First and foremost, what is the function of the bathroom? Is it a low traffic guest bathroom that doesn’t need a lot of storage for toiletries? Is it a shared kids’ bathroom that needs lots of storage and privacy in different areas, so one person can use the vanity while someone else is using the shower? Will a handshower be useful for bathing small children in the tub? Is it a master bathroom that needs lots of storage, some nicer amenities like a freestanding tub or steam shower? Are there linen closets in the adjacent areas to store extra towels and toiletries, or do you need to find a way to store that in the room? To figure out what your needs are try first establishing what IS and is NOT working in your current layout.
After demolition, framing is one of the first steps of the process. It is essential to determine a few things before the walls are closed up and then tiled. Once walls are closed you can’t go back in!
If storage is a priority, you may want to consider adding recessed medicine cabinets or closets. Obviously, a closet would be drawn into your floor plan at the start of things. But if you forget to think about a medicine cabinet it will be difficult to add one later. You’ll need to allow for framing, and have the actual cabinet selected with those dimensions, if not actually having the piece on site to use for a rough opening.
In the Greenwich, CT bathroom shown here, lots of framing decisions needed to be made in advance. We reframed the wall for the wall-mounted toilet tank, added blocking for the floating vanity and pull-out make-up mirror, and framed for the shower niche. We were unable to recess the medicine cabinet due to preexisting locations of pipes running in the walls.
You don’t need to have your exact plumbing models selected during this phase of construction, but you do need to know what brand you’ll be using, as the roughs and valves that go into the wall are brand specific and compatible with only certain fixtures. You will need to decide if you are using a thermostatic or pressure balance system. Pressure balance is the more traditional and economical system where water turns on as the temperature is set (one valve). Thermostatic system has a volume control that adjusts the water, and a thermostat trim that adjusts the temperature (two valves). This is a more expensive system that you will want to consider in a master bathroom and possibly other baths in the house.
You’ll also need to determine the height and locations of the plumbing parts in the shower. I typically recommend between 42”-48” high for the controls, although some people go as low as 36”. You may want the showerhead at 7’-0” high or even higher as the human population is much taller than they were in the 50’s and 60’s when showerheads were typically set at 6’-0” or 6’-6” high. Remember that most showerheads drop at least a few inches from where the arm connects to the pipe in the wall. You may want a rainhead shower that comes down from the ceiling or is even recessed into the ceiling. Even though technology has gotten better, if you are a stickler for water pressure, I would steer you away from a rainhead shower, as the water pressure feels different, unless you’ve tested a piece beforehand.
If you’re doing a curbless shower or an infinity drain you will also need to let your contractor know so the floor can be properly pitched for drainage, and the location of the drain.
Lighting and Electrical Considerations
Actual light fixtures don’t get installed until the very end, but the electrician will need to know how many junction boxes to install, where to install them, how many switches and dimmers (if any). Consider having enough overhead general ambient lighting as well as task lighting in the vanity area. I recommend using LED fixtures or bulbs with a color temperature of 2700k-3000k. You’ll want “soft white” lighting that gives a warmer yellowy color rather than a glaring “daylight” color temperature that gives off a blue light and makes you look sickly.
Think outside the box with lighting in the vanity area. Instead of 1 sconce above you mirror what about a lighted mirror medicine cabinet? Consider sconces that are more at your eye/face level on either side of the mirror, or funky pendant lights.
If you want an electric heated towel bar make sure you know where it’s going and have the model specifications to the electrician can wire properly for it!
I HIGHLY recommend sketching out your tile layouts before installing them. Whether it be a doodle on a paper napkin or a CAD elevation by a professional, I think this can be crucially important. Determine what walls will have tile, how high the tile will go up on the wall, and how you will finish any edges (with bullnose tile, or some piece of wood molding or metal trim). For untiled walls will you have wood base molding or use tile as a base? You may want to consider a chair rail height paneling or a vinyl wallcovering to add more depth to the walls. Remember that tile on the shower floor should be in a honed finish or rated for wet use on floors. It can be extremely dangerous to have a large format polished tile on a shower floor. I like to use mosaic tile on shower floors since it will have more grout lines to give traction.
Make sure you plan ahead for towel bars, robe hooks and towel rings. Make sure your towel bar is close and accessible to the shower so it can be grabbed while exiting the shower. If you don’t have the wall space for that, consider a small hook near the shower door for access.