Critical Considerations for the Best Bathroom Layout

The best bathroom layout can be a somewhat elusive design concept, primarily because the ideal bathroom layout is going to be completely different for each family and existing bathroom space. It can be hard to know, in the midst of designing the ideal space, if what works on paper will actually work in real life. Realizing this, there are some factors to seriously consider before redoing your entire bathroom layout. These factors will help you create a bathroom layout and overall space that will most likely fit the functionality and form requirements of your household. Actually, the best bathroom layouts are the best because they’re thoughtful and deliberate.

Design around Life

Particularly where the bathroom is concerned, form follows function. In other words, a photographically beautiful bathroom will do little good and be little appreciated if it doesn’t meet with the functionality requirements of its users. For example, barn doors on a small master bath may be just the thing to maximize space in both the bathroom and the bedroom.

Plan around people.

Most people are constrained to the size and shape of their existing bathroom, unless, of course, they are in the planning and design stages of a new construction or are giving the bathroom an overhaul. This means that it’s especially important to keep in mind the specific features you want and need to accommodate the household. This includes the number of people who will be regularly using the bathroom, the ages and even gender of the bathroom’s primary users, their size and height, and more.

Maximize every inch.

In the bathroom, space is at a premium. Every square inch, on the floors, walls, and even ceiling, plays an important part in increasing or diminishing the functionality and aesthetics of the space. That’s why an accurate study of the users’ lives will play an important role in striking the perfect design balance for the bathroom layout. Of course, there are also regulations and standard requirements for spatial constraints (for example, a toilet requires a certain amount of space around it and in front of it, as does a sink, the tub, shower, etc.).

Keep safety at the forefront.

Safety is another very important lifestyle consideration for the bathroom layout. If the tub/shower combo is at the far end of a hallway-size bathroom, for example, you’ll want to pay careful attention to the safety of your flooring choices. Anti-slip surfaces become key here.

Provide sufficient lighting.

Adequate lighting is another element that really makes or breaks the bathroom’s functionality as well as safety. The best bathroom layouts include a blend of four types of light: task, ambient, accent, and decorative. Lighting should happen from the ceiling, from the walls, in the bathing zone, and wherever else improves the use and safety of the space.

Connect bathroom design with house style

While powder rooms provide an excellent clean slate to really make a statement and a splash, design-wise, in your home, most bathrooms will be best received when they make sense with the design of the rest of your home. Colors don’t need to necessarily match, but they should flow to make the bathroom layout an appropriate part of the bigger whole. Hardware, such as the bathroom doorknobs, and other features, such as the doorframe and/or bathroom door color facing the rest of the house, should be consistent with whatever is in the style of the home elsewhere.

Functional zones

While a successfully functional kitchen utilizes the primary work triangle, the bathroom doesn’t typically have a one-size-fits-all functional layout. There are zones of functionality to consider, though, within any bathroom, which will play a role in determining the best bathroom layout for your space.

Functional Zone: Toilet.

While the functionality of most bathrooms tends to revolve around the toilet, you most likely don’t want the actual design layout of the bathroom to emphasize this fact or feature. As far as the preferred layout of the toilet, the most common design decision, space permitting, is to tuck it away or even hide it somewhere, either behind a door or a half wall or the vanity. Visually, the more you can remove the focus of the bathroom from this fixture, the more aesthetic the bathroom will look and feel.

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Functional Zone: Vanity.

Typically, the vanity area of the bathroom involves one or two sinks, the accompanying countertop, and some sort of storage, whether it’s a shelf or drawers or cupboards or a combination of the three.

Above the sink but within the vanity functional zone is typically a marge mirror. Today’s bathroom mirror is more often framed than not, although that is not always the case.

Bathrooms with double sinks tend to have less counterspace, but for a bathroom used by many people or the entire family, double sinks are incredibly useful. Contemporary master bathrooms that are on the smaller side are moving more toward one-sink bathrooms so that counter space is ample and relatively spacious. So, in a nutshell, the design of the vanity zone will depend largely upon the users of the bathroom.

Functional Zone: Bathing.

A powder room, also known as a half bath, contains simply a toilet and a sink. A 3/4 bath contains a toilet, sink, and either a tub or shower. A full bath contains all four elements – toilet, sink, shower, and tub.


Master bathrooms are more likely to have a shower than they are a tub, although the showers of today’s master baths are trending toward a larger footprint than traditional stand-up showers. Showers are certainly becoming more luxurious and elaborate, including multiple shower heads and streaming options, seating, and expanded walls.


Enormous tubs reminiscent of jacuzzi-style fixtures did have their heyday, but they are going the way of all oversized and underused components in the bathroom. Instead, master bathrooms in particular are moving toward deeper, smaller tubs designed for two. This is both more economical in bathroom real estate as well as hot water heating.

Shower/Tub Combo.

This traditional bathing setup for the bathroom is as common in today’s standard bathrooms as it has been in years past. It’s both functional and affordable, space- and budget-wise, and doubles the options for bathing to accommodate just about anyone using the bathroom for that purpose. When it comes to a bathroom layout that helps with a home’s resale value, this particular setup is a winner.

Functional Zone: Tub Room.

This was hardly a functional zone in the vast majority of bathrooms past, but these days, a tub room or spa shower has become more and more common. Essentially, the tub room functionality involves a bathroom that is fitted up like a large shower, with fully tiled walls and floors and an exposed shower head. There’s often a freestanding tub, often in the middle of the space, and generally fully tiled and/or sculptural.

Tips for determining bathroom layout

Bathroom Layout Tip 1: Assess bathroom users. As mentioned previously, it will serve you well to determine what the demographics of the bathroom’s users will be. How many, how old/young, how tall/short, how flexible/inflexible on scheduled use relative to another’s use of the bathroom, etc. This will help to determine the genuine best bathroom layout for the actual users, such as the number of sinks, the length of countertop, the number and size of drawers or cabinets, the bathing setup, etc.

Bathroom Layout Tip 2: Keep plumbing close to original. This applies primarily to a bathroom remodel, of course, although plumbing location does play into the design decisions of new construction as well. The toilet in particular is what will dictate the layout and design the most, because the 4” stack drain is difficult and very expensive to relocate. Most layouts, to stay on budget, will do well to design around the existing toilet’s location.

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Bathroom Layout Tip 3: Provide sufficient space. When you consider the heavy demands of a small bathroom, it might be tempting to try to squeeze more than what’s wise into the hard-working space. But more features in less space doesn’t actually translate into a better bathroom layout. In fact, the opposite is true.

For example, toilets need 30” of space. The smallest shower size allowed is 30”x30”. The center of a sink should be 20” away from the wall. Generally speaking, double sinks do best with 36” between them. If you simply don’t have the space, realistically, for all the things, it’s time to reevaluate the functionality and eliminate the components you don’t absolutely need.

Bathroom Layout Tip 4: Incorporate storage. Whenever possible, get creative with bathroom storage. An over-the-door shelf, for example, can easily hold extra rolls of toilet paper or towels in even the most postage stamp-sized bathrooms. Soaps and toiletries, if they need a home in the bathroom, should be accounted for in the design of the bathroom layout, whether it’s in the vanity cabinet or a shelving unit built into the wall between frame studs.

Bathroom Layout Tip 5: Remember ventilation. The bathroom that is used regularly will benefit significantly from some method of ventilation, either for clearing and freshening the air or for removing heavy, damp air from after a steamy shower. Not only does this feel better for the user, but it’s much easier on the home and can actually help to avoid structural damage.

Four primary methods of providing much-needed ventilation into your bathroom layout include, but are not limited to, the following: 1) ceiling-mount fans, in which the housing is recessed into the ceiling and ductwork runs outside to vent, 2) in-line fans, which are quieter than other types of ventilation methods and can connect multiple fans to one motor, 3) wall-mount fans, which mounts onto a bathroom wall located on an exterior wall of the house, and 4) vent switches, which is a smart home advancement that uses humidity sensors and timers to turn the fans on/off as needed.

Going green with the bathroom layout

Sink faucet. If you can choose an efficient vanity faucet within your bathroom layout, this is a very easy way to improve the functionality and cost-effectiveness of the bathroom itself, let alone be more environmentally friendly. An efficient faucet can save 45% more water when compared to older standard fixtures. On average, a family of four will save about 14,000 gallons of water per year.

Toilet. If the new toilet in your redesigned bathroom layout can use fewer than 2 gallons of water per flush, then you’re doing something right. That type of high efficiency in toilet usage will go far in reducing water waste and expenses, because the average standard toilet of yesteryear uses about 5 gallons of water per flush.

Shower head. Some people may not think that changing the shower head would do much to conserve water, but that would be false. In fact, a highly efficient shower head can save over 7 gallons of water per shower. Plus, other updated shower features can include purge-and-pause functionality, which pauses the water’s escape once it’s heated, rather than letting it drain and go to waste.

Ultimately, when you take time to consider the actual needs of your bathroom’s users, you will be able to determine the best, most functional bathroom layout. And functionality is the foundation for a truly beautiful space.



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