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A Guide to Bathroom Design

Master Bath, Family Bath, and Kids' Bath Design

To create the appearance of more space and height, this master bath employs vertical lines echoed in the tile and wallcovering.

How your new master bath, family bath or kids' bath will look is partly determined by the room's size and shape, but just as important is who will use it and what functions it will need to handle, so it's important to develop a smart design.

Master Bath

Located within the master bedroom (making it a suite) or adjacent to it, the master bath is usually the largest bath in the house. Designed for two, it may feature an extra-long vanity counter, a vanity with two sinks, or even two separate vanity sinks. In some baths, separate vanity sinks are located back-to-back in the center of the room or back-to-back on opposite walls, rather than side by side. Depending on the size of the room, you can use innovative floor plans to create a dramatic effect.


The master bath is where you may indulge in a separate soaking tub and shower, a whirlpool bath, a bidet, adjacent walk-in closets, an exercise area, a separate or semienclosed toilet compartment, full-length dressing mirrors, brass or gold-plated fittings, and other luxurious appointments. It's a spa built for two!

Family Bath

A bath shared by all family members is most often used by only one person at a time, except in the case of very young children. Usually, the family bath is located near the bedrooms; in a two-story house, there may be a full bath with a shower/tub upstairs and a powder room (sink and toilet only) or a half bath (sink, toilet, and stall shower; no tub) on the first floor.

Either way, the family bath gets a lot of use and wear. Surfaces need to be easy-to-clean and durable for kids' sake yet meet at least some of the adults' desire for an attractive space.

A good-size vanity helps, with a single sink (or better yet, a double sink for those rush times when several family members must wash up together) and plenty of storage cabinets above and below. Storage shared by kids and teens should be closed to keep clutter out of sight, and each family member should have at least one shelf of his or her own behind closed doors.

While a clear shower curtain or door will make the space look bigger, you may prefer an attractive opaque shower curtain for privacy. If space permits, you'll gain even more privacy with the toilet in its own compartment, ideally with a second entry door from the common hallway. If that's not feasible, locate the toilet away from the door, and screen it with a half-high partition.

Hang a towel ring or bar at the right level for each family member plus hooks for robes. As an antidote to the natural uproar, choose a soothing color scheme that will appeal to both sexes and will allow you to color-code towels for each family member without clashing.

Add an attractive little alarm clock to this bath's accessories as a gentle reminder to share. These little touches not only make for a personality-filled bath, but they can also help keep the peace!

Kids' Bath

When creating a bathroom for children and teenagers, you'll want to be especially attentive to issues of territory and safety. Here's where universal-access principles really come in handy, helping to create a space that will work well for users of all ages.

For starters, use a double vanity, if possible, or at least a large one. If space permits, install a separate stall shower and tub rather than the shower/tub combo, which is not as safe. And specify a showerhead that slides up and down on a pole; they're great for kids of any height and a boon to wheelchair users of any age.

To prevent squabbling, make sure each child has room for his or her own towels, robe, and personal care items, and color-code towels, storage bins, etc., to minimize mix-ups. If the bath is being shared by children of both sexes, choose a color scheme that appeals to both: blue and coral, for example, or green and yellow. Lighthearted tones in geometric stripes and plaids are fresh yet timeless.

Employ tile, scrubbable vinyl wallcovering, or enamel paint all the way up walls wherever possible. If children are of widely different ages, install a full-length (safety glass) mirror that all can use and towel hooks or bars at appropriate heights. Be sure to also put the light switch near the door low enough for younger users to reach.

Safety tips for kids' baths really apply to any bath. Insist on slip-resistant flooring, and make sure front corners on vanity countertops and cabinets are rounded. Ask for a slip-resistant tub floor if you must use a shower/tub combination.

Use safety glass mirrors and safety glass on shower doors, and make sure all electrical outlets are grounded and located away from the sink or tub. It's a good idea to install grab bars (they require support behind the walls) to discourage youngsters from treating towel bars as grab bars.

Get an antiscald faucet that lets you preset water temperature limits (usually 120 degrees Fahrenheit) in a child's bath, and make sure the showerhead has a pressure-balancing valve that compensates for changes in water pressure and temperature.

A sudden surge of hot water can do real damage with frightening speed, especially to children, who have thinner skin than adults do. It takes just three seconds of exposure to water at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for a young child to sustain a painful third-degree burn requiring a hospital visit!

Next to injury from burns and falling, poisoning and drowning are the most common hazards to children in the bath. For a few dollars, install safety latches on lower cabinets and on the toilet lid, and insist that teens be totally vigilant about keeping their personal care items stashed in upper cabinets.

Powder Room/Half Bath

The powder room (sink and toilet only) or the half bath (sink, toilet, and shower stall; no tub) is a versatile addition to any home. Tucked into the basement, it makes a family room or recreation room more comfortable. Next to the den or home office, a half bath becomes part of a guest suite. Near the dining room, it's convenient for dinner guests (but make sure the bath accesses from the hall, not directly from the dining room itself).

Often dubbed the "guest bath," this usually diminutive room can be decorated as creatively as you wish, depending on where it's located. Off the dining room, elegant touches include an ornate gilt mirror, high-end wallcovering or faux-finished wall treatments, gold or brass fittings, and embellished fingertip towels.

In the basement, whimsical wall treatments and accessories can evoke a woodsy fishing cabin, breezy beach cabana, or other romanticized locale. Near the den, a half bath gains suite success when it's decorated in a similar style, whether garden-fresh or crisply tailored.

In any powder room or half bath, you'll probably want to save space with a good-looking pedestal sink and stash spare bathroom supplies in a separate, covered basket or box. You'll also want to expand space visually with large areas of mirror.

Master baths and powder rooms are standard fare in any home. But have you ever considered a bathroom joined to your exercise room or a bathroom attached to the laundry room? On the next page, check out an array of specialty bathrooms.

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