Choosing bathroom stuff -- help!
February 6, 2018 4:31 AM   Subscribe

We are finally updating our bathroom -- yay! But TOO MANY CHOICES. Ideas?

We have one small windowless bathroom. We aren't moving any plumbing. I really do mean that it is quite small -- room for bathtub, toilet, sink and a storage cabinet on one wall. It is also dark because it has no windows, and everything in it is very dated.

I have the builder sorted already, and he can give some ideas, but I am doing the choosing, etc. without a designer to save money. But I thought that would be easy and I am pinterested out! Sometimes I think a colorful tile on the floor -- but then I'm worried it will date. Now I'm thinking some sort of dark tile on the floor and white tile on the walls? But how to choose which ones?? Some say big tile for small bathrooms, some say small, some say cheap is fine if fitted well blah blah blah.

Also, toilets? I like wall-hung toilets and wall hung sinks -- does that sound right? But which brands?

Tubs -- why do they vary so much in price? Acrylic? Steel? Storage ideas?

Any other ways to brighten the place up? We have kids if that matters.

Yes, I'm going to a bathroom showroom, but I think I need to narrow down more what I want before I go there or I will go insane.

SO TLDR: Ideas for choosing things in bathroom -- things you're glad you did/wish you did? Things I'm not thinking of? Thanks!

(In UK if it matters. Also, I know there was a recent bathroom question but that was on freshening up rather than full replacement so I hope this is OK.)
posted by caoimhe to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Should have added -- we have some give or take with the budget. Can't afford top of the line for everything, but can afford good quality where it matters. It's so small that even pricey tile won't be a fortune -- there's very little floor space :). Not planning on moving anytime soon so not worried THAT much about resale but obviously don't want to do anything that will hurt its value.
posted by caoimhe at 4:35 AM on February 6, 2018

Wall-hung toilets are indeed nice. They do require a 'fake wall' in front of the actual wall. If space were no issue, you could let that fake wall go all the way up to the ceiling; in your case, it makes sense not to, so you'll have a nice bit of space above it where you can have shelves or a cabinet.

Here's our compact bathroom
that we finished recently. Maybe it'll give you ideas. Our tub is acrylic and that is nice because it never feels cold to the touch. Most of the expensive tubs are expensive because they are a certain brand with snob appeal. It doesn't mean they are better.

Don't worry about resale value; whatever you put in, most new owners would rip it out anyway. So do what makes you happiest.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:59 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Two things that are really worth indulging in are heated towel racks and a smart toilet :) I linked to Toto because thats the brand we have in our US home.

For tile, trust your instincts about what you like. We remodeled our smaller bathroom and picked a green glass tile (which was on the pricier side) and it makes a huge difference in terms of making the bathroom seem so spacious just because it's got some shine. Maybe you already have enough light because you have a window (!! jealous). I haven't heard about only doing small tile for small bathrooms, but I would say don't pick more than one very busy-looking tile. If you fall in love with a particularly busy tile, you could do it only in a small area, like framing the vanity or in the shower, and pick a neutral tile like white subway for the rest of your tiled areas.

If you're overwhelmed by fixture finishes, just stick with chrome. It holds up very well and won't look dated.

Houzz was my go-to to figure out what I wanted in our remodel; it's very easy to sort by style.
posted by Drosera at 5:23 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tub-wise, consider how you'll clean it - handles on the tub itself, strange curves etc are just asking for trouble. And don't be afraid to climb into them in the showroom, that's the only way to tell if they'll be comfy. Modern acrylics hold up very well unless you know you'll be doing your best to scratch them.

Generally it's worth springing for more expensive faucets and wall-hung toilet installations, because they get enough use that the difference between decent and poor manufacture of mechanical elements becomes clear quite soon. For the toilet I recommend Geberit, and I'm about to change cheap often-breaking faucets for solid Grohe manufacture.

Don't feel obliged to tile the entire bathroom. Mine is 1.8 x 2.5 metres and I only tiled the walls around the tub plus the bit just above the sink, with large light tiles plus an edge of mosaic. Definitely yes on dark tiles on the floor - mine are light and a nightmare to keep clean. Colourful tile isn't in vogue right now, so it might be hard to find a good choice. In my case having less tile allowed me to splurge on more expensive ones. With a small bathroom any mistakes in laying them down will be immediately noticeable, so you need to stand over the builder with a level and ruler to make sure everything is even.

And a tip - if you like longer baths at all, install a reading light on the appropriate end of the tub. Best thing I ever did.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 5:29 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

We have one of these Ideal Standard sinks (with the two-tap option) and really like it. As Too-Ticky says, you do need a fake wall for wall-hung stuff (or in our case a roof cavity that conveniently meets the bathroom wall about 1/3 of the way up). The fake wall only needs to be about a foot deep if it's just for pipework, but a bit more if you want to hide a toilet cistern.

Acrylic tubs are the norm in the UK, and you'll get more choice. We went for one with the taps in the middle of the long edge, so you can lie in the bath without the risk of idly getting a toe wedged in a tap. Provided they're properly supported, they're perfectly good.

We decided to fit a shower over the bath as well (for guests - we have a shower in the main en suite as well). This works well with tiling to the ceiling around the bath, and a nice 4-panel folding screen. If I had to choose, I'd always pick a shower rather than a bath.

We chose tumbled limestone mosaic tiles like these which, with the correct grout and surface treatment, have barely needed cleaning since I put them up 8 years ago. Only the two sides of the bath are tiled. Make sure you don't under any circumstances tile over plasterboard. It's very straightforward to take out the plasterboard around any bath or shower and replace it with Aquapanel, so your builder should do that. A lot of builders skimp in that area, and you pay the price when the sealant fails and the wall falls apart.

For flooring, we went for strand-woven bamboo, laid as a floating floor over an underlay on top of the existing boards. It's been utterly dependable and has shrugged off being flooded more than once. Much more water-resistant than any laminate or wood flooring.
posted by pipeski at 5:39 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recently remodeled (DIY) our tiny (4' x 10') master bathroom. Here's a link to too many pictures in a album documenting the whole ordeal, starting with "before" pics and going through the whole demo and rebuild process, complete with swapping the position of the shower and toilet, and moving a door.

A few things of note: Our bathroom didn't even really allow room for any decent counter space, so we used a tiny IKEA sink and vanity (1'x2' footprint) and an IKEA mirrored tall storage unit (1'x9" footprint). They are both wall-mounted, although they don't have to be, but I like the idea of no supporting legs on the floor to catch dirt and dustbunnies. There is no traditional medicine chest, but the sink-mirror has some open shelves for often used but not-unsightly items.

You'll also see in the finished photo that I made use of space between studs for storage. There's a tall, thin recessed area above the toilet paper for typical "medicine cabinet" stuff. It's only a few inches deep but works great for medicine and other small items. Behind the toilet is an asymmetrical sliding door (using contemporary "barn door" style hardware) which is deep enough to hold extra towels, cleaning supplies, plunger, and other awkward items.

This bathroom originally had a pocket door, which is great for maximizing space by not needing door-swinging room, but it was very unreliable and even with tinkering it never worked right. I replaced it with a contemporary barn-door style door on the bedroom side. I probably wouldn't recommend that for the main bathroom of a house, since it's not a private as a standard pocket or swinging door, but for a master it's fine.

As for tiles, we used large (12"x24") tiles throughout. A light gray on the walls, and dark gray on the floor. I feel they looks cleaner and less busy than small tiles with a lot of grout-lines.

I also used poplar wood for some accent areas, trim, and the storage doors to soften and warm up the look. I used poplar against the ceiling as well, leaving a gap for LED strip lighting on a dimmer. The indirect lighting is very soothing and avoids harsh lighting when first getting up in the morning. In fact, about the only time we use the bright main lights is when my wife does her hair or makeup.

Admittedly, our bathroom is not traditional or to everyone's taste, but we are thrilled with how it came out, and hopefully the photos and my experience will give you some valuable insight, whether it's finding things you like or things you want to avoid.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 5:46 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

pipeski, what kind of wall-mounted toilet system needs more than a foot of clearance/fake wall depth? I just measured and my Geberit is only 18 centimeters deep, so that should be just over half a foot in Imperial money and newer models seem to be even thinner. And unless you want to hide the under-sink trap in the wall completely (as opposed to just getting a trap that doesn't look unsightly, chrome or plastic), wall-mounted sinks don't need a fake wall at all.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 6:08 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've done this twice now and have learned a couple of things along the way.

Lighting design is pretty important. One feature I've been careful to put in all bathrooms is a light on top of the mirror and two lights, one on either side of the mirror at roughly face height. For the "average person" that's roughly 5'/1.5 meters up from the floor. This gives a fairly natural-looking light on a face at the mirror, but with few dark shadows. For smallish bathrooms that's all I've needed in lighting.

It also helps to have a plug (GFCI) on either side of the mirror. Ideally, those would be split, so hairdryers and curling irons could both be plugged into the same outlet, but that's four separate circuits and you may not have that available. But even one circuit over two plugs is nice to have for things like rechargeable toothbrushes.

Also, for the vanity, I've done an top with integral sink now twice. I absolutely would not do it any other way. They're far neater and easier to keep clean than traditional drop-in sinks. They do cost a bit more, but home centres sell pre-built vanities with continuous tops on them now at very reasonable prices..

If you tile the floor, I've had a lot of luck with cutting a ~12" tile into quarters, strips 3"x12" and using them for baseboards. You can finish the exposed tile edge in a number of ways. I've used metal edging to help create a sort of modern "spa" look on the tile. I think it looks really sharp and it does hold up well over time. Also give the wall a bit of protection if there's a lot of water on the floor for any reason.
posted by bonehead at 6:12 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's very straightforward to take out the plasterboard around any bath or shower and replace it with Aquapanel, so your builder should do that.

Ditto this. In NA at least, there are three common types of wall board: normal "drywall", a green paper version that's water resistant, and cement backer board, composed of Portland cement. You absolutely want the cement board for any wet area, like around a tub or shower. The walls in the rest of the bathroom are best the water-resistant board, but many will say drywall is fine too. Just don't allow your builder to cheap out on the cement board. This isn't a huge cost increment for two three panels anyway. I've always stripped back to studs anyway as that both gives a better finished wall and also allows for easy rearrangement of plumbing or electrical.
posted by bonehead at 6:23 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

We have a teeny bathroom that we recently redecorated and taking down our huge (as big as we can fit) mirror really reminded us how small, dark and pokey it is in there! My advice would be dark floor, white tiles and the hugest mirror you can fit! You can always add colour with bath mat, accessories etc.
posted by london explorer girl at 6:26 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Since you don’t have a window, if a Solatube is at all possible I’d highly recommend it. It brings so much natural light into the space and really keeps a small bathroom from feeling like a dank dungeon.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:35 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

For lighting in our bathroom we went with flat-panel LEDs, with dimmer switches, like this. One on the ceiling, one over the vanity/sink. Not that we fiddle with mood lighting all the time, but you can't tell in advance how much of the LED's power you want, so dimmers let you adjust it to your needs and preferences. Be sure to get the right kind of dimmers made for LEDs.

Also, put in a built-in trash bin that slides out of the cabinetry, like this, and make that accessible from the toilet if possible.
posted by beagle at 9:33 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would say neutral floor and bright paint -- that's an easy change to make later and won't be as dated.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2018

Making the built-out false wall full-length would offer additional storage options.
Go with a classic black and white color scheme, and add accent color with towels and accessories.
In a small, windowless bath, include multiple light sources and a quality exhaust fan.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remodeled our bathroom a couple of years ago. I put the same cheap white tiles (10x10 cm) everywhere, floor and walls all the way up to the ceiling. I'm very happy with that, it makes the space bright and clean. If I want color, I use the shower curtain, towels and floor mat and can change those whenever I want.
On one wall, over the sink and toilet, I put a huge mirror, wall to wall and from over the sink up to 30 cm under the ceiling (to make space for lighting). I'm very happy with that too, and with the good lighting I put over the mirror, too. The big mirror and the light also contribute to the brightness and spacious feeling of the room. What I regret is that I didn't make that fake half wall so the toilet and sink could be wall-hung and I'd have a shelf on top of it under the mirror. I try to avoid a mess of toiletries out there, but still it would be nice to have a better place than the edge of the sink for hand cream and the toothbrushes. Also, it would make cleaning so much simpler.
We could only get the size of tub we needed in steel and that is fine.
As said, I like our lighting (something the electrician found in storage and customized for me), but if I'd thought of the LED flat panels I think I'd have liked that even better.
posted by mumimor at 11:25 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

For tile, my gut would be to go with dark on the floor, light on the walls, as you are favoring. If you are worried that it will look dated, I would look into what was popular for the era in which your bathroom was built and try to find something that appeals to you now. It will have stood the test of time and will look era appropriate. If that doesn't help, the classic hex tile on the floors and white subway on the walls may seem plain but it's pretty classic and would provide a neutral backdrop for whatever decor you would like. I recently remodeled the bath and I decided my color and interest would come from textiles that could be replaced on a whim.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:26 AM on February 6, 2018

Seconding the Solatube. It was a game changer in our interior, windowless bathroom. My husband was able to install it with the help of a handy friend, so it only cost the $150 or so that the actual apparatus cost, plus some roofing tar.
posted by raspberrE at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2018

I very much love the built-in cubbies I have in the shower to hold shampoo bottles and soap dishes. They're tiled, recessed, and take up the room between wall studs. It keeps my shower free of extra organizing contraption clutter.

If I could do one thing again, I'd put electrical outlets inside the over-sink mirrored cabinets. I'd get deep cabinets and store all of the plug-in items inside the cabinet (rechargeable toothbrush, shaver, water flosser, etc). You can always put an outlet near the outside of the cabinet for things like a hairdryer, but I would have loved getting all of the rechargeable clutter off the counters and into a cabinet.

Where you're installing towel racks, reinforce the wall with extra wood 2x4 pieces so that the towel rack never pulls out, no matter how clumsily someone yanks on the towels (or hangs off the towel rod!)

Metal tub will look nicer for longer and can't easily be ruined by the use of an overly abrasive cleaner like acrylic can.

Undermount sinks or an integrated sink. No dealing with that visible seam between your drop-on sink and the countertop. Any water splashed onto the counter is easily swept into the sink and it's much easier to clean overall. Also consider getting a one-piece sink faucet instead of three-piece. Again, easier to clean.

A good, strong exhaust fan with a timer is wonderful. The timer allows you to turn it on during and after showers or other bathroom activities and it turns itself off after a period. I initially was very interested in a super-quiet fan until a friend pointed out the the fan often helps to muffle bathroom noises and some sound would likely be welcomed.
posted by quince at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ah, thanks everyone! SO many things I hadn't thought of. I'm loving the Solatube -- had never seen one of those before, but it's a ground floor flat and I don't think there's a way to do it -- though I will investigate. Hadn't even thought about lighting or plugs or towel rack at all. This post has actually given me more to do -- probably a good thing, given how in the weeds I was just getting just over tiles.
posted by caoimhe at 1:50 AM on February 7, 2018

One more thing: make sure the towel racks get screwed into studs at both ends. Any solution that relies on those wing gizmos is guaranteed to get loose over time. Or install a backing board between the studs while the sheetrock is down. Same thing with the toilet paper holder, and for that, get the kind that's just an L-shaped thing you slip the roll onto, and not the spring-loaded kind.
posted by beagle at 4:42 AM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hang out on pinterest and create your own board of ideas you like.
posted by xammerboy at 8:34 PM on February 7, 2018

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