How to plan a bathroom – an essential guide to layout and design

A new bathroom is a great opportunity to make the most of your space in style

How to plan a bathroom
(Image credit: Future / Mel Yates)

Planning a bathroom will take perhaps more thought than any other room –  the kitchen might be the exception but, even here, there is invariably the  reassuring presence of a kitchen designer to smooth the process. 

With the bathroom, you will often find yourself managing the plasterer, the plumber and the flooring installer alone. 

The typical bathroom is small, requiring clever use of space to shoehorn in all the desired features and make it good looking and comfortable at the same time. 

And installation can be deceptively tricky, involving plumbing, intricate spatial design and technical skill, so it pays to have some kind of design service, either from an interior designer, a  specialist bathroom designer or, at the very least, an experienced builder/plumber with an eye for design.

How to plan a bathroom

How do you design a bathroom?

How to plan a bathroom

(Image credit: Future / Brent Darby)

Much like planning a kitchen, you can get the ball rolling by analysing how you use your current room, noting what works and what doesn’t, then drawing up a wish list that takes into account all potential users, their individual needs and imagining how these might change in the future. 

For instance a family bathroom will usually require a bath, hardwearing and splash proof surfaces  while an en suite can afford to be a bit more luxe.

What is a good bathroom layout?

How to plan a bathroom

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

A good bathroom layout will depend on many factors, such as, the function of the bathroom, the size, who will be using the bathroom, and how often. 

Family bathrooms

This is usually the biggest bathroom in the house, accessible from the main hallway. Fittings and finishes in a busy family bathroom should be selected with low maintenance and durability in mind. 

‘I would always use porcelain tiles in a family bathroom, including slip-resistant porcelain on the floors, as they are very hard wearing and will still look amazing in years to come,’ says Ripples’ senior designer Katie Gisby. 

‘They also require zero maintenance, which is essential.’ Plenty of storage is also essential, for toys for toddlers to an ever-growing range of toiletries in the teens. 

Double up on vanity units, basins and mirrors where space allows and don’t be tempted to evict the bath if it is the only one in the house. Instead consider a space-saving shower-bath.

Master en suites

In a master en suite, only used by responsible adults, you can afford to throw caution to the wind and splash out on luxurious materials and a more complex lighting scheme to create a relaxing mood. 

If there’s space, opt for his and her vanity areas with attached dressing rooms if you’re very lucky. This is the place to splash out on expensive equipment like a steam shower or elaborate sound system, which might get damaged by tampering tots or clueless guests, and to indulge in luxe surfaces to your individual style. 

If space is tricky, consider a bathtub in the bedroom with just a small area sectioned off for the toilet and basin.

Shower rooms and guest en suites

Shower rooms and guest en suites can often be squeezed into a surprisingly small footprint using space-saving fittings and a cloakroom basin. Keep it simple, safe with thermostatic valve showers and easy to clean.

Will an extra bathroom add value to your home?

How to plan a bathroom

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

Adding extra bathrooms is a recognised way to boost your property’s value and can do wonders for the morning rush hour. 

Options include turning an adjacent box room into an en suite, stealing an unused area of an upstairs landing or using stud walls to section off a large bedroom. 

If there are no options upstairs, consider expanding a downstairs cloakroom or utility into a shower-room. 

The advent of electric showers and pumped drainage systems, such as macerators, means there are few spaces that can’t accommodate bathroom fittings. 

Macerators are noisier than gravity-based drainage, but many people can accept the compromise, particularly if the extra bathroom is only intended for occasional guest use. 

Plumbing a new room is easier and cheaper if it is located next door to an existing bathroom or above the kitchen, and not too far from the external soil stack, so that pipework doesn’t have far to travel.  

In what order do you install a bathroom?

How to plan a bathroom

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

The view upon entrance, is an important part of design so makes a good starting point. 

Choose one key piece, be it a freestanding bath, heart-stopping vanity unit or a beautifully tiled shower area. 

If the room’s proportions lend themselves to symmetry, it is worth plotting a symmetrical layout, perhaps  aligned with an architectural gem like an original sash window. 

Ensure there is adequate space around each fitting for comfortable use and pay attention to the swing of shower doors; in a tight space choose inward opening doors or an over-bath shower. ‘Seek specialists help to see beyond the existing layout. 

It’s surprising how even the smallest of bathrooms can be imaginatively planned,’ adds Darren Paxford, National Sales Manager, Vitra

In a larger room, avoid everything clinging to the walls and instead experiment with angles – an offset bath can prove more dynamic – or bring the bath forward and create a walk-through shower behind. 

If you are renovating an existing suite, moving plumbed fittings without  the extra expense of replacing the flooring is problematic. One solution is to install a new raised floor, with enough depth for pipes below but this will result in a step in the room. 

The toilet is generally located close to the external soil stack, with minimal bends in the pipe to avoid blockages, so relocation can require significant effort, but is not impossible. 

The job is easier if the new location follows the direction of the floor joists. It is also possible to move a toilet further along the external wall that hosts the soil stack, drilling a new hole through the wall and connecting into the soil stack externally.

What else do I need to consider when planning a bathroom?

How to plan a bathroom

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

Lighting can have a massive impact on the end result and should be planned at an early stage to ensure all key fittings are illuminated properly. 

Aim for sufficient task lighting in the shower and vanity areas, plus ambient lighting around the bath and in alcoves and niches. The latest smart lighting controls allow pre-programmed settings. 

‘These lighting scenes cover everything from early morning with lights gradually illuminating to a daytime level, to an evening scene that is dimmed to create a peaceful ambience to relax and unwind in,’ explains Phillip Pini, Residential Business Development Manager at Crestron

Look out for wireless lighting controls, such as Crestron’s Pyng™ system, which is installed without cables and can include control of thermostats, security and audio, if desired. 

Shiny new fittings can highlight imperfections in the original space so it's worth up-dating architectural elements like doors, plinths and cornicing. A simple skim of plaster can tidy up a scrappy ceiling. Well-dressed windows will also help create a really smart finish. Plantation shutters designed for bathroom use will provide privacy and are easy to clean. 

Don’t forget to keep some budget back for beautiful accessories that will bring the whole look together. ‘Take your lead from boutique hotels and make sure there are plenty of lovely toiletries and squishy thick towels,’ adds Alternative Bathrooms’ director Jane Gilchriest.

Additional words / Linda Clayton