House and Home

December 17, 2020


It’s not the most glamorous room in the house, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a place that fills you with serenity, pleasure, calm, and energy. That’s why updated bathrooms increase the resale value of a house. And that’s why we focus on creating bathrooms that are inviting, comfortable, and beautiful.

Let’s get practical: the functional factor

As always, good looks take a back seat to good sense. If the world’s most exquisite bathroom is impractical or annoying to use, all of those perfect design elements are wasted.

Wall mounted vs. floor mounted

These days, “floating” fixtures—vanities, sinks, faucets, toilets—are all the rage, and for good reason: they create more floor space (physically and visually), are easy to clean beneath and around, and are more accessible for people with mobility issues.

However, wall-mounted vanities are smaller and do not offer as much storage space as floor-mounted ones. While that may not be an important factor in a powder room or large bathroom that has other closets or cabinets, a lack of storage is a significant disadvantage in a shared or space-challenged bathroom. Additionally, wall-mounted plumbing is not recommended on exterior walls without extra insulation, and you’ll need to ensure that the wall structure is sound and strong enough to support a wall-mounted fixture.

If you love the look of a floating vanity but your bathroom can’t handle it, compromise: a furniture-style vanity with slim legs lends a feeling of openness to the bathroom and allows you to clean underneath it.

Tub or shower?

Over the course of the last few decades, bathtubs became an absolute must-have—usually in the form of large jetted tubs or show-stopping freestanding tubs—then fell out of favor due to impracticality and infrequent use, then rose back up to must-have status in recent years in a more reasonable fashion.

The vehement “tubs are crucial for resale value” and “put in a huge shower instead; nobody likes baths” camps have converged on a more practical agreement. Roomy (but not oversized) showers and tubs are both considered valuable, as is the ubiquitous but super-convenient tub-shower combo.

While the popular freestanding tub is beautiful, it’s impractical for several reasons: it gets cold without an enclosure, the floor on all sides gets wet and slippery, and deep tubs can be difficult to clean and to maneuver oneself (or children) into and out of.

If you’d really like a deep tub (and have considered the drawbacks) but don’t have the room, consider a Japanese soaker tub. These extra-deep tubs have a small, round or square footprint with a seat inside for comfortable soaks without taking up the entire bathroom.

As always, consider your own needs and wants before choosing a tub or shower arrangement; if you truly have no desire to take baths, don’t waste your space or money on a tub just because it’s what “everyone” does!

The multifunction shower is still popular, though often in a scaled-down version from the behemoth showers that were popular in the last 10 years. Some shower features that you may want to include for convenience and comfort are:

  • A shower niche or shelf (accented with a floor tile for visual impact)
  • A shower bench or seat
  • Glass doors (may be impractical on a tub-shower combo used for bathing children)
  • A steam system (While steam systems are generally affordable, consider that you’ll need to waterproof the entire shower—ceiling included—and seal it well.)
  • Multiple showerheads: rain head, handheld, body sprays
  • “Invisible” drain (a special drain that’s hidden in the tile for a smooth appearance; be sure that the floor slopes for proper drainage)


The sink and/or vanity have evolved over time as well. The double sink in the master bathroom has become virtually expected, though it doesn’t work for everyone; consider how often you’d really use both sinks simultaneously and weigh that convenience against the counter space that you stand to lose.

If you’re planning for stone or quartz countertops, opt for an undermount sink rather than a top mount; it’s neater, sleeker, and makes it easier to keep the counter clean and dry.

Storage is (arguably) the most important consideration when selecting a vanity or sink. Drawers are easier to organize than cabinets, and wide drawer pulls can double as towel bars in a short-on-space bathroom. Even petite pedestal sinks can be fitted with a towel bar or have some storage space for extra toilet paper, hand soap, and towels. Consider your usage patterns (Who will use this bathroom? How often will it be used?) and proximity to nearby storage space (Is the “Costco closet” right next door or down the hall?) before choosing a sink.

When planning a shared bathroom, you may want to consider a sink area that’s separate from the toilet and shower to streamline the morning or evening rush (“I can’t brush my teeth, he’s hogging the bathroom!”).


Most bathrooms rely more on functional lighting than decorative lighting, though you’ll find the occasional funky chandelier in a bathroom. You can go beyond the standard vanity light and/or spotlights with integrated lighting—behind mirrors, built into ceilings, under cabinets—for a soft, natural glow with fewer fixtures and less visual clutter.


Nobody likes to think about the possibility of impaired mobility, but it’s wise to design with limitations in mind, especially if you’re planning to “age in place.” Some easy and discreet upgrades that can make your life easier in the future include strategically placed grab bars, wall-mounted fixtures, shower seats, comfort-height toilets, single-handle faucets, wider doorways, and curbless showers.

Considerations you may have missed

It’s the little details that can be the most pleasant (or the most irritating) in a bathroom. Don’t ignore these when planning your bathroom:

  • Hardware placement—Hang towel bars close enough to sinks and showers and faucet handles far enough from the wall.
  • Ventilation—The fan should be powerful enough to handle at least two back-to-back showers (just don’t leave it on for long periods of time—it’s a fire hazard).
  • Faucet projection—Water flow should hit at or near the center of the sink to avoid splashing.
  • Sufficient outlets—Place additional outlets inside drawers or medicine cabinets, if possible.
  • Grout—The color of your grout can make a statement—or make you crazy (don’t choose white if you’ll feel the need to scrub it constantly!).
  • Recessed medicine cabinet—This is typically an easy item to install that pays off: no bumped heads and a sleeker appearance.
  • Sink slope—Flat-bottomed sinks may look nice, but they’re difficult to clean when toothpaste and soap scum gather in the corners.
  • Larger drains and supply lines—These are good for faster tub filling and draining.
  • Storage space—This is especially important in small bathrooms; utilize “dead” space with linen towers, closets, or over-toilet cabinets.
  • Safety—Many tiles are dangerously slippery when wet; a good bath mat can help, and tiles can be treated (cost-effectively) to reduce slipperiness.

The fun part: decorating

Like kitchen remodels, bathroom remodels are occasional events, so it’s prudent to be somewhat conservative when decorating. (If you want to go wild, experiment with a powder room; its smaller size means it’ll be easier and more affordable to redecorate.)

Feature a few trends or schemes that you really love so that you’ll still be happy when the winds of change inevitably blow in.

In, out, or classic?

  • Brass hardware: In. Warm-toned metals, including warmer silvers, like gunmetal or polished nickel, are firmly in style, as is matte black. Strategically mixed metals are less likely to look dated quickly, and handle-free cabinets or integrated pulls are popular as well.
  • Gray: In, with updates. While gray is generally on its way out, gray bathrooms are still in, but in a softer version, with smoky tiles, matte cabinetry, and subtle patterns.
  • Warm color schemes: In. Shades of greige, taupe, and cream are dominating color schemes all over the house, and bathrooms are no exception; blues and greens, including bolder shades like emerald, are in. Blue in particular works well across trends, so a navy vanity is likely to be timeless.
  • White: Classic. The all-white bathroom will never quite go out of style (much to the chagrin of those who clean it), but it’s been updated with color accents and natural elements.
  • Large-format tile: In, but not exclusively. While large-format tiles are popular (they make the room look bigger and more seamless with less grout), decorative and hand-painted tiles—art deco, geometrics (especially hexagon), scallop, and vertical—are gaining popularity for their warmth and visual interest. Full slabs of dramatic stone are trending as well and can be achieved more affordably with massive porcelain tiles.
  • Wallpaper: In, with caution. It’s best to use wallpaper in lower-moisture areas, so it’s safe to put it in a powder room. Bold paint and tile can also perk up a tiny bathroom.
  • Spa sanctuary: Classic. Create a natural and calming vibe with wood (moisture treated, or wood-look tile), serene colors, and hardy live greenery.
  • Partially tiled walls: In and out. While the three-quarter-tiled wall has gone the way of shaggy toilet lid covers, partially tiled walls can still be in. Tile wainscoting is popular, adding an interesting effect at a lower price than full-wall tile.
  • Accent wall: In. The accent wall is no longer the next best thing, but it’s still popular in bathrooms, especially in glassed-in showers.
  • Farmhouse sink: In. These stylish sinks are practical too; you don’t have to lean over a countertop to spit out toothpaste.

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Wise up: bathroom gadgets and gizmos

Yes, even the bathroom can be smart! These tech upgrades range from basic to luxurious.

  • Smart showerheads can be controlled remotely and programmed to conserve water. They offer supercharged showers with music, mood lighting, and aromatherapy.
  • USB chargers built into outlets or cabinets provide charging stations, allowing you to avoid bringing sleep-interrupting devices into your bedroom.
  • Smart mirrors can read you the weather report or your schedule as you prepare for the day.
  • High-tech toilets include features such as self-cleaning systems, heated seats, and foot-warming heaters.
  • Towel warmers are relatively low-tech but make it infinitely more pleasant to come out of the shower.
  • Heated floors can be achieved via (costly) built-in radiant flooring or simple electric floor mats (think bath mat meets electric blanket).


Budget-friendly upgrades

Ready to revive a tired bathroom? Try changing or adding some or all of these features:

  • Framed mirror
  • New towels
  • Accessories or hardware
  • Greenery
  • Fixtures (vanity light, showerhead, faucet)
  • Tile refinishing (a cost-effective way to change the color of ceramic tile or fixtures)