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How to make a bathroom look bigger

Small bathroom area
John Keeble/Getty Images
Small bathroom area
John Keeble/Getty Images

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Bathrooms tend to be the tiniest rooms in a house. Most of us would love to make a little bathroom bigger, but expanding its square feet or re-doing its footprint can be expensive and laborious — assuming it’s feasible at all.

The great news is that certain remodeling and design tricks can not only provide an illusion of space in a small bathroom, but also actually free up more room for storage and splashing around. Here are some simple, relatively low-cost ways to make your bathroom look and feel more spacious, even when you can’t actually enlarge it.

Swap the tub for a shower

An increasingly popular way to make a small bathroom larger is to replace the bathtub with a walk-in shower stall. Removing the tub will open up more floor space and a glass door instead of a shower curtain will help any natural light to shine through the whole place.

Admittedly, a shower remodel is a fairly big renovation project. According to Angi, the average cost of replacing a tub with a shower is $10 to $65 per square foot, depending on specific location and the type of shower stall.

Typically, a manufactured stall costs the least ($1,200 – $3,600) while a curb-less shower is the priciest ($2,650 – $8,350). However, you might be able to bring the tab down a bit by using shower kits (prefab parts that you or a plumber fit together).

Install a floating vanity or pedestal sink

More floor space makes a small bathroom appear larger, and an effective way to achieve this is by installing illusion-inducing fixtures like a floating vanity or a pedestal sink. A floating vanity doesn’t sit on the ground; it attaches to the wall (so it seems to float in space). As a result, it provides ample room for storage under the sink, and since the bathroom floor will extend in an unbroken line to the wall, it’ll give a sense of a larger, airier space.

If you don’t need a vanity, consider a classic pedestal sink with console legs that make the space look bigger by keeping the tiled floor and wall in view. The average cost of installing a bathroom vanity is $1,500 and the expense of installing a pedestal sink varies between $330 and $730, not including the cost of removing the old sink and making new water and drain lines.

Use the walls for smart storage

When space is short, it’s time to make clever use of the walls. By building shelves onto or into them, you can maximize storage without adding clutter to an already small room. Shelving above the toilet, behind the door, inside the shower and around the window are some of the ways to make a small bathroom appear spacious. The average cost of professionally installing recessed shelves is $411 per unit, but you may be able to lower the expense by doing it yourself.

Decorate with mirrors

A full-size, wall-to-wall mirror bounces the light around the small bathroom and opens up the space. A mirror also adds charm and character, especially if it is a chic, distressed or vintage piece. If you’re comfortable looking at your reflection from any angle, you can also consider having mirrored tiles all around the bathroom, which will visually double its size.

Keep the colors neutral

Darker colors absorb light and make any space look smaller. When painting a small bathroom, keep the colors neutral. You may also try tiles, glass and metallic paint to not only create a luxurious feel, but also brighten up the space by reflecting more light. If you’re more inclined towards wallpaper, choose light shades and patterns for optimum brightness.

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of painting a bathroom is $250, and installing wallpaper in a 260-square-foot bathroom can cost between $1,040 and $2,600. You might save a little by using peel-and-stick (aka temporary or removable) wallpaper, which tends to be less expensive than the conventional paste-on variety, and of course is easier to DIY.

Upgrade the lights

The importance of good lighting cannot be stressed enough, particularly if space is short and there isn’t enough natural light flowing in. Any room looks bigger if it is well-lit, so when you’re stuck with a small bathroom, make sure the light fixtures are not adding to the cramped feel. Keep the lampshades neutral-hued to create an airy, diffused-light appearance. For further brightness, try installing a pendant light in front of a mirror, which will bounce more light around the room.

Final word on making a small bathroom bigger

The lack of natural light, a tight square footage and too many fixtures can make a bathroom seem even smaller than it actually is, and render it cramped and unaesthetic. Various cosmetic tricks and simple renovations can not only gain you space, but make a small bathroom feel more spacious. After all, we need a bathroom for some of our most basic functions, but we also need it to look bright, feel pleasing and fit in with the rest of the house.

Written by
Cynthia Widmayer
Insurance Contributor
Cynthia Widmayer is an insurance contributor for Bankrate and has over two years of experience as a personal finance writer. She covers home, car and life insurance products for Bankrate, The Simple Dollar and Coverage.com among others.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor