Small bathrooms have many design challenges beyond the layout and placement of fixtures. Using the right colors, accessories and accents, you can help visually enlarge the room, while making the most of the space you have.
The Best Colors for Small Bathrooms
While you may not be able to change every color in use in the room, just changing a few can make a big difference in how the bathroom looks and feels.
Choose a cool toned color for your walls whenever possible. Cool colors, like blue and gray, recede from the eye when viewed, which makes small spaces appear larger. Some colors that work well in bathrooms, and can work with a number of existing color schemes include:
If your floor tiles are a very dark color, consider choosing a lighter, cooler shade of the same color for the walls. For example if your floors are Ming Green marble, select a very pale blue green color for the walls. If your floor is a light or neutral color, consider choosing a very similar color for the walls. Having floors and walls of similar colors forces the eye to move in an unbroken field through the room. This can make the space seem larger than it really is.
Your metal finishes should stay in keeping with the cool toned look of the rest of the room. This means using chrome, matte or satin chrome or some shades of oil rubbed bronze. Avoid metal finishes on faucets and cabinet hardware that are nickel, brass or copper; these warmer shades will pull toward the eye, instead of fading into the rest of the design.
Paint for Tiles
If your bathroom tiles are warm or dark in color, and you don't want the expense of replacing them, try painting them in a lighter, cooler shade. Use a urethane or oil based paint, and avoid painting the grout lines. Finish off the tiles with a coat of urethane sealer to help waterproof the color. By painting the tiles, you can visually enlarge the room using the same principles used on the walls.
While bathroom tiles come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, try some of these shades for small rooms:
- Medium gray
- Dark taupe
- Cobalt blue
Remember that if you choose to paint your tiles, you can use two different colors in the same pattern to help enliven the floor or wall you're painting.
Accents are small design elements that can have a large impact in a small room. They are often added after the main components of the room are in place, but they can help to increase the visual design and use of the room.
Mirrors and Medicine Cabinets
Use lots of mirrors and reflective, shiny surfaces to help create a greater sense of space. Large, expansive mirrors give the illusion of more square footage, so consider installing a ceiling-high piece to create maximum visual capacity in the room. You can also place mirrors at angles and across from one another to help increase the reflection.
Help increase your storage space in a small room by adding additional medicine cabinets as well. While the medicine cabinet is traditionally placed behind the sink, consider these alternatives that will allow you to have a larger mirror instead:
- Place the medicine cabinet on a wall adjoining the mirrored wall behind the sink. This puts everything right at hand, gives you additional mirrors where you need them, and allows more flexibility in mirror sizing.
- Place the medicine cabinet on a wall adjoining the shower. Keep razors, extra soap and bath salts in there so their right at hand, while increasing your visual real estate with the mirror.
Add Some Mosaics
Consider punching up the walls and mirrors around your bathroom sink by adding some mosaic tiles in a glossy or polished finish. Mosaics each catch the light separately, reflecting it back with intensity that can help to visually enlarge the room, while adding some interest and design. Most mosaic tiles don't need any kind of framing or finish tiles, so you can use them as a sink backsplash, mirror frame, border or as a backing for glass shelves.
Nothing sticks out more in a stylish bathroom than a toilet supply valve in an unflattering color, finish and style. Replace all the valves, supply tubes and visible P-traps in the room with the same color, finish and handle style of your faucetry. Because the bathroom is small, a sense of unity is important to help create a cohesive design that works, without making the room feel cramped. Attending to these small details will mean they fade into the background, rather than sticking out and drawing attention to small areas.
Shelving and Storage
The smaller the bathroom, the more crucial good shelving and storage can be. You need storage that will keep the room as streamlined and clutter free as possible, without taking up a lot of real estate. Luckily, there are numerous ways to do this.
Hotel shelves are metal shelves that are meant to hold towels. They frequently have an additional towel rail attached to the underside, and they don't take up a lot of space, either visual or physical. Mount one on the wall adjacent to the shower, or on the wall next to the sink. Make sure they are above shoulder height to keep them from taking up valuable standing room, and keep their finish and style consistent with the other accessories or faucets in the room.
Small bathrooms frequently have small sinks, too. This can be a problem for storing the things that typically sit on the sink's top. To solve this problem, consider using a glass shelf, mounted below the mirror or medicine cabinet, but above the sink. These small, unobtrusive shelves can hold a lot of toiletries, but have a relatively small profile. You can find them with or without a small metal rim that can help hold things in place. Just make sure the brackets have the same escutcheon as the rest of the bathroom accessories.
The over-the-john cabinet is a must for small bathrooms. These shallow cabinets are meant to hang above your toilet, and typically match your bathroom furniture in style and finish. They aren't large and don't take up a lot of real estate, but they can hold toilet rolls, additional soap and shampoo and even small makeup kits. You can also find them with mirrored doors to help increase the visual real estate of the room.
Small baths that have showers installed may not have the biggest footprint for bathing space. This means there may not be much space for toiletries. Consider installing some wire baskets in the corners or the shower. Wire baskets come in a wide range of sizes, from small ones just big enough to hold a bar of soap, to extra deep baskets that can hold multiple shampoo bottles.
Install them in the corner opposite the shower head, away from the shower opening. Position them at varying heights to be accessible to all shower users and keep the floor of the shower clutter free.
The smaller your bathroom, the more creative you may need to get with accessories to help make the bathroom as functional as possible. In addition to extra cabinets and shelving, there is a wealth of bathroom accessory products out there that can help make your bathroom feel much larger than it is. These include:
- Toilet roll holders
- Swinging towel rails that fold out from the wall for use, then fold back in out of the way
- Soap dispenser, toothbrush holders and soap dishes that mount to the wall, keeping these items off the bathroom sink
Purchase all your accessories at once to help ensure that all the escutcheons and styles match one another for a cohesive look.
How to Make a Small Bathroom Look Big
You can make a small bathroom look bigger by changing a few things to open up the space. Each design aspect of a small bathroom either telegraphs it as being small or bigger.
Use Big Tile in Small Bathrooms
It's a mistake to limit yourself to small bathroom floor tile. This creates a double pattern. The first is the tile shape and the second is the outlining effect the grout has. You're better off to use large plain tiles. This will give the illusion of expansion and open up the floorspace. The best tile colors for small bathrooms are light ones to continue the illusion of openness.
Good Colors to Make a Small Bathroom Look Bigger
You can use pale colors to make your bathroom appear bigger. This is especially true for wall colors.
Accent Walls for Depth
You can select a wall not broken up by windows and doors to create an accent wall to give your small bathroom design depth. This can be something as simple as a different color value of the main color or you can add a stenciled design in a slightly darker or lighter value. You may prefer to use wallpaper for your accent wall. Steer clear of small, dark or bright patterns.
Other Tips for Making a Small Bathroom Appear Bigger
A few bathroom tips can also be applied to small bathrooms. Most bathrooms have square and/or rectangle wall shapes. You can place a round mirror to break up these spaces for a feeling of expansion.
- Add more lighting, such as a mini chandelier over a sink or for the overhead light and recessed lighting.
- You can add a wall scone or two for additional light.
- A small table or buffet lamp placed on the counter will brighten the bathroom.
- You can innovate with a wall hung sink and toilet to create more open floorspace.
- A pedestal sink is better than a cumbersome cabinet sink.
- Avoid breaking up the floorspace with bathroom rugs.
Decorating a Small Bathroom
Bathrooms, no matter what their size, can be a lot of fun to decorate. It's fine to play around with color, pattern, and accessories, as long as you keep the look uniform and streamlined. Remember also that the style should flow with the style of the rest of the house. If the home is modern and contemporary so should be the bathroom. Likewise, if the home is classic and traditional, the bathroom should reflect that esthetic. Incorporate the same decorating elements you would in any other room and make it a place you truly want to spend time in.