Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Judging by the typical model home, you’d think that the perfect bathroom was a gigantic space with lots of glitzy surfaces and a monstrous whirlpool tub. In reality, this brand of bath design is mainly intended to make a splashy first impression on buyers--the so-called wow factor. The designers of such rooms don’t much care how comfortable they are for daily use.

The ideal bathroom has many requisites, but vast size, acres of granite, and a whirlpool tub aren’t among them. What really counts is having generous space where it’s actually useful, and having all the elements of your daily bath ritual right at hand. 

One of my favorite "wow factory only" designs.
If you have 300 square feet to spare,
you can have a tub like this, too.
For starters, here are some basic rules of thumb that can be applied to most any living space, but that are especially essential to bathrooms: 

• Natural light trumps artificial light. Basically, this mean you should buck the usual bathroom standard--a paltry, high-placed window--and insteadprovide the biggest window possible. And don’t let privacy worries restrict the window size or placement, since you can always augment privacy using window coverings, exterior screening, or planting. 

• Natural ventilation trumps mechanical ventilation. Don’t rely on a puny exhaust fan to ventilate a naturally humid room like the bathroom. Fully-opening windows such as casements or awnings are ideal, but generously sized sliding or double hung windows will work too if they’re better suited to the style of your house. If you can provide cross ventilation with two windows spaced some distance apart, all the better.

• Usable space trumps “wow” space. If  you’re more interested in genuine comfort than impressing your neighbors, delegate your bathroom space to useful purposes, not to grandiose statements like huge, seldom-used whirlpool tubs. For example, few bathrooms have adequate storage for bulky items like toilet paper, extra towels, and bath sundries. Sure, you can cram them into the lavatory cabinet, if you don’t mind rooting around on all fours to get them out. But a generous cabinet at eye level is much more convenient. Likewise, when you shower or bathe, it’s a real luxury to have a cabinet with clean underwear and another hiding a laundry hamper, all within arm’s reach.

The vastly impractical vessel sink,
current darling of interior designers.
They're already showing up in the salvage yards.
• Function and ease of maintenance trump trendoid design. The current poster child for utterly impractical bathroom fads is the so-called “vessel” sink, which sits atop the counter rather than in it, trapping spilled water and all manner of nasty gunk underneath. Then there are those elaborate glass shower surrounds which look so dazzling in staged magazine photos, but which require ceaseless cleaning under real life conditions. For my money, an old-fashioned shower curtain is simpler, cheaper, doesn’t clutter up the room, and is also easier to maintain--when it starts getting grungy, you can recycle it as a drop cloth and buy a new one. 

You can probably come up with your own favorite impractical features, but you get the idea--simply keeping up with current product fads is no basis for an intelligent bathroom design.
Next time, we’ll take a more detailed look at what makes for an ideal bathroom--including the choice of fixtures, hardware, and lighting.


  1. Great comments on bathrooms - couldn't agree more (although I do have a weakness for the vessel sink). One thing I like to incorporate in my own work is a long window or direct glazed panel right above the mirror over the Pullman or vanity, so the ladies can apply their makeup in natural light. It's also cheering to get the natural light at the beginning of the day as you're doing your morning hygiene rituals.

    BTW.. found you via Charles Hugh Smith, and stop in to read your insights from time to time.

    Best wishes for a busy 2015!

    David M. Sanders, AIA

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