Simply upgrading your bathroom with fancy fixtures and materials won’t do a thing to improve its function. You’ll just be trading a lousy old bathroom for a lousy new one. So make sure you don’t miss these basics:
• Don’t rule out relocating a toilet, a sink, or even a bathtub if doing so would definitely improve the room’s layout. The old notion that moving plumbing fixtures will break the bank simply isn’t true in most cases--in a major bathroom remodel, the biggest expense is in finishes, not in rough plumbing.
A common example: Building codes allow a toilet to be centered in a space as little as thirty inches wide. Yet many older bathrooms have much more space than that between the toilet and adjoining cabinets or walls. In a case like this, moving the toilet to the modern minimum may gain you a nice chunk of counter space.
• Stay away from hard-to-clean fixtures, no matter how fashionable. The usual suspects include topmount lavatory sinks, whose raised rims prevent puddled water from being wiped directly into the sink. And the cleaning headaches inherent in those oh-so-trendy free-standing-bowl style sinks hardly need pointing out.
Likewise, while sparkling glass shower enclosures look great in designer magazines, in real life they’re a drudge to keep clean. For my money, a shower curtain--which won’t obstruct the room when not in use, and which can be easily replaced--is a more practical choice.
• In the shower, provide a niche for storing shampoo bottles and the like. Make sure the soap dish is high enough to avoid the need to stoop down, and provide a hook or bar for hanging a washcloth. A small built-in bench or at least a ledge will be welcome, too.
• Set aside some wall space for both 18-inch wide face towel bars and 24-inch bath towels. Ideally, the bath towels should be within arm’s length of the tub or shower, and the face towels should be right beside the lavatory sink. If space is tight, either can be mounted on the inside of the bathroom door, or you can use towel rings instead.
• Building codes require an exhaust fan only if the bathroom doesn’t have an openable window, but you should plan to include one regardless. Insist on a top-quality, super-quiet model--not one of those howling bargain-basement jobs. Better yet, consider a remote-mounted fan, which will be even quieter.
• If the bathroom feels cramped but there’s no way to physically enlarge it, try an optical illusion: Use a large sheet mirror on the wall behind the lavatory, extending from corner to corner and from countertop to ceiling, to visually double the room’s volume. Although it takes a little extra effort to incorporate a mirror this big, the result is far more dramatic than the usual scrap of mirror screwed to the wall.
• Lastly, don’t forget storage for bulky items like toilet paper. To this end, a vanity cabinet is more practical than a pedestal sink, though it may not necessarily suit the style of your house. Here again, you might wish to trade fashion for function.