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.
Bathroom Remodeling Mistake #1: Starting Without a Plan
One of the most common and expensive mistakes people make when remodeling a bathroom is starting without a realistic plan – both a plan for how you will layout the space and plan for the end result and how you will bring it to life. Ensure you thoroughly research all available options for materials, fixtures, and any other structural elements to guarantee that your end-result will be what you are envisioning. If you are moving any plumbing or walls, hire an interior designer or a design-build firm to create a detailed set of drawings for your bathroom. How to layout your bathroom properly is a post in its own, but I’ll mention some of the common bathroom layout mistakes later in this post.
Mistake #2: Failing to Set a Realistic Budget.
Before beginning your project, be sure to set a budget that you can realistically stick too. This should include both labor and materials, as well as added costs. I advise clients to plan for an extra 10% to cover unexpected issues with pipes or wiring. Once you’ve set your budget, make sure that none of your choices exceed it. If there’s a design element that’s really important to you like handmade tile and going over budget is an issue, try to balance it out by selecting more economical lighting and plumbing fixtures.
Mistake #3: 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.
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.
Mistake #4: 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.
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.
Bathroom Remodeling Mistake #5: Not Planning For Adequate Storage
So often I see photos of beautiful bathrooms with absolutely terrible storage, especially in primary 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.
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
Mistake #6: Not Including a Hand Shower
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.
Mistake #7: 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.
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.
Mistake #8: 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.
It is important to consider your towel bars and hooks at the earliest phases of space planning for your bathroom remodel. If you want to put a towel bar or hooks behind the door, you may need to frame the door further from the wall so it doesn’t hit the hardware when it opens. If you want to have a hook near the shower door, you want to make sure you can access the hook from inside the shower. I know this sounds simple, but it can be one of the hardest details of laying out a bathroom properly.
Bathroom Remodeling Mistake #9: Forgetting to Plan a Spot for Shaving Your Legs in the Shower
This is another hotel pet peeve of mine that can negatively impact my feelings about a hotel, especially on a beach or warm weather vacation. Most people who shave their legs like to shave their legs while showering. If you’ve ever stayed at a hotel with a walk-in shower that didn’t have a bench, ledge, or niche for propping your foot while shaving, you know what I’m talking about.
If you’ve already built your shower and forgotten to include a place to prop your foot while shaving, you can put a teak bench or a garden stool in the corner of your shower. If you are in the process of designing your shower, you have a few good options.
The first option is a small corner shelf either floating and made from the same material as your countertop. The second option is a small recessed niche that you can put your toes on to support your leg. It can store your razor when not in use. A third option would be a freestanding piece like I mentioned above – a garden stool or teak bench. Any solution should be set roughly 18″ off the shower floor or typical seat height.
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.
Saturday 25th of February 2023
From a professional home cleaners experience with bathroom shower valves, is that if they are so far from the showerhead, then it's very hard to clean a shower without getting water all over oneself. (Especially if there isn't a handheld showerhead). After cleaning, rinsing, and wiping down a shower to dry it, then a shower valve being so far from the showerhead causes problems. So, an "ideal bathroom" isn't always ideal for every situation
Saturday 25th of February 2023
Becca, I always suggest a handshower to my clients for cleaning purposes, both for showers and soaking tubs. I can't imagine trying to clean large showers without one. Of course, many of our clients have a cleaning person, so they never think about the experience of trying to clean a shower. If you had a handshower, would it matter so much where the valve is? I can see what you're saying about a fixed shower head being away from the valves.
Friday 3rd of February 2023
Shower doors or shower curtain? My home have sliding doors & I hate them, but my husband likes the doors vs curtain! Any help in that area, would love it! Thank you.
Saturday 18th of February 2023
I think there are pros and cons to both. The curtain is certainly much less expensive, and you can push it to one side for full access to the shower for cleaning.
Tuesday 24th of January 2023
We went to a hotel that had a nice toilet inlaid underneath the counter, but the counter stuck out just about a half inch. It was not very comfortable, but I didn't realize just how impractical until my husband pointed out he couldn't use it, the seat wouldn't stay up for him to lift while he used it. I bet the cleaning crew worked overtime every day because he just decided to leave the seat down, not much else he could do.
Friday 20th of January 2023
FINALLY someone pointed out the shower control folly! Thank you. Drives me nuts to see new bath updates lauded for incredible style only to see a terrible shower setup as you mentioned.
My other pet peeve of design is oversized windows in the shower or next to tub. Seriously? Very few homes are so isolated that you wouldn’t be putting on quite the show for your neighbors!
Saturday 18th of February 2023
If we put a window in the shower, we make sure it's shoulder height or above for the tallest family member and often frosted. If we do a window behind the tub - which most people request - then we always do shades. I prefer the shades to be a top-down bottom-up style and motorized if possible.
Sunday 15th of January 2023
Omg you hit every one of my talking points with my customers every day. I’m a sales consultant at Ferguson. I’m saving this so I can save my voice lol!
Sunday 15th of January 2023
I'm so glad you found it helpful!