When I build something the first question I ask is not style, or color, or layout, or even what materials to use.
It is, “what is the function, what is its purpose?”.
Bathrooms are a place where shit gets done. Literally. They are a workroom for the body; for cleansing, self-care, private self-reflection. Done right they become a temple to the self; body and soul.
Done wrong they become a constant, unavoidable nuisance; leaky, impractical, unwelcoming. This is what prompts most calls I get about doing a bathroom remodel. There are many ways to do a bathroom wrong, and I’ve seen lots (doesn’t seem to be a limit on creative errors). Bathrooms are the densest room for a builder to work on. Remodels can involve rebuilding walls, floors, plumbing, tile, lighting, windows, electricity, venting and heating. All in the space of a large closet.
Here’s how to do it right:
Color and Style: There are many wonderful, very different styles for a bathroom. Rustic, gothic, modern, victorian, etc. The key is to pick one and be consistent. Bathrooms are small spaces with a lot going on, so clashing styles and colors really stand out.
Structure: The unseen elements of the bathroom are for me the most important. Done right they are never noticed. Moisture is ever-present in bathrooms, and failing to anticipate that leads to mold and costly repairs. Without a firm foundation everything built on top of it is lost and must be redone; tile, paint, fixtures, etc.
Walls should be of cement-board (Hardie) or moisture-resistant drywall. The bathroom should have a ceiling vent even if there is a window. Shower tile should Ideally have a layer of red-guard (rubber paint) between it and the wall as extra moisture control and crack prevention.
Modern american toilets are designed poorly, secured by two bolts on a flange around the drain (older and european have four). The flange commonly has a thin edge of plywood to screw into, which gets repeated moisture exposure. My solution is to build extra braces around the drain beneath the subflooring for extra stability and durability.
Plumbing can be unsightly, and nobody wants a leak. So plumbing is tucked away in walls and cabinets, which can make the problem of leaks much worse. Leaks from hidden plumbing are not noticed until long after they start, and are harder repair. Mold and structural damage are common discoveries when beginning a remodel. I recommend access panels where possible at common points of failure (drains and faucets), which will facilitate diagnosis and repair, as well as vent minor leaks. Plastic PEX plumbing is growing in popularity because it is cheaper and easier to work with than copper. I don’t recommend this in Colorado, where the dry high altitude air gives plastic a short life.
Lighting makes a world of difference in a bathroom, and there should be at least these three types.
1) Natural Lighting from a window or solar tube makes the bathroom open and inviting, and also helps keep it sterile.
2) Vanity Lighting on either side of the bathroom mirror facilitates grooming by eliminating shadows and providing a bright and nearby light source.
3) Mood Lighting, adjustable light, or even a simple nightlight makes nocturnal visits pleasant and baths luxurious.
Storage: When my realtors are preparing to sell a house they often call me to remove the vanity and install a free-standing sink, which is supposed to help sell the home. After sale the buyer calls me to install a vanity, often the same one, because there’s no space for an extra roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. It’s ridiculous.
Also, those off-the-shelf vanity cabinets that come from Home Depot usually have a particle board base, which can’t handle the inevitable minor under-counter leaks. A higher-end cabinet will be made of wood/high-grade plywood and sealed, making it more durable and easier to clean.
Bottom Line: Do it once, do it right.