Bathroom Remodeling Tips: Small Bathrooms (Part 1)

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The charming 1930s-era brick home we bought in Washington eight years ago had exactly what we were looking for: enough space for our small family with room to grow, plus a neighborhood with great schools.

The only problem? The master bathroom. We needed to start a bathroom remodeling project.

The minute I saw the gray Formica vanity, the inch-thick gray tiles that lined the walls and the “hammered glass” shower door of our master bathroom, I promised that it would be the first remodeling project on our list.

Instead, it was nearly last. Why?

Sticker shock. As many homeowners quickly learn, gutting and remodeling a master bathroom can be as expensive as remodeling a kitchen.

A Remodeling Magazine report comparing the cost against the value of renovations says a mid-level bathroom remodel this year in Washington costs $17,000 for a typical 5-by-7-foot space. Only 74 percent of that can be recouped at resale.

For an upscale bathroom remodel of the same size, there’s less of a return. The average cost is $55,000 – yes, really – and one should expect to recover only 64 percent.

For years, my husband and I did the math and balked.

Let’s face it: In most cases, remodeling a bathroom is about aesthetics. If the toilet flushes, the sink isn’t creating water damage and the shower is structurally sound, there are plenty of reasons to keep it as is. (Besides, it’s not as though many visitors see the master bathroom.)

bathroom remodeling, medina oh, medina exteriorsOn the other hand, the master bathroom is one room in the house, like the master bedroom, where you’re expected to allow yourself some privacy, relaxation, even a small luxury, such as a towel warmer or a shower head that pours water down from the ceiling. The name itself suggests a certain indulgence.

One challenge in older homes that many master bathrooms are very small, built in an age before soaking tubs and double-sink, his-and-her vanities were common.

But several remodeling pros say that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of the space and enjoy more modern features. Here are some tips about how to maximize the space and save some money in the process.

Vanity selection

For small bathrooms, one of the most important decisions is what size and style sink and cabinet you choose. They often take up most of the space — if not physically, then visually. And in choosing one, the sink and vanity will set the tone for the rest of the bathroom.

In smaller bathrooms, where the vanity is going to take up most of the real estate, there are two options: pedestal sink or a more European design, such as a sink and cabinet that attaches to the wall, since those manufacturers are used to designing for smaller bathrooms.

The pedestal sink looks attractive and frees up space but provides storage challenges that require some creativity, such as where to put the hair dryer and extra toilet paper rolls.

But there are plenty of retailers, such as Container Store and World Market, and ideas on Pinterest where you can use small baskets or build shelves or cabinets elsewhere in the bathroom to make it work.

If you decide to go with a cabinet and sink, several remodeling pros recommend choosing a slim design that doesn’t look too boxy and choosing light colors, which won’t draw as much attention as dark wood.

One style popular these days are vanity cabinets with dresser-like legs, which allows some visual space so that you can see the floor, which also can help a small bathroom appear larger while also adding an updated look.

Vanities, of course, can range in quality. Many bathroom showrooms feature vanity cabinets with granite or marble sinktops and customizable wood cabinet designs, starting at around $1,000. Big-box retailers offer similar-looking vanity designs at a fraction of the price, but the wood quality and the sink won’t be the same.

Online, sites such as Signature Hardware ( and Decor Planet ( offer a wider variety of styles, from modern to neoclassical, and their prices tend to be in between the big retailers and the higher-end retailers or bathroom showrooms. But the quality is hard to vouch for – few have a large number of reviews that can provide consumers with extra comfort.

For our bathroom, our problem was that we had limited depth to work with, since our master bathroom is about the size of a small walk-in closet. Most vanities sold at traditional retailers, such as Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, are built with 21-inch depth and 24- to 30-inch width. With ours, we had about 18 inches, max.

Given our space constraints, we ended up finding one online that fit our style and space constraints. It was a little counter-intuitive, but we ended up buying a smaller sink than the one we had originally. For sure, we have less storage space, but the tiny bathroom now feels a little bit roomier than it used to. In a small bathroom, every inch counts. – From Delaware Online

Interested in starting a bathroom remodeling project? Contact Medina Exteriors today, (330)591-4040


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