mikey, this ain't the kinda place you wanna go to the bathroom in
December 27, 2011 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Please help me maximize the space in and minimize the ugliness of a tiny, ugly bathroom.

My tiny house has one full bathroom and all four of us use it every day. It is tiny. I am saving to pay an electrician to wire/install a vent & give us another outlet, so I've taken my remaining days of annual leave to tear down wallpaper and acoustic tiles in preparation for that, and I would like to do some other low-budget things to improve it. I put some pictures on flickr.

Nothing in the bathroom matches anything else. Pale yellow glossy retro tiles, 80s oak vanity with brass-ish fixtures, aluminum shower doors (which can't come down without ruining the tiles, and I can't afford to go there), nondescript vinyl floor. A chimney (which serves no purpose as it lacks an accompanying furnace or fireplace) that takes up valuable square footage but cannot be removed. The aforementioned acoustic tiles glued to the ceiling which were a bear to remove and it's still a mess up there.

I would like to build a cabinet w/shelves in the nook just inside the door before the chimney, replace the sink/cabinet w/something with a smaller footprint, replace the mirror/cabinet/light thing with a full-wall mirror and some kind of hanging lights or a light strip above it (but then where will we put all of our bathroom stuff? I figure nothing will be terribly expensive because it's a tiny bathroom (I could replace that vinyl floor with a remnant). But maybe these ideas won't work because of something I'm overlooking? And maybe there are some great ideas I'm not thinking of?

So help! Can I chisel off the plaster over the brick chimney to at least get some visual interest from that? Or is exposed porous brick a big no-no in a mold-prone bathroom? Do I skimcoat the ceiling? Can I do that over multiple surfaces (paint/plaster/glue)? What colors go with pale yellow? I am a bold-color kind of person so the easter-egg yellow is really boring to me. Then again, I really have no sense of style or color or anything.

And any recommendations for a powerful but not too loud fan that I can pick up at my local True Value/Home Depot/Lowe's etc. would be great.
posted by headnsouth to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
In a tiny bathroom, I'd leave the chimney plaster alone. The brick underneath will be sharp-edged and probably rather sloppily done (no reason for the mason to have built it neatly if it was going to be plastered). It would look cool, but be harder to keep clean and painful to bump into.

I'd try and scrape off the glue from the ceiling and then repair any nicks in the plaster, rather than burying the glue in a skim coat.

A bright, tangerine orange goes with pale yellow. The room would look like it was full of spring sunshine even on a grim November day.

Panasonic makes great bathroom fans, but they start around $100 and you're likely to have to mail order one. If the room above has flooring, check the joist height to make sure the fan will fit where you intend to put it.
posted by jon1270 at 4:03 PM on December 27, 2011

I have no helpful suggestions for most of your requests, except to beg you to paint the whole place white and not some other color. Half of my friends right now have these itty bitty bathrooms and they keep painting them these super bold colors and it makes the whole space thoroughly claustrophobia inducing and intense. That's very distracting when trying to, you know, do anything, especially makeup as a guest or even just shower.

posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:12 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could try beadboard on the ceiling. It's lightweight, inexpensive and treated against moisture.

I ran shallow (4 inch) shelves up one whole two foot wide wall in my bathroom for TP, soap, supplies, etc., then ran a 10" wide shelf all around the room about 15 inches from the ceiling to stash towels up out of the way.

That doesn't leave a lot of uncovered wall space, so I painted the walls chocolate to go with my lovely brown and (fleshy) pink tiles.

One box ($44.00) of vinyl plank flooring did the floor.

Marine blues go nicely with pale yellow tiles.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:15 PM on December 27, 2011

We took the glass shower doors out of our tiny bathroom, left the frame in and used that to hold the curtain - it wasn't perfect, but it was a hell of a lot better.

I'm going to second the keeping it white, or at very least light in color. Although I do so love a small room with a ceiling painted to like like a sky.

I'd like to see shelving right where you say, between the door and the chimney (I think I'd round the corners because I tend to run into those and hurt myself). I'd also like to see a pedestal sink instead of what's there (it'll also help open up the room).

That's what I've got.
posted by saffronwoman at 4:21 PM on December 27, 2011

Oops - look like a sky
posted by saffronwoman at 4:22 PM on December 27, 2011

Incidentally, my compliments on the wallpaper and acoustic tile removal.

You can use a spring-tension rod with a curtain to cover the shower doors in your situation.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:33 PM on December 27, 2011

Robern has a recessed cabinet in their R3 series that was perfect for our tiny bathroom. There are kits for wall-mounting them, too.

If you want to make it more ornate, you can build a picture frame around the mirror. I haven't gotten that far.

If you're doing painting, be sure to use a primer or sealer, and look into mildew-resistant paint. Also be sure to get a good fan to pull out the moisture from the bathroom.

GE makes a timer switch that is useful for running the fan for 10-60 minutes after a shower, but the timer on ours broke after one year of use, so I have to manually turn it to 0 to switch it off. I think I'll look for another vendor, when replacing it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:33 PM on December 27, 2011

Response by poster: What about instead of a pedestal sink something like this (but not as wide)? The sink itself still juts out (and has some much-needed counter space) but it's rounded, and the cabinet is shallower.

Hey, I like the idea of a sky-painted ceiling! That would keep me from being bored by white/light walls, and also hide what is sure to be an imperfect surface no matter how much glue I scrape off.
posted by headnsouth at 4:43 PM on December 27, 2011

You can paint the vanity, without having to sand everything, using zisser 1-2-3 for primer. I've done it before and am planning to do it again, this time using hints from this website.

The yellow tile isn't awful. I'd be tempted to do the vanity a glossy black. For the walls, I'd try a few different samples of gray paint colors. It's surprising how bright and neutral a gray paint can be. Whatever paint you go with--use a paint+primer in at least a semi-gloss.

Honestly, I'm wondering if there's a way to paint the floor. If you don't like it, you'd have nothing to lose. I'm thinking I've seen people paint small scraps of linoleum as throw rugs...why not a whole floor? But with color on the walls, the floor might "disappear" and you might be able to put off replacing it for awhile.

If you could lose the shower surround, and put up a shower curtain, I'd go with white fabric or white with a subtle yellow pattern.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:46 PM on December 27, 2011

Aluminum shower doors are better than 80's brass/gold color! Make the fixtures (faucet and vanity hardware) brushed nickel (and the lights over the sink, if you replace that). that'll help pull things together.

Also, I envy your wide white door trim. Keep it white.

Check Craigslist regularly--you may find fixtures, faucets, even a new vanity or sink there.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:52 PM on December 27, 2011

So one way I've seen to tone down colorful wall tile is to paint the walls... a similar color. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but you might get a few shades of pale yellow and white in some sample sizes and paint some swatches on the walls, and see for yourself. Your bathroom seems to have a decent amount of light, and it might make it sunnier. If not that, then I also think white would be pretty. Some updated linoleum/vinyl would be nice, too, and some patterns these days aren't so bad.

Storage shelves would be nice next to the chimney, but I think you'd get more use out of some shelves over the toilet, above the towel rack. You could put in some simple white shelves in both spots, or, over the toilet, a small cabinet (though open shelves would help keep the space more open).

I wouldn't worry about the chimney too much. A fresh coat of paint will make it nicer. I was going to suggest you hang a narrow piece of artwork there, but if you are at all artistically inclined, it might be fun to paint a faux-piece of artwork, with a painted frame, something like that.

If you don't put shelves next to the chimney, that'd be a great spot for a tallish, narrow wall-hanging.

I don't know that I'd pull out the whole sink, because it'd be hard to lose that storage space. You could sand it and paint it, and I bet it'd look really crisp in white. Certainly it'd be cheaper than replacing it. And some new drawer pulls would be a pretty cheap improvement. This seems easier than replacing it with the cabinet you linked to, which is probably a cheaper material.

For a mirror, I'd just get something simple from your favorite big box. A medicine cabinet is nice to have, and you could replace that without spending a lot. And you could replace the light with a sconce or something.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:54 PM on December 27, 2011

I would put a shallow shelf above the door.If it is too wide I would think it would be cramping but shallow shelving right above the door for toilet paper and folded towels looks good.
posted by cda at 4:54 PM on December 27, 2011

Oh! I had one more idea. With four of you, do you have enough space to hang towels? You could put up two hooks in that chimney space, perhaps one on the chimney and one on the wall next to it, and you could store two towels there. If you keep your bathroom colors pretty simple (like white and yellow), you could choose some bright, complimentary colors for the towels, and add a pop of color that way. Like, maybe lime or other bright green?

I really like the idea of hanging a tension rod in front of the tub door and just hiding it. I have friends who did a super cheap bathroom reno, and their bathroom looks totally hip and chic, until you pull aside the shower curtain to see a hideous turquoise tub. They couldn't replace it, so they hid it, and it works completely.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:58 PM on December 27, 2011

What's behind the sink/toilet wall? If it's a hall or a kitchen you could remove the wall covering and build shallow shelves into the stud cavities. This is kind of what some medicine cabinets are, making use of that empty space. Obviously, if it's an exterior wall this won't work-since it needs to be insulated-, and it probably wouldn't be great if the next room is a bedroom or other living area.

The bathroom sink is mainly used for washing hands and brushing teeth. It does not need to be very big. If you can get a very small narrow sink you could build a lot of efficient shelving around and under it.
posted by mareli at 5:07 PM on December 27, 2011

do you have enough space to hang towels?

I was wondering about this. What the crap is with places that have tiled-in towel rods over the back of the toilet bowl? What, exactly, is someone supposed to do with that rod?

White walls with a sky ceiling sounds lovely. If you want to add some bright color, I'd suggest doing it through textiles (towels, rug, window curtain, shower curtain if and when you can), rather than wall color.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:09 PM on December 27, 2011

Response by poster: do you have enough space to hang towels?

I was wondering about this. What the crap is with places that have tiled-in towel rods over the back of the toilet bowl? What, exactly, is someone supposed to do with that rod?

We all hang our towels in our bedrooms. Tiny bathroom + no vent = mold/mildew, so no towels allowed. We just wear them to & from the shower.

Yes I would love to lose the useless towel rod over the toilet but it's tiled in.

You guys are great. So many good ideas for my much-maligned little loo. Keep them coming! It will probably be a month before we get this work done (contractors work on Southern Time around here) but I'm getting excited about it now!
posted by headnsouth at 5:17 PM on December 27, 2011

This site appears to be a kind of content farmy place but has a lot of basic suggestions for small bathrooms, like the pale colours, glass/transparent shower stuff already mentioned here. Home and Garden seems to have a bunch of pictures of interesting bathrooms that might give you some ideas. I googled 'color choices for a tiny bathroom' and came up with a ton of useful looking pages. Apartment Therapy seems to have covered this ground pretty well too, too many to link but I googled 'tiny bathroom apartment therapy'.
posted by jacalata at 5:42 PM on December 27, 2011

I've got two bathroom gems to share, one expensive, one cheap:

Expensive: a nearly-silent ceiling fan. It's no doubt out of your price range, but I wanted to mention that since I installed it three years ago, I look up at it every day and marvel at how quiet it is.

Cheap (and fun): a rolling toothpaste squeezer. I love this thing. It squeezes every last gram of toothpaste out of the tube. Just as cool, you get to hang your toothpaste up on the wall. My bathroom has two surfaces - a sink and a toilet with a round top. This thing is a life-safer! The price is $3, including shipping from China. Yeah!
posted by chickencoop at 7:18 PM on December 27, 2011

For the tiles, you can doodle and draw on them with Sharpies! It comes off when you use rubbing alcohol (though you need to use a bit of elbow grease). You can then turn the tiles into something mosaic-like!
posted by astapasta24 at 7:54 PM on December 27, 2011

The thing that makes the bathroom feel so super tiny right now is that giant, solid block smack dab in the middle of the room- also known as the sink. I'm nthing pedestal sink. This sink looks cooler, though, and not as outdated. This kind of sink would also be a lot less imposing.
As for the mirror above the sink, I'd leave it at just that- A mirror. Anything with any kind of substantial depth would also clutter the space. You want the sink area to be as airy and open-headed as possible.
Now since we've eliminated all the storage, we need to make more. In between the door wall and the chimney, I'd build floor to ceiling Cubby holes and fill them with baskets. If you have just regular shelves, you'd be able to see all the products on them and the disorganization would make the space feel smaller and more cluttered.
Here's something along the lines of what I was thinking. [but the baskets are probably too dark for you needs].
As for colors, I'm going to offer my advice even though I realize my tastes are eclectic and probably won't be a crowd favorite. I'd paint it pale robin's egg blue, super super pale. And paint the tile white. And then have the ceiling white "pressed tin" tiles.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:46 PM on December 27, 2011

We have a bathroom that is even smaller than yours. I would replace the wall mirror with narrow mirrored bathroom cabinets, and would in fact do a whole row of them, including over the toilet. (Ikea makes them but you can get them for less.) The one over the toilet can hold TP, toilet cleaner, etc. It's very handy and very tidy. I would also go with a pedastle sink; you really, really need to decrease the profile of that thing. A pedestal will also mean things go in the cabinets and not on the sink; you can get one with a built in hand-towel rack. For your breast nook, you can get a floor to ceiling shelf made but I would reconsider. I would be inclined to put three wire racks on the wall over the tiles, with a basket on each one, for hairdryers, etc. The fact the baskets will stick out past the profile is not a big deal when they are higher up. Finally, I know this was not in your plan but I would consider replacing the toilet. I was shocked by how much smaller ours is than the one we replaced and how much more room it gives us in there.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:17 AM on December 28, 2011

I like to keep sea shells in my tiny bathroom.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:43 AM on December 28, 2011

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