Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series.
Judging by the typical model home, you’d think that the perfect bathroom was a gigantic space with lots of glitzy surfaces and a monstrous whirlpool tub. In reality, this brand of bath design is mainly intended to make a splashy first impression on buyers — the so-called "wow" factor. The designers of such rooms don’t much care how comfortable they are for daily use.
The ideal bathroom has many requisites, but vast size, acres of granite and a whirlpool tub aren’t among them. What really counts is having generous space where it’s actually useful, and having all the elements of your daily bath ritual right at hand.
For starters, here are some basic rules of thumb that can be applied to most any living space, but that are especially essential to bathrooms:
1. Natural light trumps artificial light. Basically, this means you should buck the usual bathroom standard — a paltry, high-placed window — and instead provide the biggest window possible. And don’t let privacy worries restrict the window size or placement, since you can always augment privacy using window coverings, exterior screening or planting.
2. Natural ventilation trumps mechanical ventilation. Don’t rely on a puny exhaust fan to ventilate a naturally humid room like the bathroom. Fully opening windows such as casements or awnings are ideal, but generously sized sliding or double-hung windows will work too if they’re better suited to the style of your house. If you can provide cross ventilation with two windows spaced some distance apart, all the better.
3. Usable space trumps "wow" space. If you’re more interested in genuine comfort than impressing your neighbors, delegate your bathroom space to useful purposes, not to grandiose statements like huge, seldom-used whirlpool tubs. For example, few bathrooms have adequate storage for bulky items like toilet paper, extra towels, and bath sundries.
Sure, you can cram them into the lavatory cabinet, if you don’t mind rooting around on all fours to get them out. But a generous cabinet at eye level is much more convenient. Likewise, when you shower or bathe, it’s a real luxury to have a cabinet with clean underwear and another hiding a laundry hamper, all within arm’s reach.
4. Function and ease of maintenance trump "trendoid" design. The current poster child for utterly impractical bathroom fads is the so-called "vessel" sink, which sits atop the counter rather than in it, trapping spilled water and all manner of nasty gunk underneath. Then there are those elaborate glass shower surrounds that look so dazzling in staged magazine photos, but which require ceaseless cleaning under real-life conditions.
For my money, an old-fashioned shower curtain is simpler, cheaper, doesn’t clutter up the room, and is also easier to maintain — when it starts getting grungy, you can recycle it as a drop cloth and buy a new one.
You can probably come up with your own favorite impractical features, but you get the idea — simply keeping up with current product fads is no basis for an intelligent bathroom design.
Next time, we’ll take a more detailed look at what makes for an ideal bathroom — including the choice of fixtures, hardware and lighting.