How to Design a Bathroom

Bathrooms are complex spaces that need and deserve a lot of thought and planning.

Most of this planning needs to happen in the initial phases of the project while the installation is the last thing that goes in with several month in between. Remembering your process and decisions are very important so again, this is where Pinterest worked for me.


  1. DESIGN: I had drawn each of the bathrooms according to the original plan but need to field measure to make sure that everything was built according to plan. My goal was to change very little from the original plumbing at Rocky Bay but improve the layout if possible. For example, the master tub was 72” long and the shower was 36” x 36” which is really small but typical of the 80’s.

I was able to keep the location of the plumbing wall for the shower but thought it was worth going with a 60” standard tub and move the tub plumbing in order to gain another 12” in the shower. Weighing moving plumbing is important so evaluate your return on investment. If at all possible, try not to move toilets. The drains are larger and require pitch to hit code so it’s not a simple / inexpensive move if it can be avoided.


  1. PLUMBING FIXTURE SELECTIONS: I have a wholesale account with Ferguson (a large distributor in New England) so after making my material list, I spent some time researching both on their website as well as my client’s Pinterest for inspiration. I sent the list over to my rep and she came back with pricing. I got stuck on a few things – the master shower faucet and the kitchen faucet. Each had their own issues.

MASTER BATH MASTER PLAN: When our budget allows, I will invest in nice vanities but during this phase of renovations, I decided to use IKEA cabinets. Since this is a temporary decision, I also don’t want to pay a lot for plumbing fixtures. The shower and tub as well as all the tile and shower glass will remain. So, I am willing to spend more money on those faucets now. Spend your money wisely and always have a 5-year plan for any space that you are renovating.

ROUGH-INS. These are the “guts” if you will of the pretty fixture that you see. They are married but you will never see the rough-in (at least that’s the goal). The plumbing decisions do need to be made early in the project so that the plumber knows how to rough-on the plumbing and every fixture and faucet has a unique need required. This means that your decisions have to be solid with literally no changing your mind unless it has the same rough-in. For example, a single-hold sink faucet pretty much has the same rough-in requirement, but a shower and tub do not.

KITCHEN MASTER PLAN: This kitchen was in rough shape so it needed some love! But since there is so much other work to do in the house, I wanted to keep the budget conservative. I bought the kitchen sink on Amazon. I had to use a drop in sink because I’m using formica countertops and I wanted just one large open sink with square edges – a simple clean profile. The only one that I could find had 3 holes – faucet, sprayer and soap. Turns out that this combination was fairly difficult to find at the right price-point in the right design. I landed at a Franke faucet that isn’t my dream come true, but it’s just not that kitchen.

BATHTUBS: Choosing a bathtub. You will see that I have two different tubs selected for the Wheeler Bay project. One is for the apartment and it needs a surround that fits into it. I simply didn’t want to pay to have the upper part of that shower tiled because I’m not sure that bathroom is going to stay in the same layout.  The other tub is a DXV tub that is 18” deep from tub bottom to overflow drain. Be sure to make sure and check that dimension so that it is deep enough for an adult.


  1. TILE: I love tile! Tile is cool and functional all wrapped into one amazing product. Tile is also expensive. Then again, tile installation is even more expensive. So, my theory is to choose good quality, classic tile that will last the test of time, plan wisely and invest well. Yes, you can get cheap tile online or from Home Depot, but why when you still have to pay to have it installed. And a poor installation job usually results in a water damage if it is a bathroom install.

Use a local tile supplier the closest to your project as possible. Shipping is expensive but so you might as well use a local supply house to get your shipping costs down. There are huge tile companies (ie. Daltile, Langarno, Anatolia, Porcelain Tile & More are my favorites) and they have distributors all over the US so you can select your tile wherever you want but purchase local.

Each local tile supplier also has a tile installer, or your contractor will have his own tile installer. Make sure you have a long and detailed meeting with him to verify that it is installed the exact way that you want. Remember, tile installation is an art not a science. There are many ways to install and you want to pay very close attention to detail.


  1. MIRRORS: The jewelry on the project, mirrors are fun! Old, new, wood, metal, plate… the options are endless. With the option of buying online, there are so many options out there that you can find just about anything that you want. I always use a mirror to focus on a shape that I want to express as well as a material.

In the Guest Bath, I was feeling like it needed to be warmed up, so I was looking specifically for a 30” wood round mirror. IKEA had the answer and the right price tag. And in the master bath I was more looking for size and coverage of the wall and ended up with CB2 31” square metal mirrors.


  1. LIGHTING: The lighting selection is sometime determined by the mirror but it can also be defined by the amount of space that you have. Narrow tight spaces call for a sconce over the mirror and wider spaces lean toward the vertical sconces on each side of the mirror.

Resources for lighting are so abundant that it’s overwhelming. For bathroom lighting, Ferguson has a nice selection and Shades of Light is always my favorite.


Designing a bathroom is not for the faint of heart. Every trade is involved in the project: carpenter, drywaller, tiler, electrician, plumber so patience and planning are the key. Let me know if you need help designing your bathroom.


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