Modern Toilet Room

August 12, 2010 — 37 Comments

Powder bath rooms generally drive me crazy. Not the ones in my projects (obviously) but the generic ones I see when I go into older homes or the new builder homes of my friends *cringe*. I need to ask you to assume that I am not a design snob and that I don’t judge people who love their home – different strokes right? But I am begging you designers to stop putting a toilet by the front door!!!!

Seriously … you do know what is supposed to happen in those rooms right?

I also have some other peccadilloes that are sure to earn a designer a big fat X in my book. The biggest one is when I see a custom designed, expensive, new bath room … and the sink gets placed next to the toilet. Since we are a visual bunch, I prepared a  floor plan sketch of the bathroom that greets me when I walk into 99% of all traditional homes. For those with a weak constitution, I have employed a crowd favorite – the modesty crotch panel – so feel free to safely continue reading and evaluate the sketch.


Traditional Powder Bath Layout

So here is the oh-so-familiar toilet next to the sink arrangement that I don’t like. I am well aware that this arrangement became popular and has remained popular because there is one common wet wall and that makes it more cost-effective. I don’t think that argument is a very good one unless you are doing multi-family or you are working on a very tight budget.  This layout is also a space hog; you have to make the room deep enough to have knee + toilet length in the room. I won’t use toilet that doesn’t have an elongated bowl. I am 6′-1″ tall and unless I want to take a shower every time using the facilities (because I am clean that way), full-grown men need some room at the front of the bowl. Sorry to be crude but this is one of those ‘if you’re a female, you probably don’t think about it’ kinda things. Men ‘descend’ into the bowl (some more than others but I’m trying to be sensitive here) so if you have to put in a small toilet because you have designed a small room, go back to the drawing board. I know I’ll thank you for it. *wink*

(for the record, I didn’t mean “full-grown men” like some of my groupies/ fans might think, I just meant mature and not child size. Ooh, that’s not much better is it? Okay, someone over the age of 14 years old. Yeah *air punch* nailed it! Dang it, I’m going backwards here…)


Modern Powder Bath Layout

This is a far better layout in my opinion. You can actually design this room with less space while making it feel far more spacious. Another benefit is that you can locate the toilet paper roll on the right hand side of the toilet so the user doesn’t have to be a contortionist while twisting around to reach the roll. FYI, the toilet paper roll is most comfortable when located even with the middle of the toilet bowl or slightly forward of that point.

Another benefit of this layout is the additional counter top space and extra storage capacity the cabinet offers. In the traditional layout, there is no real usable counter top space and the storage capacity of the cabinet is  worthless considering that everything has to work itself around the p-trap below the sink. There is also the benefit of having the mirror address the individual coming into the room and – an opportunity to make it a more impactful feature of the room (not to mention the view into the room when the door is open). You also have more lighting options because you have now better defined the “zones” of this room. If you provide dual switches, one can control downlighting for the “business” zone, and wall sconces along with a small recessed downlight directly over the sink can give you mood lighting – useful when you have a party where guests will be using this facility. See … full circle back to why you shouldn’t EVER put the powder bath at the front door. That is some clever writing! (happened on accident)

So there it is. A better toilet room layout. If you don’t have to lay out the powder bath room in the totally sucky traditional way, I would have you consider making a layout like this one the standard.



Print Friendly

even better stuff from Life of an Architect

  • Nathan Gorham

    What about coordinating with the plumbing and waste lines which are no doubt located in that one wall. Having sink and toilet on the same wall make tieing in a lot easier than if fixtures are on opposite Walls. Plus if for some reason your door has to swing in there’s nowhere to stand when you open the door from inside

    • You are correct in that it would be easier to but all the fixtures on the same wall, but this isn’t about being easier. I prefer this layout simply based on the aesthetics of the layout. I’ve actually never had a plumber complain about this layout but according to the plumber on the last bathroom I designed like this, it added about $200 to the cost to separate the fixtures and place them on adjacent walls – worth it to me.

      Also, I typically stand in front of the doors I am opening so I don’t see a problem with figuring out where to stand. In most cases, we have the door swinging into the toilet room with the hinge closest to the toilet. This way, if someone walks into the toilet room while someone is using it, the door would block their direct view while giving the occupant using the toilet a chance to stop the door from opening with either their hand or foot.

  • James

    Informative and funny. This will help me in my next designs.

  • Lkmcr

    Which way DOES the door open in your drawing?

    Great wit and widom. Those who challenged you should start their own blog rather than try to pick yours apart.

  • Mikebrowndesign

    I’d rather you rant against the absurdity of the master bath rather than the debatable location of the powder room. A bathroom is more of an appliance, like a refrigerator or a stove, than a room. Master baths are the equivalent of having a four burner stove the size of a car. As you say, bathrooms are, 99 percent of the time, for one or (ha ha) two things. Make them as small as possible and maximize the living space of your home. Big bathrooms equal big stupid, as far as I’m concerned. As far as having powder rooms near the entrance: the first reaction is “who cares?” There is a good reason, however, if you think about it a bit. This location will most likely put it out of earshot of those in the other rooms. This is an important consideration for most people, although it is not discussed much: we don’t like the idea of the sounds made in the bathroom being heard. I say it is a fine, if not preferable, place to put a half bath. You never really make a logical argument as to why it isn’t. You personally just don’t seem to like it. Lastly, you make way, way too much about the geometry of the bowl. Really. Of course, I could be missing something, no pun intended.

    • So, you would rather I write about something else rather than the thing I wrote about?

      Toilets dumping out at the front door are ridiculous and I have written about them:

      I can’t think of a time I designed something for one of my clients where my opinion was “who cares”? I care and are you kidding about the importance of using an elongated bowl? Seriously, I’m not even sure why I’m responding

  • Architect in Charge

    Efficient and compact is one thing, practicality is another.
    Someone went to some trouble cutting a hole in the granite for the electrical receptacle (plug), only to use a cheap plastic cover plate. My preference would be to simply locate the receptacle a bit higher on the wall surface. The cabinet knobs are brutal on exposed flesh and will catch on any clothing coming in contact. The full height mirrors are a pain to clean for short people. The shallow water basin is well……a bit shallow.

    • I hear you on some of your points, owner chose the pulls and the sink – I am not a big fan of vessels sitting on top of the counter top.

      These knobs are round and I find it highly unlikely that these will catch on clothing at all, not to mention more than some other form of pull (other than the pulls that attach to the top of the cabinet door – finger pulls and the client specifically did not want those).

      I generally don’t try and specifically criticize the work of others, it’s bad karma and you rarely know what went into making the decision.

      The article is really trying to address layout rather than material selection but thanks for adding your insight to the comment section.

      • Architect in Charge

        Ok then lets talk about your layout.
        The 22″ counter top is skimpy, the client would appreciate at least 24″ to accommodate their sink selection and other toiletries. The 18″ is also skimpy, a larger  client does not want knee and elbow rubbing the side wall.  Go ahead and increase the the 30″ door to 36′ to allow future wheel chair access and your client will appreciate the forethought.

  • Luisa Ramírez

    Estoy de acuerdo, la mayoría de baños los diseñan igual, la visión del arquitecto no debe tomar este espacio como uno más, sino al contrario, hace parte de un todo, de la obra en su totalidad. 

  • I love it! I can say that aside from creating a nice ambience, bathroom lights can also be designed in a way that it is more energy efficient, thus, saving you a lot of money from your monthly bills.

  • Craig

    I understand your intent and agree with some specifics. However, locating a powder room near the entry (primarily) for guest use not only makes ergonomic sense but is one of the more frequently requested elements from my clients. Many guests here in California travel freeways so one of their first needs upon arriving is the use of a restroom. It is a courtesy and a convenience to be able to take their coat (on those rare cool days) and give them the facilities. We try to locate the door so it is screened from the living area, insulate the walls and use solid doors for noise, and always include a quiet and efficient fan vent tied to the light switch so it’s use is not optional. I think your prejudice against location is unfounded if the execution is well designed.

    • Hi Craig – thanks for commenting although I think it was your intent to comment on the post from today (April 5, 2011) rather than this one from last August.

      I think my prejudice is still very well founded – all of the bathrooms that I drew up had the facilities very close to the point of entrance, they just didn’t open onto the front hallway. I suppose those extra 6 steps are a breaking point for some people but that seems little like the tail wagging the dog to me. Maybe this is a geographic thing but here in Dallas most homeowners don’t enter their house through the front door but rather through a garage or side entry so a vast majority of the entry bathrooms I see are never used by the occupants of the house and is almost always reserved for visitors (complete with hand soap in the shape of a shell).

  • I think the space is enough so that the user would be able to move freely and without limitation. The sink is quite different than usual which helps your powder room to look better.

  • I enjoyed this post. Your sketches are always fun and this one is quite cheeky! I haven’t tried this lay out but i can see why you like it… I appreciate the clean look of one full wall of cabinetry… a great way to avoid the vanity end panel.

  • Kbrtmyr

    Bob, a bit behind in reading posts this week so here’s my reaction – in your preferred scheme, I and my pals who are also wheelchair users aren’t given a chance of being able to use the toilet with any privacy. Your sketch doesn’t show the door swinging in(to?) the powder room, which in the preferred scheme restricts the remaining clear floor area to a standing person zone. In the (albeit) larger scheme, there remains perhaps enough floor space to slide in, put my knees under the spiffy stylish vanity sink and open/close the door. That gives me hope I could use the toilet in this house. Any family might just have a guest who needs room for a mobility aid and if this is the only toilet room on the main floor, it would be a shame to prevent Grandma or your cousin who’s had an injury or whoever from coming over because they are afraid they might have to go to the bathroom while there. Just something to think about for the future…..

  • lanon

    seeing your own floating head in the mirror above the counter = weird. I’m choosing to ignore the sink, mirror size and countertop material… but again, that’s probably just me. ; )

  • Anonymous

    90% ? Nice

    Just you.

    I will say that the height of the counter would preclude the ability of you actually seeing any of your own ‘action’ while in a seated position although I can understand your reservation during the other 10% of the time. In my sketch, I didn’t show a full length mirror but in the photos, I didn’t choose the sink, mirror size, or the countertop material. I am quite surprised that I didn’t get a comment on the sink.

  • lanon

    As a lady person who sits down to use the restroom about 90% of the time I can say with absolute certainty that I *hate* a mirror across the full length of the vanity b/c that means I can usually see myself in it and reapplying lipstick while on the toilet is weird. Also, I like the toilet hidden behind the door so if a drunk party guest busts in (and I drunkenly forgot to lock it or establish a password) I have a little privacy while I scream at them to get out. Just me?

  • Anonymous

    Eating a tray of delicious looking Blueberry Clafoutis’ (which I had never heard of before) would definitly require a commitment but it would totally be worth it!

    Those things look awesome!

  • That’s when you sneak off to the master suite LOL

  • What are your thoughts on powder rooms that have the sink opposite the toilet? Also, where would you suggest locating the powder room when your first floor is 600 sf and you have kitchen, foyer, dining room, and living room.

  • Yes, definitely a time commitment. Or heinous lack of fiber in the diet.

  • we actually try to keep them off exterior walls also…AND since I am one usually responsible for the specifying of plumbing fixtures, I like to keep them where we can get to pipes easily for the plumbers who tend to not be able to read directions well. Usually only prob though on bath or shower valving. Gawd, I am really sounding boring huh??

    • Ok so I know this comment is a year old but let me just say that if the issue is that the plumber doesn’t read instructions well then it might be time to start looking for another plumber. I’d rather choose a smarter plumber than dumb down a design.

  • I always love your posts…did not mean to “hijack” this one:) but powder baths are a big deal with me and most of my clients let me “do my thang” and do not interfere too much ..think they are afraid! I just had a client ( who did NOT use an architect much to my dismay) want to put a door for access in the lovely foyer of his two mill home above the powder door…because he wanted to make sure he could access the unused space in the powder ceiling area…I told him I wanted to throw up. Literally. He is a great client despite this suggestion and just replied ” No need to get our panties in a wad over this”….but yeah, my panties definitely were in a wad! Same client has a car lift in his basement raising car to main street level…yep, prob first one on the gulf coast!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Cheryl – all good points. If we are lucky enough have an interior designer, we bring them on early so we don’t have a divided team with different ideas on layout. A good idea is a good idea, wherever it comes from.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.

  • Anonymous

    shouldn’t you be a Weasley (considering your hair color?)

  • Anonymous

    You are hitting on one of my points!. Tuck that s**t around the corner (literally).

    For men (and this is just a tip) if you are at a party at a guest’s home, it’s time to leave if you need to use the facilities in the manner my sketches depict.

  • Anonymous

    Where is your neck of the woods? We don’t really have that issue in Texas but regardless of the window in the sketch, the layout holds true I think.

  • Anonymous

    Really? Maybe your comment is about the fact that it is a book versus a magazine.

    A book in the bathroom infers a certain time commitment don’t you think? Wonder if it’s a reader or a coffee table book. *shudder*

  • Kimeldahl

    You do know, don’t you, that for most of us there is a season called winter. Pipes in an outside wall is a no-no for homes in our neck of the woods…

  • GirlFuturist

    Or don’t put the powder room right off the kitchen or den where you and your guests get to watch someone go in, counting the minutes till then come out, conversation interrupted by the flush. Tuck it around a corner or a closet if need be. And so happy to see an architect actually being practical (and smart). Sadly, many architects have the reputation of not thinking of “real life” challenges, and not including enough storage/closets (my particular problem).

  • Bob, who is the man reading an actual BOOK on the commode? I would like to meet such a man.

  • Bob: Excellent post. I have one about to post myself of same subject with slightly different slant. I will link back to yours! Important to note for a casual reader, do not put drawers on right side of vanity in the modern layout or, with only 18 in clearance, will have difficult time getting open..esp with a toilet roll in the way…even doors will be problematic in a super small space as above. Might be better to use sliding doors underneath ( and these can be very cool and great space savers) or to run countertop across but leave open below except might be able to get in a drawer or two on top section before it hits any obstruction. Good place for the trash can ( highly decorative one I hope:)
    I am a huge proponent of spending some budget in the powder bath in materials as virtually anyone who visits your home also visits your powder bath! But, in my case, as a designer, I often get the project after the plans from the ‘er…architect or residential designer have been solidly ensconced in a concrete slab…making it tough to change the layout of the traditional “wet wall” idea. Then your stuck making the best of it or bashing up concrete. Never fun to break that to the client! The best execution of projects occurs, in my biased opinion, when the client involves the designer AND architect up front during planning stage and you become a team. I have several here I work with all the time and it makes us all look good and provides for a very happy client in the end. And…less moving of anything later. Love the post Bob!!

  • Given the content of the parenthetical paragraph above, I would have expected a larger modesty panel. I’m just sayin’…

    Having lived my entire life in suburban houses, more likely designed by the builder than an architect, I can tell you that most people don’t think about these things. Which is why more people should hire architects.

    I want you to design my next powder room. But it absolutely must have 14.314159 foot ceilings that meet the wall at a 91 degree angle. My neighbor has walls that meet the ceiling at a 90 degree angle and I can’t let him win.

  • The house I grew up in had a powder room. The sink was across from the toilet. So does that make it the sucky way or the groovy way? Can I be one of your groupies? Everyone needs some. And that whole description about descending men – you lost me at “full grown.” Cute drawings too.
    Harry Potter