Small Bathroom Renovation

small bathroom renovation
Bathroom Remodeling Ideas

When bathrooms first entered homes, they were usually carved out of closets and other small spaces in houses that didn't have a lot of space to spare. Small sized bathrooms have proven to be functional, and are still used in homes today where space is a premium. If you have a small bathroom, learn the various tricks and techniques that will help you make the most out of the space during a renovation.

Starting a Small Bathroom Renovation

While you may be used to seeing your bathroom as it is now, keep in mind that during a renovation, things can be dramatically changed in that space. The layout can change, the size of your fixtures can vary and there are numerous materials available to help make your bathroom look and feel larger.

Consider the Layout

Before you begin planning for your renovation, take some measurements of your current space. Get a piece of graph paper and sketch out the floor plan of the room to scale. Make each square on the paper equal two inches as a guide.

Sketch in items as they are now, taking their measurements as well to give you a sense of how things may fit in there differently. A few things to keep in mind that may help to open up the room include:

  • Using the Corners: Toilets, tubs and sinks can all be installed in corners. For example, moving a toilet to a corner may open up a wall for a longer sink or vanity.
  • Swapping Positions: In order to pass code, toilets need more room to sit in by themselves than sinks do. Sometimes just switching the position of a sink and toilet can help increase the amount of space available in the room.
  • Swapping Out Fixtures: Sinks, toilets, tubs and showers all come in varying sizes. Don't feel constrained by what is already in the room.

Consider What You Need

Printable checklist
Download This Checklist to Keep Track of Your Renovation

Before you start designing, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who will be using this bathroom?
  • What are the primary functions that will take place there?

If your small bathroom has a tub, but is only being used for showers, then removing the tub and installing a shower stall with jets or moveable shower heads may be a more practical solution that will improve, rather than hurt your resale. If the space is mostly used for guests, then a smaller, wall hung sink may keep the room open, while a bathroom used by teenagers may need more cabinet space. Asking yourself how the bathroom will be used can help you make decisions on how it should be designed.

Small Bathroom Concerns

Small bathroom

Space is obviously the biggest concern in a small bathroom; how will you fit everything you need into one space? Unfortunately, just trying to cram everything in won't work because bathroom renovations need to pass state plumbing codes, while being visually appealing and user friendly.

Codes and Small Bathrooms

Plumbing codes do vary from state to state in small ways; products, drain and pipe sizes can all vary, but space and sizes do not. When you plan your renovation, keep the following numbers in mind:

  • Your toilet needs a minimum of 30-inches to sit in by itself to pass code. This means that from the center line out to 15-inches on each side must be clear of any other fixture or wall. Recommended space is 36-inches for comfort, but in a small bathroom, 30 is required.
  • Your toilet also needs 24-inches of space in front of it. This means that a sink can't be installed on the opposite wall if its edge comes into that space.
  • Your sink needs 20-inches to sit in by itself. This does not include the vanity or sink cabinet it sits in, meaning that from the drain out 10-inches on each side, no new fixture or wall can be placed.
  • The smallest stall shower that passes code is 32-inches. If you choose to place a shower stall in a small bathroom, keep in mind that 32-inches may pass code, but it may not give you a comfortable shower.

Keep in mind that if your small bathroom was built before plumbing codes were adopted by your town, it may be "grandfathered in". This means that you can keep existing placement and sizes of fixtures as they are, even if they do not pass code. You cannot move their placement or change the layout, however. To find out if your bathroom qualifies, pay a visit to your town hall.


Over-the-john cabinet

The other biggest concern in small bathrooms is storage. Make sure you have enough space to put toiletries, towels and other items, particularly if your bathroom is too small to hold a vanity or sink cabinet. Luckily there are a few tricks and things you can do to help maximize your storage space.

  • Install a medicine cabinet. Medicine cabinets can be hung directly above the sink, on the wall adjacent to the sink wall, or right next to a shower for convenience.
  • Hang an over-the-john cabinet above the toilet. These cabinets are usually large enough to hold extra rolls of toilet tissue as well as other medium sized items.
  • Utilize shelves. Hang a shelf right above the sink, below the mirror or medicine cabinet to help hold toiletries. Hang a larger shelf on an adjacent wall to hold extra towels.
  • Tap into a crawl space. Small bathrooms located near stairs or on the top floors of homes may grab a little extra storage by cutting a small door into adjacent unused space. Install a few shelves and keep towels and extra items here.
  • Install some niches. Niches are set into the wall of the shower or the space above the sink. They can be plastered or tiled and help to hold shampoo bottles and cosmetics without sticking out and taking up any space.

Fixtures for Small Bathrooms

The smaller the fixtures you install in your small bathroom, the more open the space will seem, the more flexibility with layout you'll have and the more space you'll have left over for extra storage. Several manufacturers of bathroom fixtures sell products made just for small baths and their functions.

Mayfair Pedestal Sink

Mayfair pedestal sink

The Mayfair pedestal sink is the smallest pedestal sink of its kind that also features an 8-inch spread faucet drilling. This is important, because it gives you the most flexibility in faucet choices, and makes cleaning around the faucet easier.

Parigi Pedestal Sink

Kohler's Parigi pedestal sink is the smallest pedestal sink produced. It has a modern style and comes with either a single hole or 4-inch faucet spread option. This no-frills sink works well in modern bathrooms.

Porcher Solutions Corner Lavatory

Porcher also carries a corner, wall hung lavatory that will fit neatly into any small bathroom. Its clean lines will work with a number of different bathroom designs.

Eljer Corner Toilet

Eljer makes a corner toilet that has a uniquely shaped tank to slide right into the corner of the bath. It comes in the full line of Eljer's colors and matches shades of white from both Kohler and American Standard for fixtures installed close by to one another.

Sink Legs

Palmer sink legs

If you need counter space, but desire an open appearance to make the bathroom look bigger, consider using Palmer System's Sink Legs. You choose the countertop, including natural stone, glass or quartz and the sink itself. The legs mount to the bottom and provide an open look, with or without a crossbar for holding towels. The best part about this system is the ability to make an 18-inch deep counter for narrow bathrooms, or to create a uniquely shaped counter that narrows near the door to allow accessibility, then widens for extra space within the bathroom itself.

Tricks for Making Small Bathrooms Look Bigger

Small bathroom

Once you've finalized your layout and selected some fixtures, or at least the size they need to be, it's time to tackle the style and appearance of the room.


Tile is a natural choice for bathrooms, because it is water-resistant and frequently slip resistant as well. To help your flooring visually enlarge your small bath, make sure you use the same material over the entire floor. This includes the shower floor as well. While you may need to change the size of the material as it goes into the shower, keep the color the same to provide an unbroken line.

In addition, consider using either very large tiles or very small ones on the bathroom floor. Very large tiles - at least 12-inches in size - have fewer grout lines than smaller ones. Grout lines break up the floor into a grid that can make it seem busy and smaller than it really is. Smaller, mosaic tiles, however, have the opposite effect. They create a pattern on the floor that translates into one, overall pattern that helps to make it look larger.


Whenever possible, use the same color on your walls as you do on your floors, particularly in showers and other tight spaces. Using the same color tile, for example, will keep your eye traveling to the end of the room, then up. This gives an optical illusion that the space is larger than it is.


Color can have a huge impact on the appearance of size in a room. Colors that have a blue or cool toned undertone to them recede from the eye, which makes the space look larger than it really is. To help visually enlarge your small bathroom, use the following colors:

  • Taupe
  • Gray
  • Green
  • Blue

Keep your fixtures and your wood trim white to match, and use chrome for the fixtures. Chrome is a cooler toned metal that works well with cool toned walls and tiles. Darker colors are fine as long as they don't get bright as well; bright colors tend to overwhelm small spaces.


Wall hung bath fixtures

Whenever possible, get things up off the ground. This includes utilizing wall hung vanities, sinks and even toilets. The unbroken floor space below the fixture will make the room seem bigger than it is.


There are endless materials available for bathroom renovations today, from glass to porcelain and stone. Nearly all of them will work well in a small bathroom, but keep the following in mind as you select:

  • Glass reflects light, which can make a small space look bigger. Glass tiles, mirrors and glass cabinet doors can all help in this aim.
  • Polished materials like marble and polished porcelain work the same way glass does, reflecting light. If you choose a busy marble, however, keep it on the floor, rather than the walls to prevent too much pattern from overwhelming the space.
  • Avoid textured materials on walls in small spaces. Ungauged slate and super textured porcelains may make the walls feel like they are closer than they are. Hand-cut glass and tiles with rough or jagged surfaces should also be avoided in small shower stalls where you may bump against them and abrade the skin.


Lighting is important in all bathrooms, but particularly so in small baths. Consider adding wall sconces to either side of the mirror to help illuminate the sink space, as well as overhead lighting. The more lit the space is, the more open it will feel to the user.

Plan Your Space With Care

Your small bathroom should be stylish and functional when your renovation is complete. Pay attention to the little details, like cabinet knobs and toilet handles to ensure that the bathroom has a completely cohesive look when you are done. You may be surprised to find just how much space is hidden in there when you know where to look for it.

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