Creative Ideas for ‘Rightsizing’ the Master Bath

Have you ever looked at the space given to the master bathroom and wondered if we might be going so far as to need roller skates for those nocturnal visits from bed to bathroom? Have you noticed that in the hall or family bathrooms, it frequently seems the opposite – that we stick to the standard expected layout and design, with little or no appreciation for how that particular space is actually being used?

With this in mind, the concept of “rightsizing” the bathroom appealed to me. Rightsizing seems to be one of the latest buzzwords, and it’s being applied all over, from businesses to cars – in fact, I’ve even heard a reference to rightsizing your dogs!

When it comes to rightsizing the master bath, I naturally turned to industry icon Gale Steves and her new book, Rightsizing Your Home. The following thoughts on bath design are the result of that conversation.


Whether or not you agree with the concern that we may have expanded too much in recent years, it’s important to remember that the bathroom is used by a variety of people of different heights, sizes, abilities and habits. And, in some cases, we may even choose to shrink the space as we re-think it to make it more usable by the clients for whom we are designing.

Gale suggests that there is a new definition for “grand” relating closely to how people really live. I can endorse that comment with my current experience of clients who prioritize to get luxury into the aspects of the space that are most important to them – sort of a “new personalization.”

As an example of this, I have been called in to redesign several master baths, mainly to remove the giant tub not being used and to replace it with a tub appropriately sized for the client, or to enlarge the shower and storage in its place.

To ensure that a bath is rightsized for the specific client’s needs, Gale has identified several styles or personalities that reflect different ways of using the bathroom. While a person might fit more than one style, the process of determining which category they fall into may help a client prioritize their needs.

Try it yourself: Are you a spa seeker or an express bather? A lengthy groomer or a road warrior? On reflection, I think I’d like to be a spa seeker, but am most often an express bather, and because I share my master bath with a light sleeper, I need to attend to the fact that I am also often a road warrior.

The critical issue being defined here is how the space will actually be used. A caution should be included to think “current and future” for use patterns. These aspects of use will directly influence the space plan and product selection.


This inventory of usage offers a few heads-up alerts for the master bath, with the goal being not necessarily to downsize, but to rightsize for the intended users. While both will need storage and appliance connections, one partner may prefer to have a huge sink for grooming, the better to catch splashes and spills, while the second might want a smaller sink in order to create more work surface and even a place to sit for the grooming station. This certainly speaks to the trend away from side-by-side vanities to each vanity being located at a height and in a location based on its best use. One of the vanities may even be in the dressing area, outside of the bathroom proper.

If the soaking tub is an occasional social experience and the shower is a daily ritual, then their locations may be very non-traditional. The soaking tub may again be outside the bathroom proper, reducing the demand for precious real estate in the room.

The question of privacy at the toileting area is not an “if,” but more a matter of “how much,” and once this is established, the space requirements can be determined. Is it enough to break the line of sight, or does your client wish total visual and auditory privacy?

When this is the case, space needs to increase, especially if you plan with foresight for accommodating a variety of physical changes that may occur down the road. In these cases, one option is to add a vanity, creating an isolated space for that road warrior to do much of his or her grooming without disturbing the partner who may be sleeping nearby.

Rightsizing can be applied to the storage needs in the master bath, as well.

To that end, a great point is made by asking not just, “what do you need?” but also, “how much of that item do you need stored here?” While Costco is part of most everyone’s lives today, we might not need the entire case of paper goods at the point of use.


We’re all familiar with the traditional 5'x8' bath, where the space available often seems not enough. This is when we examine adjacent closets and rooms for possible inches to add to the bathroom.

Whatever the space, we can apply the rightsizing process to make the best use of every inch available. For instance, with the main floor hall bath, the space may have to serve double duty as a family bath and powder room.

Located near the mud room or family entrance, this room is often used on a daily basis as a utility bath for washing the dog, doing laundry, showering after outdoor activities and all kinds of chores and clean-up. On occasion, it may also be called on to accommodate guests. When it can be separated from the shower or tub and other work areas of the family bath, the toileting area again can include a vanity, creating the powder room to meet this need.

In addition, carefully planned storage can help organize the shower/tub portion of the space, so that it can extend the function on the less frequent occasion when a full guest bath is desired. This is the kind of flexibility that can help make the most of the space available.

This just scratches the surface of what we are discovering as our patterns of use and the space we give them are changing. I always enjoy and learn from time spent with Gale Steves, and Rightsizing Your Home just might be a great source of inspiration for rethinking traditional bath design ideas.