How to remodel a bathroom – an expert guide to planning and designing the perfect space

Remodeling a bathroom? We asked the experts for their expert tips to ensure everything runs smoothly...

Wooden rustic bathroom remodel
(Image credit: Nicole Franzen)

A beautifully finished bathroom to get ready in every morning and wind down in at night really makes a difference to the way you start and end your day. So if you're planning to remodel a bathroom and after some inspiring bathroom ideas, we spoke with Architect Barry Stirland from Rider Stirland Architects to get his expert advice to help you make those all important decisions.

Whatever the size of your bathroom space and whatever your budget, it’s important to consider a few key things before you start, from space planning and storage solutions to flooring and fittings; it really does make all the difference between a basic bathroom and a beautifully functional and utterly enjoyable space. 

Ready to plan your gorgeous new bathroom? Use the following steps to guide you through the renovation process...

7 simple steps to remodelling a bathroom 

1. Plan your bathroom space in advance

Minimal bathroom with arched shower screen and pale pink walls

(Image credit: Decus Interiors)

It's really important to plan your bathroom space properly before you begin work as it'll determine where the main elements are positioned. Where plumbing and electrics end up going, what areas get natural light and ultimately, it's the difference between an adequate bathroom and a wonderfully functional bathroom that you want to spend time in. Whether you're after small bathroom layout ideas or you've got a huge space to work with, getting it right before you begin is incredibly important.

'Think through and plan the layout in detail before starting work. Baths, showers and sinks come in a variety of sizes and it’s important to make the right choices for the scale of your bathroom and to ensure you allow enough space for circulation,' explains Barry Stirland. 'A large generous single basin is preferable to squeezing in a small double, while wall space above the basin is better than a window so you can install a mirror. For en suites in particular, do anything to avoid a view of the toilet through an open doorway.'

2. Think about bathroom drainage

Hampton pendant, Davey Lighting

(Image credit: Davey Lighting)

It's not very glamorous, but bathroom drainage is very important to the finished look and practicality of your bathroom. A well-planned bathroom design will enable all pipework to be integrated and hidden away. Unless you like the exposed pipe look of course! And if you consider it before you begin, it'll help with any unexpected changes and costs down the line.

'Drainage is a problem that we have to solve on almost every project. Unless you are simply installing new fittings in the same location as existing, you will have to find a way for wastewater to get to an SVP (soil vent pipe) or below ground drainage,' explains Barry. This is especially important if you're after wet room ideas and tanking the floor.

'This might involve the installation of a new SVP and below ground drainage, running pipework in line with floor joists, dropping the ceiling on the floor below, or a macerator and pump if it is not possible for gravity drainage. Jumping in without thinking through the drainage can result in costly changes on site and/or ugly boxing-out in the corner of a room to conceal pipework sticking out.'

3. Consider a walk-in shower

White chevron bathroom tile idea with walk in shower

(Image credit: Future)

Showers are delightful things. It's important you get it right when planning for a new one. You might have a large bathroom and you're lucky enough to fit in a separate bath and shower or perhaps space is limited and you're after some simple small bathroom shower ideas, regardless, there are some things to think about in order to make your new walk-in shower work as hard as possible. 

'Continuing the same floor finish into the shower will make the room feel more spacious overall,' says Barry. 'The shower area should be ‘tanked’ with a waterproof membrane before being tiled. For bottle storage, build a tiled niche into the wall. Unlike wire mesh shelving that sticks out, you won’t clip it with your elbows and it looks much more sophisticated. Check dimensions of shower fittings before you buy them, especially if you have a low floor to ceiling height.'

4. Decide on your bathroom flooring

Pastel encaustic tiles on the floor of a wet room style small bathroom

(Image credit: Maitland and Poate)

'If you have the budget for it, electric underfloor heating can make a huge difference to how the space feels underfoot on a cold morning. Good systems can be programmable to come on before you wake up, or linked to smartphone apps for you to control remotely,' says Barry. 'Install over a compatible debonding mat before laying tile bedding and floor tiles.'

Confused? Read our guide on underfloor heating systems explained and if underfloor heating isn't an option, you may wish to consider a flooring material that feels warmer, such as cork or linoleum, which are both also very sustainable choices.

5. The importance of fixtures and fittings 

Monochrome modern bathroom with white tiles and black fixtures and fittings

(Image credit: Christian Brailey \ Rider Stirland)

There's no point thinking carefully about all practical stuff if you're going to forget about the finishing touches! Modern bathroom trends include matching fixtures and fittings, so if you want black brassware consider getting black towel rails (including black valves), a black flush plate, etc. The same goes for gold brass, copper, chrome, and so on.

'For small spaces, choose wall-hung fittings so you can see as much floor as possible (a simple visual trick to make the room seem bigger). For an uncluttered aesthetic, choose a concealed cistern,' suggests Barry. 'If you have not got much scope for storage space, try a wall-hung vanity unit, just make sure the wall can take the weight. Consider aerated tap and shower fittings to reduce your water usage and try to coordinate your finishes.'

6. Don't forget bathroom storage

Bathroom with warm terracotta tiles

(Image credit: Simon Bevan)

Everyone wants a tidier bathroom and bathroom storage ideas are essential to prevent clutter and create a calm bathroom. 

'In a small space, maximize efficiency with a bespoke mirrored cabinet to fit snugly above the service duct all the way up to the ceiling. The large mirrors will amplify the feeling of space and if you include demister pads, they'll stay clear even when the room is steamy,' explains Barry. 'LED lighting can also be integrated. I recommend that shaver sockets are located inside joinery for toothbrush chargers etc to be accessible, yet hidden away.'

7. The key to bathroom lighting

White bathroom with freestanding bath and wood burning stove

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Bathroom lighting ideas are more than just functional; lighting sets the mood and can make you feel refreshed in the morning and relaxed in the evening. The potential for dimming the light is useful for different moods and definitely worth considering - think ‘relaxing bath’ vs ‘getting ready to go out’ vs ‘middle of the night trip to the bathroom’.

Barry suggests to 'go for at least two lighting circuits for the bathroom. Recessed downlights can provide sufficient general lighting for the space, but you don’t want light from above when standing at the mirror. Many off-the-shelf mirrored cabinets include integrated LED lighting, but beware of those with a color temperature of 4000K or above, which will be cold and blue, and instead look for 3000K, which is a soft warm white.'

'If your cabinet or mirror doesn’t include integrated lighting, install wall lights near the sink. If you have the ceiling height for it, a pendant over a freestanding bathtub can look spectacular,' he adds. 'Be aware that wiring regulations set out ‘zones’ within the bathroom relating to proximity to water sources, and that the setting out of light fittings and their ‘IP-rating’ will need to be coordinated accordingly.'

What will it cost to remodel my bathroom?

A bathroom with multicolored graphic wall tiles

(Image credit: Fired Earth)

Bathroom costs will vary depending on many different factors, such as size, materials, how much plumbing and electrical work needs to be done, how much help you get and so on. Costs can vary from about £5,000 ($6,500) for a small, more basic renovation to over £15,000  ($20,000) for something more luxurious.

In what order should you remodel a bathroom?

Bold yellow and white checked tiles in a small bathroom

(Image credit: Studio McKinley)

When planning a new bathroom from scratch, it's worth thinking about every aspect before you get started. Consider the layout of your bathroom first, followed by drainage, where your shower might go, including what type of shower, flooring, fixtures and fittings, bathroom storage, and lighting. 

Proper bathroom planning will help control costs from spiraling, keep a project on schedule, and will help you achieve the space you've always dreamed of.

Rachel Christie
Rachel Christie

I'm the Houses Editor on Livingetc and I've been obsessed with property ever since I was a kid. With a diploma in interior design and more than a decade working on interior magazines under my belt, I feel very at home sourcing the best contemporary houses the world has to offer for Livingetc. It's not just my day job either, I've spent a scary amount of my own time researching schemes for my own renovations - scrolling Instagram, stalking Rightmove and Modern House, flicking through magazines and snooping in other peoples' windows - so I really do live and breathe houses on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Before Livingetc I had a stint finding homes for Ikea Family magazine where I was lucky enough to gallivant around the world on shoots meeting and interviewing interesting people, all with a very keen eye for blending high-end design with everyday items from Ikea. It inspired me to not be afraid of mixing new and old, expensive and affordable, vintage and modern and so my current Victorian terrace in north London is very much an updated, contemporary take on a period property; think open-plan modern kitchen with concrete floors, feature fireplaces and my grandmother’s paintings on the walls. I'm currently crushing on reeded glass, large gingham prints, squishy curved furniture; like Buchanan Studio’s Studio chair, and vintage wall sconces; I especially adore Retrouvius for sourcing antique finds. I’m feeling inspired by Lonika Chande, Beata Heuman and Matilda Goad at the minute and I already can’t wait to start planning my next home, wherever that might be!