Bathroom remodel: Designing the perfect bathroom

Bathroom Remodel: Creating the Perfect Bathroom Design

Whether you’re planning to remodel one bathroom or several, the perfect bathroom remodel design aligns the chosen materials with your home’s architecture and style, functionality and aesthetic touches you want. Bathroom redesigns can involve at least as much thought as a kitchen, and you’re going to want to work closely with your designer-builder to make the project run smoothly.

Remodels often involve maximizing the existing space to add desired features, changing the functionality somewhat, perhaps extending one of the bathrooms, or even adding another one. For example, in a main upstairs bathroom, with busy teens getting ready for school or social functions, upgrading the counter area for two sinks may be a better use of space than having a bathtub, and a shower stall could be more practical.

In North America, three rooms really matter when you sell your house: the master bathroom, the powder bath if you have one, and the kitchen. Great kitchens have become the hub of the modern home; and it’s all about function, family and entertaining. Bathrooms are the primary space where you’re at one with yourself, so they need to be a place where you feel comfortable being honest with yourself.

Carefully evaluate how you are using your bathrooms now

If you’re fortunate enough to have bathrooms you worked with a designer on when the house was built, they may just need some cosmetic upgrades to bring them up to date, or tweaks to improve their convenience and functionality, based upon living in the home. That being said, circumstances and needs may have changed, your tastes have evolved, or things just look dated, and it’s time for a re-design.

If your bathroom layouts ‘came with the house’, and you’re seeing many exciting features in the bathroom images you’ve been collecting for inspiration, it’s time to draw up a wish list. Many of us don’t have the spacious rooms featured in design magazine spreads, so the wish list may require some prioritization and pruning.

When you’ve distilled your list down to the must-have features, it’s time to create some rough sketches, just to see if things fit, and to give you something tangible to show your designer-builder. Ask yourself, f the elements almost fit, would a bit more room solve the problem?

What are the things you and your family do not like about the current bathroom(s)? What you don’t want is just as important as what you do. Have you considered the individual wish lists of each occupant? It’s important to take all users into account, particularly for decisions on the bathroom(s) they use regularly. Have ventilation and humidity been a problem?

If you have some young children, you’ll want to consider how their needs will change as they enter their teens, attend high school or college, and take jobs. Do any of them enjoy taking baths, or are they all standing in the tub to take a shower? Shower stalls typically take less space than a built-in bathtub, and it’s one way families have increased their usable space. Does the main family bathroom offer two basins and mirrors? None of us has a crystal ball, but if you can predict how the bathrooms are going to be used in the years to come, you can potentially future-proof your remodel investment.

Planning a new layout and functionality

Most modern homes have more than one bathroom, so the desired features can be spread between them. You don’t have to cram absolutely everything that you love into one space. Before you dash from showroom to showroom, it’s important to begin a planning process. Determine which members of the household will be using each bathroom the most, and then decide on what each space needs. As you scour the shelter magazines, Instagram and Pinterest, sort your tear outs and screenshots, so you’re familiar with your options and have mastered the design industry’s terms.

Consider your bathroom in its context, looking down the hall or the adjoining bedroom, and how they lead you into the space. It should feel as though one mind designed the hall, the bedroom, the dressing room and the bathroom; that you’re in a singular environment that is both restful and restorative. Utilize designs, colours and finishes that complement the rest of your home.

When planning the layout of your bathroom, the view from the entrance door, or doors, is critical. You don’t want to see the toilet from the hallway or adjoining room, particularly if someone’s sitting on it, and the door has been left open. The vanity basin, bath or tile work are infinitely more pleasing first glimpses.

Decide on the key feature in the bathroom. It might be a gorgeous freestanding bathtub, an original sash window, that show-stopping vanity or the exquisite imported porcelain tiles and gleaming fixtures in the walk-in shower. Then consider the natural light source, if you have one. Build your layout around your key feature and any natural light. If the room’s proportions allow for a symmetrical layout, definitely consider making your key feature the centrepiece.

Usability, function and safety are essential considerations when designing a bathroom. Entry doors, the way they swing and light/fan switch placement should be designed for ease of use. The way shower doors swing also makes a difference. In tight spaces, it may be better if doors open inward, or sliding over-bath shower doors are used instead. Each faucet or toilet lever should have enough clearance that it can be operated comfortably.

When users have wet hands from the basin or shower, a towel rack or holder should be placed closer than the light switches, so switches aren’t being operated with dripping wet hands. Canadian bathrooms all have GFCI-protected (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets.

If you have a very little area to work with, you’ll need to be space smart. Avoid overloading your bathroom with the en-trend fixtures you’ve seen in shelter magazines. Minimalism can transform even the smallest space into a relaxing and functional bathroom. Floating vanities are one way to make the space appear larger because more of the floor is visible. Similarly, freestanding sinks and bathtubs with clean simple lines also help a small room feel less cluttered.

Durability is also a consideration. A master bathroom or ensuite can focus more on luxury than a family bathroom. There’s less traffic and use, and adult users are likely to be more careful, so that can be reflected in the finishes and other choices. Family bathrooms are going to see a lot more use, so hardwearing finishes, flooring and tile splashes are important.

Establish your bathroom redesign budget

For most of us, budget is going to be a significant consideration, and it will put a spending cap on how much you can invest in our renovation or remodel. Once you’ve established how much you can realistically spend on your remodel, you simply work backwards from that number. You need to allow funds for the designer-builder or individual designer/architect and remodel contractor, cabinets, countertops, flooring, appliances, wiring, lighting, plumbing, plumbing fixtures, decorating, and accessorizing. In addition, you should set aside an extra 10% as a contingency, to handle any unforeseen expenses.

How are a bathroom renovation and a remodel different?

Renovation means to make new again. A renovation may involve replacing the bathroom sink and some of the old copper plumbing underneath, replacing other plumbing and light fixtures, renewing a worn or stained countertop, updating the finishes or replacing the doors and knobs on the cabinets.

A remodel is more extensive, and involves recreating, fixing or restoring the whole bathroom, or perhaps more than one. The design, layout, structure and perhaps even the style will undergo a transformation. If a bathroom isn’t working the way your family needs it to, the floor plan may be ready for an upgrade. If it needs to be larger, maybe a wall can be moved, or the exterior wall can be bumped out a bit.

Vanity cabinets and countertops

When choosing the vanity for a particular bathroom, consider who is going to be using it, and how. If both you and your partner are going to need a sink at the same time in the morning, you could be looking at double-basin vanities. The same goes for teens or young adults sharing a main family bathroom. On the other hand, if you’re by yourself, you will be able to make do with a single vanity in the master bathroom.

If the bathroom will be used by one or more people who spend time applying makeup and styling their hair, you will need at least one large mirror, plenty of non-glare, colour-correct lighting, convenient storage for supplies and counter space for a blow dryer, curling or flat irons and styling accessories.

Existing plumbing often determines where the vanity will go, but pipes can sometimes be moved if you decide to make changes.


Bathroom flooring should be visually appealing, water-proof, durable and easy to clean. When looking for bathroom flooring, natural stone, porcelain and ceramic tile, terracotta or encaustic bathroom tile are all functional and beautiful. Materials like real hardwood are unsuitable because repeated contact with water could warp or stain them. If you love wood, laminate flooring and engineered wood variants have a finished wear layer that provides some stain resistance and a slip-resistant surface underfoot.

Vinyl and concrete are popular as bathroom flooring materials due to their water resistance and reasonable pricing. Wood plastic composite (WPC) and stone plastic composite (SPC) vinyl products both have a waterproof core, but WPC is generally preferred because it’s more flexible, thicker and therefore more resilient.

Concrete bathroom floors will typically be found in homes with slab foundations or basements. Concrete is completely impervious to water damage and can last a lifetime. It can be dyed, polished, stamped, or painted to create a sleek contemporary look. Polished concrete can be cold and feel hard to the touch, and the finishers must leave some texture so it’s not slippery when wet.

Faucets, baths and basins

The style of your fixtures should match the architecture and design of the rest of the house. Chic contemporary fittings, taps, sinks and bathtubs will look out of place in a very traditional home, even if they looked spectacular in that celebrity’s house featured in a magazine spread. Modern fashions come and go, whether you plan to live there for many years or sell it when the kids grow up. If you’re okay with remodelling again when the bathroom begins to look dated, that’s of course your decision.

If you want a timeless design, seek inspiration from the bygone quality and simplicity produced in the 1930s, with the well-rounded, polished and elegantly sculpted taps, baths and basins of the Deco style.


There are many levels of lighting in a bathroom, so layering is important. Combinations of concealed linear lighting can provide a very soft, subtle glow with a warm quality. Downlighters in the ceiling deliver more functional lighting. Decorative lighting offers a finer, more elegant quality. Stunning, decorative wall lights can lift the feel of the room, particularly over the vanity.

Warmer lighting is often used for the majority of the bathroom, to create a relaxing atmosphere, with brighter, colour-correct lighting above the vanity. Consider dimmers to fade between task and ambiance lighting.

Mirrors and fixtures

Mirrors are an essential element in the design of any bathroom. Mirrors can help create the perception of more space. Rather than putting up one big mirror, breaking them up into different sections, with bevelled edges, or framing them in marble or metal, adds interest and enhances the layering of the wall. Larger mirrors with thin framing help create the illusion of space. Avoid placing mirrors on facing walls. This can create the dreaded infinity or kaleidoscope effect.

The takeaway

What makes a great bathroom? It depends entirely on the needs of the individuals in your household, and the bathrooms they are likely to use most. Each person in your family will have different priorities and should have a voice.

Reid Madiuk

Reid Madiuk's been putting on a toolbelt since he was twelve years old, alongside his father, one of Whistler's first residential builders. As a third-generation Squamish and Whistler builder, Reid brings over 20 years of carpentry expertise to designing and constructing exceptional homes.

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