Bathroom Design Basics

When designing a bathroom, keep in mind that this place can also be an area of relaxation. To help create a comfortable yet functional bathroom, basic design elements such as flooring, walls, lighting, and fixtures should help create a soothing mood.
Bathroom Design Basics

Modern design has revamped practically every room in the house, but none have been as drastically reinvented as the bathroom. Your bathroom is no longer just a place to shower; it’s a place to relax and be comfortable. From the strictly utilitarian toilet-and-bath setup, designers now prefer large, luxurious bathrooms just a few notches below the home spa.

Needless to say, this trend doesn’t come cheap. If you want to revamp your bathroom, be prepared to spend a small fortune and pore over designs for hours with your contractor. You may also want to brush up on design basics to keep your bathroom functional. Here are some things to consider if you’re planning a bathroom redesign.


Bathroom flooring has to be water-resistant above anything else. Hardwood floors may be attractive, and carpets may be comfortable, but they won’t last long in a bathroom. On the other hand, laminate does poorly as a countertop, but it’s surprisingly durable as a bathroom floor. This is because the “wear layer” on top of the wood is strong enough to protect the paper underneath (it’s made from layers of printed kraft paper). If you want the look of wood, however, you can go for engineered wood. This consists of a plywood base which absorbs moisture well, and a genuine wood top for a realistic finish.

Quality-wise, stone and ceramic tile are the best options. Both wear extremely well and can withstand decades of water exposure. The only downside with a stone floor is that it can get really cold in cold weather, and it can get slippery if you don’t have the right finish.


Walls also have to be water-resistant, but they don’t have to be non-slip like bathroom floors. If you’re using ceramic tile flooring, you can simply extend the tiles to the walls, maybe with a row of accent tiles higher up. Tiles withstand water well, but you have to clean the seams regularly as mildew can build up on the grout.

Pre-fabricated walls are ideal for those who like it quick and easy. Some are even available pre-fitted, although this only works for bathrooms of standard size and shape. If you want pre-fabricated walls, look for those that come in separate pieces and can be assembled on-site. Solid surface walls may be better if you have an odd-shaped bathroom. These are a mix of wood and synthetics, offering a sturdy but not very natural look.


Bathroom lighting has to fit into the spa-like feel you’re trying to create. Large white lamps have been replaced by smaller fixtures with a dimmer, more dramatic glow. To understand lighting styles, it helps to understand the basics of household lighting.

The light provided by a central fixture is called ambient lighting. It takes the place of natural light in the bathroom, and often works well on its own. However, you can spruce it up with accent lighting, which are the smaller bulbs that light certain objects or areas.

Task lighting is often the trickiest lighting feature. It is mostly used in the vanity and sink areas, where you do your daily grooming and makeup. It’s important to evenly illuminate your face; the wrong angle or placement can cast odd shadows and make grooming rather difficult. The best arrangement is a column of lights on both sides of the mirror, or a large overhead light at least six feet over the vanity.

The shower is also a key area for task lighting. You may not need a dedicated fixture if your ambient lighting provides enough illumination. Otherwise, recessed lights (where the fixture is level with the ceiling) are the best option.

Bathroom Fixtures

When you’ve finished designing the area, you can start deciding what goes into it. Do you want a premade shower enclosure or a personalized area? How big should your bathtub be? Where should you place the toilet? Your answers should be based on your flooring and lighting choices, as well as the available space. If you have a small bathroom, your best bet is a corner enclosure with sliding doors. The corner location helps free up floor space at the center, and the sliding door eliminates the need for swing-out room.

The tub is the focal point in most modern bathrooms. Built-in tubs work great for space-saving purposes, but if you have room to spare, consider getting a freestanding tub. These are more stylish and fit in better with the home spa theme. Place it in the center, beside your shower enclosure, or at an angle from an empty corner.