Let’s face it: some bathrooms are just plain tiny! You know what I mean— bathrooms where the door barely clears the front of the toilet; or where you have to contort yourself to get past the toilet and get into the shower.

I’ve designed dozens of bathrooms over the years, learning quite a few things along the way about how to make the most of a very tiny space. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How can I make this small bath look and feel bigger?” Please allow me to share some tips with you on how you can create a beautiful space in a tiny footprint.

NOTE: Despite the camera tricks (gotta love the wide-angle lens!), the baths shown in these photos are very small, meeting the minimum requirements for California building codes.

  1. Create the illusion of space. A wall-mounted vanity can expand the floor space, and large mirrors can give your bathroom an airier, lighter feeling.
  2. Add lighting. Most baths, even small ones, can benefit from multiple sources of light. For example, add a recessed can light in the shower, or above the toilet, in addition to the vanity lighting.
  3. Use lighter colors. Keeping wall tiles and paint colors on the lighter side will help to visually expand the space. Also, using the same tiles on both the floor and the shower walls can make a difference. Minimizing contrast helps keep rooms looking more spacious. Of course, you may opt to add some contrasting colors and materials purely for aesthetic reasons. This is always OK to do!
  4. Consider custom cabinetry. Custom cabinets can be expensive, but they allow you to make the most of every inch of space. In one bath, we made a custom cabinet to use the entire wall-to-wall space above the toilet. There are no ready-made cabinets that can do that.
  5. Move the plumbing. This can also add to your overall remodeling cost, but it can make a huge difference in functionality. In all of the baths shown, we moved the shower plumbing to the wall opposite of where it was originally. Wedging yourself around the toilet to turn on the water is not comfortable at all; think about moving the plumbing to the opposite wall, so you have ample space to get in and out of the shower. In one bath shown, the original shower had been squeezed into a very tiny alcove. To create a much larger and more comfortable shower, we moved the toilet into that alcove and moved the shower into the space where the toilet was. That allowed us to use the full length of the bathroom for the new shower. We even added a bench seat in the shower.
  6. Add efficient storage. Tiny baths can still offer adequate storage, but I would also advise you to minimize the toiletries you need to store in the bath. Lots of clutter instantly makes a bathroom look and feel smaller. Consider recessed niches in the shower (your contractor can make them in almost any size), extra tall or wide medicine cabinets, and cabinets above the toilet.

The beautiful bathrooms in these photos are a perfect illustration of the old saying: Good things come in small packages.

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If you’re starting a design or decorating project, it might be helpful for you to ask yourself the same questions a designer would ask you. When I meet with new clients, I aim to get to know you, your style, your taste and your design goals, so I know best how to help you. If you are embarking on a project on your own, these questions can help you focus and prioritize what’s most important to you and help you get started.

  1. What do you love about this room?

    ICP_7176Which elements are staying in the room and need to be incorporated into the new design? Sometimes the answer is “nothing!” But there is always something! Perhaps you like the large windows, or the wood flooring. Perhaps you have a comfortable sofa you’d like to keep, or a piece of artwork you bought on vacation. One client once told me, “everything in here can go EXCEPT my husband’s recliner!”

    Whatever it is, I can usually work with it. If it’s the view and the large windows you like most, I can design a seating arrangement and a window treatment that will enhance them. If it’s a piece of artwork, I can pull colors from it and design a color palette for the room. If you want to keep something because you love it, design the room to enhance it; if you have to keep it because it’s too expensive to replace right now (like not-so-attractive fireplace tile, for example), then design the room so it’s NOT the focal point. Add other elements to bring the eye to other areas in the room.

  1. What do you dislike about the room?

    What would you like to change most? Design is about aesthetics, but it is also very much about improving functionality in a space. The most common complaints I hear are: This room is too dark; the room lacks storage; I can’t figure out how to arrange the furniture as the room is too small/large/long/narrow. Fortunately all of those problems can be solved.

    Room too dark? Guess what– add lighting! Recessed lights, track lights, a chandelier, pendant lights and wall sconces are all possible options.  For space planning, draw the space to scale and use furniture templates to experiment with different arrangements. Not enough storage? Consider built-in cabinetry, or tall bookcases, or storage ottomans.

  1. How is this room used?

    This may seem an obvious question, but there are many ways to utilize a space. A dining room may indeed be for dining, but it also may need to serve as a meeting room for business or social gatherings; a living room may serve best as a library or home office; a guest room may need to be a room for grandkids, craft projects or even daytime napping.

    It’s important to determine all of the activities that need to take place so you can design accordingly. A Murphy bed with a built-in worktable might be a perfect solution for your guest room. And a buffet in your dining room may be better suited for storing art or office supplies instead of those seldom-used “good dishes.”

  1. What colors do you love?

    And are there any colors you really don’t like? Don’t worry about what’s popular—if you find yourself still loving colors from previous decades, have no fear. Any color can be made to look new again if it’s paired with more current colors. Pore over magazine photos, Pinterest and Houzz.com to view a wide variety of beautiful color schemes. More important than being “current” however, is being happy. So choose colors you love.

  1. What is the overall look and feel you’d like to see when we are finished with the project?

    ICP_1067Do you have a favorite look or style you are trying to achieve? I’m currently working on a large design project where our design goal has been named “Modern Urban Rustic.” Having a theme like that keeps us focused when selecting furnishings and materials. For example, we are using very rustic, reclaimed wood for the floors, combined with very modern, funky light fixtures.

  1. Are there any special needs to take into consideration?

    This is very important. For example, if there are elderly parents or people with disabilities, you may want to stay away from area rugs, which can pose a tripping hazard. With small children, you may want to look at furniture with rounded edges or leather pieces that are easy to wipe off. Satin finish paint is also a good option for rooms where kids and pets hang out.

  1. Do you want to complete this project all at once, or over time in phases?

    As long as you know your long range plan, it’s OK to tackle a project in phases. However, don’t let the project take so long that you start changing your mind about your design goals, or find yourself never finishing. Sometimes this happens on a decorating project—we get the furniture purchased and walls painted, but then the clients don’t follow through with the window treatments and accessories. The result is a room that is not quite done, which can leave everyone unsatisfied. If possible, save enough money to do the whole project at once, so you get maximum bang for your buck.

  1. And speaking of money, what is your budget for this project? Is it realistic?

    I find that clients sometimes have no idea how much things actually cost. So while they have a budget amount in their head, it often does not match the reality of what they want. Remember that we always have to add on sales tax, shipping and delivery charges, installation charges, furniture assembly charges, labor for painting, crown molding, electrical work, granite fabrication, etc. Unfortunately things always seem to be more expensive than people think, especially in the Bay Area. Just keep this in mind when establishing a budget.

  1. How long are you planning to stay in your house?

    This is definitely a question that can affect your design plan. If you are planning on selling soon, then meeting with a realtor would be helpful to get an idea of the best ways to spend your design budget. If this is your long-term house, then by all means, design it for your own taste and lifestyle. Please don’t worry so much about resale if your time horizon is more than 2-3 years. Design for yourself so you can enjoy it as long as possible.

Anna Jacoby is a local Certified Interior Designer. You can reach her at 510-378-6989 or by email at info@annajacobyinteriors.com. Visit her website at www.annajacobyinteriors.com.