One of my biggest pet peeves about the interior design world online is that most responses are “my contractor chose that” or “my interior designer took care of that”. While hiring a professional for a renovation project can save you time and money, designing a bathroom by yourself can allow you to be detail-oriented and more hands-on in the process. I’m sharing my tips and process on how to design a bathroom on your own, as well as an update on how our condo loft renovations are coming along!
Designing a Bathroom: Start with your layout
When you design a bathroom, there are many elements from flooring to fixtures to vanities and lighting. But before you get into the exciting details, I urge you to start with your layout.
Our original bathroom had a terrible layout, with an undersized washer/dryer unit taking up valuable space. We gained space for a standalone shower by moving the washer dryer stack to our second bedroom (which will be Daniel’s closet and office) to gain that valuable floor space. What this did was also open up room for my dream bathroom item: a freestanding bathtub!
I will add the caveat that layout can be tricky to design, and I have the privilege of having a partner who is an engineer and knows how to use AutoCad. However, taking very precise measurements and sketching your space out on grid paper or in a bullet journal to scale can allow you to visualize how you can transform your space.
Make sure you plan for your bath and/or shower, vanity width, toilet (with clearances on both sides), and enough space for a door swing. It helps to make a plan of your “as built” condition (see below) to give a sense of spacing and where your plumbing may be already located.
You can see from the sketches above how we are maximizing our space by moving around the layout and expanding the vanity area for more storage as well. Our freestanding tub is a very tight squeeze, so we were limited to ONE product selection to fit this space. While I wanted a bit more space on the east and west ends of the tub, I still prefer the look of a freestanding tub tightly squeezed over a cavernous standard curtain tub that feels heavier on the floor.
How to design a bathroom: Gather Inspiration
After you have a general sense of your layout and where main fixtures will go, it’s time to start gathering inspiration. I started pinning all the bathroom pictures that inspired me and saved them to one board. I started to notice a trend amongst these inspiration pictures being: herringbone marble floors, grey vanities, brass or black fixtures and black windowpane shower enclosures.
Once you identify these trends, you can use them to focus on your specific style and wants. See above for some of my main inspiration pictures for the bathroom.
Throughout the process, I was leaning towards a more masculine look at first, but it was fun to gather ideas, create mockups and share them with you during the process. See below for some of our ideas as they evolved!
I also recommend picking up design magazines, as they can be helpful for inspiration, layout and sourcing, which brings me to my next point…
How to pick fixtures for your bathroom renovation
Sourcing fixtures for your bathroom renovation can be challenging on your own. I will be honest, that I felt talked down to at a number of bathroom stores when they figured out I was a mere consumer and not an interior designer. As a fun fact – my mom was an interior designer, my sister is an architect, and I currently work in the development industry. I am no stranger to picking design features and ensuring harmony throughout a design, while also meeting functional and budgetary needs. I think this was one of the worst parts about designing a bathroom without a designer or contractor – getting over snooty sales people.
What helps is to know what you want. Build a shopping list and visit showrooms that have the brands and finishes you want. I will say it helps to visit multiple showrooms (in the GTA, we visited at least 10 different showrooms) to see different configurations, finishes and brands. TAKE PICTURES of everything you see that you are interested in. It helps as a reference point, and to be able to compare what you liked after multiple showroom visits.
Once you settle on a fixture line – it helps to keep all of the items in the same line and finish to ensure consistency in the design – leave the mixing to the pros. If you want to save money on certain fixtures, choose to mix and match with black fixtures! We ended up picking the Rubinet Hexis line in satin brass with natural brass accents – which is pictured in the faucet image below:
We ended up purchasing our fixtures from Canaroma. Gino was excellent in providing quotes quickly, the best price, and had so many options on display at their showroom in North York.
If you are looking to purchase your products from a Big Box store or are looking for a more affordable option, I highly recommend Delta bathroom faucets and fixtures. Their technology for cartridges is very advanced, their designs are simple, and they have the most lovely brass colour – Champagne Bronze, which I used for my rental condo kitchen makeover.
How to pick a freestanding bathtub
Once you know your space for a freestanding tub and the drainage needs – you MUST TEST YOUR BATHTUB. So many acrylic tubs I saw online were way too shallow and short, that at 5’8″, I would feel completely cramped.
Make sure you find a showroom with the bathtub you want and lie down in it. Yes, I know it seems silly, but after testing 10+ bathtubs, I can say with confidence that you will thank me for this tip. We did not pick the bathtub above, despite the great floor model discount, but it was my first time sitting in a freestanding tub.
Designing a bathroom on your own: finishes
Picking finishes can be challenging without a designer or contractor to help you. This YouTube video from designer Julie Khuu has been instrumental in outlining all the things you may need. If you’re still overwhelmed, I’d say to pick your bathroom floor, wall tiles, shower tiles and countertop and get samples to ensure the tones and patterns go together.
I love using photoshop to create mockups, but taking a photo on your cellphone with all the materials together will help you decide what goes. For example, I fell in love with a jade penny tile, but it was way too bright and green against our muted orion marble wall tile, that leans to a warm/taupe grey tone. The carrara marble hexagon tile was also a contender, but the blue hue clashed with our wall tiles. We ended up choosing a more neutral grey hexagon tile that will also match our grey vanity.
Tips for designing a bathroom: be flexible
Be open to new ideas and possibilities. At the start of this process, we were pretty set on a grey porcelain marble look with black fixtures. Towards the end, we fell in love with natural stone and warm, classic brass fixtures. There are endless possibilities and it takes a bit of research and experimentation.
Be flexible in your budget to know where to splurge. For us, we wanted high quality fixtures with good reputation that won’t break down. That meant we found a pre-fabricated vanity instead of doing a custom one, and we found our chevron floor tile at a tile outlet store! While it wasn’t herringbone marble, the dolomite chevron was very close to the aesthetic I wanted, and was a jumping off point for the rest of our design.
And if it’s a good deal on a clearance or floor model item – buy it on the spot! Carry around a sample of other tiles you’ve already chosen so you can make quick decisions when the opportunity strikes. Since you’re not designing a hotel or a suite of condo units, you can afford to get deals on deadstock items and save money!
Supply Chain Issues in Home Renovations
You also need to be mindful that a LOT of products right now are backordered due to global supply chain issues. For example, we were interested in one line of faucet brand, but was advised they were running a 6-8 month backlog in supply.
We ended up choosing mostly in stock items, and Rubinet, a faucet brand that is Made in Canada to avoid unexpected and long wait times due to this global issue!
Right now, we are about half way through our bathroom renovation, with plumbing completed and tiling expected to begin next week. It has definitely been a long process (and an update for another day) but I’m excited to see all of our design choices come together. You can take a look at our final picks in the mood board below!
Right now, we recently picked out our mirror from CB2 Canada, the Hazme Brass Hexagonal mirror to play off our Hexis fixtures from Rubinet. All what’s left to choose are paint colours from Benjamin Moore and decorative accessories!
If you have any questions about how to design a bathroom, please reach out to me! I love putting together mood boards and suggesting products at all kinds of price ranges. If you’re not doing a full gut of your bathroom, a fresh coat of paint, updated fixtures and new accessories can do a world of difference!