8 mistakes interior designers always notice in a bathroom - and how to avoid them

These issues are the most common things the designers we asked spot in a bathroom, but they're totally avoidable if you know how

A minimalist bathroom
(Image credit: Tom Ferguson Photography. Design Luke Moloney Architecture)

Bathrooms are difficult to design. Fact. They are spaces where form and function must be balanced - where plumbing and electrics need as much attention as those finer design details. Sometimes, it feels like a bit of push and pull to design the perfect space, so design mistakes are inevitable.

But there are some design faux pas that are glaringly obvious to the designers but might be less obvious to the homeowner. 'Pay attention to detail, and you'll create a bathroom that truly shines,' recommends interior designer Rayman Boozer.

To make sure you're not falling into the same trap, we've spoken to bathroom experts and designers who know a thing or two about modern bathroom mistakes. Here are 8 that should be avoided at all costs.

1. Bad tiling

A bathroom with tiling

(Image credit: Casework)

Awkwardly cut tiles, unsightly grout lines and badly picked color schemes are pet peeves for designers, so pay attention to those finer details and strive for impeccable tiling.

'One glaring mistake that often catches the eye in bathrooms is poorly laid-out floor tiles,' says Rayman Boozer of Apartment 48. 'Starting on the wrong side of the room can result in tiles being awkwardly cut short at the tub or vanity, disrupting the flow.'

Make sure your tiles are uniform in size too. ‘Bathroom tile niches that have slivers of tiles instead of full tiles are a bathroom bugbear for me,’ says Casey Keasler, founder and design director of interior design firm, Casework. When it comes to tiling, think about the color of the tile too and pick colors that won't dirty easily. ‘Thinking black and white tiles is a mistake, people think they are easy to clean - but they tend to look the dirtiest the quickest,’ says Casey.

'The scale of the tile also affects the amount of grout and therefore amount of cleaning so larger format tiles might be considered in a shower area,' says Stephanie Dale of Studio Webster Dale.

Finally, let's not overlook bathroom grout lines. Don’t go for a bright white grout in the bathroom as it is prone to getting grubby. 'The wrong shade of bathroom grout can undermine your bathroom's overall look and feel,' says Rayman. Instead, neutral grouts are a safe bet or go dark for a striking pattern (and a great dirt disguise!)

2. Inadequate bathroom lighting

A bathroom with mirror lighting

(Image credit: Bradley Van Der Straeten)

As with every room in the home, bad bathroom lighting is a costly mistake that can be a detriment to your design. Get your bathroom lighting right and the room will feel relaxed and calming. 'Bathroom lighting needs to be both functional for everyday use and also able to set a mood for a relaxing experience,' says Meredith Nettleton of Melbourne-based interior design, studio mkn.

To get the mood spot on, strive for the layered lighting look. At the very least, go for an overhead ceiling light or recessed lights combined with tasteful wall lights that flank your bathroom mirror and provide a flattering glow. Think about the height of your wall lights too. Overhead lighting casts shadows across the face, particularly under your eyes, enhancing wrinkles and pronouncing imperfections, so make sure to light your face from the side.

Pick wall light fixtures that flatter the rest of the room and your bathroom hardware. Especially if you are dealing with a small space, going for a cohesive and uniform look across your lighting and hardware will stop the space from feeling cluttered and overwhelming. 'If using a decorative lighting piece, consider what the light looks like both on and off,' advises Meredith.

'I often notice when bathroom lighting is the wrong color temperature too,' points out Adam Lawler of boutique studio, Ment Architecture LLC. 'We usually set our lighting at 2700 kelvin, which is warm without being too orange. Some bathrooms are very cold feeling due to color temperatures above 3000 kelvin.'

3. Using wood without sealing it

A bathroom with wooden ceiling

(Image credit: Mallory Leasure. Design: Ment Architecture LLC)

While the natural grain of hardwood can look beautiful in the bathroom and bring that warming feel to the space, wood bathrooms should be treated with care. If you don't treat your wood properly, the moisture and dampness in the air can end up rotting the material, meaning you only have to redo your whole bathroom a few years later.

Avoid falling into this trap by selecting a carefully sealed wood floor or countertop, protected with oils, wax, or varnishes. Make sure to frequently wipe moisture away too, so keep a sponge on hand - particularly important if you have a basin sunk into a wooden countertop.

What's more, the fluctuation in temperature means that any wooden floorboards can end up warping too - a huge risk when a bathroom is a big investment. Instead of hardwood flooring, why not go for engineered board instead - it's far less susceptible to warping and staining. Vinyl bathroom flooring can have a wood appearance too.

4. Forgetting to accessorize

A bathroom decorated with accessories

(Image credit: Unique Lapin. Design Crina Arghirescu Architecture)

Modern bathroom trends like to incorporate accessories and decor in the bathroom. Without the right accessories, the space can feel stark and not very homely. Just because this is a functional room, doesn't mean you can have fun with it.

I like a bathroom basket that sits on your bathroom countertop and is styled like a coffee table. Alternatively, a beautiful bathroom tray can hold a candle, a small plant, and some luxury bathroom necessities to give your bathroom that spa-like feel.

A small ceramic vase with a dried flower, or a few live plants scattered around can also bring a freshness and decorative feel to the space (what's more, some plants thrive in the humid, moist conditions of a bathroom). A few candles are a nice finishing touch, adding to your bathroom lighting scheme and looking beautiful when unlit too.

5. Not considering the layout of the room

A tiled bathroom with accessories

(Image credit: Lisa Cohen. Design: Kim Kneipp)

Think about the layout of your space and plan accordingly. You might have a particular dream bathroom saved on your Pinterest board, but if it's not the same shape as your space, it's just not going to work.

Take measurements and be realistic, setting expectations and planning layout ideas for awkward bathrooms. Is that beautiful freestanding roll-top bath going to work in your small bathroom? Think about alternatives like a bathtub that measures slightly smaller, or even a wet room instead.

6. Too much clutter

a modern bathroom with a vanity unit

(Image credit: Nate Berkus Associates. Photo credit Christopher Dibble)

Clutter inevitably accumulates in the bathroom. It's a busy space where we act out our morning routines, and as a consequence, stuff gathers. The problem with all this stuff is that it can detract from the relaxing feel of the space and can make your bathroom feel cramped.

So how to organize a bathroom and maximize the space? Keep clutter to a minimum with uniform decanters, storage boxes that divide up your drawers, and keep bathroom necessities organized. Make sure to regularly declutter the zone and throw stuff out instead of keeping those empty toothpaste tubes by the sink for weeks.

'One of the things I always notice in bathrooms is cluttered vanities,' says Alexandra Coxon of My Habitat Design. 'No matter how neatly you line up your toiletries, they always find a way to look a bit cluttered when left out in the open on the countertop. I love to build-in drawers, preferably in smaller sizes to organize everyday items for easy access.'

'Organize drawers using clear containers,' says Lauren Sullivan of Well x Design. 'Some of my favorites come from The Container Store and are available in multiple sizes to fit various items. Being able to easily locate items makes getting ready a breeze, even in the smallest of spaces.'

7. Using too many finishes

A bathroom with mixed hardware

(Image credit: Unique Lapin. Design: Crina Arghirescu Architecture)

Mixing up finishes in the bathroom can bring a multi-dimensional look that creates layers in your design. But sometimes, and particularly for smaller bathrooms, you should be careful with too many finishes as the overall look can feel cramped and cluttered. Go for a seamless, considered finish that keeps things uniform and harmonious.

'Another faux pas to avoid is the clash of finishes,' says Rayman. 'For example, mixing chrome and polished nickel can create a visual discord that's best kept at bay.'

'Maintain cohesiveness by using the same or similar wall treatments throughout the room,' agrees international interior designer at Gunter & Co Irene Gunter. 'This is particularly important in a small bathroom, where you should avoid using many different finishes due to its small size, as this can make it appear overcrowded. A consistent finish will unify the space.'

8. Not providing enough storage

A bathroom with storage

(Image credit: Lisa Cohen. Design: Kim Kneipp)

Finally, bathroom storage is crucial. Too much and the space can feel overwhelming. Too little and clutter will build up. ‘Not providing enough storage or thoughtful storage is a bathroom mistake I always notice,' says Casey. 'We all have bathroom products and they usually need to be accessed daily.'

Plan your storage first and everything else will fall into place. Whether that's open shelving, ceiling-high cupboards, or a simple mirror-fronted cabinet that does two in one. Just make sure to get the size right. 'Undersized medicine cabinets on expansive walls can look disproportionate and diminish functionality,' warns Rayman.

Finally, think about the height of your storage too. 'Bathroom vanities that are too high or too low are another faux pas of mine,' says Casey. 'There is a sweet spot, especially for a small room.'

3 essential buys for a well-designed bathroom

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.