This article shows how to make the most of your small bathroom (or shower room), from planning, through to suite items and all that’s in between.

The existing plumbing & the space available will be the main factors in determining where your suite items can be positioned (bath, shower, basin, toilet, radiator etc).

However, there are many things that can be done within these constraints in order to maximise the useable space in the room and not have it feel cramped or unusable.


Layout & planning principles
This will be the single greatest factor in making a small bathroom or (shower room) work, and careful planning will result in a better fitted bathroom with a neater finish.

Make a simple scaled drawing on graph paper and use these rough sizes as a starting off point:

  • bath – 170 x 70cm
  • toilet – 40cm (w) x 70cm (d)
  • basin – 50cm (w) x 40cm (d)
  • towel radiator – 40cm+ (w)
  • shower tray 70 x 70cm+ (minimum)

Bathroom planning cannot be done by someone remotely in a Bathroom showroom – they need to actually be there to see how the existing plumbing is laid out as this will determine where suite items can be located (unless you are having a ‘straight swop’ in which case it is (almost) safe to assume that it (should) be fine.Otherwise they will have no idea (for example) which way the joists run under the floor so will consequently have no idea as to whether their nice, sleek low profile shower tray can actually be fitted in the corner of the bathroom they had planned! Please ring a fitter before committing to buying £1000’s worth of sale items that will not fit in your new layout (or will fit but only with waste water pipes running across the centre of the floor or uphill) These sale items do not reflect good value for money in these instances!PS If you think I’m joking I priced a job for a couple who had bought £3000+ worth of suite items from the bathstore sale (as they were seemingly very impressed with the professionally drawn up ‘plan’) only for me to tell them that it was impossible to fit all the items where they wanted them due to plumbing constraints.

Don’t let this be you!

Allowing clearance space

When considering the size & positioning of your suite items e.g toilets & basins you also need to consider another couple of factors:

  • static clearance spaces
  • dynamic clearance spaces

Static clearance spaces should be maintained so that the various suite items fit into your room without being on top of each other.

This also includes leaving space to stand in front of the toilet or sit down on it without hitting your legs, knees or shoulders on other items / the wall.

Towel radiators get very hot so you don’t want any bare skin to brush up against them accidentally!

Dynamic clearance spaces includes things such as:

  • the space a door occupies when it swings open
  • the way a shower cubicle door or bath screen opens or folds
  • the distance a drawer pulls out of a basin vanity unit vs the other items in the room
  • ceiling pull cords vs door opening arcs

Clashes between adjacent items such as these should always be considered at the planning stage rather than when you’ve bought all your stuff, booked a bathroom fitter and its too late to change it!

This example above is on the cusp of what is acceptable as the basin is very near the toilet.

In the example above if the basin had been pushed further away from the toilet, it would prevent the door from opening fully.

This shows that compromise is sometimes unavoidable when dealing with very small bathrooms.

This is where priorities often come in – i.e. would you rather have a bigger bath and more compromised space around the toilet or vice versa:

Layout & planning examples

In the example above, a bath length has been chosen that will not clash with the fully open door into the bathroom.

An offset (curved) shower tray has been combined with this (tapered) bath to allow the user space to pass between the two and into the bathroom without being hemmed in.

A square bath and a square tray here would not have worked, and this simple sketch plan shows that clearly – no real need for fancy 3D plans here!

Here an en suite shower room has been constructed, allowing for the addition of a 100cm wide (wall to wall) shower tray.

Having a shower tray go from wall to wall ensures the maximum sized showering area for the space available, with no wasted space down the side of it.

It also saves having to buy a return panel for the enclosure.

In the picture above clearance between the basin and towel radiator has been carefully considered and also the way in which the bifold door will be orientated to ensure it does not clash with the shower valve.

Having the door open out into the adjoining bedroom prevents any potential problems associated with having the door open inwards.

Bifold doors are an option when the arc of the door opening could otherwise cause problems.

This shower room has been carefully designed so that the basin and toilet chosen did not protrude out too far into the room, so that users could get past both items easily.

This was done way before any work started (choosing the suite items.)

Making the best use of space


Lighting is particularly important in small or ‘landlocked’ rooms with no natural light, and it needs to be considered at the outset to ensure the room does not feel small & dingy.

In the case study picture below, natural & artificial light has been boosted by a few key elements to produce a spacious feeling in a shower room that was lacking natural light and was only 2m x 1m:

  • 2 x ceiling spotlights were combined with a mirror unit with an integrated light to provide artificial light (to replace the lack of natural light.)
  • A frosted glass door was used to let in natural light from the window in the adjoining bedroom, whilst maintaining privacy. This was mounted to open outwards into the bedroom to give more space inside the shower room.
  • A mirrored cabinet over the basin bounced this natural light deeper into the room.
  • A wall hung (as opposed to floor mounted) basin was used to give a feeling of space by maximising the floor space visible underneath.
  • A frameless shower door added to the sense of space by not having a thick metal frame down the centre of it (as cheaper bifold doors often have.)
  • Glossy, light coloured wall tiles were used to reflect the natural & artificial light around the room.

Dealing with baths in a small bathroom

If you would like to fit a bath into your small bathroom then it will often fit snugly between 2 walls as above.

Most baths are 170cm x 70cm, and in small bathrooms these will often fit from wall to wall.

However, if your room is only 150cm long you can still fit in a compact 150cm x 70cm bath.

Baths also come in 180cm lengths and this is handy if your room is 180cm long.
Dealing with baths in a small bathroom
If your room is too small to fit in a bath (smallest size is 120cm I think) then you will have to have a shower tray / enclosure instead.

If your room is too big to fit in a standard bath (wall to wall) then you will either have to:

  • have a gap at the end of the bath (you will also need a side bath panel)
  • build something to fill it in:

Here a custom made storage unit has been made to span the gap between the bottom of the bath & the wall which can be used for storing towels.

In this bathroom the gap at the foot of the bath was very small (I think the room was about 175cm) so the gap was boxed in and then tiled using timber studwork and tile backer boards.

This room was 180cm long but in this instance we chose to stud out part of the wall behind the shower end of the bath so that the bath would fit snugly between it and the opposing wall.

This studded out ‘wall’ (which ran from floor to ceiling) allowed us to run concealed pipework within it up to the shower valve (without the need to chase into the solid brick wall behind it which is a lot more laborious and messy).

Different bath shapes
Different shapes of bath are available that can help you to maximise the available space.

This curved bath has been chosen as it allows for a bit more space between the various elements (bath, basin & towel radiator.)

This bath is only 170cm x 75cm but it is classed as a shower bath as it has a larger area at one end for showering without the need for a big bulge in its side (as most traditional ‘P’ baths do which makes them have a much bigger footprint.)

Showers vs Baths
If you have a small bathroom, the chances are that you will not be able to fit a separate bath & shower cubicle in (If you can then its not really a small bathroom!)

Many people choose to put a shower over their bath as above.

PS Ideally a shower will be placed over the steep end of a bath which has one steep end (where the bath taps usually are) and one shallow end (which you lie on when in the bath.)

If you have a double ended bath (with 2 shallow ends) it will be harder to shower at one end as you will be stood at the bottom of the shallow slope (therefore further away from the wall where the shower is.)

Therefore you will need a shower head that angles ‘out’ as well as ‘down’ and you may wish to consider a longer glass bath screen to cope with the spray.

Glass shower screens are better than shower curtains in that they do not get mouldy or cling to you when wet. They also last longer and make the room appear larger (as you can see through them.)

Most bathrooms have either a radiator or a towel warmer to provide the room with heat, and to control bathroom humidity.

If you do not have much wall space to fit in a towel radiator then you could consider installing one above the bath:

Positioning it as far away from the shower head as possible means that towels should stay dry (whilst the user showers) whilst ensuring a hot towel is always on hand following a shower.

If you do not have enough wall space to add a traditional towel radiator (40cm wide minimum) then you may have to try an alternative design such as this:

This narrower (but deeper) towel radiator has been combined with an appropriately sized shower tray to fit the available space perfectly.

If you have no wall space for a radiator at all, then you can always opt for underfloor heating.

This will allow you to keep you walls clear or could boost the heating in the bathroom if you can only fit a small radiator in (that would not produce enough heat on its own to heat the entire room) as with the example above.

Wall hung furniture

If you have a small room, then lifting everything off the floor will expose more of the floor, giving a greater impression of space.

It will also make it easier to clean around basins and toilets.

This approach will necessitate careful planning and may involve the purchasing of a bit more stuff – namely metal frames to hang the toilets off for adequate support.

Wall hung basins can normally be secured into brick walls fairly easily as above.

When studding out a wall where wall hung fixtures (like the basin in this example) will be hung, the points at which they are to be fixed to the wall can be made to be solid timber.

This will give a much stronger fixing than merely trying to fix into plasterboard or the tiles on top of it.

In the picture above you can see that the basin fitting bolts secure directly into the timber.

These were then be boarded over to maintain the exact position of the basin at 2nd fix plumbing.

Back to wall furniture

In this example, more space has been created inside the en suite by moving some parts of the suite outside of it – in this case the toilet cistern is hidden behind the wall (in the eaves).

This reduces the space occupied by the toilet as it protrudes out into the room less than if it were a close couple toilet (with the cistern up against the wall behind it as below):

Using furniture units intelligently

Using bathroom units rather than freestanding items will not save space directly but it will provide you with storage space, allowing you to put away all of your stuff.

This will have the effect of making your bathroom appear larger and uncluttered as everything will be capable of being hidden out of sight.

This unit is only 90cm wide yet contains a toilet & a basin which makes it a great space saving item.

The basin has a cupboard under it to provide storage and the unit itself serves to hide all of the unsightly pipework that may otherwise be on show.

This corner basin allows passage in a downstairs toilet which is only 70cm wide.

Co-ordinating units
When using fitted bathroom furniture it is often possible to tie in a couple of other items with the same material.

This will help to make small rooms feel more co-ordinated and although it may not make the space any bigger, it will increase its overall attractiveness.

In this example a custom made boiler cupboard has been made out of exactly the same material as the bathroom cabinets.

In this bathroom installation, a solid 18mm thick bath panel has been made out of the same veneered wood as the units, producing a result that will last much longer than a flimsy plastic bath panel and also looks many times better.

Anything else?
If you have any questions about your own small bathroom project, please feel free to contact me.


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