Is your bathroom too small? If you’re doing a bathroom makeover, here are expert tips for ways to make the most of the small space. Includes where to position fixtures, choices in cabinets, and more.

During the 1950s and 60s, millions of American homes were built with 5-by-7 foot bathrooms, a size that is ample for basic fixtures but leaves little room for any conveniences. Then, in the decades to follow, square footage became so expensive for builders that bathrooms often got the short end of the stick. As a result, many of today’s homes have at least one bathroom that is very small.

The best way to deal with a too-small bathroom is to give it a makeover. We’re not talking about a major remodel here, but rather some things that you can do to add new life to a tired, small bathroom. Most of these don’t involve major construction.

Small bathroom design may seem simple because the options usually are few. But a small space is much more difficult to design well than a large one, because it is unforgiving. A poorly-placed fixture can make the area almost unusable.

The keys to small bathroom design are to use space efficiently and make the spaces feel open and non-confining.

Here are some ways you can make a small bathroom feel—and function—larger:

Position the toilet and sink along one wall of the bathroom. Doing this leaves a clear corridor of space. Ideally, position the toilet so it isn’t the first thing you see when you walk into the room. If this means you have to move one of the fixtures, be aware that it’s usually easiest to move the sink because the toilet has much larger pipes. If you’re trying to keep your costs to a bare minimum, you may want to skip this idea because moving plumbing can be costly.

bath vanity toilet shelf
Self-rimming sink fits elegantly above this small vanity cabinet. ©Karamysh /


Eliminate the bulky, full-sized base cabinet. Raise cabinetry off the floor. Or opt for airy or wall-mounted cabinets that open up the area visually and allow for more floor space.

wall mounted bath sink with cabinet
Wall-mounted, open sink cabinet isn’t a space hog—physically or visually. ©OmiStudio /


glass bathroom vanity and sink
Glass vanity and bowl are so transparent that they seem almost invisible. OmiStudio /


bathroom console vanity
Console-style vanity base makes floor space more available and adds an airy feel. Iriana Shiyan /


Consider opting for a pedestal sink instead of a more conventional cabinet-mounted sink. The standard vanity base cabinet can be a real space gobbler. If you need storage, however, a vanity cabinet may be necessary—just keep it small.

how to install bathroom sink
Photo courtesy Kohler Co. Kohler Co.


Install a large mirror behind the sink area. A mirror never fails to make a small room feel significantly bigger.

dual bath sinks on wooden counter
A large mirror visually doubles the space. ©Epstock /


Locate the bathtub or tub/shower combination across the width along the far wall so it doesn’t become an obstacle. If there is a window on that wall, all the better. This will allow the eye a space-enlarging view to the outdoors.  Moving a bathtub, of course, is a big job and involves considerable construction and plumbing.  Nevertheless, we wanted to offer this tip in case you’re involved in a larger remodeling project.

On the simpler side of improvements: Opt for a shower curtain instead of sliding shower doors. A curtain can be a decorative, cozy addition and, when drawn back, feels less confining.

contemporary bathroom
Bathtub at the far end of the bathroom doesn’t become an obstacle. If possible, steal a little space from an adjoining room so you can recess storage cabinets, as was done here. The shower curtain eliminates glass doors that otherwise box-in the tub. Mr. Interior /


Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Bathroom Designer

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort