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A Guide to Bathroom Design

New Construction vs. Remodeling Your Bathroom

This bright bathroom features double sinks, a separate shower and whirlpool tub, and vanity lighting.
Natural light from a large window brightens this sleek bathroom with modern cabinets and chrome fixtures.


Bath design and construction come under five major categories. In pursuit of the ultimate bath, find the one that's right for you.


New Construction

New construction refers to work done on a house that's being entirely built from the ground up. If you're building from scratch, you've got the most leeway in creating the bath size, location, and configuration you want. With new construction, it's easy to fit a master bath within your master bedroom suite and a bath between or near your children's bedrooms.

You can specify a half bath or a powder room near the dining room, living room, or family room -- whatever seems best to you. And if you want another bath in your home office or guest suite, above the garage in the bonus room, or downstairs in the rec room, you can have that, too.

Of course, your overall house and lot size will affect the size and number of bathrooms you can fit in, and your budget for baths is just one part of your home-building dollars. But in new construction, you can trade off square feet and dollars between the bathrooms and other spaces for maximum flexibility.


Remodeling involves major changes that may take your bathroom in a whole new direction. Remodeling is what you're up to if you need to change the whole "footprint" (i.e., configuration and size) of your bathroom to add space or to reshape the room for better access.

This often involves relocating (not just replacing) fixtures and their accompanying water supply and drain/waste/vent pipes, moving doors and windows, and maybe even taking space from nearby closets or small bedrooms.

While your existing home's size and layout will affect how radically you can change your bathrooms, you can make surprisingly big changes. Remodeling doesn't have to depend on what your old bathroom looked like, only on what your needs and wishes are and what your budget dictates.

If you need help with more than one bathroom, you may want to plan them as one project. At the same time you create a sumptuous private bath for you and your spouse, you may be able to add a roomy, safe second bath for your kids down the hall. If you love your property and your neighborhood, remodeling can let you love your bathrooms, too!

This vintage country bathroom enjoys a feminine touch with flowered wallpaper, pink rugs and lace curtains.


Renovation involves significant changes while remaining faithful to the spirit and overall look of your existing house. Renovation is appropriate if your home's "bones" are good and if you like its style in general.

If your home is historically significant, you may be required to handle any upgrades with great respect for the existing style and structure.

Since bathrooms have changed much more radically over the past century than, say, bedrooms, renovation's challenge is to preserve the best of the past while giving you comfortable, workable baths for today's lifestyle.

Bathrooms have always been pretty skimpy affairs. However, many pre-World War II houses have an abundance of little bedrooms, and annexing one could give you the space you need. There's also an abundant supply of vintage-looking fixtures and fittings to give your bath nostalgic style with modern performance.


Replacement, or "changeout," means taking out one or more of your old fixtures and installing new ones in exactly the same places.

Since most of the typical bath is taken up by fixtures, replacing dated pieces will make a dramatic improvement in your bath's look and function.

Replacing fixtures will naturally give you a more attractive, better-performing bath, but it won't address big problems, such as lack of floor space or storage, inconvenient access, or a poor location within the house.

Keep in mind that, depending on how much your new fixtures' profiles differ from the old ones, you may have to repair or replace wallcoverings, tile, flooring, and molding in surrounding areas.

­For this reason, many people plan a replacement and redecoration project together. On the plus side, if you plan a simple replacement of fixtures, you may not need a building permit and can probably find a competent handyperson to take care of the job.

Obviously, swapping an old wall-hung sink for a new similarly scaled pedestal sink is going to be a lot easier and less messy than replacing an old built-in bathtub with a new one, so be sure to match the scope of the job with the skill and experience of the worker.

And don't forget that replacement can mean leaving the old tiled-in sink and tub intact but putting in beautiful new fittings (e.g., faucets, pop-up drains, etc.) or trading tacky old light fixtures for attractive new ones. These small improvements can make a big difference!


Redecoration involves sprucing up without all the tearing down. It's cheaper and easier than remodeling or renovation, but depending on what you have done, it can cost a lot less than, or as much as, replacing all the fixtures. If your bathroom basically suits you as it is, but you'd like a fresher, more fashionable appearance, redecoration may be just what you need.

Designer showhouses sponsored by local charities are especially good places to see bath redecorations, as designers seldom spring for new fixtures or wall and floor surfaces. Instead, they splurge on inventive or glorious wallcoverings or faux-finish paint jobs; exciting window treatments, shower curtains, and towels; and fresh accessories that carry the room's decorating theme.

If you're tired of your tile walls, laminate vanity top, or knotty pine sink cabinet, your hardware store has special products that you can use to repaint them to coordinate with your newly painted or papered upper walls. You can even refinish your old bathtub with hardware store products that are similar to nail polish.

Meticulous preparation of these surfaces is critical, but these treatments are an economical way to improve the look of your bath, fast.

Whatever you choose, be sure your expectations are in line with what's possible, given the scope of the work and your budget. Veteran homeowners who've been through any of these productions agree: Even the ultimate bath is only a small part of your life, so keep things in perspective.

Like most people, you probably can't spend endless amounts of money on a new bathroom. On the next page, learn how best to design a bathroom on a budget.

To learn more about decorating or remodeling your bathroom, visit: