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Designing a Bathroom and Toilet

Planning a Bathroom Design

How do we go about designing a bathroom or a toilet? The bathroom is one of the most important rooms in a house, it defines us as civilised people.

It is important that a bathroom is both functional and comfortable and that it is clean and hygienic.

There are many things to consider when designing a bathroom so, before we start the actual design and layout, we must make some decisions about what we need and how we achieve it.

Here we look at all the elements to consider when designing a bathroom.

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The Bathroom - a luxury or a necessity

There was a time when having a bathroom was a luxury. For many the toilet was outside in the backyard and it was pretty miserable going out to the toilet with a candle on an icy winter's night.

For many you had a bath a tin bath in front of the fire heated by a kettle of hot water and you cleaned your teetth in the kitchen sink.

The bathroom is one of the most important rooms of the house

We've moved on a bit since then thank goodness and bathrooms have become suitably recognised as an important centre for essential functions in our homes. Our morning ablutions are, after all, very important to us and I suppose the environment in which we ablute reflects our station in life. Even the queen must ablute and we can only wonder at what a bathroom in a palace looks like with its gild taps and ermine toilet seat covers

Until relatively recently bathrooms tended to be very utilitarian in design. Times are changing, bathrooms are getting larger and more grandiose, in some luxury houses the bathroom is being designed to make a statement.

For those of us who live in ordinary functional houses we often find that the bathroom has been planned as a sort of appendage to the larger elements of a house design and crammed into whatever space was left after the architect had made their more important architectural statements.

Cultural considerations

The emphasis is often on size and size and layout really depend on lifestyle and cultural issues.

Here in Indonesia we note that cultural difference has an important bearing. Indonesians consider their kamar mandi as a wet place, they go in and grab the little pan and slosh water all over the place. The design of the kamar mandi reflects this being fully tiled with a lowered floor level to contain the water and with a floor drain. No need here for glass screens or plastic curtains. The way the kamar mandi is used allows for probably the simplest and smallest bathrooms on the planet. If you tried to swing a cat you'd knock its head off. You open the door to find a small floor area to stand in with a mandi (a small, tiled open topped tank containing water) and next to it a squat toilet usually on a raised stage area for you to perform on and of course the inevitable plastic pan which is used both to flush the toilet and to extract the water and throw it over or up yourself, whatever takes your fancy. The door is usually small and covered in aluminium on the inside to resist the constant drenching it gets. These days aluminium or plastic doors are often used.

For us bathrooms can be far more sophisticated, old fashioned western people for example like the idea of enjoying the luxury of soaking in a grey scum for an hour or so. A nice idea but the reality will probably be that they will rarely, if ever, use the bath preferring instead the convenience of a quick shower.

If you are an Australian you will probably insist on having the toilet in a separate room from the shower and washbasin or, of course, an American will have to have a rest when going to the toilet and so need space in there for a bed.

Are you French? If you are no doubt you will want a bidet to squirt water up your chuff.

Basics of good bathroom design

Coming back to basics - when designing a western bathroom you will find there are four key elements you have to find a place for: the shower (or bath), the toilet, the washbasin (or vanity depending on how vain you are) and the door - yes the door. When we are trying to work out a design for a compact but essentially functional space dimensions are very important and we need to particularly plan for the swing of the door.

You will need to think carefully about the functionality of the room. You have to be able to open and close the door (a sliding door to the bathroom will save a lot of space). You could hinge the door outwards but this is not a good idea making the bathroom look like a ship's cabin. If the design is not right the door may catch the toilet or otherwise interfere with the functionality of the space. Shower doors also need the same sort of care.

You also need to consider privacy. Many people may not mind signing up to Facebook or Google and having their most intimate details made available to the National Spooks Agency (or any other Tom, Dick or Harry that might want to buy them) but they do tend to balk at a badly placed toilet door that, when opened, exposes you, knickers round your ankles and a strained look on your face, to the vicar who has just arrived at your front door for a nice cup of morning tea. "Sorry about that vicar, like a cream scone? Don't worry I washed my hands."

Factors to think about to define your bathroom design needs

So you need to design a bathroom, where do you start? Here are a number of questions you can ask yourself to help define your needs:

  1. How much space have you got and what is it"s shape? This is particularly relevant if you are adding a bathroom or toilet to an existing building.
  2. How many people will use the bathroom? If it is a well used room it needs to be designed to be cleaned regularly and easily and take a lot of wear and tear.
  3. How many may be in the bathroom at once? Some people, even families, have relationships that allow more than one person to share a bathroom at the same time. Cohabiting people who can accept the cohabits of their cohabitants and share the bathroom may find themselves jokeying for position. Do you install a 2 bowl vanity, a two jet shower, perhaps even a double seat toilet?
  4. Will your bathroom be used as a toilet for visitors to your house? How will they access it - through your bedroom.
  5. Will the bathroom be an ensuite or a separate room?
  6. Do you want a basic bathroom or a luxury one? A luxury one will take a lot more space and require higher quality tiles and fittings and higher level finishing. If you want it to make a statement, what sort of statement do you want ti make?
  7. Do you want a wet or a dry bathroom? If dry then how will you contain the shower splash? Do you need shower screens or curtains?
  8. Do you want a bath or will just a shower cubicle do?
  9. If you want a bath can you put the shower in the bath or will you want a separate shower and bath? This will take up more space. Remeber a bath is not the easiest thing to step into for a shower and the sides can be lethal when slippery.
  10. Do you want a vanity or will just a washbasin do? Washbasins take up much less space.
  11. If there is no vanity where will you store things? (They do tend to collect you know).
  12. Where will you put the door? The opening of the door is a critical issue in the design of small bathrooms.
  13. What sort of door will you use, if it might get splashed you will need a water proof door and varnished wood will look terrible very quickly.
  14. Do you need hot water? Where will the water heater go?
  15. Where will the incoming water pipe(s) be positioned?
  16. Can you install a 2" drain for the floor and washbasin and a 4" pipe for the sewage.
  17. If you want to install an exhaust fan where will it vent?
  18. Is the bathroom primarily for western people or Indonesians, local people tend to be shorter and prefer lower heights particularly for the vanity. They also might prefer a squat toilet.

When we come to filling in the detail of our design we should also bear in mind other issues.

  • Use non slip floor tiles
  • Glass screens and doors must be toughened glass
  • Hot water is always on the left tap
  • Install an exhaust fan to remove embarrassing odours
  • Make sure you can access the bath plumbing
  • Smells from the pipework, you need u bends under the washbasin and bath and a water trap in the floor drain grill to stop smells coming up from the drains.
  • Dual flush toilets use less water (if you can manage to work out which is the large and which is the small flush).
  • Expensive fittings particularly toilets may be expensive to repair and flush mechanisms in the hands of a Siberian arm wrestler who had a large plate of curry last night won't last long.

Now you have an idea of what you want you can start to design the layout.

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Copyright © Phil Wilson June 2013
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