How to design a small bathroom

Creating a relaxing space in a small bathroom can be tricky, but bathroom design experts and new lines of compact sanitaryware have got you covered. Here we explain how to make a small bathroom feel much bigger

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Designing a bathroom is hard enough – you might need to compromise on sanitaryware placement to connect to existing plumbing, or have to reinforce the floor for that statement roll-top bath – but when you have very little space available, your options might feel even more limited.

Fortunately, with small space living on the rise, people have come up with lots of ingenious ways to make the most of a small bathroom. What's more, bathroom suppliers have listened to demand and there is a wide range of compact basins, toilets and baths to choose from. 

We look at how to design a small bathroom, and even some clever ways to make it look or feel bigger.

(Image: © Brent Darby)

Small bathroom design and layout ideas

Pinterest, Instagram and our website are all good sources of design ideas for small bathrooms, but always begin your project by getting accurate measurements of the room. From here, you can ascertain what you will actually have room for.

Draw up a wishlist of elements to include in your bathroom, but be prepared to compromise if space will not allow. Then follow these simple pointers:

  • The layout will usually be governed by the positioning of your waste pipe and therefore the positioning of your toilet.
  • If possible, have the door opening out from the bathroom so it does not use the internal footprint, or collide with sanitaryware when opened.
  • Remember you need enough space in the bathroom to dry yourself or move around. Don't cram the space with fittings that make it impossible to use the bathroom comfortably.
  • Underfloor heating will save valuable wall space that radiators may use, but a slimline heated towel rail is a nice touch for warming and holding towels.
  • If you do include a heated towel rail in your design, position it so that you can fit a cabinet to the side, or choose a short rail that you can put a cabinet above.
  • Avoid doing away with the bath in a family bathroom, especially if it is your only decent-sized bathroom – it is a necessity for bathing children and a small bath with overhead shower can sometimes be more space-efficient than a shower.

Sanitaryware for small bathrooms

Look for sanitaryware with smaller dimensions, but don't go so small that the item is hard to use. You can get very small sinks which take up barely any space and work well for a quick handwash in a downstairs loo, but will not be easy to wash your face at, or have room for two squabbling kids brushing their teeth.

Short slipper or tubby baths might have the right proportions for a small bathroom but the impact of a statement bath can be lost when you have it in such a tiny space. What's more, some versions are quite heavy and may need reinforced flooring, or be too hard to manoeuvre in a small space.

For a shower enclosure, go no smaller than 80cmx80cm – less than that leads to a claustrophobic showering experience. 

A compact wall-hung loo with a concealed cistern removes visual clutter and helps to ensure as much of the floor as possible is visible. 

Small bathroom by Ben Ridley at Architecture for London

This narrow bathroom designed by Ben Ridley at Architecture for London has a small, but beautiful bath with a rain shower and hand-held unit. The taps and shower head are centrally located allowing a discreet glass shower screen to be folded against the rear wall

Choosing storage for a small bathroom

Good bathroom storage is essential in a small room to reduce clutter and increase space. Make use of every nook, cranny and alcove and build in shelves where possible. If you can, include recesses in the walls by the bath or shower to create a handy storage area for toiletries, and incorporate good towel storage, too.

Floating storage works well in a small bathroom – it might not make the most of all of the vertical space, but makes the floorspace feel less enclosed. Where you can, include storage with the sanitaryware, such as a vanity under the basin, or a cabinet over the toilet. You can even replace your bath panel with cupboard doors; there isn't much space under a bath but you can always squeeze in spare bottles of shampoo or boxes of toothpaste.

See our favourite storage ideas for small bathrooms.

How to decorate your small bathroom

While a light, bright palette will help reflect light and make the bathroom feel bigger, avoid going overboard with white which can make the room feel cold or clinical, so consider more adventurous bathroom paint colour schemes

Use patterned wall tiles or colourful accessories to bring warmth and interest to the space. The odd house plant looks great in a bathroom and will thrive well in the warm, humid environment.

Mirrors will help make the room feel bigger. If you can, sit them flush with any tiling to create the illusion of depth. Get a mirror cut to size to fill a wall, or section of wall instead of letting it end short of the ceiling or side walls. This will make the room feel taller or wider. Alternatively, choose mirrored wall cabinets.

Slimline bathroom furniture in scheme by Nicola Holden Interior Design

Slimline bathroom furniture in scheme by Nicola Holden Interior Design

Large format tiles can work well in a small bathroom. They lead to fewer lines of grout which can create a grid-like pattern that makes the space feel smaller. That said, small patches of mosaic tiling (perhaps to provide splashback to a sink or feature) can be very effective. Find out how to choose the right tiles for a small bathroom.

High-gloss surfaces are a winner and will help reflect more light. This doesn't just mean mirrors and tiles, but also bathroom paint finishes with a soft sheen and glossy furniture. What's more, these will be easier to wipe clean.

More ideas for your small bathroom: