Sometimes, when it comes to designing a new bathroom, too much space is as bad as too little.
We knew, when we set out to draw plans for a Baltimore row house rehab, that we wanted laundry facilities and a family bath in the front part of the second floor. The question was where, in a space 17 feet wide and 19 feet deep, to locate them.
Since the space had been gutted, there was nothing to preserve, though we wanted to keep the three windows across the front and the single window at the back. Rooms above and below would not need plumbing, so there were no other pipes to contribute to or interfere with the design.
There were two constraints. First, we had to preserve elaborate cove moldings on the ceiling below -- so no dropped ceilings or bulkheads to carry the pipes. All the plumbing would have to run through the walls or between existing joists. And second, we wanted the front part of the room to be a bedroom and it needed closet space.
Even though the house is more than 100 years old, the solution came from a modern suburban source. We adapted a "zoned" bath: laundry and sink facilities in the first zone, toilet and tub in the second, slightly narrower zone. It was narrower because we took two feet on the room side of the toilet-tub zone as a wide closet.
The design works for several reasons. It's a pretty large space, roughly 6 feet wide and 14 feet deep, so nothing gets crammed in.
There's room in the first zone for a wide vanity with a huge mirror (good since there's no window in this part), a counter/storage area beside the dryer (perfect for folded clothes), and two linen closets (one that opens into the hallway, one that opens into the room).
The toilet-tub zone has room for a big tub, and it has a window that looks out over rooftops dropping away to the harbor. The laundry facilities and tub are against the stairwell wall, not backed against a room wall. The two linen closets also act as sound buffers, and the room closet buffers the toilet-tub area.
The bathroom itself is a buffer between the bedroom and household traffic up and down the stairway.
Because it's a module, the design could be adapted to all sorts of spaces, row houses or ranch houses.
The next design was a little tougher to come up with. First, the space was tiny. The house was less than 12 feet wide and only 24 feet deep. We were stuck with a very old winding stair in the middle of one side wall. The wall at the front edge of the staircase turned out to be a load-bearing wall that was too complicated to replace.
We decided the room in front of the wall had to be a bedroom. But we still needed closet space and a master bath. We also wanted to preserve as much natural light as possible.
The solution was cutting corners -- literally. Squared off rooms seemed to take up too much space, so we cut off one corner of the bath and put it across the room as a storage space. The area in between served as a dressing/sitting area.
Inside the bath, we used a triangular vanity to open up space and give the door more room to open. Instead of solid walls, we used translucent glass block on the walls surrounding the door, to take advantage of southern light coming from a window at the back of the house. A set of small French doors there and a tiny plant balcony further opened the space. Then we used another set of French doors on the bedroom, so it too could share the light.
Honesty compels us to admit that by the time we had designed all these wonderful features into this tiny house, we couldn't afford to buy it and do the rehab. So the plans are just plans, waiting to be adopted into some other space. It may not be so tiny next time, but the complications of this design forced us to come up with creative solutions.
That should be the second step in any bath design process. First, figure out what you have to have, and what inherent structural elements you have to deal with. Then ask yourself, where does the light come from? Where can I steal it? What can I leave out? Can non-traditional shapes and fixtures give me a more comfortable space? How can I shake up this design and make it work?
Next: Answering letters from readers.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.
If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.