It’s hard for most of us to imagine now, but not too long ago, the average family home had just one small bathroom, which was seen purely as a utilitarian space for personal hygiene. Fast-forward 40 years or so, and en suites — secondary bathrooms adjoining the master bedroom that allow occupants not just to bathe, but also to enjoy a sense of privacy and escape — have become the norm.
If you’re planning to put an en suite bathroom in your home, a first step is to see what’s possible with the space you have. Here are seven main things to consider with your designer. I’ll go on to discuss some important details in a second part to this guide.
1. Assess how much space you have. There are no fixed rules regarding how big a master bathroom should be, but the latest trends suggest that they are getting bigger and more luxurious. These new luxury en suites, whichoften occupy an entire room adjoining the bedroom, are being designed as sumptuous retreats for more than one person to use at a time. They often boast double walk-in showers, two sinks, partitioned areas for a toilet and maybe even a bidet, dressing areas, and somewhere to sit and chat. Many also feature entertainment facilities, such as televisions and sound systems.
Potential cost: A luxury en suite bathroom can cost $30,000 to $40,000.
Size: It can be the size of a small bedroom, about 34 square feet or larger.
Tip: If you are planning to convert a room into a master bathroom, your designer likely will try to put the fixtures on a wall that backs on an existing wet room, such as a bathroom or laundry. This way the plumber can tap into existing pipes, which is considerably cheaper than putting in new ones.
2. See if an en suite bathroom can be squeezed into a tiny spot. You can still have a fabulous master bath if space is tight — you and your designer just need to think creatively.
This is perhaps the smallest en suite we have ever designed, and yet it manages to be functional and elegant. It had to fit into an attic space measuring about 10 by 3 feet, with a ceiling that almost touched the floor at both ends (in general, the minimum ceiling height in an en suite is 7 feet).
We managed to squeeze in a shower at one end, a toilet at the other and a central sink — just enough for one person to use at a time. We used mirrors to help reflect the space beyond the perimeter walls to make the bathroom appear larger.
Potential cost: A small en suite bathroom can cost $12,000 to $20,000.
Size: To comfortably accommodate a shower, sink and toilet, you need a minimum floor area of 32 square feet.
3. Consider whether you can fit in a bath and a shower. If you don’t have the space for a separate bath and shower, consider installing a shower over the bathtub so that both functions take place in the same spot. In this scenario, you would, of course, need space to fit a bathtub, so a square or a wide rectangular room, rather than a very narrow one, is best. You’ll need one wall to be at least 5 feet long, which is the length of a standard-size tub.
Tip: Bathtubs with showers are often fitted with a glass screen to prevent water from spilling out. But this can make it awkward to get in and out of the tub. To make it easier, choose a screen on a hinge that you can pivot outward.
If the screen is fixed, be sure to install faucets on the wall opposite it. Otherwise, you will have to maneuver awkwardly around the screen every time you turn on the faucets.
4. Or go with just a shower. If space is particularly tight, or if the room is narrow (3 feet or less) or has a sloping roof, consider dispensing with a bathtub and having just a shower instead. A shower won’t take up as much room as a tub, and you can squeeze one into the most awkward of spots.
Tip: To make a small en suite bathroom feel larger, lay the same floor tile across the entire area, including the shower recess.
5. Or consider an unusually shaped tub. If you’d really like a bathtub but the shape of your master bathroom won’t allow for a standard one, why not have a custom-designed soaking tub installed instead? While a sit-in style such as this won’t allow you to fully recline as you would in a regular bathtub, you will be able to submerge your body in the water.
Tip: Incorporating some steps into an elevated tub such as this one, or having it sunk into the floor, will make it much easier to get in and out of.
6. Plan your fixture selection to suit the space. A basic master bathroom needs hot and cold water, a sink, a shower and a toilet.
If space in your en suite bathroom is tight, it makes sense to choose fixtures that will make it feel bigger. By choosing a wall-mounted toilet and vanity instead of floor-mounted ones, you will maximize floor space. Then consider installing faucets on the wall rather than the sink and a shower head on the ceiling rather than on the wall to keep surfaces clutter-free.
A frameless glass shower screen is the perfect finishing touch, since this will provide an unimpeded view through the bathroom, making the room feel more spacious.
7. Get smart with storage. If you have a small master bathroom, you may need to look around for storage opportunities.
One solution is to install overhead cabinets or medicine cabinets. These can be concealed behind mirrored and handle-free doors, and they can be recessed into the wall so they lie flush with the wall tiles — this way you get storage without sacrificing any space at all. This is particularly easy to do if you have plaster walls.
Tip: Run overhead cabinets from wall to wall so they look like part of the room, rather than add-ons. And make sure the mirrored doors extend far enough down so you can see yourself when applying makeup or doing other tasks.
Other spots you could add storage in a small master bathroom include above the toilet, within the bath surround (a great spot for a recessed niche) or on the wall next to the bath (perfect for glass display shelves).
Also, if you’re having a vanity custom-made, be sure to have it designed to maximize storage. Have the sink positioned to one side of the unit rather than in the middle so you can add in extra drawers.