Powder room design

Easy access to a powder room is as important as its design. An example of poor layout is one that requires the user to travel through too many rooms to get to the powder room. In terms of utility, if the powder room is being used by the family for everyday purposes, the designer needs to identify what those purposes are. Is the family accessing the powder room from a backyard pool or patio? Are they coming in from a garage and washing paint brushes in the sink? Or are they just using the room for entertaining purposes while guests are visiting their home? Consider the products you are specifying and what the primary reason for the design is, such as wowing guests with over-the-top aesthetics or providing a practical choice for fixtures and fittings that allow for wet feet and dirty hands.

Powder rooms typically are short and narrow, and one of the greatest challenges with their design is incorporating a means of egress that does not interfere with use of the fixtures. An in-swing door is specified in many designs, which usually inhibits access to the fixtures and often conflicts with door and drawer operation if a vanity cabinet is used. Another common problem with in-swing doors is they can hit the face of the toilet as it swings into the room. My firm often incorporates a pocket door to prevent any conflicts with door swing and accessibility.

Use caution if you are designing with a pocket door, because if the room is too short, a pocket door may not have enough space in the wall. Allow twice the width of the door plus 1 inch in the direction of the door pocket to allow the door to recess in its opening. Another work-around when designing egress is to consider using a round-front toilet rather than an elongated front. This usually creates an additional 2 inches for door swing. Be mindful of the view a home’s occupants have of the powder room when the door is open. Many powder rooms are located in the entry hallway, and typically people want to see a pretty vanity or pedestal sink rather than a toilet when entering and walking down the hall.

Design for Comfort

Designing for comfort means creating a space that is easy and safe to navigate. The minimum code requirement for the width of a powder room is 30 inches; the recommended width is 36 inches. A comfortable width is 42 inches. Existing conditions often prevent us from creating the larger widths, and this is something that requires an open dialog with the client. Designers must explain the practicality of the design and its deficiencies; a short narrow space is always a deficiency. The minimum length for a powder room is determined by the depth of the vanity or pedestal sink along with the depth of the toilet.

Both depths are measured from back of wall to face of fixture. The sum of the vanity area and toilet depth are added together and a minimum of 21 inches is added to allow for space between each of these fixtures. The 21 inches is the minimum code requirement, while 30 to 36 inches is more practical and safe but still small. Remember the specifications for most toilets are written as the depth of the toilet only. Consider all your interior wall thicknesses along with the minimum space required from the wall to the back of the toilet.

Consider grooming space so homeowners and their guests can primp. Provide for storage of makeup, mouthwash, toilet paper and extra hand towels. My firm typically designs a recessed cabinet no more than 48 inches off the floor behind the toilet to house these items. Remember, if a recessed cabinet is included in the design, there needs to be a vent for the drain, waste and vent system, and the recessed cabinet cannot interfere with it.

Other considerations for grooming include task lighting and adequate ventilation. Task lighting should be incorporated on either side of the vanity mirror with the centerline of the bulb located at the height of the occupant’s eyes from the finished floor. This measurement varies, so I don’t want to share a standard here; ask the client. In addition to good task lighting, some type of ceiling light should be included.

A rule of thumb when figuring your ventilation requirement: If your ceiling is 8-feet high, take the square footage the room and multiply it by 1.07. This will provide you with the minimum cfm requirement of the space. Add a timer to the fan so it can be left on after the room has been used, and make sure the fan can be ducted to the outside.


Jeffrey Holloway has been designing kitchens and bathrooms for more than 22 years. Holloway’s projects have been featured in local and national shelter magazines and have won consecutive Chrysalis Awards. He has been recognized by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry as a regional contractor of the year.