How to Design a Bathroom

Deciding to design your bathroom is a lot like getting on a rollercoaster when you’re afraid of heights. There’s initial excitement, which quickly turns into mild regret, but then once the ride is over, you have a good laugh and you’re happy you did it. Okay, so maybe a bathroom design costs more than a theme park ticket... but you see where we’re going here.

We’d be lying if we said bathroom projects didn’t have their downs, but with that also comes the ups too! We'll walk you through the entire process, offering design tips, inspiration, and a whole lot of encouragement to help you create a bathroom that's a true reflection of you.

Last updated
January 29, 2024
Table of Contents:
Step One

Find inspiration

Image Credit: Autumn Janesky (via Spoak)

Picture this: You, in your new master bathroom, soaking in inspiration from the most unexpected places. Whether you have a small bathroom with only the essentials or a bathroom large enough to fit you and all of your friends for a “get ready with me” vlog, every interior design project starts with sourcing inspiration.

Dive into your favorite interior design publications and magazines, scroll through Insta-worthy spa retreats, or start snooping through all of your friend’s bathrooms. Find what speaks to you the most and make note of everything you gravitate towards. Maybe it's something relatively easy to achieve, like colorful tile grout or a quirky shower curtain installation. Or maybe it’s something more complex, like a freestanding tub or a walk-in shower. The key here is to let your creativity run wild and to think outside the (bathroom) box.

Create a bathroom board mood

Not sure what to do with all the inspiration images you just saved? Channel your inner Picasso and make a mood board out of them! Using an online mood board tool is a great way to quickly execute your big ideas while they’re fresh in your head.

If you’re more hands-on, don’t let us stop you from getting extra crafty. Grab posterboard and some glue, and start adding images, colors, and textures that make you go, "Yep, that's the vibe!" You can think of your mood board as your bathroom personality—the more of it, the better.

If you find yourself getting tripped up over how all these design styles come together, why not lose the labels and combine what you love into one masterpiece? Remember that when it comes to design styles (and all things), you’re never just one. This is your bathroom, and there are no design police here to stop you from breaking the rules!

Determine your color palette

60-90% of the first impressions of a space are due to its colors. If that doesn’t tell you that you should invest in a color palette that makes your heart sing, we don’t know what will! 

Colors will be your guiding force for the design choices that follow. There are some general “rules” (we say this in quotes because there are no real rules in design) and recommendations for selecting bathroom colors.

  • Lean into color psychology. Color psychology tells us what colors make us feel in a space. Ask yourself how you want your bathroom to feel. Do you want it to feel zen and relaxing, or would you rather have it feel electric and fun? Pick colors that help you achieve that feeling and make you want to do a bathroom dance.
  • Choose between four and six colors to play with. Color palettes typically consist of six colors max (but who’s counting?!) that will help you create visual depth and interest in a space.
  • When needed, reference the 60-30-10 rule, which recommends picking three core color groups and distributing them among those percentages. 60% will be the dominant color, 30% will be something a bit bolder, and 10% will be the accent color.
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Step Two

Create a layout

Image Credit: MyDomaine

Your bathroom layout should flow as smoothly as your favorite jazz playlist. But in all seriousness, your bathroom layout will set the foundation for your design plans and act as a blueprint for where things should go.

Measure every nook and cranny, even those weird corners that make you wonder, "What were they thinking?" Note things like windows, outlets, and door openings so you have them handy when you create your layout. Every square foot counts!

Try out different floor plans and elevation options

Once you’ve checked your measurements twice (or thrice!), translate them into a to-scale bathroom floor plan, which will give you a bird’s eye view of how much floor space (and everything else) you have in your room. A floor planner tool will allow you to easily build your room from scratch and move around furniture items/fixtures to create the best possible layout for your needs.

When you’re ready to get a close-up view, move onto your bathroom elevation. Creating an elevation will give you the perspective of a wall in your bathroom from a vertical plane (as if you were standing in front of the wall). Elevations will allow you to measure the distance between certain items in your bathroom, like how much space is between your toilet and shower door. 

PRO-TIP: When planning your layout, keep this general tip in mind: big fixtures, like toilets, bathtubs, showers, and vanities, should be placed at least 30" apart from each other, a wall or another feature for an optimal layout. 
bathroom floor plan
Bathroom floor plan designed by Jeff Land (via Spoak)

Balance functionality and personal desires

We’re not saying ditch all of your dream bathroom wishlist items, but we are saying that functionality is the name of the game. Ask yourself what the purpose of your bathroom is and make choices that will support that.

If you know going into your design project that you’re working with a small space, prioritize small bathroom ideas like built-in storage options and bathroom vanity with additional drawers. If you’re deciding on whether to splurge on the freestanding tub and you have kids who take regular baths, maybe this is worth the addition. Can you justify the fancy bidet you want? Try to!! It's all about balancing the practical decisions with the fabulous ones because why settle for boring when you can have both?

Create a bathroom lighting plan

Lighting is everything, especially in a bathroom remodel. If you don’t have enough of it, you’ll be left squinting to find your toiletries. Too much of it, and you’ll feel like you’re in a hospital. Let's shed some light on this situation (🥁) and go over some home design tips to create an effective lighting plan.

  • Utilize natural lighting when possible. Natural lighting is a dream come true, especially in a bathroom. If you have the flexibility to add windows or skylights to a bathroom, jump on the opportunity to.
  • Every bathroom should have a few different light sources. Overhead bathroom lighting will give you a solid base light, but you’ll want to add accent and task lighting too. 
  • Install wall sconces between 60”- 72” from the finished floor, as a general rule of thumb. Be careful not to install them too high otherwise, they’ll cast a shadow on your face.
  • Don’t forget about your switches and outlets. Lighting plans focus on where the lighting in a room will go, but they also include marking your switches and outlets. While the minimum number of outlets required in a bathroom is just one, you can add more based on your needs.
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Step three

Determine your budget

Image Credit: Nicole Franzen

Now, for the elephant in the room: your budget. Money talk might feel taboo, but to that, we say, forget everything you’ve been told! Break the rules and conventions! Knowing your financial boundaries is key before diving headfirst into your design journey.

A good budgeting tool will help you organize your costs and see how you’re tracking as you move along in your project. Weigh out the pros and cons of splurging vs. saving in certain buckets. Maybe that vintage mirror is worth the splurge, while you can save a bit on the not-so-glamorous yet essential plumbing fixtures. It's all about balance, just like your bathroom design.

EXPERT OPINION by
Lisa Galano
"Take your priorities into account to determine your budget, especially if you plan to phase things out over time. For example, if you know you need to make structural changes to your bathroom, that will be the first major cost to prepare for before you get into everything else. Also, don’t forget to be realistic with what you can handle within your budget!"

Breakdown your costs

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Breaking down your costs will have you feeling like you're solving a bathroom mystery, but it will also give you a clear understanding of what you have to allocate. According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, the general recommended cost breakdown for bathrooms goes as follows:

  • Design: 4% / Labor: 20%
  • Flooring: 9% / Walls & Ceilings: 5% / Doors & Windows: 4%
  • Countertops: 7% / Cabinetry & Hardware: 16% / Fixtures: 15%
  • Faucets & Plumbing: 14% / Lighting & Ventilation: 5% / Other: 1%
PRO-TIP: Explore thrift stores for secondhand finds that won't break the bank but will add that same beautiful touch to your bathroom. You’d be surprised how many people donate extra scrap material to their local thrift store!

This should go without saying, but the estimates listed above can vary depending on the scope of your project. One thing to keep in mind is that there will always be the chance of project delays in bathroom renovations, which usually brings on unwanted costs. Do yourself a solid and budget at least 10% extra for any surprises. Oh, the joys of being a homeowner! 

Step Four

Visualize & decide

Image Credit: Mark Anthony Fox

The technical stuff is over! You’ve now entered the fun part of the process. It’s time to visualize your happy place and start deciding on all the things that will make your bathroom beautiful. Use an online design tool that will give you the freedom to play around with your vision until everything looks just right.

Start with your floors and walls

Deciding on your flooring is one of the most important design decisions in the bathroom. Are you remodeling a primary bathroom that needs radiant heat flooring? Maybe you’re revamping your powder room that doesn’t need to be totally waterproof. These types of needs will dictate what type of flooring options will work best for your space. Here are some popular bathroom flooring materials:

  • Ceramic tile flooring: Ceramic tile is a great option in bathrooms because it’s durable, waterproof, and easy to clean. On the flip side, it’s cold on the feet and not slip-resistant, so be mindful of that if you go with ceramic.
  • Vinyl flooring: Vinyl is our go-to budget-friendly option for flooring. Like ceramic, it’s durable and easy to clean, but it’s also much softer than ceramic tile. This type of flooring an be susceptible to water-damage if not taken care of properly, so use wisely in your bathroom.
  • Engineered hardwood flooring: While wood isn’t the most waterproof material, it offers a timeless look in a wet room. Engineered hardwood will give you the same classic look, while resisting water damage and humidity in the bathroom thanks to durable layers of material.

When it comes to bathroom walls, there’s no right or wrong way to go about your decisions. Here are a few helpful pointers to consider:

  • Don’t be afraid to go bold, especially if you have a small bathroom. Wallpaper is a great way to pack a punch in your space (just be careful not to place it in a splash zone otherwise it might not hold up over time!).
  • Use paint to your advantage. Lean into your color palette and choose a color that will make your bathroom design ideas sing.
  • Use tile to create a statement focal point in your bathroom space. Tile isn’t just for the floors and shower walls! While it can, you can also extend your tile choices to go beyond the traditional norms. 
PRO-TIP: Visit tile showrooms to get help from professionals and ask for samples before you spend a penny. If the tile company you’re eyeing doesn’t have a showroom nearby, they likely sell samples for under $5.

Move onto your bathroom fixtures

Here’s where we start to get into the details! Now that you know what type of flooring, paint colors, and tile you might want to incorporate in your bathroom, it’s time to decide on fixtures, like a sink, soaking tub, and hardware. 

Concrete sinks have become popular in modern bathroom designs due to their sleek appearance—plus they’ll last you a lifetime. Acrylic and porcelain sinks are also great options for their durability. Choose something that works within your budget, and remember, if you don’t care about your sink as much as your bathroom tile, then splurge on the thing you do care about! 

Selecting your bathroom hardware is one of the final steps in creating the bathroom of your dreams. Depending on who you ask, you might be told never to mix metals and stick to one, classic finish—but you can probably guess what he have to say about that. Do you! Mixing metals can be a nice way to add visual interest to your space. Trust your instincts and choose what feels best for you and your home.

Bathroom fixtures modern gold
Bathroom finish selections by Mckenna Osterhold (via Spoak)
EXPERT OPINION by
Tiffany Thompson
"Choose a dominant metal for your bathroom, then pick a few accents. A dominant metal represents a majority of the fixtures but shouldn’t be relegated to only the big features. Apply this metal to your permanent fixtures like vanity sinks, overhead light fixtures, shower faucets, and shower heads. Place a few smaller items in this metal type to create a sense of cohesion. After all, there are no small parts, only small … accent pieces."
Step Five

Finish & install

Image Credit: House & Garden

Decisions have been made, items have been purchased… it’s installation day! Assemble your carefully chosen items, fixtures, furniture like you're building the ultimate bathroom fortress. If you hired contractors to help you with your bathroom remodel, then you might actually have time to take a breather at this stage before the styling comes in. 🧘‍♀️

Other considerations for your bathroom

You’ve got the basics, so now it’s time to think about those decor ideas that make your bathroom pop.

  • Think about storage. Your medicine cabinet has the shelving, but what’s it look like inside? Buy design-forward containers that will look good and make your bathroom storage look like it was meant to be in a magazine.
  • Use window treatments to transform your space. Find a style that complements your existing design. Roman shades have the function of blinds, but look extremely stylish while doing their job.
  • Add greenery to your bathroom. Plants will instantly add life to your bathroom, and while they are breathing, living things, we still count them as bathroom decor. Make sure your bathroom gets enough light to support the plant!
  • Find bathroom accessories will add extra sparkle to your space. Metaphorically speaking, unless you want a glitter-infused bathroom… then by all means! Throw art on the wall! Change out your our outlet covers! Personalizing your bathroom with accessories will make it feel more like you.

And there you have it! You made it through your bathroom makeover and created a masterpiece that's as unique as a unicorn. Step back, take it all in, and relish in your new sanctuary. Design is an ever-evolving journey, so enjoy the process, embrace your creativity, and know that you can tackle any design challenge that comes your way. 💪

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