Toilets by the Front Door

Bob Borson —  April 5, 2011 — 50 Comments

Why – for the sweet love of Grilled Cheezus- would you want to put a toilet by your front door? I’m not talking about close to your front door , I mean

right

at

your

front door.

It simply defies all logic and common sense. Sure, I suppose if you live in a apartment or some shipping container house where you have absolutely no space to do otherwise, I’ll begrudgingly give you a pass on this one. If you are starting from scratch there is no reason in the world where this needs to happen. I recently stumbled into the following layout:

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I didn’t use my cell phone to take a picture because that would just be rude – but I did sketch it up for you. See how that powder bath door opens up into the front hall right off the main entry?

Homeowner: Hi! Welcome to our house – sorry about the odor, Teddy’s not feeling too well. Eventually you’ll come to love the smell of #2 and aerosol roses. We find that it’s earthy.

or

Homeowner: Howdy! Welcome to our home. If you need to use the toilet – it’s right here located in a place where we will all see when you go in and when you come out. Also, we can hear everything since the sitting room is right here so please make sure you wash your hands – we’ll know if you didn’t. We had to switch out the quiet fan for one that made some noise to help the illusion of privacy but if you are going to be in there doing some serious business, you might want to consider leaving and going to your own home.

Can’t you see that this is a mistake under all circumstances? Of course you can … so why am I starting to see this showing up in plans again?

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Having a toilet room by the front door is not the problem – it’s how you access it. I generally think that the “Master’s” of the house will not be the ones using this toilet. It probably won’t be the kids either – this one is for guests. At the very least, create some sort of procession or privacy to the path accessing this room. The picture above is a layout for the weekend home that I drew up – it has a very open floor plan and there wasn’t a location suitable for placing the toilet by the entry. Instead, I broke up the classic pairing of coat closet and toilet room and placed them at opposite ends of the entry hallway. The coat closet is located off to the side of the main entry with the toilet room at the other end of that same hallway. This makes it easy to find,(i.e.  easy to give directions to your guests on where to find it) – but doesn’t put it in a place where everyone can see when you enter and leave the room. See?   That’s called privacy and everyone using the toilet wants it.

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I thought I would include some examples from my office where the client really wanted a toilet by the front door – which I can understand. It’s generally part of the public zone and you would like guests to be able to use it without having to cross over into the “private” zone (i.e. pass bedrooms and the sort to get there). In these instances, we go to great lengths to not have the door visible from the main room that is almost always right off the front door. The example above is just a few steps away and has a hidden panel that covers the shower so that the room feels more like a powder bathroom rather than a full bathroom. At the end of this hall is the workout room and that’s why there is a shower here.

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In this example, the entire coat closet / toilet room block is around the corner. It’s not to tricky to find, but once again, there isn’t a line of sight from anywhere into the toilet room.

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In this final example, we created a processional type space that contains the coat closet and is then followed by the toilet room. For those of you that have read this site before, you might recognize the modern toilet room layout. I am particularly fond of this layout because the coat closet and toilet room still have a traditional relationship to one another yet the space containing the coat closet acts as a visual and acoustical buffer to the room beyond. I also like that the door opens in such a manner that the gracious counter and sink are presented when the door is opened (not the toilet) and should you forget to lock the door upon entering, the door will screen the person who is currently using these facilities. And seriously, who wouldn’t appreciate that?

It appears that this is making a come-back and I am not very happy about. Placing toilets by the front door is a terrible idea unless it is handled properly – and by properly I mean not by the front door.

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even better

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  • http://twitter.com/brett_wolfe Brett Wolfe

    when i encounter these horrible layouts, i usually make it a point to use the facilities. i also make sure to take my time. i consider it my own shameless way of increasing design awareness.

  • Johnny Appleseed

    Bob, I know this is an old post.. But, Google brought me here and I found this very interesting. We are struggling with our plan and powder room arrangement.. (rather I am..) I feel the PR is very important, and I want it to feel comfortable for our guests and feel private just as you discuss. However, our plan is very limited by a narrow lot, and a stair that must be in the center (front elevation gable).. Ok, so, our architect who is awesome is fine with putting this under a stair with a 7′ ceiling.. so is my wife. I think it’s OK, but I feel there’s a better solution.. maybe. I thought about doing the attached, the only problem is there’s no real privacy ‘walk’, and it is attached to the butler’s pantry, which is attached to the kitchen.. do you have any thoughts on this? I’m stumped!!!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      just to the left of the stairs entering off the front hall is probably the route I would suggest. Some spaces are too small to solve ideally so you look for the next appropriate level of accommodations.

      • Johnny Appleseed

        Bob, thanks for the reply.. this is what our architect suggested as well. I guess I’m getting obsessed with the ceiling height of 7′ under the stair. I guess it’s not that bad. I played around with a few different versions, trying to add a ‘vestibule’ (if you can call it that)… Is the problem that the location in the butler’s pantry is odd? or proximity to dining? or location at front of house? It would be nice to use the space under the stair for a closet as well..

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          we generally try and steer clear of routing people thought kitchens, Butler’s Pantries and Dining rooms to get to the powder bath – something perceived about the “process” that seems more unsavory when placed in or near the preparation of food.. Powder baths under stairs have a certain charm to them and most people adjust there spatial expectations once they know it’s under the stairs.

          • Johnny Appleseed

            Bob, thanks again, I’m sure you’re busy, I appreciate the thoughts. I’ve been hammering at this for a while, it’s nice to have someone else’s opinion. Here’s another version I did that may be a compromise between those, putting the PR closer to the stair, although with the normal ceiling height, and also utilizing the stair for closet/storage, let me know what you think..

          • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

            that’s pretty good – not knowing what is existing and how much demo/reconstruction you would have to go through, this version seems to create nice separation and a little extra privacy. Now all you have to do is pay for it.

          • Johnny Appleseed

            This is actually a new, blank slate plan! We have renovated before, but this is our first new build. We are building in an old neighborhood with tiny lots (50×150), so the major constraints are that (30′ max width in the front) and the plate height (we are solving with a 1.5 storey). We originally had a center entry shot-gun style plan with formal dining and living on either side of the entry way, but it made the rooms too small and the stair was a problem. The side entrance was a solution our architect came up with to eliminate the formal living and expand the dining and poke the stairway into the second story (the front elevation is a simple gable). Then came my obsession with the powder room.. I’ll attach his original plan.. I like it, I just am not a fan of the dropped or sloped ceiling under the stair for the powder; not being able to utilize the under-stair for closet / storage; and the size of the butler pantry seems very large.. I feel a solution is right on the tip of our brains… Thanks again for your thoughts, Jon

  • AJ

    I recently stayed at an apartment in Melbourne… the guest toilet door was next to their… oven. I’m serious. The kitchen/dining/lounge was also open plan. 

  • Robin Berghuijs

    As someone on reddit said: ”
    What I did notice is in that most of his examples the hallway is not separated from the living area by a door. In most Dutch houses your front door opens up into a hallway that has stairs, the mechanical closet, a toilet, and depending on the house a place to hang coats and/or a door to a storage/utility room (in appartments often also doors to the bedroom or kitchen). Another door at the end of the hall gives access to the main living areas. This (along with mechanical/natural ventilation in the toilet) buffers everything from odors, noise and drafts from people opening the front door.”

    Any comments?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t live in the Netherlands.

      I saw that comment and while I am not as dismissive that person (as they are of me) it is not a viable solution where I live and work. The idea of having an entry vestibule that is so strongly identified as a service core is simply not how single family detached houses are designed in this country. What that person is describing is a mudroom – which we do those all the time – but they are generally reserved for entrance off a rear entry into the house (i.e. the first space you enter after leaving a garage).

      There exceptions to every example so I don’t try and defend my opinions when someone points out a difference. In my world, if I am starting from scratch and working on a new house that is over 2,000 square feet, I am not going to put a toilet that exits out into the entry hallway.

      The houses I work on tend to be a little larger than average and tend to be placed in areas where the density is less than you might find in an urban environment. If I was working on a residence where the total living space was smaller, possibly even connected to adjacent structures (townhouses or vertical living) having a service core located as the first place you enter would be a far more viable arrangement.

  • Mike

    Look, I may be in the minority here, but I *love* having a bathroom right next to the front door.  We have one in our current house.  You can get to nothing else, not the garage, not another room.  It lets the neighborhood kids, the nosey neighbor, the unknown person who needs to use the bathroom into the house while carefully controlling access further in.  Your designs that allow them access to other rooms don’t cut it.  If privacy for the guest is a consideration, I think a hallway to the bathroom — and only the bathroom — would be acceptable.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t know if you are in the minority but where I live, most people don’t let strangers into their house to use the toilet. Nosey neighbors have their own bathrooms as well right? Why would they be coming over to your house to use your toilet? Same thing for neighborhood kids … assuming that they are over at your house to play with your kids rather than simply running around and deciding to go to the nearest house when they need to use the toilet, why do they need a toilet just inside the front door? 

      I am confused by this logic here

    • Lorraine Edwards

      I am with you. We have a tiny powder room on our landing into the living room and to the left, the formal dining room. There is a window in there AND we also placed an automatic aerosol dispenser that sprays freshener every 15 mins. or whatever you set it to. I am able to come in from gardening and not trek through the entire house to use it as it is just a step from the door–HOWEVER the biggie is the door you choose! Use a solid wood (not hollow core) door! You can be sitting in our living room and you cannot hear a thing except if someone turns on the faucet hard! If a guest requests more privacy, we are happy to direct them down our hallway to our main bathroom. BOTH of our bathroom doors lock, too, to insure more privacy! Also–I wish the writer of the piece had put in DIMENSIONS in his sketches.

  • Keira

    We just used your processional space idea in our renovation.  Thank you so much for posting it!  It really solved a dilemma for us on where to place our front hall closet.  Love your blog!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Keira!

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  • Sjaak

    Don’t visit my countyr. You will hate it. I live in the Netherlands’

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Sjaak,

      Don’t say that! One thing that is a major consideration that I did not make an issue out of is just how much space you have to work with. Where I work and live, there is no shortage of space – I have plenty of opportunities to find alternative solutions. Some of the foreign countries (even high density urban environments like Boston, New York and San Francisco) I have visited do not have this luxury and for that, I grant them a waiver.

      Thanks for leaving a comment

  • Clydelaz

    Have we gotten so uptight that not only do we need privacy while using the toilet, but we can’t have anyone see us going into the toilet, or coming out of it? 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Clydeaz,

      First let me say thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Frankly I am surprised that it took this long for someone to make this point. However, your thinking is what I like to call “velvet rope design”. Let’s say that you are designing something and there is a hallway that you don’t want people to go down. You could either design it in such a way that people would know they weren’t supposed to access this hallway or you could simply put a velvet rope across the hallway. One demonstrates good practical design thinking and the other is somewhat lazy.

      If I am starting with a blank piece of paper, why would I design in something that was not as ideal as possible? It shouldn’t ever get to the point where someone is making the case against our uptight society seeing people coming in and out of the bathroom because I can solve that issue so that you don’t ever have to think about it yourself.

  • Itzach Stern

    I think this is a unique way of building a home and I won’t judge the
    way you designed it is your idea and I can say every idea is great if
    it pleases you.

    interior doors

  • Ooops

    I have six kids, coming home from a long trip was a race for the bathroom. We moved to a newer house that had a bathroom right by the front door – the kids saw this feature and said “buy this house!”

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I will concede that there are a lot of homes in this country where the garage is off the front of the house and the primary means of entering and existing the house are through the front door. That condition notwithstanding, I would still endeavor to not have it located on the front entry hall. To my way of thinking, the last 3 schemes still meet the requirements of people needing to use the facilities immediately when they walk in the front door – I’ve just added 5 steps and provided some privacy in the process.

  • amdd

    I like having the powder room right by the front door. Here’s why: “Welcome, come in. I’ll take your coat and hubby will take your drink order. While I hang up your things and he gets your drink fixed, feel free to freshen up.” And then I point to the powder room. And my lovely guest can fix her lovely hair and apply her lovely lip stick. Then, when coats are out of the way, drinks are in hand, and everyone feels good about themselves, we have a lovely time.

  • Richard

    My personal “favorite” is having the toilet directly off of, or facing the kitchen. I can live with a WC off of the front door but I can’t in no way consider one directly off the kitchen.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – directly off the kitchen is a little icky. Based on a number of comments, it seems that the worst is if you can see into the toilet room from any area that you prepare or consume food. I don’t think I’ve ever done that …

  • http://funandfit.org AlexandraFunFit

    I thought architects only designed outhouses. Now I’m so confused.

  • http://www.bollinggreenedesign.com Thomas Potts

    Ok, I’ll admit I’ve put many a toilet by the front door in my career, sometimes with a little cute window in it to peer through to see if anyone is there while awaiting entry. But hey, I’m not shy!!!!

    On the other hand, you are failing to recognize a couple important realities. The first is the ceremonial importance of the powder room in many people’s conception of their home. It is often the first space to get a high-zoot treatment by many homeowners. The most expensive wall paper, the best faucets, marble flooring, gilt trims, you name it. While it suits a sense of drama to place all this opulence at the end of a long circulation sequence in order to set up a sense of surprise at the newly found grandeur, most buyers don’t appreciate the subtlety. They want to show off their best stuff front and center, right off the get go. Powder room here we come. If you think about the apparent need to display a two story foyer with an opulent staircase leading to the most private part of the house (bedroom area) in the most typical plans, putting the powder room here starts to make a little more sense, whether you like it or not.

    These gestures all are making a statement about who we are as a culture and a people, like them or not. We may prefer to envision a more delicate and thoughtful way of presenting a place to perform our most personal bodily functions, but we seem to be a bit more tacky than that

  • Igor

    Great post! I do like “the processional type space” option. I have been in places where there is no privacy and it is very uncomfortable to use the toilet room, not to mention all people looking at you when you leave the room (!). I think giving attention to something apparently not very important as the toilet room makes a true difference in the way you enjoy or suffer your house. Thank you for an interesting and informative article!

  • Notserp5790

    This is a small downtown loft plan, so it might be granted a pass. However, the swing of entry door & the bathroom door interfere with one another; oops, they just lost their pass.
    http://www.broadwayparklofts.com/pages/explore/view.php?unitcode=213

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      If they had just reversed the layout of the bathroom so that the door swung to opposite direction (so that you couldn’t see into the bathroom from a majority of the space) it would have made a serious difference.

  • Notserp5790

    This is a small downtown loft plan, so it might be granted a pass. However, the swing of entry door & the bathroom door interfere with one another; oops, they just lost their pass.
    http://www.broadwayparklofts.com/pages/explore/view.php?unitcode=213

  • Pat

    bathroom at the bottom of the basement steps? no, just a toilet. no walls, no room for walls, just a stand-alone toilet. two steps away. no, really.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Ah….. yikes. That is some long term planning

    • Clydelaz

      We had that situation in our basement when I was a youngster. When us guys were playing in the basement, no one would hesitate to take a dump in full view of the other guys. We did not think a thing of it nor were we embarrassed in any way. Why did this generation get so uptight about normal bodily functions?

  • Mihiadam

    Great post Bob! I really like the coat closet/vestibule buffer option. I am definitely a fan of the revised powder bath layout as well. Thanks again for an informative read!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks for taking the time to say so Adam – I appreciate it

  • Brenda Lynn

    Good morning, Bob. I hate to see this coming back, too, although I am not sure that it ever really went away. I have friends that bought a beautiful new home in the late 1990s in Auburn, Alabama, where I used to live. It was a Southern Living plan with a fairly open floor plan, BUT the powder room was right there in the foyer which was completely open to the dining room. Unless you looked at the ceiling, you could not tell where the foyer ended and the DR started…awkward, to say the least.

    Brenda Lynn

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – you are probably right about it not actually going away. I don’t really care to throw spec builder’s under the bus but I think it never went away in their projects. The house I saw the toilet room in the entryway was done by an architect (for shame on them!!)

      It seems so obvious to someone who cares to think about the end user rather than letting the plan geometry of exterior elevations drive interior plan adjacencies.

  • http://twitter.com/Splintergirl Amy Good

    One other note (as a guest in someone’s home)….I hate to be told: “Go down the hallway to the third door on the left.” Ummm….if all the doors in the hallway are closed, I always feel really creepy about opening the door. It feels like you are invading their space somehow. I guess that would be why I’d prefer a powder room near the main living area too. Sadly, I too have a really old house that presently requires a guest to go to the basement or walk upstairs. Ouch!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – the instructions to navigate to the mysterious third door on the right after the first turn …. whatever the situation requires. Your sentiments convey the importance of understanding the public versus private zone and the need to find a balance between locating a toilet room in a public zone – just not too public.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Amy – I appreciate it.

  • http://www.havocamongtheflowers.blogspot.com Honeychurch91

    I live in a home from the 1800s. My powder room is not by the front door–it used to be a closet in the dining room! So it is obviously very awkward during dinner parties…We always offer up the use of the bathrooms on the 2nd floor but it more difficult for our older guests who have issues with stairs.

    In fact, one of our potential projects is closing up the entrance in the DR and making a new one–you guessed it–in the front hallway, right in view of the front door. However, no one ever uses this entrance so maybe it is not so bad? Has to be better than the DR, right?

    Although it probably will not make any difference when it comes to , ahem, noises and smells….

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Oh my goodness – sorry to be chuckling at your expense. You definitely get a free pass!! The idea of getting up from the table at a dinner party only to walk in the bathroom door – hahhahahahahaaa

      You made my day!

  • Cooper

    In my 1937 Kessler Park home, the bathroom is immediately next to the front door, exactly like your first drawing. I wonder is that’s an old house thing? This place was a super fancy house in its day. Maybe they were showing off that they could afford an extra bath just for guests? Ha!

  • Cooper

    In my 1937 Kessler Park home, the bathroom is immediately next to the front door, exactly like your first drawing. I wonder is that’s an old house thing? This place was a super fancy house in its day. Maybe they were showing off that they could afford an extra bath just for guests? Ha!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Cooper –

      I lived in Kessler Park as well and Winnetka Heights and many of the homes from that era had the ‘extra’ bath located off the front entry. In most of the examples I’ve seen, those homes typically didn’t have what we would consider a traditional hallway – meaning most rooms were accessed directly from another room. As a result, the only public space that seemed suitable for providing a toilet room was off the front entry.

      Many of the older homes – when they had a bathroom that was not directly associated with a bedroom – put the toilet in the howdy space. This was typical up into the early 80’s and unfortunately it seems to be coming back.

  • Alistair

    Hands up, I’m guilty; I’ve placed the toilet by the front door on projects – although in mitigation they were narrow-fronted sites leaving little alternative. Excuses aside your blog has made me think. My pet hate though is rooms on external walls without natural light and ventilation; any particular reason Bob for the layout on your example with the shower room by the workout room? Surely some glass blocks would’ve looked nice – whoops, sorry, forgot your blog from a few weeks back.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      A true enough comment – however…

      In the examples shown above, only two are on an exterior wall and one of them has a window (which I’m actually not crazy about either). The other has a “hidden” shower at the owner’s firm request and a window there would have been silly. Since the shower is always “hidden”, you would get no benefit from the natural light for 97.4% of the time that bathroom would actually get used. (I checked my math on that one)

      There are only a few rooms that I am generally okay with not having a window in – powder bathrooms, closets and mud rooms. Mostly because these generally tend to be interior rooms regardless of the size of the home and I don’t like windows into toilet rooms when they are place on the approach to the front door.