Bathroom Renovation: A Town Topics Column

by Lasley Brahaney Architects

QWe want to renovate a bathroom but I know it could be complicated. Any suggestions?

APlanning a bathroom renovation shouldn't be such a big deal; after all, the room is so small! But don't be deceived by its size. Remodeling a bathroom involves considerably more time, effort and decisionmaking than a typical family room renovation, even though it's only a fraction of the size. The more and better you plan before construction begins, the more successful the end result will be. If you're unsure about what to do, work with a designer to help navigate the waters.

If you intend to reconfigure or enlarge the room, try to understand the existing conditions in and around the space. A design professional can help make sense of what lies within the walls, under the floors and above the ceiling. This information is critical if you plan to move plumbing fixtures. Relocation of fixtures and associated pipes is much more labor intensive than merely swapping out one toilet for another in the same location.

Keep in mind how you'll use the room when considering layouts. Does the toilet area allow for some privacy? Is there adequate natural light and ventilation? Do you have ample counter space for your toothpaste and cup? Will there be wall-mounted lights at the mirror? (Ceiling lights cast shadows on your face that can complicate make-up application). Is your tub faucet within reach so you don't have to climb into the tub to turn on the water? Where will you store your extra toilet paper? Is there a towel hook close to the shower door?

Once you have a layout you're happy with, your designer will likely discuss product and material selections. You may decide to have a dual flush toilet to conserve water or an electric heating mat under the floor tile for added warmth. The list of products and materials include plumbing and light fixtures, floor, wall and ceiling tile and other finishes, cabinetry, hardware and accessories. To get a sense of the quality of products and finishes, don't rely on images in magazines and on the Internet: go to a local showroom to see and touch the items you are considering.

In addition to floor plans, your designer will likely draw views of each of the interior walls. In bathroom renovations, establishing the heights of half- walls, mirrors, light fixtures, tile layouts and windows are all essential parts of the design and can make the difference between an ordinary room and an extraordinary one.

Bathrooms require the labor of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, heating and cooling contractors, tile installers, painters, cabinet-makers, and sometimes even sound and telecommunications consultants. For this reason, having a person coordinate the work keeps the project running smoothly. You don't want the tile-installer laying tile before the plumbing pipes have been moved.

Bathroom renovations require careful planning and are complex to build. By taking the time to organize your project with experienced professionals, you will reap the benefits each day.