Maximum Effect

Good things come in small packages.

These are the sentiments of several leading designers recently interviewed by KBDN who shared their insights into the best ways to create beautiful yet space-efficient bathrooms.

Kori Shurley, interior designer for Shreveport, LA-based Kitchen & Bath Cottage, notes that there seems to be a growing demand for well-designed smaller baths. She states: "We're seeing more people saying ‘less is more,' and trying to scale down their spaces. But these smaller spaces have to be well planned in order to accommodate all of our clients' wants and needs."

Stephanie Tyler, principal for Miami-based International Design Concepts believes: "The key to designing efficiently is using the space to its full potential." To that end, she recommends "building ‘up' instead of ‘across.'''

She notes: "Shelving, cabinets, intelligent storage solutions and wall-hung lavatories and sinks offer more floor space, which can open up a room without sacrificing function."

Tyler also believes that space-efficient design needs to start in the early planning stages of a project, and she suggests having a conversation with the clients early on about what they keep in the bathroom and why. She says: "It's important to rethink how much absolutely needs to be in the bathroom to avoid clutter. A modest master bath can still be a place of luxury if the integrity of the space is respected."   

Anthony Albert Passanante, CKD, CBD of Anthony Albert Studios in Waldwick, NJ agrees: "The main thing is to see how they currently use the existing space or plan on using the new space. This allows me to make a checklist of all of their belongings to incorporate into the new design. I check the items off one by one, so I don't miss any important factors for the next presentation. I also always measure adjoining spaces to see if I can ‘steal' space to add to the bathroom."

While functionality is critical in a smaller bath, aesthetic considerations also need to be addressed. That's because the amount of available space not only impacts how the space is used, but also everything from color choices to design style.

For instance, Shurley notes that, with her clients, smaller baths have led to "a shift to more modern, clean lines, which is a huge leap from the very traditional styles that have been popular in our region."

Rob Feinberg, CKD, of Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Allied Kitchen & Bath, agrees that smaller bathrooms sometimes dictate style, but argues that there are also creative ways to overcome this.

He explains: "We may be limited to certain styles [by the size of the bath], so to utilize every bit of space we will incorporate recessed niches in walls, and use spaces that would typically be enclosed with no availability to access, such as toe kicks that can be used as drawers. We will also build access to the front of tubs rather than installing fixed panels, and incorporate wall cabinets – whether shallow depth or normal depth – to house the typical everyday items." 

He continues: "Visually, we try to incorporate open areas rather than enclosed walls, allowing either light to come through or the creation of a deeper view to give the appearance of a larger area."

Tyler concludes: "It's important to know your client and tailor the space to their needs. Though Universal Design or highly accessible features may be high priorities for some, others place more emphasis on aesthetics and their personal sense of style. As designers, our goal is to achieve convenience and beauty as a unified concept. Living should be easy, comfortable and personalized, especially when it comes to the master bath."

Technical Tactics

Designers working to create a space-efficient master bath must recognize both the possibilities and the limitations of the room.

Jeani Lee, CKD, CBD, CAPS of Ames, IA-based Kitchen, Bath & Home, offers: "The key is to have extensive discussions with each client as to their needs, and not select items [such as large drawers] that will create layers of ‘stuff.' It's so important to treat each project with the individual and specific details to make the beginning and end of each day a positive and calm experience."

She notes that other product considerations include body jets set at the specific height of the user, grab bars in all showers, surfaces that are smooth and easy to maintain, and hardware selected to fit the hand of the client for greater ease of use.

Shurley adds: "In a recent master bath for a very busy couple with four kids, we designed an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling cabinetry that concealed several laundry hampers, a space for a TV, an appliance garage for her hair dryer and lots of storage areas. There was also glass tile, simple Shaker-style cabinetry for easy maintenance, juxtaposed against the tub set in a brick alcove with antique barn wood accents that gave the room some interest.

"Ultimately, the more questions you ask, the more the space plan will fit into the customer's individual needs."

Maximizing Baterials

Designers agree that selecting the proper materials for the master bath makes a significant difference both for the space's aesthetic appeal and its functionality. Scaled down products may be one option, but multi-functional products or products that create a feeling of lightness can also contribute to creating a larger-feeling room.

For instance, Tyler likes clear glass enclosures because "they keep things light and airy, offering the illusion of openness."

Tyler also recommends cabinetry that is wall hung and sinks or elements that ‘float,' which she says "provide more floor and ‘underneath' space as well as high-end appeal."

When space is at a premium, she suggests that instead of a separate bath and shower, designers should consider opting for a larger shower with a built-in tiled seat, a handheld rain showerhead and jets. 

"Upgrading the shower may be worth sacrificing a bath to gain the space and sense of calm," she says.  

"Products should be specified not only for their looks, but also for their ease of use," adds Shurley. "Cabinetry should have adjustable shelves, full-extension, soft-close drawers and easy-to-clean veneer or melamine interiors." Shurley says: "Undermount sinks and single-post mount faucets make for easy clean-up as well. I also like larger tiles on the floor and in the shower for fewer grout lines."

She also notes that handshowers in the shower and on the tub deck make both spaces more versatile – particularly important with smaller spaces.

Tyler states: "I tend to gravitate toward solid woods and stone tops versus synthetics because it puts the spotlight on fewer but higher- quality pieces. In tighter spaces, everything counts – a prime example of how less can really
be more."

She concludes: "The main thing is that master bathrooms should be functional and comfortable as well as luxurious and neat. My advice is to focus on a few important design elements and decide what is clutter and what is beautiful to achieve that balance between practicality and elegance."

Storage Style

In bathrooms with limited space, storage is obviously key. This means designers have be creative in order provide maximum storage.

Feinberg explains: "Clients want the bathroom to be open and aesthetically pleasing. They want the clutter that is usually left on the counter to be easily put away, yet simple to access." 

To address these needs, he cites new trends such as using decorative cabinets recessed in the wall or using flip-up cabinets with a mirror face that can be used as a medicine cabinet.

Feinberg also recommends using frameless cabinetry, as "frameless cabinets will always achieve more accessible space than framed cabinets, and you can build smaller cabinets for tight areas."

Passanante agrees that hiding clutter is critical. He notes: "My clients prefer not to see their electric razors and toothbrushes out on the countertops. So, I have been installing electrical outlets inside the cabinetry. This allows the units to be charged without having them in view. It also frees up counter space for accessorizing, which helps bring color and texture to the space."

Shurley adds: "I like shallow storage for makeup, hair products, etc. Small bottles and jars tend to get lost in a 24"-deep base cabinet. It's also nice to incorporate kitchen- style drawer dividers into drawers. We always install plugs in the back of cabinets so hair dryers and straighteners can stay plugged in."

Feinberg suggests using items such as pull-out spice cabinets that can be used in bathrooms for makeup, colognes, medicines, etc.  

"Drawers placed in the toe kicks achieve additional storage space that is typically not used," he adds. "In place of some partition walls, you can also use cabinetry. An example of this could be to use a tall pantry, reduced depth to 6" to separate a toilet from a vanity area to give more privacy, but you would still be able to use that ‘wall' as storage."

Passanante adds: "In smaller bathrooms, I like to design recessed medicine cabinets that match the cabinetry in the space. This uses the space between the studs and completes the custom look. For larger vanities with two sinks, I design a shallow wall cabinet that rests on the countertop between the two sinks. This allows for separation between the sinks and keeps all of the toiletries at eye level."

Passanante says another option is to add a roll-out shelf or a drawer at the bottom of the sink base cabinet. "This way nothing gets lost at the back of the cabinet," he adds.

Lighten Up

Another effective way to maximize space in a master bath is through lighting, both natural and artificial.

Tyler explains: "General lighting, separate vanity lighting and a soft night light may dramatically transform the mood and perceived size of a room with the flip of a switch."

Lee agrees: "Lighting and layers of light can be handled using a dimmer, toe kick lighting or switch lighting. [In our designs], LED lights are used in as many sources as possible. Using 3000K to 3500K gives great light and LED lighting doesn't produce heat, so comfort level and energy use are both addressed."

She continues: "Bringing in as much natural light as possible is important, as well as bouncing that natural light with mirrors."

She also suggests using multiple sources of light on more than just the vanity wall, and then using glass throughout to reflect the natural light in the room. For instance, she suggests using glass framed as windows or columns, and spots of glass on a wall in the water closet as ways to further maximize natural light in the bath.

Feinberg adds that his firm will also incorporate French doors with full view glass, or privacy glass, to allow for greater dispersion of natural light.

Universal Appeal

With the growing number of multi-generational families and an aging demographic in general, Universal Design and accessibility have become increasingly important considerations in the bath.

"Aging in place is at the front of everything as we begin the process of designing the space and selecting the appropriate products," says Lee.

Feinberg notes: "In areas where the client is concerned with Universal Design, we would enlarge the door opening for wheelchair accessibility, install backer boards in the walls where future grab bars can be placed, and use a rollover shower curb versus the standard square one. We also might incorporate a sink cabinet that can be converted into a unit that would allow a wheelchair to be pulled up to it."

He continues: "Lighting, although most people do not think of it as Universal Design, is important, because our eyes change as we get older. We need more light as well as magnifying mirrors to be able to see what we previously could see [without help]."  

According to Lee, items such as comfort height toilets are also critical. "Backing is installed in the water closet room/space for the added comfort and safety of the client as we age in place and need these added pieces for easy access and stability when using the toilet," she says.

Of course Universal Design goes beyond just accessibility; it also relates to overall comfort and ease of use for all members of the family. As Lee points out, in addition to the standard grab bars, easy-grasp handles and no threshold showers, "we're also installing motion sensors, radiant heated floors on programmable thermostats for seasonal automatic changes, mirrors with defoggers, layers of light, deep pulls on drawers and quiet ventilation systems."

Feinberg concludes: "Space is very personal and will be viewed differently from one person to the next. Designing for the specific person and his or her needs is a project-to-project basis. Understanding what the person wants to achieve will help to best design the space. Ultimately, the better the designer knows the client, the better the odds that design will meet his or her needs."

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