There's often a dilemma to face when it comes to renovating, or even adding in, a small bathroom. Bathrooms don't have to be big to be useful – from ensuites to powder rooms, the more bathrooms your home can comfortably fit in, the better. However, when carving out a space for a tiny bathroom, or working with a room with limited dimensions, there's one resource that you're likely to struggle with – natural light.
Small bathrooms tend to have small windows at best, and sometimes they have none. 'Natural light can be hard to come by in bathrooms often due to other spaces taking precedent, or small windows due to privacy,' explains interior designer Shona McElroy of Smac Design Studio.
Fortunately, there are plenty of small bathroom ideas you can adopt to increase the amount of light that enters into this space. By in large, these are architectural changes, types of doors and windows, for example, but there are also some ways to amp up the natural light your bathroom already gets too.
9 ideas to increase natural light in a small bathroom
In some designs, often ensuites, bathrooms are completely internal, with no exterior walls for a window to the outside world to even be considered. This sort of bathroom isn't unusable by any means, but there's something about using a bathroom to get ready in actual daylight that's undeniably appealing, and a completely artificially lit space might not deliver the spa-like bathroom you're after.
1. Add a skylight to a small bathroom
When you have a bathroom on a single or top story of a home, introducing a skylight is an obvious choice where there isn't wall room for a vertical window. In a space such as this one, designed by Angelucci Architects (opens in new tab), this narrow shower room idea may have felt claustrophobic without the introduction of a skylight overhead.
But light isn't the only benefit of adding a skylight into a small bathroom. 'We always specify operable skylights in our bathrooms when we can’t have windows due to the location of the bathroom to ensure natural ventilation which minimises condensation,' explains Enza Angelucci, director of Angelucci Architects.
'As much as mechanical ventilation is required, skylights can be easily opened when leaving the room when they are still steamy. There's still nothing nicer than fresh air into a bathroom.'
2. Use a glass privacy door
Where adding light from the exterior of your home isn't possible, using glazed elements to help the bathroom benefit from borrow internal light is the next best thing. The easiest way to do this for any bathroom? Use a door with glass inserts.
'Using glass doors in small bathroom design, is a great way to let the light flow between the adjacent hallways, making the space feel bigger and brighter overall,' says interior designer Emma Shone-Sanders of Design & That (opens in new tab).
Though of course, privacy is something that needs to be factored in. 'Go for a frosted or reeded glass with Crittall style doors to create a contemporary look while maintaining privacy,' suggests Emma, 'or fit a semi-sheer café-style curtain to a panelled door for a more traditional look.'
3. Or create an open-concept ensuite bathroom
When designing an ensuite idea, you might find yourself with a windowless space. That's what happened in the configuration of the main bedroom in this penthouse apartment designed by Gunter & Co.
'Natural light in a bathroom is, for me, always desirable,' says interior designer Irene Gunter, founder of Gunter & Co (opens in new tab), 'so we came up with this solution; a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass that lets the light in. Had this been a solid wall, the bathroom would have seemed very confined once the door was shut, so the glass helps the bathroom feel spacious.'
In the confines of a bedroom suite, how private you want your ensuite to be is up to you as a person, or as a couple. While this design again features reeded glass, many people opt for a transparent glass as a room divider for an ensuite, making the whole room feel larger.
4. Consider glass bricks for an internal bathroom window
Glass bricks became a popular building material in the 1930s and 40s as a way to incorporate large glazed sections, before the technology existed to do some in a single pane. This design element does seem to fall in and out of fashion, having a slight resurgence in the 90s, as well as today, where some designers choose to embrace glass bricks as a quirky material choice for the design.
In this small studio apartment designed by Polish interior designers Mistovia (opens in new tab), glass bricks have been used to create an internal bathroom that benefits from the natural light, while creating a private space.
5. Try a clerestory window
Clerestory windows, a high-up, narrow window, are effective at bringing in good natural light that has a soft spread across the room.
'Clerestory windows really come into their own in small bathrooms,' explains David Clarke, from innovative glazing brand ID Systems (opens in new tab). 'Their ability to fill the space full of natural light will help make the bathroom feel brighter and larger is key, whether you opt for slender fixed frames or opening sashes to aid ventilation.'
The positioning of clerestory windows also make them good for bathroom design. They preserve wall space for fixtures and fittings, while also be ideally placed to preserve privacy, meaning you might not even need window dressings.
6. Add a sun tunnel
Where skylights require you to take your home's ceiling up to the pitch of the roof to install, sun tunnels offer another way to bring in light from above, while retaining attic space above. 'Often in small bathrooms the layout of the room means you can’t install roof windows, or don’t have many vertical windows,' says VELUX (opens in new tab)'s Anders Dam Vestergaard. 'If that’s the case, you might want to consider installing a VELUX sun tunnel to let more light into the room. These can be installed in either a pitched or flat roof.'
Sun tunnels also work particularly well for small bathrooms, as they're on a smaller scale. You could position one in an area that needs extra light, such as around the bathroom sink, or perhaps make an interesting focal point above a shower, drenching this spot in light.
7. Boost natural light with mirrors
A strategically placed mirror can make one bathroom window feel like two, helping to bounce natural light around a small space. It'll also help your small bathroom look bigger.
'In this bathroom, we needed to create a sense of space and light so we did full wall mirrors behind the baths and basin, explains Shone McElroy, founder of Smac Studio (opens in new tab). 'It’s amazing to see how this feature can really give the appearance and feel of a bathroom double the size.'
8. Choose light, reflective surfaces
White reflects light, black absorbs it. If you're looking for a small bathroom that feels cozy, then explore dark tones, but for one that feels bright, light and airy, a white bathroom is the way to go.
However, also think about the textures you use in your space too, especially when choosing bathroom tile ideas. 'Glossy tiles are a great choice for a small space as the finish can help reflect light around the room making it feel bigger and brighter,' suggests Emma Scott, Director of Design at CP Hart (opens in new tab).
9. Use slim window treatments, if any
Where you're dealing with a small bathroom window, you need to balance privacy with keeping your space as bright as possible for that spa bathroom feel. Bathroom blinds, in particular, can eat up valuable light even when raised, reducing the overall amount that benefits your bathroom.
If a bathroom isn't overlooked, window treatments aren't a necessity, while privacy glass can either be specified when replacing windows, or applied as a film to an existing window.
If you are opting for blinds in a bathroom, think about how you could mount them in a way that doesn't obscure the window. This could be on the outside of the window recess, or even by creating a recess above the window that the blind can sit in.
How can I make a small bathroom appear brighter?
As well as creating ways to introduce more natural light from outside, you can also try some design tricks to make a bathroom feel brighter. The right bathroom color idea is the best place to start, choosing light colors that reflect daylight.
Don't forget to add artificial lighting into the mix too. Using a daylight-color recessed LED strip in a ceiling, hidden from view, can create an effect as if natural light is streaming in from above, which can make an effective feature.
If all else fails, don't fight the nature of your small bathroom. 'If you have a bathroom with a very small window or no windows, embrace it,' says designer Shona McElroy. 'Make it moody and fun and use dramatic deep colour with wallpapers and then use mood lighting for further enhancement.'
Hugh is the Deputy Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2022.
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