authors Kim Berndtson | October 8, 2019
There are a number of ways to make a bathroom beautiful. One of the most obvious relates to finishes designers incorporate into the room, such as tile, sink and shower fixtures; cabinetry, and lighting, including sconces and decorative chandeliers and even pendants. However, adequately addressing storage considerations can also go a long way to improving the visual appeal of the space.
“A great bathroom is devoid of products on the countertop,” says Barbara Elza Hirsch, principal/owner, Elza B. Design, in Concord, MA. “We like to provide simple, logical solutions for storage so our clients don’t have to think about where to store them. Every morning they know drawer one contains ‘this,’ while drawer two contains ‘that.’ Everything can be tucked away so when they come home at night, it’s all organized.”
Christine Donner, Christine Donner Design, in Norwalk, CT, agrees. “The desire to eliminate clutter continues to be strong,” she says. “We have reached a point in design where people want elegant and beautiful bathrooms. They don’t want to see toothbrush holders and cups. Instead, everything is put away, which means more storage is needed.”
Janie Wilburn, The Jane Group, in Atlanta, GA, indicates that the clutter-free look is further driven by what people see on websites such as Houzz and Pinterest. “They want more glamorous spaces that are easy to live in,” she says, noting a desire for stylish utility. “They want to have the ability to open a drawer and have everything at their fingertips. Rather than pulling out a bag of makeup, setting it on the countertop and taking out things one by one, they would prefer to simply open a drawer and have everything accessible.”
A bathroom with well-planned storage also creates a sense of calm, adds Dione Dashney, senior interior designer, Johnson & Associates Interior Design, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “We find that our clients are looking for a room that evokes a feeling of peace,” she explains. “To accomplish that goal, good storage has become key. By eliminating clutter on the vanity, we can achieve that spa feeling so many clients are looking for.”
How clients achieve that goal is often varied, indicates Tamra Blair, Tamra Blair Interior Design, in Hermosa Beach, CA. “Everyone has different storage needs, with different sizes of homes and bathrooms,” she says.
However, controlling the chaos often begins with concealed storage.
“We like to conceal as much storage as possible into the design scheme,” notes Dashney. “For example, we may integrate shallow storage behind the toilet, but conceal it in paneling.”
For Donner, spacious cabinets, as well as closets, are a favorite. “There’s only so much you need to keep in a vanity,” she says. “In one recent project, we included an open vanity with a sink and two drawers at the top. Below is an open area for towels and baskets. Beside it is a nice deep cabinet that is great for items you don’t need in the vanity.”
Roomy cabinets can also accommodate clothing hampers and wastebaskets, she continues. “A lot of people want a hamper in their bathroom,” Donner says, adding that those with linen bags inside of a metal frame are particularly appealing. “They take up a lot of space, but we like to include them when we can.”
Hirsch sees clients requesting floating vanities. “The great thing about floating vanities, especially the higher-quality ones, is that they don’t have a stationary top drawer,” she states. “When we use them in combination with integrated sinks – which are somewhat shallow, but you don’t need a super deep sink – they allow the plumbing to go through the back of the drawers in a horseshoe shape so you can have drawers all the way to the top of the vanity.”
Donner and Dashney often use these types of drawers in vanities as well. “People really like the convenience of opening a drawer and they like these u-shaped drawers as a way to save space,” says Donner. “However, you need to make sure the vanity is wide enough, otherwise the drawers aren’t effective.”
Dashney concurs: “Well-organized drawers are the key to a functional bathroom. We always incorporate more drawers than cabinets in a bathroom to optimize space and functionality. For those at the sink, custom boxes that fit around the fittings make use of a space that is typically unused.”
An abundance of drawers in one of Dashney’s recent master bath projects maximizes storage, thereby keeping the space serene and spa-like.
“We incorporated several drawers in the vanity design,” she says, adding that a pull-out tray inside the sink cabinet allows for easy access to an otherwise hard-to-reach place. “With several drawers to keep everything tucked away, the finishes – such as the layers of marble, quartzite and warm woods – are able to take center stage and combine to create an ambiance of quiet luxury.”
Blair likes to use drawers to gain storage space at the sink, too. However, she often maintains a door, but shortens its height, leaving enough room for a drawer at the base of the cabinet. “A lot of times a door cabinet under the sink is quite tall and there’s a lot of wasted space toward the sink,” she says. “Adding a drawer at the bottom gains quite a bit of usable space.”
Including built-in dividers, compartments, organizers and outlets within drawers adds even more storage value to cabinetry.
“Storage needs have evolved to become more complex and varied,” says Hirsch. “Way back when, we used to have a simple vanity with under-sink storage, a medicine cabinet and maybe a linen closet,” she states. “Today, clients want more streamlined and aesthetic storage. Now I see cabinets in all shapes and sizes with built-in compartments and even outlets, so a lot of items that used to be around the sink are now hidden and stored away.”
Dashney and Wilburn are also avid supporters of drawer organization, as is Donner, who loves that wiring for the outlets is neatly concealed.
“You don’t see any dangling wires,” she says. “All you see is the outlet.”
Dashney especially likes to use hair appliance pullouts in the vanity. “We’re big fans,” she says. “These deep drawers with power outlets, metal tubes and space for hair products eliminate the need to keep anything on the counter.”
“We’ve taken storage concepts like you might see in a kitchen and turned them into usefulness in the bathroom,” adds Wilburn. “For example, we see bathroom pullouts with canisters, similar to what you would see in the kitchen for utensils, that can be used for flat irons and curling irons as well as brushes, combs and hair dryers.
“Outlets in drawers are one of the biggest trends we’ve seen,” she continues, adding that the inclusion of auto shut-offs enhances safety. “It’s so much easier to use appliances such as hair dryers, curling irons, etc. if you don’t have to plug them in every time you use them. It may sound dramatic, but there’s really something nice about opening a drawer, picking up the hair dryer and turning it on…without having to plug it in. In almost all of the master bathrooms and guest suites we do with custom cabinets, we’ll include an outlet in the drawer. Hands down, hidden outlets in drawers are my favorite storage solution.”
As such, she encouraged some recent clients to include outlets in drawers in the master bathroom of their new home.
“They are very casual people,” she says, noting their tendency for utility first, style second. “We discussed how to address toothbrushes and hair dryers. They used to keep them on the countertop so I suggested putting outlets in the drawer.”
Additional storage solutions in this bathroom include curved open shelves that connect his/her vanities and take advantage of an otherwise unused corner.
“This bathroom isn’t very large, and they don’t have an additional linen closet, so storage is pretty important,” she says. “We could have done two freestanding vanities, but then we would have lost the corner altogether and we could have a situation where doors could be opening back to back. Adjoining the vanities with the curved shelves gives my clients a place to store things, such as towels, or even toilet paper tucked behind them. This bathroom doesn’t have a ton of storage, but what we’ve included is very functional.”
Several designers also reference a fondness for furniture-style pieces, often custom designed and built.
“Living is less formal these days, so we might include a piece of furniture in the bathroom,” says Hirsch, noting a trend toward more European styling in bathrooms. “If the client has the room for it, we can do a freestanding glass armoire. It’s quite lovely.”
Blair also likes to include tall cabinets, either a repurposed antique or something custom built. “I have a great cabinet maker, so I often design my own tower cabinets with drawers on the bottom and glass on the top,” she says. “They offer an opportunity for concealed storage as well as display space where people can showcase mementos or other special items that don’t need to be behind closed doors.”
For example, in one recent bath the designer included a custom, floor-to-ceiling, furniture-style alder cabinet that addresses a variety of storage needs.
“These clients gave me creative freedom on most items in their bathroom,” she notes, adding that their confidence helped the project go smoothly and gave her the ability to incorporate additional storage solutions such as the sink cabinet with combination doors/drawers, niches near the freestanding tub and in the shower and extra-large medicine cabinets…“which don’t even look like medicine cabinets.”
Also of note, Blair tucked the shower niche into the half wall, which is a technique she often embraces. “Instead of displaying it, I often like to hide it in the back of a pony wall,” she explains. “Many times, we design a beautiful niche with pretty tile. However, once everyone adds their necessities, we lose the aesthetics, so when I have the opportunity, I like to include a pony wall, which also adds some privacy. Adding glass on the top allows for open space and to see the beauty in the tile layout throughout the bathroom walls.”
Borrowing Kitchen Trends
Taking a page from kitchen design, bathrooms also often feature floating and open shelves.
“One of the biggest trends for my clients is floating shelves,” says Blair, noting they are often made from reclaimed wood and positioned between vanity mirrors or above toilets. “Smaller bathrooms, in particular, can benefit from this added feature. I like to design them so clients have an opportunity to display interesting items like candles, frames or rolled towels so they aren’t just looking at tile, a sink and a mirror.”
“While people don’t want to have a toothbrush, toothpaste and face cream sitting on a countertop, on the other hand, they’re interested in aesthetically pleasing open shelving,” adds Hirsch.
The designer also likes to take open shelving a step further, often converting linen closets into open storage. “I love transforming ancient, cumbersome linen closets into nice, open storage solutions,” she says. “I’m working on a tiny bathroom now that has a huge linen closet. Its door abuts the bathroom door, so neither is very functional. But one great thing about the closet is its huge cavity. We’re removing the door and replacing the existing flimsy shelves with weathered wood shelves for baskets, which will make great storage for everything from towels to emergency kits.”
Hirsch took a similar approach in a different bathroom, where custom, illuminated cubbies – with a combination of open shelves and glass-front doors – are tucked into the cavity of the knee wall, framing each side of a dormer window that divides the room in half.
“A roof on this side of the house needed to be redone due to water damage, which gave us the opportunity to reconfigure the bathroom,” she says, adding that finding storage space was especially challenging given the room’s slanted ceilings and unique nooks and crannies. “My clients’ central request was to find interesting storage that would make good use of the unusual space. These cubbies were a great solution for a room that had plenty of width, but not a lot of height. This bathroom has been one of the most challenging to design, yet it is also one of the most exciting because it allowed me to be really creative and come up with unusual solutions. With its slanting walls, my clients would not have had much storage without those cubbies.”
The designer also included another one of her favorite storage solutions – floating vanities with drawers and custom dividers. In this case, his/her walnut cabinets are mounted onto pony walls that bring them forward a few inches to create enough height to hang the mirrors above the integrated sinks, which are accented with a walnut shelf that can slide across as needed.
Medicine cabinets seem to generate mixed emotions with clients…some love them, others not so much.
For Hirsch, tall units – with electrical outlets – have become popular, such as the 40″ cabinet she’s incorporating into a current project. “These are great in rooms that have a lot of height,” she says, adding that she often works in city homes with small bathrooms. “I’ve seen tiny, messy bathrooms become super organized. When you give clients the right storage pieces, it all fits together.”
Blair finds that many of today’s medicine cabinets bear little resemblance to those of yesteryear. “They have come a long way,” she says. “I am finding more and more that they don’t actually look like medicine cabinets, but rather freestanding mirrors.”
Dashney often tries to include towers in lieu of medicine cabinets. “They eliminate the need for unsightly medicine cabinets and they can hold everything from toiletries to towels,” she maintains. “Usually we’ll include a couple of drawers for makeup, hair brushes and other small items as well as doors where they can store medicines, extra shampoo…things they don’t use every day.”
Many of Donner’s clients also prefer to do without the medicine cabinet. “They would rather have a decorative mirror,” she says. “If we’ve planned storage right, that’s possible to do.”
Such was the case in one recent master bath where the designer opted for an oversized mirror that extends the length above an open-leg, marble washstand-style vanity with his/her sinks. To compensate for lost storage, Donner designed two floor-to-ceiling custom cabinets, one to each side of the sinks.
“I was thinking of doctors’ offices that used to have apothecary cabinets,” she says, in reference to their design, which also features rounded corners and crown/base mouldings that were popular during the time period of the home’s original construction.
“This bathroom is in a 1930s house,” she continues. “As I began to think about designing it, I considered how bathrooms were designed at the beginning of the 20th century when elements, such as toilets, tubs and washstands, were introduced bit by bit. It was a very gradual process that resulted in a deconstructed look that is replicated in this bathroom.” ▪