Where to spend and where to save in a small bathroom

Find out where to spend and where to save in a small bathroom – use your bathroom budget wisely with the help of expert advice

A small , bright bathroom with shower
(Image credit: Kaldewei)

Wondering where to spend and where to save in a small bathroom? Many new homeowners start out a small bathroom project assuming that it will be cheap because of the small size of the room. But because bathroom remodels can quickly become more complex than anticipated, the costs can quickly add up. Proper advance planning is the only way to ensure you stay within budget while achieving the bathroom look you wanted.

So, to convert you small bathroom ideas to reality you need a good understanding of where to spend and where to save. 

A light blue tiled bathroom with black shower cubicle

(Image credit: Bathroom Mountain)

Where to spend in a small bathroom

So, where should you spend the big bucks in a small bathroom? Scrimp in the wrong place you'll create more problems for yourself further down the line; splash on everything, and you'll run out of money. Here's how to get the balance just right, according to interior design experts.

Invest in the bones of your bathroom

If there's only one thing you can spend your money on, our interior designers recommend investing in the structural elements of your bathroom above anything else. Interior designer Karen B Wolf (opens in new tab) told us she had to admit that 'you do have to spend on the bones of the bathroom. That means the plumbing fixtures do need to be from accredited, well-reviewed brands.'

Bathroom plumbing may not be the most exciting thing to spend money on, but, as Wolf points out, 'If you have plumbing issues down the line, it can be an expensive proposition to replace diverters in walls. (Tile has to be removed and it can become a messy job). This does not mean buy the BMW, a Subaru of plumbing is just fine, steady and secure.'

Once you've invested into high-quality plumbing, consider investing in frameless shower doors. Wolf explains that these give an 'immediate indication of high-end vs lower-end bathroom'. Andra DelMonico, the Lead Interior Designer for Trendey (opens in new tab), agrees, telling us that 'the right shower door can mean the difference between a small bathroom feeling bigger or more closed in.' Shower doors should be the priority when calculating your shower remodel costs.

A white tiled bathroom with frameless shower

(Image credit: Katie Lee/Future)

Spend on bathroom tile

You may be wondering if you should spend good money on bathroom tile, and here our designers have slight differences of opinion. Bathroom tile ideas are probably the most noticeable element of your bathroom design, and our experts agree that it makes sense to invest in tile. However, as principal designer and co-founder of Twelve Chairs Interiors (opens in new tab) Roisin Giese told us: 'We typically spend on the finishes where things like tile and wallpaper have a big impact without requiring too much material.'

So, if you'll only be tiling a small section of your bathroom, or doing half-tile, half-paint, it may make sense to splurge on marble or another natural material. Wolf highly recommends spending extra on your tile – 'you can use marble in a small space for quality and longevity (natural materials typically do not go out of style as fast as synthetic product)'.

Splurge on cabinetry

However, interior designer at Kern & Co (opens in new tab) Susan Spath thinks that it's more important to spend on bathroom cabinetry – 'after all, it is the foundation of a bathroom.' Bathroom cabinet ideas are worth prioritizing when looked at in this way. If you fancy marble, she recommends finishing your vanity 'with a Carrara marble slab to make your small bathroom impressive.' This will cost a lot less than all-over marble, but will still give your small bathroom oomph.

A small, light-blue bathroom with vanity and shower

(Image credit: Armac Martin)

Where to save in a small bathroom

Interior designers agree: where it comes to small bathrooms, you can save a lot by. going for cheaper bathroom fixtures likes toilets and sinks. The toilet, especially, doesn't need to be fancy – it just needs to do the job. 

Save on bathroom fixtures

Achieving bathrooms on a budget can be easy if you know how. DelMonico is emphatic about this: 'You don’t need to spend a fortune on a new toilet for your bathroom. American Standard makes a quality toilet that can look modern and lovely, right out of the box.'

Wolf agrees, pointing out that it's worth looking for a toile 'from a reliable brand, but you do not need fancy bells and whistles or specialty finishes.' Chloe adds that 'when you are working with a budget don’t splurge on the most expensive plumbing fixtures.' So, if you're wondering how to choose a bathroom sink, going for the respectable mid-range should always be your guiding principle.

A small tiled bathroom with shower and copper-finish bathtub

(Image credit: The Albion Bath Company)

Save on bathroom accessories

The other area where it's worth saving rather than spending is bathroom accessories. According to DelMonico, 'you can find great deals on towel bars, cabinet hardware, and toilet roll holders. These small touches are nice, but you don’t need to spend a fortune to get the look you want.'

Save on materials and finishes

And as for that controversial question of marble, if you are on a tight budget, it's best to go for porcelain tile instead of natural stone. Chloe believes that 'marble floors and walls look incredible in a bathroom but can really drive up the price. You can achieve a similar look by using porcelain tile. The porcelain gives the same clean look that marble has but for a fraction of the price.'

What should I spend money on in a small bathroom renovation?

If you're just getting into bathroom remodel ideas, and your bathroom is on the smaller side, David Mason, an interior designer and owner of The Knobs Company (opens in new tab), recommends spending money the floor and the tile: this will give you a sense of luxury. And don't scrimp on the tile; get good quality.' If you have a mid-range budget, 'spend money on the vanity and the cabinet. It will give you so much bang for your buck.'

For truly budget renovations, Mason recommends on bathroom paint ideas and accessories: 'You can even change the feel of a bathroom by simply changing the paint color and adding some new accessories.'

How can I save money on a new bathroom?

If you're starting a small bathroom from scratch, Mason advises that 'you can easily save a lot of your funds by doing some or all of the work yourself.' With new bathrooms, costs can add up, so 'save on tile by using paintable tiles of a high quality.' Fixtures can also be bought at a lower price, but Mason does recommend making sure you go 'for streamlined, simple fixtures that will last a long time.' There is a line between saving and a false economy. 

Overall, the advice from Mason (and other experts) is clear: 'focus on the big-ticket items like the floor and the tile; those will surely give the biggest impact to the overall texture and look of your washroom.' Whether you're subtly remodeling or building a brand-new bathroom, the floor and the walls really matter, as does quality plumbing. Everything else can be got for cheaper without affecting the style or quality of your bathroom.

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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