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How To Maximize Space In A Small Bathroom

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The Challenge

One of the biggest home renovation challenges can be creating space in a small, main bath where no space actually exists.

The main bath of our 1940s, lath-and-plaster home has several problems, only one of which is storage. The plumbing is stacked with the downstairs bathroom, and eventually, we will have to do a full gut and re-build. The main bath is only used as a guest bathroom right now. We use the downstairs bathroom – the one with the shower – for our bathroom, so we decided to keep the fixture placement until we are ready to renovate the basement.

Maintaining the same footprint allows us to make some necessary, but largely cosmetic changes right now, and leave re-plumbing the room for the future.

Old Fashioned Shower Curtain Surround

Old Fashioned Shower Curtain Surround

Easy Installation

Easy Installation

Lean Profile Vanity Saves Space In Small Bathroom

Lean Profile Vanity Saves Space In Small Bathroom

Clever Under-Sink Storage

Clever Under-Sink Storage

Wow - Wish I Had This Much Space

Wow - Wish I Had This Much Space

Once we'd decided to renovate the main floor bathroom, the first step was to take stock of the existing features.

The main bath sports the requisite toilet and a sink with a very large built-in vanity. The bathtub, with its hand-held shower, takes up the end of the room, under a pebble glass, sliding window. The room is tiled all round to with subway tile and bull-nose topper to about a three foot height – very clean and quite modern looking.

After deciding to leave the tiles in place, the next step we took was to rip out the wall cupboard and too-large vanity.

Yes, I did say that we removed cupboards. Let me explain. Badly placed cupboards can be as big a problem as no cupboards at all. In fact, they are more of a problem, because now you have to remove them before you can begin anything else.

As well, the wall cupboard, built to house the towel overflow from the small hallway linen closet, overhangs the bathtub. For practical reasons alone, that cupboard had to go. We wanted to be able to stand up in the tub, and take a shower without worrying about spraying water into the towel cupboard.

We decided on a retro look for the shower curtain, and found exactly what we were looking for on-line - the kind of rounded-rectangle track you see in old-fashioned, claw-foot tubs where the curtain draws all the way around the inside of the tub. This allowed us to keep the window for added ventilation while protecting the original plaster walls.

After the hanging cupboard came down – not without a struggle as it had been built to last – we had to make some repairs to the plaster work. Fortunately, the cupboard had been built right onto the wall, so with the exception of some screw holes, the damage was relatively minor and easily patched…then sanded…then re-patched and re-sanded until it was finally ready to repaint.

The vanity created a few more problems as it butted up against the tub - and, again, had been built to last. We were initially concerned we might have to refinish the outside of the tub as there were some marks left by removing the vanity, but after consulting our local hardware-store guru, we were able to apply a patching medium for a seamless finish.

It had been a lot of work, but, with the addition of a new pedestal sink and low profile, double flush toilet, we were finally ready to start creating useable storage in our now spacious-looking bathroom. It is truly amazing how much bigger it appears without a cupboard overhanging the now sparkling tub, and an over-large vanity crowded against it.

Plain and Simple

Plain and Simple

A Sink Should Complement The Setting

A Sink Should Complement The Setting

Scroll to Continue
Clean, Modern Lines

Clean, Modern Lines

The Redo

The new, water-resistant paint was barely dry on the end walls before we started on the next phase.

Our shopping research had paid off big-time. We found two narrow shelving units at IKEA. They were just the right width to fit between the wall studs, at 12" on center, and were 12" deep, affording lots of storage space for the towels and toiletries needed in a guest bathroom. The etched glass doors worked perfectly with the look we were going for, and beautifully complemented the existing tiles.

In the adjacent office, we removed the wall board from the wall that backs on the bathroom, and found the center stud in the span of the wall. Then, with a reciprocating saw, we carefully removed the lathe and plaster from the bathroom wall, across the width of the center stud to the next stud on either side.

Next, we built a platform for the shelving units to sit on, so that the bottom of the glass doors would sit just above the top of the baseboards. Our IKEA finds slid into place, fitting perfectly between the studs.

We anchored the shelving units in place and trimmed around the cupboards on the bathroom side, painted the trim to match the baseboards, and mounted the glass doors.Then we reattached the baseboard and touched up the few, small scuffs and nail holes.

From the bathroom side, the effect is wonderful. The new pedestal sink and low-profile toilet are the perfect scale for a small bathroom. We are also quite excited about the double-flush toilet for its promised savings in both water and our energy bill - two budget-wise reasons to "go green".

The etched mirror of the doors reflects lots of light and makes the bathroom look even larger, while the new white-figured, semi-opaque material of the shower curtain lends an airy feel to the renewed space.

I Love This One

I Love This One



Sink As Sculpture

Sink As Sculpture

We are totally thrilled with our new guest bath. We were able to re-purpose two lovely, antique metal wall sconces that used to inhabit our hallway, just at head-bonking height. They now gracefully shed their light from either side of the built in medicine cabinet set cleverly into the wall above the pedestal sink. Part of the original fixtures, this clever cabinet was the jumping off point for our new, built-in wall units.

...and the office? Well, that will be the topic for another hub - on built-in bookcases.


© 2009, Text by Elle Fredine, All rights reserved


RedElf (author) from Canada on June 04, 2012:

Thanks so very much, vocal coach - writing the HubNuggets round-up is always great fun! I wish I could enjoy the renos, too, but I'm no longer in the little house. You can do a lot with fresh paint, baskets, and some creative shelving, but that can be hard in a rental.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on June 03, 2012:

Such a helpful hub here RedElf! I enjoyed the marvelous photos. (I love shopping...uh...make that looking). Your hub has afforded me several ideas for my own tiny bathroom. Problem is - I rent. So I'm somewhat limited.

You must be so proud with your hard work and creative changes to your bathroom. I've voted up, useful, awesome and interesting. And I'm sharing this too.

PS - Your "I left my hubnuggets in San Francisco," is just brilliant!

RedElf (author) from Canada on April 30, 2012:

I am looking forward to seeing those photos - good luck with your renovations, Tonipet.

Tonette Fornillos from The City of Generals on April 30, 2012:

Renovating a small place in the house is really a challenge. Perfect timing I'm now in the middle of renovating a small old country house bathroom. I love those photos of pedestal sinks. Thanks for these ideas.

I'll post a photo of my new bathroom when I'm through with it, hopefully. Thank you Red.

RedElf (author) from Canada on December 29, 2011:

mathira, thanks so much. Having been through a few renovations, it's easier to see some of the pitfalls and avoid them.

mathira from chennai on December 26, 2011:

Good ideas and useful tips.

whitton on April 13, 2011:

Great Hub. These are great ideas and tips to maximizing space in a small bathroom. I really love the look of the modern pedestal sink.

RedElf (author) from Canada on January 27, 2011:

Good luck with your dreams! I am sure you'll do a great job, leah!

Leah Lefler from Western New York on January 26, 2011:

I love this article! Our master bathroom is in dire shape, with a harvest gold toilet and duct tape over broken tiles. We're planning on renovating it soon, and we will need to maximize the space! The designer sinks are amazing: now I'm off to dream of a brighter (and better designed) bathroom!

RedElf (author) from Canada on August 20, 2010:

Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, MsFran

MsFran from Here and There, Everywhere on August 20, 2010:

I love the minimalist designs, very sleek.

RedElf (author) from Canada on May 28, 2010:

Thanks so much, Gals! We did a lot of research and planning - hope some of it works for your bath!

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on May 27, 2010:

You included some really good advice. I will be following some of it as I redo my small bath. I especially love the cleaver under the sink storage.

RedElf (author) from Canada on February 19, 2010:

My next bathroom will have a vessel sink, for sure ;)

shanel from Seattle on February 19, 2010:

I love the idea of the bathroom sink and vanity being an art form. Your pics are great. Nice hub.

RedElf (author) from Canada on February 03, 2010:

Thanks for the comment, Homegardner.

Homegardener says:

28 hours ago

I am a shower kinda person myself, but these are great ideas for those who like baths

RedElf (author) from Canada on December 29, 2009:

Thanks so much scanzin. That's hard experience speaking, lol.

scanzin from Not Spcified on December 28, 2009:

Thank you for your great ideas and techniques - your's are better than most of what I've run across so far on the web.

RedElf (author) from Canada on December 10, 2009:

Thanks so much, WilfordSy. Nice to meet you!

WilfordSy from The Bahamas on December 10, 2009:

Great tips and very informative.

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 29, 2009:

Good for you, ft! It's always a bit of a jigsaw puzzle with remodeling, isn't it?!

fishtiger58 from Momence, Illinois on November 29, 2009:

This article reminds me of our redo in the bathroom of our 1900 built house. The biggest thing was fitting a shower in. We had to cut the top and bottom part of a wall and push it. Wow I was shocked it worked. Now I have my shower.

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 27, 2009:

Thanks so much. We got our sinks from one of the Home Depot type stores - they weren't nearly as fancy as some of these, either.

Joanie Ruppel from Texas on November 27, 2009:

Those photos of the basins are designs I hadn't seen before. Certainly more attractive than the standard sinks in our house.

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 23, 2009:

Thanks so much for your comments. I have included them below without your link:

bathroom wall cabinets says:

3 hours ago

Hi. this is a great hub! I find that clever use of wall cabinets can do wonders to space use of your bathroom. I use the ones with mirror on them.

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 13, 2009:

Thanks so much! Nice to meet you Morris, and thanks for commenting. I prefer DIY, too, wherever possible..

Morris Streak from UK on November 13, 2009:

People who live in apartments may not have the options to renovate as extensively and as creatively as you did. So, bravo to that. You're quite detailed about your renovations, and I like that. It's always good to read about people who take their home renovations into their own hands, instead of relying on blind faith (a decorator and a contractor). Good stuff. I'm into home improvement myself.

RedElf (author) from Canada on June 28, 2009:

Thanks so much for stopping by, GW. No there is no going back once you have had your own, lol.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on June 27, 2009:

I agree with the separate bathroom theory. Once you have one of your own its hard to share!

RedElf (author) from Canada on June 19, 2009:

Too true, Reena! I currently use the upstairs "guest" bath and the freeing up the downstairs bath (by the bedroom) for "others". Saves so much time and trouble in the mornings...

Reena Daruwalla from INDIA on June 18, 2009:

Bathrooms are so much more important than we think; I often tell people that the secret of my successful marriage is that the husband and I have have separate bathrooms :)

RedElf (author) from Canada on June 09, 2009:

I know what you mean, Enelle. The last apartment I lived in had a bathroom was so small you had to step outside to change your mind, lol.

Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on June 09, 2009:

I love to window shop certainly have some beautiful exhibits! Love to think how they would look in my small bathroom...or should I say water closet LOL...if you turn around, there's one too many in it!

RedElf (author) from Canada on June 08, 2009:

Thanks, Candie V, I love to admire the high-end offerings, too. They are totally gorgeous.

My shadow is a small, but persistent feline, FORGET-ME-NOT, but even she can take up way too much space sometimes. Thanks for stopping by. I have to smile when I think of your tiny bathroom full of one person and four dogs, lol.

FORGET-ME-NOT from Northern Arizona on June 08, 2009:

Thanks for the article - I was thinking about my small bathroom last night-I bought a "cabin in the woods" and it is not really mean't for living 24/7. Barely fits me and one dog at a time and usually 4 follow me around everywhere. lol Thanks again

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on June 06, 2009:

Living in an apartment, I don't get to do these great things..sigh. My folks used to have a high-end bathroom remodeling business..cost not an issue for most of their clients, so I got to look at the best of the best in catalogs and man, some of these you show, are just plain 'art work' beautiful.. You don't see these in the local home depot! Thank you! Great Hub!

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