Most people say the kitchen is the most important room in the home, but I would argue it’s the bathroom. Let’s be honest, some pretty important… business… goes on in there, and most people start and end their day in the shower or at the sink. When I started looking to buy an apartment last year, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the bathroom first. Having lived in the same place for almost a decade—with a shared bathroom so tiny I could wash my hands while peeing—I fantasized about a palatial, luxurious space outfitted with glass tiles, top-of-the-line fixtures, and a soothing spa-like color scheme.
What I found was that not everyone shares my obsession, and in many places I looked at, the bathroom was woefully outdated or had zero character. After speaking to a few design pros, I now realize that most of the spaces also suffered from at least one of the following design flaws. Keep them in mind, and if you ever have the chance to remodel or make over your bathroom, do your best to avoid them—it’ll pay off in the long run.
Too-trendy fixtures and decor
You might lust after a modern floating vanity now, but will you like it in 10 or even five years? If there’s a chance the answer is no, skip it, says Amity Worrel, owner of design firm Amity Worrel & Co. “Putting in a material or appliance that’s very of-the-moment can actually devalue a space, or make the bathroom look so different from the rest of the home it seems weird later.” Other fixtures she thinks lack staying power: wall-mounted faucets and reclaimed wood accents. “Reclaimed wood is very popular, but it won’t endure because in most spaces, it’s not an organic decision,” she says—meaning if you don’t live in a farmhouse or industrial loft, it looks too deliberate and out of place.
“Lots of people want an open bathroom and will take down walls separating the toilet from the rest of the space,” says Worrel. “But for very obvious reasons—ventilation, privacy—it’s nice to have a water closet.” Architect Matt MacEachern of Emeritus agrees: “We always try to hide the toilet, or at the very least, not make it the focal point.” Instead, he advises making your first view the vanity, or if you have the space, a freestanding tub.
Although MacEachern admits wood floors look great, they’re not very practical in a bathroom. Over time, wood will succumb to water damage, and it can be an expensive material to replace. “Any kind of tile will do a better job,” he says. If you can’t resist the look of wood, consider porcelain tiles that come in planks and have graining, meant to mimic the real thing.
“Enough with the Edison bulbs in bathrooms!” says Corine Maggio, founder of CM Natural Designs. These vintage-style bulbs look cool, but they don’t emit strong enough light to be able to see yourself clearly. When placing your light fixtures, make sure not to mount them too high. “Your light should be super close to your mirror, almost touching it,” says Worrel. “Otherwise the light will create shadows on your face.” Better yet, skip overhead lights completely and install sidelights or sconces on either side of your mirror, says designer Donna Gilliam.
Skimpy storage space
Anyone who has ever lived in a bathroom with inadequate storage knows what an epic pain it is to find room for toiletries, towels, extra toilet paper, and cleaning supplies elsewhere in your house. Unfortunately, too many people design their bathrooms and completely forget about storage, says MacEachern. In addition to allotting room for cabinets and shelves, he advises leaving yourself at least 30 inches of counter space—and if you don’t have the room, try to compensate with extra wall-hung storage.
“Bathrooms are meant to be clean spaces, so it makes sense to keep the decorating simple,” says Maggio. Instead of hanging lots of art or cluttering the space with tchotchkes, she suggests decorating with practical items like beautiful containers for your Q-tips and tissues or an eye-catching soap dispenser. This lets you reserve your hidden storage for things you don’t want to see on a daily basis like extra toilet paper or cleaning products. “Go for unfussy styles and limit yourself to one bright color,” she says.