How to design a small bathroom, from tile to vanities

Ok, so your bathroom is tiny. We can work with that. Here’s how to design tile, showers, storage, and more in a small space.

Half of homeowners who come to Thumbtack for help with their bathroom remodel have a space that’s between 25 and 50 square feet. So we asked nearly 500 Thumbtack contractors and handymen how to make more room — or if that’s not possible, how to fake it.

Here’s what top-rated bathroom remodeling pros said about the best ways to design everything from tiles to doors, showers, medicine cabinets, and lighting.

Use larger floor tiles — or repaint existing tile

The fewer grout lines you have going across the floor, the bigger the space will feel. If you want the room to feel even more spacious, use the same tile on the shower floor. The less you break up the look of your bathroom with different lines and materials, the better.

And across the board, pros recommend selecting light tile. “Picking light-colored flooring tile will help reflect light and open up the bathroom,” says Michael Big of Big Brothers Development.

If you’re not ready to install new tile, you can re-paint existing tile, says Terry McMullen of All Phase Home Solutions. “If you have a glazed old tile you can paint it over with acrylic paint,” he says. “It’s inexpensive and makes the bathroom look entirely different. You can even do it in the shower if you get a paint that seals correctly. That and some new lights and fixtures and you can basically have a new-looking bathroom.”

Hang an oversized mirror

Small mirrors don’t help a small bathroom. Instead, “Use a larger mirror that covers the whole sink area to maximize reflection,” says Thumbtack Top Pro James Tapia of Global Housing Contractors. The bigger the mirror, the bigger the room will feel because the additional reflection adds the illusion of depth.

If an oversized mirror isn’t an option, try a recessed and mirrored medicine cabinet that provides storage, recommends Big.

Use lighting thoughtfully

Be creative with space and opt for recessed lights, recommends Brian Ernest with Ready to Sell Renovations. Recessed lights open up your tiny bathroom and remove visual clutter.

The type of bulb you choose is important, too. A light color palette with soft lighting makes a bathroom look bigger, explains Tapia. But bright white light can look harsh and make the space feel smaller. Tapia recommends pairing your light-colored walls with soft yellow or blue-toned low lighting for an expansive feel.

If you’re doing more than just adjusting the tone of your lightbulbs or the external fixtures, you’ll need to hire a pro to avoid fire or other electrical problems.

Remove an internal wall

“Taking out a wall can dramatically create space without changing the bathroom’s footprint,” says Forest Ponder of Beyond Boundaries Construction. “If the toilet or tub is sectioned off from the vanity by a door or wall, we can create a half wall or remove it entirely. It’s amazing how much larger the bathroom appears after the renovation.”

Another space-creating solution? Removing furr downs, those drywall boxes popular in the 70s and 80s that occupy space between your mirror or cabinet top and the ceiling.

Add a window

Nothing makes a space feel bigger than natural light. If you have the money and the bathroom has an exterior wall or is on the top floor, you can add a window or skylight. Ernest says to plan to add an additional 20 percent or so to your total budget if you go this route.

Try a floating countertop or pedestal sink

“Ditch the large vanity and install either a pedestal sink or on-trend floating vanity to open up the space,” says Big. A floating countertop takes visual weight off of the floor, but doesn’t force you to sacrifice counter space. You can still install shelves below the countertop or use that space for a waste bin or decorative baskets that double as storage. Where storage isn’t an issue (like in a powder room), get a pedestal sink to save floor space and hide the pipes.

If you’re going for straightforward updates like swapping out your vanity or adding a new mirror, a handyman can you help you out. What they charge will depend on where you live and what you need done.

Related: Pro survey: the best bathroom brands, value boosters, and cost-saving tips

Try a walk-in shower with a glass door

Get a curb-less shower if you can. “Combine that with a frameless glass shower partition,” says Big, “and you have the ultimate use of space.” Make the ceiling look higher by taking the glass all the way to the ceiling.

Pick pieces with the right size and shape

Buy stuff with rounded corners — whether it’s a bathroom vanity, storage shelves, or fixtures like bathtubs and toilets. Square-edge pieces take up more space. Plus, rounded corners let light wrap around the edges of your furniture so there’s a softer look to the space.

Get storage out of the way

Use built-in shelves, shower cubbies, or recessed toilet paper holders to keep storage off the floor. Another simple fix is to install a towel bar or hook behind the bathroom door, instead of on the wall. This way, the wall can be used for shelving, mirroring or lighting that improves storage and makes the room feel larger.

Also, consider putting in a sliding or pocket door. Normal doors are awkward in a small bathroom. Get a pocket door that slides into the wall when it’s not needed.

Have fun with accessories

Tapia says accessories make a huge difference when it comes to giving your bathroom a lift. “Changing out an old fashioned mirror, a towel bar, the knobs on your vanity — these can make a huge change for very little cost and they’re pretty much all things you can do yourself.”

Follow some rules, ditch others

Dark paint colors are trending, says Tapia, but they can make your bathroom feel smaller if you’re not careful. “If you must do darker walls, light-colored floors tiles are especially important,” he says. A well-placed mirror and warm lighting can also help.

How to start a small bathroom remodel

Always remember to carefully design how you use a room before selecting your materials and bathroom layout. A bathroom remodeling professional who’s worked on projects like yours can see possibilities you can’t — and they’ll often come on-site for a consultation.