The overflowing medicine cabinet. The stingy towel bar that accommodates precisely half of your family’s needs. The tub that’s overrun with bath toys. Sound familiar? At some point we’ve all had to live within the confines of the tiny bathroom. Fortunately, there are easy ways to make a boxy space work better—and feel bigger. The key is to get organized, edit out the excess, and consider these storage tips.
1. Ditch the towel bar.
First and foremost, when maximizing the minimal bath, you need to take advantage of available wall space. In tight quarters, towel bars are space sucks. In my last apartment, a single three-foot towel bar on the one exposed wall was supposed to accommodate the towel needs of two adults and two tots. Replacing it with a row of Shaker hooks not only quadrupled our hanging capacity but also created a nice-to-look-at detail. Another bright idea: Hang collections of antique hooks at varying heights to create a wall installation. (True, hooks don’t allow towels to dry as readily as bars, but in most climates, the trade-off feels worth it.)
Above: Yellow Simple Waffle Towels hang from the wall of a Brooklyn guest bath (left); photography by and courtesy of Kate Sears, styling by Kate S. Jordan, from The Sentimental Minimalist: A Young Architect’s Bed-Stuy Townhouse Makeover. In lieu of towel bars, a couple opted to have two towel hooks next to the shower and one on the door; photograph by Jessica Comingore for Remodelista, from Steal This Look: A Barbara Bestor–Designed Master Bath in LA. Above: An en suite bath at the High Road House in London uses Shaker pegs to maximize storage. Read Christine’s summerhouse discovery in How Shaker Peg Rails Saved My Sanity, and find Shaker storage sources in 10 Easy Pieces.2. Deploy the S hook.
Say your landlord is so unimaginative that he or she will not let you remove the towel bar—or your bar is built into the tiles on the wall. Then it’s time to invest in some S hooks. (Or you could try a Q Hook.) Hang them over the bar, and in an instant you’ve created a much more useful row of hooks.
Above: S hooks are also great for hanging potted plants in the bath. Photograph by Ryoma Suzuki, courtesy of No. 555, from An Inventive Sliver of a House in Tokyo by No. 555. Above L: S hooks lend a towel bar new hanging possibilities. Above R: With the help of S hooks, Sally Schneider of An Improvised Life turns the dead space at the end of her shower bar into extra towel storage.3. Install a running shelf.
A characteristic feature of any bath designed by my Aunt Sheila is a shallow ledge that runs the length of the wall, usually around the entire bathroom. This Shaker-style architectural detail is relatively simple in construction and easy to install yourself.
Above: In the bathroom at Harbor Cottage in Maine (see A Cottage Reborn in Rural Maine), architect Sheila Narusawa installed a running shelf that not only creates a cozy frame for the bath but also introduces useful storage. Above: In this bath designed by Workstead, a shallow Corian shelf runs just above the vanity. Photograph by Matthew Williams, courtesy of Workstead, from The Artful Shoebox Apartment, Workstead Edition.4. Soar to new heights.
When it comes to maximizing storage, many people forget to look up. Consider installing an open shelf over the door (it’s so much less cluttered looking than hanging one of those shoe caddies). Attractive boxes and a few artful objects lend a minimalist appeal.
Above: In her tiny San Francisco bath, Alexa Hotz used the higher reaches for a small shelf and wall-mounted mirror. Above: A Pottery Barn Hewitt Train Rack, mounted high in a nook over the bathtub, is outfitted with a storage basket and Iris Hantverk Body Brush. Photograph courtesy of The White Arrow, from Before & After: A Trend-Proof Bath Remodel in Brooklyn.5. Edit right down to the toothpaste.
Organization expert Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,advises doing away with anything that does not “spark joy.” This small-living maxim can be applied to everything, toiletries included. First, buy only what you need. Second, ignore the marketing blare. Separate his and hers body wash? Select an unscented neutral. Hair gels, mousse, straighteners, and leave-in conditioners? Narrow your products to one favorite. And so on.
Then invest in beautiful things that you actually like to look at. Toothpastes (see 10 Toothpastes for the Style Obsessed) and creams in lovely containers can be collected together and displayed (or stowed in a displayable box). Swap out bad packaging for good; my grandmother used to store rubbing alcohol in an antique apothecary bottle.
After you’ve culled your holdings and moved select items to open storage, organize your remaining unsightlies: Delilah has some great advice—see 5 Tips for Under-the-Sink Organization.
Above: Beautiful bath accessories and well-packaged toiletries can be stored outside the medicine cabinet. Photograph via Father Rabbit Limited. Above: “I put out only the good-looking bottles, and I typically decant (or hide) anything with packaging that’s not appealing. I think of the shelves in my cabinet as a series of vignettes that I am constantly changing,” says Sarah Lonsdale. See her story 10 Tips for Transforming a Rental Bath on a Budget. Photograph by Matthew Williams.6. Hang up baskets and bags for extra storage.
Add even more storage to your hooks by introducing hanging bags. See Marine Canvas Water Buckets as Bathroom Storage and Design Sleuth: Mesh Market Bag as Bath Toy Storage.
Above: We shot this storage idea, a coat rack loaded up with attractive bags and baskets for added storage, for our most recent book. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista: The Organized Home. See Aha! Hack: A No-Drill Hanging-Storage Solution for the Bath. Above: Cotton bags are used to store elastics and small items in this family bath. Photograph by Constance Gennari, courtesy of the Socialite Family, from Living with (Four!) Kids: Ideas to Steal from Tessa Hop’s Organized and Serene Home.
Want more advice for making the most of your bath? See:
Before/After: A 1920s-Inspired Bathroom, Wall Niche Included
Aha! Hack: A Charming Improvised Medicine Cabinet
And read about how a family of five shares a single small bath in Carmela’s 7-Step Plan to Clutter-Free Living.
N.B.: This post is an update; it originally ran on July 7, 2015.
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