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bath tub in a bathroom

A compact bathroom can be a common conundrum, but with a few practical tricks, it’s easy to make a small space work.

Small space planning

The bathroom often gets short-changed in the real estate department, struggling with a smaller metreage than it deserves. A small footprint might require more creative planning than a large one, but there are still ways to create a good-looking and functional space.

Keep it streamlined

A small bathroom is most often seen as a challenge to overcome, but having stricter parameters to work with actually makes designing a space easier, says interior designer Alanna Smit.   “Start with your priority in the space – for example, is a double vanity a must-have? Or is a larger-than-standard shower the priority?” Alanna’s top tip: opt for one or the other – a larger shower or a generous vanity – to trick the eye into seeing the room as bigger than it is. 

It’s also important to consider what’s seen first on entering the room. “The best layout for a long, thin space is to have the entry centred along the long wall with the vanity opposite and the toilet and shower at either end,” says interior designer Carmel Wylie. This streamlined layout, with the vanity mirror facing the door, can also help make the space feel bigger.

A small bathroom often requires hard decisions on what to keep and what to drop, and a bath is usually the first item to go. However, that doesn’t need to be the case.   A wall of 1.5 metres is wide enough to fit a bath, and shower-over-bath arrangements are standard fare for families with young children, for whom a bath is often a must-have. If a bath is not a necessity, a roomy shower recess can be a more luxurious choice. In the absence of a bath, adding a bench seat or in-built bench to a large shower recess can add a sense of on-trend, spa-style luxury.

bathroom with white tiles

Expand with lights and mirrors

“Mirror and window placement is crucial in a small bathroom, as natural light and the reflection of natural light immediately makes any space feel lighter and airier and therefore more spacious,” says Alanna. Large windows are ideal or think about introducing a skylight.

Consider the lighting arrangements: too little light and the room will seem even smaller; if it’s too bright, it will feel overwhelming. A flush-mounted ceiling light with a frosted diffuser will cast a gentle glow, while out-of-the-box options such as lighted mirrors provide bright task lighting around the vanity.

mirror on a bathroom wall

Look for chic compact options

Small but savvy space-saving products can make all the difference in a petite bathroom. Any products that reveal more of the floor have a visually enlarging effect on the room. Consider floating vanities and toilets, but also smaller versions of necessities, such as single-basin vanities and short-projection toilets. Where space is at a premium, utilise the wall cavity with recessed cabinets, hidden cisterns and shower niches. Towel racks (rather than single rails) are also a great space saver, increasing the number of places to hang towels and helping to tame clutter.

bathroom with a bathtub

Choose super-storage features

Keeping surfaces clear is key to making a small bathroom feel more spacious, so planning excellent storage is a must. Mirrored cabinets are incredibly handy. If room allows, vertical wall-hung cabinets provide loads of storage for the amount of space they take up, and they can often be fitted behind doors.

While floating vanities are great for creating a feeling of airy spaciousness, they often come at the price of valuable storage. A solution to this is to install a shelf under the vanity for items such as towels. “This can look fabulous and it’s using the dead space,” says Carmel.

bathroom cabinet over a basin

Visual tricks

Making a small zone feel spacious is all about the art of illusion. Large-format tiles are an oft-quoted way of making a space look bigger, but when it comes to colours and finishes, be cautious of contrast. “Heavily contrasting colours or finishes are definitely a no-no in a small bathroom,” says Alanna . “If you want a feature wall, use it on the floor, too, and pare back the other walls.” Carmel suggests another trick: “Have the tapware, vanity and wall tiles all the same colour for a minimal look,” she says.

bathroom with tiles

Looking for more small space living ideas?

Check out our 11 top space-making solutions and design ideas.


Photo Credit: Sue Stubbs, Gap Interiors/Colin Poole, iStock, Mondella, James Moffatt and Alamy Stock Photo

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