from Faulkner House Interior Redesign, LLC.

Get Creative With Storage Ideas

"Storage must-haves: towels, toilet paper, daily supplies (teeth supplies, cleansers, makeup, etc.)," says storage and organizing expert Helene Segura, M.A. Ed., CPO. "Wasted space: Pedestal sinks (beautiful, but not functional if you have limited space). Consider: Behind the door hooks for towels and robes or over the door pouches for holding small supplies (hair, makeup) and medicine cabinets and/or shelving set inside the walls, in between the studs."

Get a Mini Bathroom Vanity

Bathroom vanities are notorious space-wasters. "Choose smaller bathroom vanities. Many companies now make apartment size vanities. Or go with a simple pedestal sink or wall-mounted sink," says Dawn Falcone.

Give Illusion of High Ceilings With the Right Lighting

Everyone wants a larger bathroom. If you can't make one, you can at least make the illusion of one.

Pegasus Lighting recommends: "You can use design tricks through lighting to visually enhance the space in a small bathroom. To make the room appear larger, try up-lighting the ceiling with wall sconces or cove lighting. It will create the impression of higher ceilings and more expansive space. For a narrow room, illuminating one wall with light will give the illusion of a more open area."

Install Floor Tile on a Diagonal

Regimented, grid-like tile makes your bathroom, or any room, feel smaller. "Place floor tiles on a diagonal," says Dawn Falcone. "This will give the room the illusion of being larger. Larger tiles with thin grout lines will also give the appearance of more square footage."

Hang the Toilet From the Wall

Conventional toilets are mounted on the floor. But when floor space is at a premium, "A great way to maximize a small bath's space is the use of wall hung cabinetry and toilets with oversized floor tile," says Banner Plumbing Supply.

Banner goes on: "Today's product offering in both of these areas is much more expansive than in years past and there are styles to suit everyone's taste and decor. The wall hung toilet and cabinetry show more of the floor and give the illusion that the room is larger than it appears."

Install a Mirrored, Recessed Medicine Cabinet

"Another great space saver," continues Banner Plumbing Supply, "is a fully mirrored recessed medicine cabinet. Once installed the cabinet looks like a stylish flat or beveled mirror but has hidden storage of 4 inches which is the depth of a standard wall. These cabinets come in a variety of heights and widths to accommodate most applications and the best part about the cabinet is it's fully mirrored inside so you can easily see what product is behind the bottle of mouthwash!"

Use Hooks Instead of Towel Racks

"Instead of towel racks," recommends Emma Levine, "I've designed custom murals with hooks integrated into the picture, like a tree painted on a wall with hooks installed over the branches. It's like when you go camping and hang the towels on tree branches to dry."

Big Tiles Look Best in Small Bathrooms

Oddly enough, large tiles help make a small bathroom feel larger. Says Bloom Designs: "Select larger floor tile to open up the space. Lesser grout lines give the illusion of a bigger space."

Replace Shower Curtain With Glass Door

"Open up the room with glass," says Dawn Falcone. "If your bathroom only has a shower stall consider not only a glass door but partially taking out another wall & replacing it with glass. Even a small tub area will benefit from some clean, clear glass doors. If glass is not an option, then use clear shower curtains that will allow light in."

Limit Yourself to Two Paint Colors

"Keep it simple," continues Dawn Falcone. "Busy wallpaper, too many paint colors, patterned fabrics and accessories will make the room feel cluttered and smaller. Two colors will work great in a small bath. One for wall color and another for accessories."

Use Vertical Space Behind the Door

"Longer medicine cabinets are available to take advantage of vertical space behind bathroom doors," recommends Faulkner House Interior Redesign, LLC.

Avoid Busy Patterns and Choose Simple Hardware

Faulkner House gives this advice about over-crowding your bathroom with too many details: "When selecting materials, be aware of the cumulative effect of patterns. Veining and designs in tiles and flooring, decorative details on hardware and cabinetry can "crowd" a room. On the other hand, using only small-scale patterns can emphasize that the room is small. Incorporating larger scaled moldings or architectural features sparingly can give the room more importance."

Select Art in Perspective to Add Dimension

"Adding art to the walls can also increase the sense of space," recommends Faulkner House. They go on to say: "Landscapes, in particular, can give the walls dimension. Finally, lighting effects can highlight architectural features, illuminate "dead" corners and art and make the room more comfortable and functional."

MEC Design Studio agrees: "Hang a beautiful painting. Just make sure it isn't valuable since water and humidity can damage art."

Carve Out Storage Niches in Interior Walls

"Incorporate cabinets and niches into wall cavities to create extra storage. The space will feel larger if you can carve into the walls as opposed to having shelves and cabinets project out of them," says Workshopapd.

Emphasize Texture Over Color

"Bring in texture, not color," continues Workshopapd, "to add interest without it getting too busy. Add one unique element such as a cool mirror, a unique piece of art, a funky sink. One carefully chosen focused piece can transform it from small and boring to cute and chic."

Bright Light Can Make a Room Feel Bigger

"Pay attention to the lighting," says Idée Chic Designs. "Well lit space always looks larger, so if the budget allows smart redistribution of lights and placing them on the dimmer or preset mood control will create the desired ambiance. Eliminate pendants that dangle at the head/eye level, they typically 'drop' the ceiling and make the room look even smaller. Wall mount fixtures are usually the best decorative application for a small bathroom, just make sure no one will bump into them."

Extend Wall Tiles to the Ceiling

In small bathrooms, a common theme is to try to make the ceiling look taller. Dawn Falcone says that one way to do this: "Tiling the walls all the way up to the ceiling will make the ceilings appear higher. Place a colored or decorative tile near the upper wall and ceiling line to draw your eye up."

Select Room Elements in Proportion to the Space

Wildly mismatched scale can look garish and even a bit surreal. From Idée Chic Designs: "The scale of other elements; depending on the precise size of the room installing too large or too small tile all over will look out of proportion to the room's parameters and thus accentuate its small size. Accent small tiles work well, just make sure you pay attention to the main floor or wall tile size that is installed. For modern/transitional places installing rectangular tile vertically will visually increase the height of the room; glass tile or similar size also creates a nice depth to the walls and when used in calmer shades extend the room's size."

Be Mindful How You Place the Door

"Be sure your bathroom door swings out, not in," recommends Pamela Bayer of Pamela Bayer Interiors. "Or, better yet, use pocket doors.​"

Concurs MEC Design Studio: "If there isn't much space, make sure the door doesn't open in front of the toilet. It's better to open towards a wall than the toilet if possible."

Build a Floating Countertop With a Vessel Sink

"One recommendation I would offer is to take out the clunky sink cabinet and replace it with a floating countertop with a vessel sink," says Brooke Coe of Huh? Designs. "You can then incorporate either hanging or floating shelves below for storage (include baskets for those items you don't necessarily wish to display). This takes the visual weight up and off the floor while still providing for ample storage in a small space - something much needed in every bathroom."

Place Bath Tub or Shower Against the Farthest Wall

While it "depends on the space," says Emma Levine, "I've even designed powder rooms to tuck in under a stair. But, if you have a typical rectangle space, have the tub/shower area on the far wall. This allows you to make maximum use of the space. Try to have a window on this wall. Have the sink as you come in and the toilet between."

If You Like Darker Walls, Make Sure It's Glossy

"Many designers will suggest lighter, pastel paint colors or whites or grays for small bathrooms. Yes, these colors are easy to work with and will make the space feel light and airy. But, you can choose a deeper hue as long as you go with a semi-gloss finish. The sheen in the semi-gloss paint will reflect light and help the room look bigger." This advice comes from Dawn Falcone.