Bathroom month: Re-thinking the bath - 10 designer tips

The bathroom. The place were dirty and clean come together and we emerge a shinier, brighter human being. It's been fun working on Bathroom Month at Design Kula, and I feel like we just haven't got into the meat and bones of it and have merely scratched the surface of what the cleansing spaces are designed for. On a whole, I really think that we need look at the current guidelines and building code, re-write them six times over, and provide better solutions for some fundamental problems for how we, as designers and industry professionals alike, solve them. Here are some of my suggestions:

1. Budget wisely - As a working design pro who does bathrooms too, the biggest hurdle I have to overcome with a client's project is the budget.  A bathroom is just as expensive as a kitchen and there is far more work involved in a much smaller space. I'm currently working on a $50K master suite and with basic finishes and it is sufficient for the clients, but some most people have outlandish ideas for what they want to spend. I challenge the perception that a well designed bathroom is less enjoyable that a well designed kitchen.

2. Space plan - Bathrooms often end up being 5'-0" x 8'-0" because that's the width of a standard bathtub, it leaves little room for anything else and anyone with the slightest mobility reduction has a very difficult time using a bathroom. I like to see bathrooms that are 9'-0" x 10'-0", the minimum size of a small bedroom, instead to allow for a proper 60" turning radius or dressing circle. Do we really need that 4th. small bedroom? Or would you rather have that really great high-functioning bath?

3. Adequate shower size - Everyone seems to be removing bathtubs and and installing a tiled shower. But, did you know that the depth of a bathtub is actually uncomfortable as a shower? The interior finished depth of a shower must be 32" at a minimum and the overall depth needed is 40 3/4" from the bare studs. For example:

(3/4" concrete board back wall) + (1" tile & mortar back wall) + (32" interior clearance) + (1" tile & mortar inside curb) + (3/4" concrete board inside curb) + (3 1/2" curb depth) + (3/4" concrete board outside curb) + (1" tile & mortar outside curb)

Therefore, If you do not have the depth needed for a complete and proper tiled shower then I do not recommend this option. It may be a better option to keep a tub instead of a 28" deep shower.

4. Think about the toilet location - Relocating a toilet is messy and not recommended because the toilet flange and drain are the largest in the entire Drain-Waste-Vent system. Relocating a toilet from existing location can be done if it is within the same floor joist span; however, relocating it to the opposite side of the room will provide to weaken your structure, provide poor draining (and back-ups), and be expensive. If the spaces around the toilet can be moved, this is the better option.

Now, I know many people do not like to see the toilet from any doorway, so, in consideration of this, perhaps it just needs to be a pretty looking toilet - like dressed up with a wig and lipstick - and its' offensive nature will be less off-putting.

5. Install grab bars - I will shout this from all the roof tops of every city and neighbourhood until I'm blue in the face: Grab bars and blocking should be installed in every bathroom. That is all.

6. Use more tactile & visual queuing - In designer speak, this type of design detail uses textures, colours, and lighting to aid the user in the use of the space. For example, I wear glasses and have a strong corrective eyewear prescription, a bathroom that is all one colour and all one type of surface is difficult for me to use because I simply can not see the fixtures and fittings. Using an alternate tile in the shower pan versus the flooring would all my to feel with my feet and understand the difference. Similarly, having the shower-curb deck a different colour than the flooring would allow me to differentiate the blurry colours and understand that there is a transition.

Blend into this a well planned tile lay-out in combination with the five basic patterns in design and a bath has become more than a necessary function.

7. Increase storage - Far too often bathroom storage is left to the devices underneath the lavatory (aka, sink) in the vanity cabinet. This is not sufficent for more than a one person household. I find the advent of "linen" closets mostly useless, and would rather see the storage in the bathroom for towels and accessories that we need.

8. Proper lighting - A single boob light in the middle of the room is not sufficient. If you want to know why your sig-fig looks uglier leaving the bathroom then blame your lighting, not your choice. Lighting should be general lighting and task lighting for toilet reading, make-up application, shaving, and more. Far too often lighting in a bathroom is poorly situated and under-specified.

9. Go greener - Always select a low-flow fitting (shower head or faucet) and a dual-flush toilet that are approved by WaterSense. Use technology that is Energy Star. Plan the bathroom in the brightest location of the lot to capture daylighting, or add a sky-tube. Consider a Nu-Heat radiant floor heat.

10. Ensure moisture and mildew protection - Most moisture barriers prevent tile deflection (cracking) and this is a good thing. Your bathroom is a moist area and you must have good vapor barrier, moisture membranes, uncoupling membranes... oh the list goes on forever. Find a professional that not only uses these techniques but actually makes a point of show & tell.