How to Design a Small Bathroom

This week we have one project in Finish Carpentry where Sebastian is laying a beautiful herringbone tile pattern. I wasn’t sure about the tile’s wood-like aesthetic but I must say, I’m now a believer…


At Wolcott, we are remedying what we are affectionately referring to as “drunken studs”:


We are also addressing the bane of Chicago-style 2-flats: bathroom size. There are a lot of great ideas out there for small bathrooms and sometimes building codes can get in the way of your overall aesthetic. To help, here are some ground rules for designing a small bathroom that is code compliant:

1. Toilet Placement. All hail the throne! Okay folks, trust me, you need room! Specifically, you need 15″ from either side of the center of your toilet before you run into anything and 18″ in front of your toilet.


So, think carefully about your toilet placement. Most bathrooms should still be able to fit a 24″ vanity cabinet with a cool sink. Another option is to install a pedestal sink instead and build shelving into the studs. If you’re installing a pedestal sink, make sure your plumber makes the pipes pretty!


2. Shower Height. Building code typically likes you to be able to stand in your shower. Due to this assumption, they require that the shower head fixture be 72″ from the ground. This can create a challenge, particularly if you are working with existing conditions that limit that height. Now, some cities have codes that are flexible with existing conditions. Typically, if you’re doing a significant renovation, they are not. Don’t let this get you wet behind the ears, you have options!

First, think outside the box – in this case, the box is your bathtub. You can incorporate a European style and place your shower heads outside of the bathtub:


Second, if this is not a primary bathroom or – even better – if it is an attic bathroom, omit a shower completely and replace it with a clawfoot tub, then you don’t have to worry about shower height:


3. Bathtub Dimensions. A standard bathtub is 60″ long and 30″ wide. That is quite a bit of space if your total bathroom is 7′ long and 5.5′ wide. You also need to account for a 2×4 placed in front of the tub on either side for the tile wainscot. One way to make the room look larger is to omit the tub completely and replace it with a standing shower:


4. Let there be light! Nothing makes a bathroom look instantaneously larger than natural light and there aren’t any codes against it, as long as it’s 24″ off the floor. If your bathroom is on the top floor or in the attic, skylights can make a small bathroom look dramatic:

Small bathrooms are not limitations, they are luxuries. Know your codes and get creative.


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