The Worst Bathroom Remodeling Mistakes You Can Possibly Make

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I’m currently in the midst of designing several bathroom remodels and multiple bathrooms in new build homes, so I have bathroom design constantly on my mind lately. Bathrooms are one of my specialties and really how I got my start in Interior Design (along with kitchen design), so I’ve been collecting bathroom inspirations photos for years now.

After studying thousands of bathroom photos and designing dozens over the past ten years, I’ve learned that not all bathroom design is created equal.

As a former engineer, my clients quickly learn that I’m a pragmatist. Form has to follow function, especially in a bathroom or kitchen. I don’t care how pretty it is or how cool it looks if it doesn’t work!

I’ll be honest, in my early days as a designer, I probably made all of the mistakes listed below. But, every job teaches me something new, and I never repeat those missteps again. If you’re getting ready to remodel or design a bathroom, make sure that you or your designer avoids these critical bathroom remodeling mistakes.

#1 YOU HAVE TO GET WET TO TURN ON THE SHOWER

This list isn’t necessarily ranked in order; however, positioning the shower so you have no choice but to get drenched in freezing cold water every morning has to be the worst bathroom design mistake you can make.

White subway tile shower vertical subway tile
Shower Controls Opposite Door for Easy Access

For some reason, people became convinced that the shower controls – the on/off and temperature valves – need to be located directly under the shower head. But, often the shower head is at the far end of the shower from the door, meaning you can’t reach the controls unless you step into the shower.

I have seen showers where the client keeps the shower head pointed towards the wall while they turn on the water. This doesn’t really seem like an optimal user experience for someone’s dream bathroom.

The worst shower layout is one in which you have to get into the shower and also close the door to turn on the shower so there’s no escape. Terrible! I’ve definitely encountered this setup in hotels, and it totally sucks.

So, how do you avoid this happening to you? Look at the plans for your bathroom and picture yourself opening the door and reaching for the controls. Can you easily access them without stepping into the shower and under the shower head?

Remember, most shower doors swing both ways so as long as you can open it one way and reach your controls, it works.

If you can’t, then another revision is definitely in order. You can usually fix the issue by moving either the controls or the door.

#2 Poor or Bad Vanity Lighting

Vanity lighting design definitely deserves its own post, and I am planning to publish one soon. My biggest pet peeve with many Insta-famous or HGTV-trendy bathrooms is the lighting design at the vanities.

If you have a smaller vanity (42″ or less), then often (but not always) your only solution is to place the vanity light over the mirror. However, for larger vanities, I think it’s a mistake to sacrifice optimal lighting for a cool look or fancy decorative mirror.

gray and white bathroom
Vanity with Two Sconces & Recessed Can Light

Spacing vanity lighting so that it feels balanced and proportional with the mirrors and the cabinetry is a fine art. I agonize over it on every single bathroom project I design. My priority is always to provide a sconce on each side of the mirror with the bulb height between 60″ and 66″. When combined with a recessed can over the sink, the three light sources diffuse hard shadows.

If you’ve ever looked at yourself in a bathroom mirror and thought you aged 10 years, look up. I bet the light source is a downward facing sconce centered over the mirror.

#3 Not Planning For Adequate Storage

interior designer des moines K and V Home Show Expo House 2018 Master Bathroom Vanity
Custom Vanity Design with a Variety of Storage

So often I see photos of beautiful bathrooms with absolutely terrible storage, especially in master bathrooms. The furniture style vanities can look really pretty but are they totally practical?

It’s so important to seriously consider everything you need to store in your bathroom both for the things you use every day in your beauty and hygiene routine as well as linens and other supplies like toilet paper. Once you understand everything you use on a daily basis, then think about the best way to store it. Do you have serums, moisturizers, makeup, etc. that needs to remain vertical? How tall are the products you use? How long and wide are your hair brushes?

I like to incorporate a variety of drawer depths whenever possible as well as cabinets with doors. The sink cabinet can be a great place for hiding the wastebasket. I also keep tall products like hairspray on a lazy susan from Container Store under my sink.

interior designer des moines south of grand bathroom remodel
Vintage Style Bath with Medicine Cabinet

I know medicine cabinets aren’t as sexy as a gorgeous decorative mirror, but they are ridiculously practical in smaller bathrooms.

In the vintage style bathroom above, we only had room for a single 48″ freestanding vanity, so we maxed out storage for small toiletries by adding this polished nickel medicine cabinet from Restoration Hardware. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used this exact medicine cabinet because it’s very handsome, generously sized, and comes with an integrated light and electrical outlet. No more razor or electric toothbrush sitting on the counter

#4 Not Including a Hand Shower

Gray wood-look tile shower with polished nickel plumbing fixtures.

Maybe you do your own cleaning and maybe you don’t. Either way, someone is going to be cleaning your gargantuan walk-shower at least every couple weeks. If you don’t include a hand-shower, then the only way they’ll be able to rinse down the shower walls is with a bucket. And, that’s really just mean.

I love my hand shower for both cleaning and for rinsing my hair. If you set it up correctly, you can run your main shower head and your hand shower at the same time. It’s a more affordable version of body jets, especially if you mount the hand shower on an adjustable wall bar, which I highly recommend.

#5 Buying Cheap Plumbing Online or at a BiG Box Store

During my very first interior design related job – at the Great Indoors in Chandler, Arizona, 14 years ago – a very nice plumbing salesman educated me on the evils of cheap plumbing. He told me that cheap plumbing fixtures from big box stores or discount outlets are often made with cheap plastic parts that break instead of metal.

Mirabelle Pendleton Tub Filler in Polished Nickel
Mirabelle Pendleton Tub Filler in Polished Nickel Specified through Ferguson

Fast forward ten years. I was freshening up the hall bathroom in our last house and bought an inexpensive version of a name brand faucet at a big box hardware store even though I warn my clients against this very thing. When we couldn’t figure out how to install it ourselves, we had to call a plumber. After two hours, he informed me he needed to go out and buy all new parts for the inside of the faucet because it was “cheap plastic junk.” So that $90 faucet ended up costing over $300.

I specify all plumbing for my projects through my sales representative at the local plumbing supply companies. They know their product inside out. They know all the parts and pieces that need to be included like valves, and wall elbows, and escutcheon for hand showers. And, they stand behind the product and help you when something goes wrong or needs replacing. They are completely invaluable members of my team.

#6 Forgetting about Towel Bars & Hooks when Space Planning

I had to make this mistake several times before I learned my lesson. Towel bars need clear wall space as do hooks if your towels are going to hang properly to dry. 

In a small bathroom especially, it can be really easy to forget about hooks and towel bars. Then, when it’s time to hang them, there’s nowhere to put them.

I prefer hooks to bars because I don’t want to fold my towel, and I hate the look of unfolded towel draped over a bar.

Also, consider placing a hook where it is easily reached from the shower. When our home’s former owners remodeled, they put two hooks inside the shower in a spot where they don’t get wet. I love that idea and use it whenever I can.

I could go on and on with more bathroom remodeling mistakes that I see people make all the time, so maybe I need to write a follow up post. What do you think are the biggest bathroom remodeling or bathroom design mistakes people make? Are there any bathroom trends you’ve been spotting that drive you nuts with their impracticality? Let me know in the comments.

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55 thoughts on “The Worst Bathroom Remodeling Mistakes You Can Possibly Make

  1. All excellent points, Jillian! Placement of the shower handle is a big one that is so often not thought through! Also, understanding that the same brand that is at a big box store and is cheap is NOT the same quality as the one you get from the plumbing supplier. Pay for the decent stuff and you only have to do it once. Disposable quality is rarely cost effective in the long run!

    1. Janet, we actually just had to replace the master bath faucets at our new house, which were Delta. I’m sure they were the big box variety vs. from Ferguson or Plumb Supply because they were completely corroded inside. Meanwhile, the original faucets from 1984 in the other bathrooms may not be the prettiest but are still going strong.

  2. Hi Jillian ~

    You’ve brought up so many good points in this post. One of my biggest pet peeves is having to get into my shower before the water is hot–and then having to turn the knobs to get it to the right temperature. Putting the controls on the opposite wall would totally solve that problem.

    Thanks for that great tip and all the others!

    1. There are great valves now where you can just set your temperature to your preference and leave it there so you don’t have to fiddle with it every time. I think it’s a must-have.

  3. Jillian, these are all great points. I once had a client who was discussing placing the shower valve outside the shower. The only issue would be they wouldn’t be able to change the temperature when they got in. Like many, they did not want to get into a shower and have cold water hit them.

    I love all of your tips!

    1. Thanks, Sheri! I actually just had a contractor tell me about a shower where they cut a hole in the glass by the valves so the client could reach in and turn the shower on and off without even opening the door. I’m saving that idea for the next time I have no other options.

  4. Such great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Such great tips! We are currently doing several bathrooms as well and your advice is spot on!

  6. Wowie, jam packed full of info, thank you!
    I’m designing 6 bathrooms right now and even though I’ve been a designer for 12 years, I had no idea we could spec glass doors that swing both ways!! Thank you!!

    1. Thanks, Jil! Yes, I think as we were discussing on Facebook, the frameless doors have hinges that swing both ways.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth!

  7. Solid advice! Details that people don’t think about, but are oh, so important.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer!

  8. I’m so with you on the lighting. Amazing what just a little thought behind fixture design and placement can make!

    1. It’s absolutely huge. I can’t stand poorly considered bathroom lighting just for the sake of looks.

  9. I can’t wait until we are ready to have you finish our bathroom!

    1. I have so many ideas for you when you are ready!

  10. All excellent points Jillian. I would add another. Was just on an overnight visit where the only entrance into the shower involved sidling past the toilet bowl sitting right next to it. No thank you! This was an otherwise beautiful place recently done by a designer. Also saw a houzz post on small bathrooms where many of them included a toilet right next to the tub. Not optimal to have your toilet right next to you while sitting in a tub. So I would say poor toilet placement also a huge bathroom remodelling mistake!

    1. Beth, yes! I was going to include toilet placement, but it might make it into the followup post.

  11. As always,great information. This is why we hire professional designers. They bring important,cost saving knowledge to the project.

  12. When I first came across this article I thought about the biggest bathroom mistake my husband’s uncle did when he decided to DIY our shower…. he didn’t angle the tiles towards the drain! After that I decided linear drains are the way to go (placement of it had me blocking it with my feet as well). Oh, bathrooms need more than one plug too! There’s so many things now that need electricity such as toothbrushes, razors, phone charger while you’re in the shower, curling iron/ straightener, etc. I like charging my fitbit in the bathroom while I shower as well and am constantly unplugging something. In some designs I’ve noticed that there was no dedicated space for a small trash can or for a laundry basket. What are your thoughts?

    1. That is definitely a huge mistake! Another mistake a DIYer or inexperienced contractor might make is not angling any horizontal surface, for example, the bottom of a niche or a bench top. If they aren’t angled, water will sit on top and make leach into the wall over time. I try to make sure there’s a good place for charging items because I hate to see those sitting on the countertop. If there’s no room for a medicine cabinet, an outlet can be added to a drawer in the vanity. I like to place the wastebasket under the sink. You can also tuck one to the side of the toilet against the wall in a pinch.

  13. This is such a great post Jillian with great points. I could not agree more about lighting. Production builders are notorious for bad lighting

    1. Thank you, Veronica!

  14. One thing that would be a great addition to a shower or tub wall is a built-in niche for soap and shampoo bottles. Many niches are pre-built and just slide in between the wall studs. You then finish it off with tile, or possibly thin corian sheets sealed at the corners. It’s best to put it in a place that isn’t getting a constant shower spray.

  15. Hi Jillian, I love your work! I’m in the middle of making decisions for a bathroom renovation and I’m agonizing about lighting around the vanity. Can you clarify your comment about the bulb height being between 60″ and 66″. Is that off the ceiling? Thank you!

    1. Hi Gwen, thank you! 60-66” above the floor…lately I’ve been doing 63”. Sconces are all designed differently. If you tell the electrician to mount them 63” off the floor, for example, that’s where he’ll put the box. But if the sconce points up, then the light source could end up much higher. Likewise, if it points down, it will end up too low. So I try to either find a scale drawing of the light, have it on hand, or guess as closely as possible where the light source is relative to the J box before I tell the electrician where I want it.

  16. Towel racks? I never see them in designer bathrooms. What do they do with their wet towels? Hooks do not work for me, towels do not dry fast enough.

    1. Hi Sue,
      I think it’s personal preference and ask my clients what they prefer. Sometimes there just isn’t room for a towel rack, and then we have to do hooks.

  17. Hi Jillian! I am wanting to take out our garden tub and convert to walk-in shower with a 3/4 wall so I don’t have to deal with a door. Like you mentioned in your post, I don’t want to get wet turning on the water. What layout would you recommend? The opening to the shower will be on the left end and originally thought the shower head at the right end. Help!

    1. Shellie, could you put it on the 3/4 wall so that you can open the door and reach in to turn the handle?

      1. I really don’t want to do a door. One of the “side walls” of the shower is an exterior of the house wall, the other will be the wall seen in the bathroom. Each end of the shower will be interior walls.

        I appreciate your information as this was one thing I hadn’t thought of!

  18. I really don’t want to do a door. One of the “side walls” of the shower is an exterior of the house wall, the other will be the wall seen in the bathroom. Each end of the shower will be interior walls.

    I appreciate your information as this was one thing I hadn’t thought of!

  19. Thank you for the great info. I just found your post by accident after looking at bath remodel pinterests and just about having enough. You mentioned an e design option but I couldn’t find it on your website.

    1. Hi Bridgett, glad you found it helpful! I’m currently accepting e-design clients for the April/May timeframe. Designs start at $1500. If you’d like to set up a call to discuss, I’d be happy to chat with you!

  20. I am also currently remodeling. Considering a double bypass glass shower to access shower controls and enter from opposite end. However, if toilet is placed on the same wall adjacent to shower, how much space is needed between toilet and shower to not interfere with accessing the shower controls? Also as an age place measure later, the possibility of entering through that door closest to wall? Hope that makes sense. I know code is generally 18” from center the the toilet tank. Thanks for all the helpful info! ROXANNE

  21. How do you feel about led vanity mirrors? We are remodeling a very low ceiling bathroom in the basement and replacing the ugly hollywood light that was above the mirror.

    1. Hi Kim, I think it’s really important to check the Kelvins and make sure they are either adjustable or somewhere around 2700-3000k. Any higher and the light will be too cool. Also, I have rarely seen one that puts off enough light so I would supplement with recessed cans.

  22. Hi…I am remodeling my bathroom also and putting in a shower stall I read somewhere that shower panels would hold up better then tiles because of the grout will blue mold eventually and have to be replaced ….What would you recommend? Thanks

  23. Awesome blog! Why _do_ hotel rooms never have enough hooks to hang your towels?!

    I have one of those vanities less than 42″ (29″, more or less, hemmed in on 3 sides). Overhead vanity light fixtures are typically so uninspiring, not to mention difficult to dust. Do you have any not-yawn-inducing suggestions?

  24. Hi, All great tips. I live in a condo and have the luxury of a window in my master bath in the centre of the 75 1/2 “ vanity. I am replacing the 2 sinks with one large sink under the window so that I have space to put my blow dryer. Currently I often have to rest it in the sink while adjusting hair brush. I live alone and the toilet is right beside where the second sink is so who wants to use it – in a 2 bath condo there are options! My question- should I do drawers on either side of sink and cabinet doors below it,or 3 sets of doors with pullout shelves behind the doors at varying heights? Do you have any tips for jewellery storage in a bathroom? Thanks was wondering if narrow pullout cupboards similar to spice cupboards in a kitchen could work to frame the wall and in one have medicine cabinet stuff and in the other jewelry. Since only plug is on the wall when I enter I assume it can’t be covered so the cupboards would not reach the counter. Thoughts? Many thanks!

    1. Hi Karen, this is a little bit more involved than I can answer properly in a blog comment, so if you’d like more help, I’d be happy to give you a proposal for drawing up your bathroom design. But generally, I like to think about what you need to store at the vanity. I like shallow top drawers for small items and things like hair brushes. If you have taller items you need to stand up, a deep bottom drawer is a good idea. I don’t like the idea of pullouts because the sides are so low. Anything with height will fall over whenever you pull it open.

  25. I have an eight fixture Hollywood light fixture that has only one anchoring point in the center. I do not want to redo sheet rock as the rest of the room is great. Is there any fixture you can recommend as a replacement. I don’t particularly love it, but prefer it to that drooping daffodil fixture that has been offered as a replacement. The fixture is over double sinks. Ideally There would be a fixture over each but as I stated I don’t want to tear up the wall.
    This to me was the builder’s mistake when he did this otherwise quite nice bathroom. If there is no replacing it leaving the wall in tact, is there at least a different bulb so we can get illumination without the heavy glare?

  26. I like storage next to my toilet for panties, pads, Preparation H, and other essentials while sitting on the toilet.

  27. A drawer, not a cabinet with a door that swings the wrong way to easily access the contents while seated.

  28. Your blog is amazing it gives so much ideas and information.

  29. Nice views.I like your article you have given Remodeling Mistakes that everyone made. Check out https://grizzlystrongconstruction.com/ that also provide silimilar information and tips.

  30. Jillian , I just came across your post while searching for ideas on Pinterest for our master bath and bedroom remodel next year. Loved what you had to say about bath designs. What are your thoughts on a baseboard vacuum ? I shed so much hair while drying and dislike the floor mess. Have you ever incorporated one in your design ?

    1. I have used them in kitchens, and I think they would be a great add to a bathroom for that very reason. I have the same problem!

  31. Hi Jillian,

    These are great tips and hoping you will advise on this question: we are redoing our master bath and planning to have 2 single vanities and trying to decide whether to go w/48″ or 60″. One wall is 5.5 feet and the other is 8 feet. my decorator friend is saying 48″ but my worry is that they’ll be too small.

    Help!

    ~Jodi

    1. Hi Jodi, this is so hard for me to say without seeing overall measurements of the space. There would be a lot of factors that would influence my decision besides just the length of the wall.

  32. All great ideas and thank you so much. Hiring a professional such as yourself is the best way to get the most satisfactory results!

  33. Hi Jillian,
    I like reading all of these comments and your blog. What’s a wife to do when her husband and herself cannot agree on a single item in their master bathroom remodel? We’ve been ready to remodel for over year now but cannot agree on practically one single change!

    1. Amy, that’s a though one, and I play referee a lot. There definitely has to be give and take and a willingness of each partner to give in on the design elements that matter most to the other. I try to hone in on the feeling they want to create – that’s easier to agree upon – rather than a specific aesthetic.

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