Small bathroom ideas: expert advice and inspiring design to max out your room

Working on the perfect small bathroom design? We have you covered with our practical advice and inspiring ideas

Small bathroom ideas with built in storage
(Image credit: Darren Chung © Future)

Small bathroom design is a challenge that many people face, whether it's because you're in a city apartment or an old home with spaces designed for the past. Happily, you are in the right place for expert advice and ideas that will transform your small bathroom successfully.

Good design is key to making what is usually the tiniest room in your home work for you. And to make your small bathroom be everything you want it to be – luxurious, functional and simply a pleasure to be in  – you'll need to think outside the box. We have you covered with our expert advice below, starting with all the practical know-how you need to successfully design (or re-design) your room from scratch, followed by a roundup of inspiring small bathroom ideas on how to make the most of your space, both visually and in a functional sense too. 

For more inspiration, check out our bathroom ideas hub where you'll find all the information and advice you could need.

How do you maximize space in a small bathroom?

To successfully maximize your bathroom space, you need to be completely familiar with what you're working with. Draw up a wishlist of elements to include in your bathroom, but be prepared to compromise if space will not allow. 

Always begin your project by getting accurate measurements of the room and getting it down on to graph paper (or an online planner tool). From here, you can figure out what you will actually have room for.

A white bathroom with black industrial-style shelving and a monochrome patterned vinyl floor

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

What is the best layout for a small bathroom?

January 2020: Debbie Goodwin set about lovingly renovating the bungalow her dad built

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Naturally, the layout of your small bathroom will be determined by its unique size and shape, but, here are some general tips and key pointers to help you get it right:

  • Can you move a pipe? The layout will usually be governed by the positioning of your toilet drain pipe and therefore the positioning of your toilet; it can, of course, be moved to make more room, but this will up the cost.
  • Have the door opening out from the bathroom if possible so it does not use the internal footprint, or collide with the sink or toilet when opened. Or perhaps you could fit a pocket door that slides into a wall cavity?
  • Save space to towel off 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.
  • A bath-shower combo is ideal if you want a shower and a bath. 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 alone. 
  • Choose a wall-hung sink and toilet to create a feeling of greater space. 
  • Same goes for wall-hung storage: leaving the floors as free of clutter as possible will make the space feel larger.
  • Look for smaller fixtures where practical: shorter or narrower baths, corner sinks and compact designed for small bathrooms are all available.

What is the best color for a small bathroom?

Small bath by The Albion Bath Company

(Image credit: The Albion Bath Company)

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 colors

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

14 small bathroom design ideas to make the most of your space

Here are some of our favorite and more creative small bathroom ideas. There's advice and inspiration for everything, from choosing the right storage to picking the best space-expanding paint colors.

1. Strip back on what you need 

honed gloss black slate natural stone in a bathroom

(Image credit: Topps Tiles)

Our first, and probably the most important of all our small bathroom design ideas is about paring back. Really think about what you need in your space. Stick to the bare essentials so you have as few built in or bulky items in there as possible – if they're taking up that precious floor space, they'll make the room look smaller. All you really need in a bathroom is a toilet, a sink and a bath or shower. Storage is vital, too, but think about how this could be built around your basin or choose wall mounted cabinets that won't take up any of that floor space we mentioned. 

2. Opt for wall-hung fittings to enhance space

Ludivine Broch:

(Image credit: Darren Chung © Future)

Wall-hung fixtures are one of those clever small bathroom ideas that creates the illusion of a larger bathroom, precisely because you can see the floor beneath. Further exaggerate the effect by picking minimalist, back-to-the-wall styles, and choose flooring in a light color.

If you need any more tips on choosing the best bathroom flooring, check out our handy guide. 

3. Pick a frameless shower 

Monochrome bathroom with industrial black-framed walk-in shower, hexagonal wall tiles and a white vanity unit and sink

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Give the illusion of more space by cutting out a bulky shower tray and enclosure and go for a frameless glass shower. This will reduce the visual clutter in a small space and allow light to easily flow around the room. Frameless, walk-in showers also give a really lovely, luxurious feel, as well as being a really practical small bathroom idea. 

You can see here how to the tile continuity both on the floor and the walls really stretches the space and doesn't break up the room. Placing a huge mirror above the sink helps too. 

4. Try a small storage vanity

Small bathroom design by Ikea

(Image credit: Ikea)

If you need storage space in your bathroom and can't get away with a simple wall-hung sink, try a compact storage vanity with drawers. Storage vanities come in widths as narrow as 18", so you should be able to find one that suits your tiny bathroom and adds in practical space to stash toiletries, too.

Like the idea of making a statement with an unfitted vanity? Browse our pick of the best vanity units.

5. Pick streamlined bathroom furnishings

Small bathroom design by Ikea

(Image credit: Ikea)

Just as if you were working with a living room, small bathroom designs need to address scale of furnishings, too. So, if space is at a premium, consider scaling down cabinetry and opting for streamlined solutions that take up less space both visually and literally. The same thing goes for your toilet and towel rail, too: gaining a few extra inches and reducing the 'packed in' feel will make all the difference in a small bathroom. 

Find out what you need to know about choosing a bathroom sink

6. Maximize vertical space with a ladder shelf

small bathroom ideas

(Image credit: Target)

A small bathroom design must include clever small bathroom storage solutions and we love the addition of a ladder shelf to a small space which, in addition to being streamlined and maximizing vertical space when propped up against a wall, it creates an attractive design feature. Basic ladder shelves are great for towels, or choose one like the Target version above with shelves to max out the storage opportunities.

7. Choose furniture that makes the most of dead space

small bathroom design idea created with white subway tiles and wooden finish fittings by Ikea

(Image credit: Ikea)

Making use of even the most awkward of nooks and crannies is something we all have to face with a small bathroom space. Be sure to consider furniture that can fit into what might otherwise be dead space – such as an awkward corner – and you'll be surprised with what you can find, and what looks good too! 

8. Consider a white color scheme to boost natural light

small bathroom

(Image credit: CB2)

If a small bathroom is not designed effectively, a lack of natural light can quickly bring any dark and dingy features forward. For an easy and effective solution, consider a while color scheme warmed up with natural floors and black fixtures like in the example from CB2, above. 

This small bathroom uses shiny white tiles as the basis for its scheme. If you like the look, you can find more inspiration in our small bathroom tile ideas feature.  That said, the same space-enhancing effect can be achieved with white or another pale paint, in which case you might want to take a look at our pick of the best paint for bathrooms.

9. Opt for open shelving to avoid a 'boxy' feel

Fritz Fryer light in bathroom

(Image credit: Fritz Fryer)

Open shelving is another effective small bathroom design idea worth considering if you're worried about fitted units making a small bathroom feel boxy.

With a relaxed feel, it not only offers ample storage, but makes for a stylish design feature if styled with house plants, folded fresh towels or other attractive small bathroom essentials. Opting for recessed shelves, as seen here, also helps make the most of an awkward shaped small bathroom, with shelves blending into a scheme if painted in the same shade as the rest of the bathroom.

10. Pick a claw foot tub with compact proportions

small bathroom ideas

(Image credit: Wayfair)

Desperate for a stylish claw foot tub? And why not – they look good, and, because they're not boxy like standard fitted baths, they can enhance a small bathroom space. They also come in a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate small bathrooms.

If you've always dreamed of a bath for your small bathroom, browse our traditional freestanding bath design ideas, which includes some small bathroom-friendly models.

11. Choose the right sized tiles for your small bathroom design

small bathroom design idea, a shower with a combination of blue and green patterned wall tiles and white metro tiles with wall recess by drummonds

(Image credit: Drummonds)

Getting the right tile size for a small bathroom, whether for walls or floors, will have a big impact on making your small space feel bigger and brighter. A small bathroom can actually benefit from a large tile. With fewer grout lines the walls and floor are less cluttered and the room visually expanded. 

Using smaller tiles, such as mosaics, will give you lots of grout lines, which can give walls a grid-like appearance that can promote the feeling of being boxed in – making your already small bathroom feel 10 times tinier.

This doesn’t mean you have to completely rule small tiles out. If you've fallen for some beautiful mosaics, you can mix it up a bit by using different sized tiles in different zones of your bathroom, with smaller tiles being limited to the showering area, a larger format tile used in the majority of the room, and mosaic tiles in alcoves or recesses (spaces you don’t expect to feel generously-sized).

If you need more advice then use our guide to help you choose small bathroom tiles.

12. Exaggerate space with a mirror

Bathroom by Ikea

(Image credit: Ikea)

Here's one very easy small bathroom idea to give the illusion of space. Simply hanging a large mirror in a small bathroom will help it feel more spacious, especially if you've chosen a dark and dramatic colour scheme. Picking a round mirror will create a softer feel than a square or rectangular one, and choosing one that's frameless will add a more luxurious element to the room also. 

Find our pick of the best bathroom mirrors in our stylish buyer's guide.

13. Install good bathroom lighting

bathroom sconces

(Image credit: Wayfair)

It's very likely you'll be making use of this small bathroom space when it's dark. So, ensuring the lighting is good – and not just relying on a single overhead bulb – will make it feel bigger when it's dark outside and when you can't rely on natural daylight. 

Find more bathroom lighting ideas advice and inspiration in our specialist guide.

14. Add pattern to a small bathroom with wallpaper

small bathroom wallpaper

(Image credit: Home Depot)

You can enhance your small bathroom visually with a colorful wallpaper, and this is a particularly good option for awkwardly shaped bathrooms as the pattern will take the focus away from the smaller size of the space. You can be bold with your choice, as a wallpaper that has a lot going on can actually visual expand the room and add that grand element of drama sometimes missing from a tiny bathroom. 

Shop wallpaper from The Home Depot.

More inspiration for small (but mighty) bathrooms