The Grooming Center

The grooming center should not be thought of as just the bathroom sink or the lavatory. While a water source and basin are critical components, many activities occur in this center and it should be designed to accommodate as many client desires as the space and budget permit. The following recommendations are excerpted from the book “Bath Planning,” part of the NKBA Professional Resource Library.

To plan the Grooming Center effectively, it is important to review the anthropometric measurements of the user. In the past, the dimensions of standard fixtures and cabinets have often determined this space, but working with individual clients, you should plan for the needs of the users.

Floor Clearance

The amount of space the human body requires to use the lavatory includes room to stand or sit in front of it. Anthropometric data indicates that about 18 inches of floor space is required to stand and face the lavatory. It is also important to be able to bend at a comfortable angle when washing hands or face.

While 18 inches may allow some people to stand, it does not account for the movement of the standing user that might take place at the lavatory. The The NKBA recommends 30 in. of clearance in front of the lavatory for a more comfortable space. This would even allow a person to place a seat at the lavatory. Building codes will permit 21 in. of floor clearance in front of the lavatory, but this will be very tight.

However, 30 in. does not provide adequate clearance for two people to use the space and move around each other, since the average shoulder width is 24 in. A floor space in front of the lavatory of 48 in. will accommodate two users comfortably.
Side clearance

Body size affects how much room a person needs on either side of the lavatory. To complete typical grooming activities, a person needs to be able to raise hands and elbows. The recommended distance from the center of the lavatory to a wall or tall obstruction is 20 in.

This provides about 6 in. of clear counter space from the edge of the average lavatory to the wall or obstruction, but may not be adequate. Consider the breadth of the user and items placed on the counter to determine if more counter area is needed.
The minimum distance is 15 in. from centerline of the lavatory to the wall, according to building code, providing only about 2 in. from the edge of the average lavatory to the wall or obstruction. If a wall-hung or pedestal sink is specified, allow 4 in. between the edge of the lavatory to the wall.

If two lavatories are being planned beside each other, 36 in. between the centerlines of the lavatories is recommended. The code requirement for the centerline distance is 30 in. The IRC requires a 4-in. clearance between the edges of two freestanding or wall-hung lavatories.

Lavatory Height

Traditionally, the lavatory has been 30 in. to 32 in. high, although recently higher cabinets have become available. Work surfaces in the bath, like those in the kitchen, should be about 3 in. below the users’ elbow height. Subtracting 3 in. from the average female’s elbow would place the comfortable height at 36 in.

When a knee space is planned for a seated user at a vanity, the height of the lavatory may range from 28 in. to 34 in.
The recommended range of lavatory heights in the The NKBA Bathroom Planning Guidelines reflects adult users and is 32 in. to 43 in. Remember to plan the lavatory height so that the rim is 3 in. below the elbow of the user.

If two users will use the same lavatory, a compromise will have to be made and discussions with the client will help determine which height is most comfortable. Two lavatories of different heights may be the best solution.

There are many styles of lavatories, and the selection will impact how lavatory height is planned. Wall-mounted lavatories and those placed on wall-mounted counters offer flexibility in the height of the fixture. Pedestal sinks, wall-hung sinks and console-style vanities also improve the clear floor space in front of, and under, the fixture.

When using a pedestal sink, the designer will be limited by the height of the specified product. The pedestal may need to be placed on a platform to reach the appropriate height for the user. Finish the platform at the baseboard height, and in the same material as the floor, so that it blends.

Several styles of vanity lavatories can be placed in a counter: integral, self-rimming, under-mounted and rimmed. A vessel lavatory can be set on or cut into the counter. In all of these applications, it is important to estimate the actual height of the lavatory rim. A vessel lavatory will sit several inches above the counter, so add the height of the lavatory to the cabinet and counter heights to get the finished height.

Because vanity bases are often low (30 in. to 32 in.), a cabinet or console may need to be adjusted to place the lavatory at the appropriate height. Although a 341/2-in. cabinet with 11/2-in. countertop might be the appropriate height, specifying a kitchen cabinet might be out of proportion to the specified lavatory. Standard kitchen cabinets are 24-in. deep, but many lavatories have been designed to fit in the typical 21-in. deep vanity cabinet.

To get the vanity cabinet at an appropriate height, specify a higher cabinet, or raise a standard cabinet by placing it on a deeper toe kick or mounting it on the wall and not using a toe kick.

For more information on all of the books in the NKBA Professional Resource Library, go to or call 800-THE-NKBA.