How to design a bathroom

Today’s bathrooms need to be linger-in sanctuaries as well as practical family spaces. Our step-by-step guide to designing a bathroom will ensure you can create the space you want and need

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Whether you’re re-fitting an existing bathroom to bring it into the 21st century, or adding a brand new one in an extension or underused room, designing a bathroom that lets everyone wash and go in a hurry as well as enjoy spa-style pampering is a challenge. 

If you are not confident about designing your own bathroom layout, you could approach an interior designer to help, or visit a bathroom showroom that offers a design service. There are also lots of design-and-build companies, which will offer a design service as part of a contract to install a whole new bathroom

Whether you decide to design the bathroom yourself or decide to use a design service, discover the essentials of getting your new bathroom right.

Bathroom

Bathroom by Ikea

(Image: © Ikea)

What does a new bathroom cost?

Budget from around £4,000 for a bath, basin and loo combination, and around £4,500 for a shower and enclosure, basin and loo. Bear in mind that prices will vary enormously between standard ranges and designer fittings. 

Why a bathroom needs careful planning

A bathroom is a practical space that’s used frequently. Family bathrooms have multiple users, of course, sometimes at the same time, while en suite bathrooms will see daily use from a couple or solo occupant. As well as coping with the traffic of all the users, a bathroom has to stay hygienic plus deal with splashes and humidity without becoming slippery underfoot or looking worn.  

And while bathrooms used to be thought of as functional spaces only, these days, we like them to be time-out areas that are as chic as a spa.

Despite these many demands, getting a great bathroom design is really achievable.

Skimming Stone and Wimborne White

Plumbing has to be carefully planned when converting a room into a bathroom, especially if the scheme involves a freestanding bath, like in this room painted in Skimming Stone and Wimborne White by Farrow & Ball

(Image: © Farrow & Ball)

Draw up a bathroom floorplan

It’s important to know exactly how much space you have to work with. A bathroom designer or architect can make scale drawings or you can create your own using graph paper. 

The plan will help you understand where essentials like the bath and/or shower, toilet and basin can be positioned. Note, too, where the door is as well as any windows.

Even a very small bathroom can be turned into a restful and practical space with some thorough planning.

a large egg freestanding bath in the middle of the bathroom in a renovated Doctor's surgery with period fireplace and frameless glass shower enclosure

A large bathroom allows space for a statement freestanding bath and frameless-glass shower enclosure in this en suite in a renovated home created from a doctor's surgery. All fittings are from Victoria Plum

(Image: © Stuart Cox)

Decide on what to include in a bathroom

Start with a list of what you’d like in a new bathroom:

  • Bath
  • Freestanding bath
  • Shower bath
  • Spa bath
  • Over-bath shower
  • Separate shower
  • Pedestal basin
  • Console basin
  • Twin basins
  • Toilet
  • Built-in storage
  • Freestanding storage
  • Heated towel rail/radiator

Select a bathroom style

With the fittings you want in your bathroom decided, consider the style you prefer. The overall choice is between a modern look and one that’s more traditional. 

For traditional bathrooms, baths, basins and loos with a classic or period look tend to be more decorative with ornate lines.

Contemporary bathrooms can be either angular or curvaceous in appearance, but both are typified by clean shapes and an absence of extra detail.

Which bath to choose for your bathroom

For maximum space efficiency, a standard bath, which sits against the wall, is a neat solution, but it’s not the only option. A freestanding bath can make the room look luxurious, and there are both period style and contemporary versions available. If your floorplan shows there isn’t room for both individual shower and bath, rather than losing one or the other, consider a shower bath that’s wider at the tap end to make for a more spacious showering area than a standard bath provides.

You might like to also think about options such as double-ended baths. With the taps positioned in the middle, these make sharing a more comfortable experience so they’re great for bathing young families.

For full-on luxury, why not opt for a spa bath? These are fitted with jets that’ll massage you in the water. 

glamorous silver slipper bath in a Parisian-style home

Nothing says luxury like a statement freestanding bath. The walls of this Parisian-style bathroom are clad in mirrored glass and veined marble for a luxurious feel, and the showstopping Bateau cast-iron roll-top bath from The Water Monopoly had to be craned in and positioned on the specially reinforced floor 

(Image: © Malcolm Menzies)

Including a shower in the bathroom

Choosing the right shower comes down to more than just aesthetics as there are several logistical considerations too. For one, you will need to find a shower that matches the type of hot water system you have. Electric showers are popular as they run from a cold water supply and heat it on demand. Mixer showers use pre-heated water from a combi-boiler or hot water tank and can be fitted with a pump to ensure high-pressure flow rates. You might want to choose a thermostatic mixer than regulates the temperature (even if someone flushes the loo) – a safe choice for families.

An over-the-bath shower or one situated in a separate enclosure will make a family bathroom more flexible, while in small en suites, a shower will fit where a bath won’t.

Choose between showers with exposed pipework, which can make an attractive feature, or those with concealed pipework, which leave just the controls and shower head on show. 

You’ll also need to think about how many shower outlets you want. For example, you may want to switch between a large drenching shower head and a handheld version (possibly on a riser rail). The latter are useful for cleaning the shower enclosure or bath. Body jets are another option if you like a massaging shower. Also check whether you are choosing the best shower head for low water pressure or the best high-pressure shower head.

Go for the perfect shower enclosure and shower tray

The different shapes of shower enclosures and accompanying shower trays mean you can maximise showering space. Square and rectangular enclosures can suit the dimensions of a corner of the room. Less space hungry are quadrant enclosures that provide elbow room inside the shower but – with a curved front – leave more floor space in the room itself open. 

For a contemporary look, opt for a low profile shower tray. These can also make access to the shower easier for some users.

Shower doors come in a variety of styles to suit the room’s dimensions, the position of other fittings and the mobility of users. Sliding doors are ideal if there isn’t space to open outwards, and bifolds are space-savers, too. Hinged doors make access to the shower easy or, if there’s less room, try a pivot door that uses space inside the shower as well as outside to open.

en suite shower room with walk-in shower and metro tiles

The shower room in this Scandinavian-inspired self build is part of the master bedroom suite. Wall-mounted taps and a shower from Crosswater, plus a countertop basin and tiles from Tons of Tiles complete the scheme. The mirror was made to fit the length of the side wall to maximise light and space

(Image: © Rachael Smith)

Creating a wetroom

Considering making your bathroom a wet room? The room will need to be tanked (that’s fully waterproofed) if this is your aim. It’s still worth thinking about fitting a shower screen, though, to prevent other areas from getting splashed. More economical than a full wet room is a walk-in shower that’s luxuriously sized. 

black wetroom in a renovated cabin in Ireland

This wetroom in a renovated cabin in Ireland is made watertight with Walls2floor waterproof plaster; for similar, try Sphere8. The brass shower and rose are from Barber Wilsons & Co

(Image: © Philip Lauterbach)

Pick top bathroom basin designs

Pedestal basins can make a great focal point and, with hidden pipework, have a fuss-free appearance.

Wall-mounted and semi-pedestal basins keep the floor clear. Use them to make a small bathroom feel bigger.

Counter-top or console basins are mounted on a bathroom worksurface. They make for a beautiful feature and can sit above open or closed storage for a more efficient use of space in the room.

Inset basins are dropped into the surface below giving a neat, contemporary effect.

Neptune storage jars

This Edinburgh washstand by Neptune features an inset basin. This results in a large countertop with plenty of space for accessories

(Image: © Neptune)

Take time over bathroom tap choices

Bathroom taps can have traditional style or a modern look to complement the bath and basin. 

Think tap finish as well as shape:

  • Chrome and stainless steel continue to be popular finishes and will create a sparkling clean effect. 
  • Black taps are en vogue and can look striking against crisp white fittings.
  • Want to warm up a bathroom? Try metallics such as bronze, brass or copper, or beautiful rose-gold with its pinkish hue.

waterfall tap running

Choose a new bathroom toilet

Before we get on to style, there are a few technical things to consider when choosing a new toilet. If you are replacing an existing one in the same place, minimise plumbing work (and costs) by choosing a toilet with the same rough in. This is the name given to the distance between the wall and the centre of the toilet's outlet pipe. You can find this by measuring between the wall and the closet bolts that bolt your current toilet to the floor. 

Then decide whether you want a concealed cistern or not. This looks great when the toilet is mounted alongside fitted furniture, but do consider access to the cistern for maintenance (or dropping cistern blocks in). 

Toilet design choices:

  • Close-coupled toilets, with the cistern sitting on the pan, are classic and both contemporary and more traditional designs are on offer.
  • Go contemporary with a wall-mounted toilet, or streamlined back-to-wall design that doesn’t leave a gap at the back to clean.
  • For historic style, choose a high-level cistern. Ceiling not high enough? A low-level version with a shorter flush pipe has the same look.

Include brilliant bathroom storage

Bathroom storage tip

Opting for drawer storage can make items at the back more accessible, but check there’s enough space to open them fully.

Great bathroom storage is essential to avoid cluttering bathroom surfaces with toiletries, spare loo roll and fresh towels. Choose or combine from:

Fitted bathroom storage that’ll provide room for the whole family’s essentials. Like fitted kitchen cabinetry, it can make the most of the space from floor to ceiling with clutter-swallowing cupboards and drawers. 

Vanity units that contain basin and cupboard in one for a space-efficient footprint.

Wall-hung cabinets that often have mirrored fronts that’ll introduce another bathroom essential.

Freestanding furniture which may be designed for the bathroom, or for a more individual look, why not bring in other cabinet furniture?

For more inspiration take a look at 25 bathroom storage solutions, and don't miss the chance to incorporate good towel storage, too.

White bathroom storage and washstand with white metro tiles

Freestanding furniture allows for flexibility, but fitted furniture can make the most of space. The hooks and cabinets in this bathroom are all from Ikea, as are the accessories

(Image: © Ikea)

Go for the right bathroom flooring

When choosing bathroom flooring focus on the room’s users as well as the look to keep the occupants safe and prolong the life of the floor. Never use tiles designed for walls on a bathroom floor as they aren’t suitable.

Porcelain tiles are practical, hard wearing and easy to care for. They can authentically reproduce the appearance of stone or wood. Get the lowdown on choosing and fitting floor tiles.

Natural stone flooring looks timelessly stylish and is durable. Check with the supplier that the stone you want is suitable for a bathroom, and note that because it’s porous, stone should be sealed.

Rubber is a sound choice for a bathroom used by young kids and will stand up to splashes. It’s also forgiving of a fall. Make sure it has good slip resistance.

High quality vinyl such as luxury vinyl tile is comfortable and warm underfoot. It can look just like stone or wood and also comes in statement shades.

Laminate flooring is easy care. Make sure the design you choose is specifically designed for the bathroom, though.

Engineered wood has a structure that makes it more stable than solid wood, and some ranges are recommended as being bathroom suitable. However, it’s best kept for an adults-only bathroom where it won’t suffer many splashes and won’t be left wet.

Select the right bathroom wall tiles

Wall tiles are a bathroom must-have to protect them from water, whether that’s in the shower area, by the bath, or behind the basin. They can also be used creatively for an injection of colour or pattern. Try these strategies:

  • Use a change of tile colour to zone a space. For example, you could use white tiles all round then pick out the shower area with a pop of colour.
  • Hang the same tiles on the walls as the floor, but change the format with rectangular versions for walls and square on the floor.
  • Smarten up walls with high-gloss metro tiles and crisp white grout.
  • Create interest with a mosaic splashback.
  • Ramp up decorative detail with different tile shapes. Think hexagons, fish-scale or chevron patterns.

Read our step-by-step guide to find out how to tile a wall.

Starfloor Plank Coloured Pine Blue Luxury Vinyl Tile

Wood-effect vinyl tiles offer the interest of wood, but are more durable and waterproof. This is the Starfloor Plank luxury vinyl tile in Pine Blue from Carpetright

(Image: © Carpetright)

Opt for the best bathroom window dressing

It’s vital that bathroom window treatments can stand up to the humid atmosphere of the room. Shutters are smart, and will regulate light and privacy effectively. Window likely to get splashed? Choose a bathroom shutter that’s specially made to tolerate water without warping.

If you prefer blinds, louvred versions are also neat and effective, or try coated fabric blinds made to cope with the condensation in the room.

pink plantation shutters over a bath

Pretty pink shutters from The Shutterstore create privacy in this bathroom

(Image: © Shutterstore)

Plan bathroom lighting

A flexible bathroom lighting scheme will ensure the room’s bright enough for tasks such as shaving and putting on make-up, but can have a relaxing ambience for bathing. 

  • Downlights can provide the room with good overall light.
  • Task lighting around mirrors will make precision tasks easy.
  • Accent lighting can highlight a statement item like a designer radiator, or the base of the bath.
  • Dimmer switches enable a change of atmosphere from morning to night.

All bathroom lighting must be suitable for the zone of the room it’s in, determined by its proximity to a water source, so always check before buying and work with a registered electrician.

Aruba alpine elm fitted toilet storage

In this bathroom flooded with natural light, filament bulb pendants create striking task lighting around the mirror. Aruba sanitaryware and storage from Roper Rhodes

(Image: © Roper Rhodes)

How to heat your bathroom

Underfloor heating is ideal for a bathroom, especially where space is tight. You can extend an existing radiator system to add an underfloor heating circuit, with the pipes laid between the timber joists, and insulation beneath.

Electric underfloor heating mats are easier to install as they do not increase the floor level significantly. They are inexpensive to buy, but will cost more to run than a water-based system. In a large bathroom, you may need additional heating, such as a radiator or heated towel rail.

Will you need planning permission for a bathroom?

A new bathroom probably won’t need planning permission, but installing a new bath, WC, shower or basin and changing electrics near a bath or shower are subject to building regulations

If you are replacing existing plumbing work, it is not subject to building regulations approval, unless is it is near to, or involves electrics (such as an electric shower).

Who can fit a bathroom?

Working with a bathroom company? They can manage all the work for you, including plumbing, tiling and electrics. Otherwise you can employ the individual contractors needed for your project. Always ask for personal recommendations and look for accredited contractors.

Top image: Skyros wall tiles from Tile Mountain

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