Master Bathroom Remodel - Photo by Cassandra Monroe

The Worst Bathroom Remodeling Mistakes You Can Possibly Make

I’m currently in the midst of designing several bathroom remodels and multiple bathrooms in new build homes, so I have bathroom design constantly on my mind lately. Bathrooms are one of my specialties and really how I got my start in Interior Design (along with kitchen design), so I’ve been collecting bathroom inspirations photos for years now.

Check on my Bathroom Design Inspiration board on Pinterest…

After studying thousands of bathroom photos and designing dozens over the past ten years, I’ve learned that not all bathroom design is created equal.

As a former engineer, my clients quickly learn that I’m a pragmatist. Form has to follow function, especially in a bathroom or kitchen. I don’t care how pretty it is or how cool it looks if it doesn’t work!

I’ll be honest, in my early days as a designer, I probably made all of the mistakes listed below. But, every job teaches me something new, and I never repeat those missteps again. If you’re getting ready to remodel or design a bathroom, make sure that you or your designer avoids these critical bathroom remodeling mistakes.

# 1 You Have to Get Wet to Turn on the Shower

This list isn’t necessarily ranked in order; however, positioning the shower so you have no choice but to get drenched in freezing cold water every morning has to be the worst bathroom design mistake you can make.

For some reason, people became convinced that the shower controls – the on/off and temperature valves – need to be located directly under the shower head. But, often the shower head is at the far end of the shower from the door, meaning you can’t reach the controls unless you step into the shower.

I have seen showers where the client keeps the shower head pointed towards the wall while they turn on the water. This doesn’t really seem like an optimal user experience for someone’s dream bathroom.

The worst shower layout is one in which you have to get into the shower and also close the door to turn on the shower so there’s no escape. Terrible! I’ve definitely encountered this setup in hotels, and it totally sucks.

So, how do you avoid this happening to you? Look at the plans for your bathroom and picture yourself opening the door and reaching for the controls. Can you easily access them without stepping into the shower and under the shower head?

Remember, most shower doors swing both ways so as long as you can open it one way and reach your controls, it works.

If you can’t, then another revision is definitely in order. You can usually fix the issue by moving either the controls or the door.

# 2 Poor or Bad Vanity Lighting

Vanity lighting design definitely deserves its own post, and I am planning to publish one soon. My biggest pet peeve with many Insta-famous or HGTV-trendy bathrooms is the lighting design at the vanities.

If you have a smaller vanity (42″ or less), then often (but not always) your only solution is to place the vanity light over the mirror. However, for larger vanities, I think it’s a mistake to sacrifice optimal lighting for a cool look or fancy decorative mirror.

Spacing vanity lighting so that it feels balanced and proportional with the mirrors and the cabinetry is a fine art. I agonize over it on every single bathroom project I design. My priority is always to provide a sconce on each side of the mirror with the bulb height between 60″ and 66″. When combined with a recessed can over the sink, the three light sources diffuse hard shadows.

If you’ve ever looked at yourself in a bathroom mirror and thought you aged 10 years, look up. I bet the light source is a downward facing sconce centered over the mirror.

#3 Not Planning Storage Appropriately

So often I see photos of beautiful bathrooms with absolutely terrible storage, especially in master bathrooms. The furniture style vanities can look really pretty but are they totally practical?

It’s so important to seriously consider everything you need to store in your bathroom both for the things you use every day in your beauty and hygiene routine as well as linens and other supplies like toilet paper. Once you understand everything you use on a daily basis, then think about the best way to store it. Do you have serums, moisturizers, makeup, etc. that needs to remain vertical? How tall are the products you use? How long and wide are your hair brushes?

I like to incorporate a variety of drawer depths whenever possible as well as cabinets with doors. The sink cabinet can be a great place for hiding the wastebasket. I also keep tall products like hairspray on a lazy susan from Container Store under my sink.

interior designer des moines south of grand bathroom remodel

This Polished Nickel Medicine Cabinet From Restoration Hardware Adds Tons of Storage

I know medicine cabinets aren’t as sexy as a gorgeous decorative mirror, but they are ridiculously practical in smaller bathrooms. In the vintage style bathroom above, we only had room for a single 48″ freestanding vanity, so we maxed out storage for small toiletries by adding this polished nickel medicine cabinet from Restoration Hardware. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used this exact medicine cabinet because it’s very handsome, generously sized, and comes with an integrated light and electrical outlet. No more razor or electric toothbrush sitting on the counter!

#4 Not Including a Hand Shower

Gray wood-look tile shower with polished nickel plumbing fixtures.

Masculine Modern Farmhouse Bathroom: Walk-In Shower with Polished Nickel Fixtures

Maybe you do your own cleaning and maybe you don’t. Either way, someone is going to be cleaning your gargantuan walk-shower at least every couple weeks. If you don’t include a hand-shower, then the only way they’ll be able to rinse down the shower walls is with a bucket. And, that’s really just mean.

I love my hand shower for both cleaning and for rinsing my hair. If you set it up correctly, you can run your main showerhead and your hand shower at the same time. It’s a more affordable version of body jets, especially if you mount the hand shower on an adjustable wall bar, which I highly recommend.

#5 Trying to Cheap Out on Plumbing Fixtures

During my very first interior design related job – at the Great Indoors in Chandler, Arizona, 14 years ago – a very nice plumbing salesman educated me on the evils of cheap plumbing. He told me that cheap plumbing fixtures from big box stores or discount outlets are often made with cheap plastic parts that break instead of metal.

Mirabelle Pendleton Tub Filler in Polished Nickel

Masculine Modern Farmhouse Bathroom: The Mirabelle Pendleton Tub Filler in Polished Nickel Specified through Ferguson

Fast forward ten years. I was freshening up the hall bathroom in our last house and bought an inexpensive version of a name brand faucet at a big box hardware store even though I warn my clients against this very thing. When we couldn’t figure out how to install it ourselves, we had to call a plumber. After two hours, he informed me he needed to go out and buy all new parts for the inside of the faucet because it was “cheap plastic junk.” So that $90 faucet ended up costing over $300.

I specify all plumbing for my projects through my sales representative at the local plumbing supply companies. They know their product inside out. They know all the parts and pieces that need to be included like valves, and wall elbows, and escutcheon for hand showers. And, they stand behind the product and help you when something goes wrong or needs replacing. They are completely invaluable members of my team.


I could have gone on and on with more bathroom remodeling mistakes that I see people make all the time, so maybe I need to write a follow up post. What do you think are the biggest bathroom remodeling or bathroom design mistakes people make? Are there any bathroom trends you’ve been spotting that drive you nuts with their impracticality? Let me know in the comments.

Master Bathroom

Remodeling a Bathroom for Aging in Place – Six Important Factors to Consider

Some of these links in this post are affiliate links, which means I might earn a small commission if you click through them and make a purchase. It does not cost you anything or change the price of the items in any way.

No one likes to talk about getting old, or even older. I’ve learned that many of my clients do not want to be reminded of their mortality. But, as their interior designer, I feel like it’s my job to raise the issue, especially in the case of bathroom remodel. If you are in your sixties and planning a major renovation of your master bathroom, then it is worth thinking about optimizing the new bathroom design for aging in place so that you can remain in your home as long as possible. I wouldn’t be serving my clients if I created a bathroom for them that didn’t meet their needs for at least the next 15 to 20 years.

Why should I consider Aging in Place when remodeling my master bathroom?

Design for Aging in Place draws on the tenets of Universal Design. Many people think that Universal Design is about creating handicapped accessible spaces, but it’s actually much broader in its application. When I mention Aging in Place to my clients, their minds immediately jump to being wheelchair bound, and they kind of freak out. It’s possible to be guided by Universal Design principles in your home and not extend them as far as creating a wheelchair accessible space. It’s all about your particular needs for your home.

So how do you implement Universal Design or Aging in Place in a bathroom remodel?

#1 Start at the entrance. Many older homes have bathrooms with doors that are only 28″ wide. If there is enough room for framing, consider enlarging the door to at least 32″. Although we aren’t talking specifically about wheelchair access, 32″ is the minimum door opening to accommodate a wheelchair. And, it’s actually easier to navigate a wider opening with a walker or assistant as well. And, while you’re at it, switch out any round door knobs for lever handles.

#2 Install blocking for grab bars. The best time to install blocking in your walls for grab bars at your toilet and in your shower is during a major remodel. Especially in your shower. If you should need a grab bar later, it will be impossible to install it without blocking, and you don’t want to rip out all that pretty tile you just installed. You don’t need to install the grab bars right away. Make sure the contractor notes their location on your plans, and you can add them later when they become necessary.

Aging in Place Bathroom Remodel - accessible shower design Barbara Grushow Designs

Barbara Grushow Designs

#3 Optimize your shower. Aside from grab bar blocking, there are a few other design elements you should include in your shower. You will want to enlarge the shower to at least 5′ x 3′ even if it means eliminating your tub. Discuss the option of installing a curbless shower with your contractor. This means there is no threshold to step over, reducing your likelihood of falling. And, FYI, I actually fell stepping over the curb in our shower while pregnant, so this issue doesn’t only affect older people.

If your bathroom is large enough, consider eliminating the shower door altogether. If a door is necessary, then enlarge it from the standard 24″ to 32″. A sliding barn door style is a perfect solution rather than a swinging glass door.

Kohler Sliding Glass Shower Door - Aging in Place Bathroom Remodel

Kohler Sliding Shower Doors

Include a bench that is at least 18″ deep and 18″ high. I would also make it wider, spanning the width of the shower. There may come a time when you do actually want to sit while you shower, and it might not have anything to do with getting old. You could break your ankle or have your hip replaced. Corner benches are not optimal for this scenario. And, make sure you add a recessed wall niche that is accessible from a seated position at the bench.

Add a separate hand shower on an adjustable bar close to the bench. I always specify a hand shower for cleaning anyway.

Use an anti-slip mosaic tile for the shower floor. Mosaics, by nature, are less slippery because there are so many grout lines. Often a curbless shower is installed with a linear drain, the purpose of which is to continue the main bathroom floor seamlessly into the shower. It’s a cool look, but I would not do it in this situation.

Finally, choose plumbing fixtures with lever handles instead of cross handles. Yes, the cross handles look cool but they are harder to operate if you develop joint issues.

#4 Choose materials thoughtfully. As you age, your vision will naturally degenerate. One way to compensate for the loss of vision in design is by incorporating high contrast at changes in plane (horizontal to vertical). For instance, if you select a medium to dark floor, you may want to paint your baseboards white so that the change in plane from floor to wall is obvious. If you choose dark cabinets, then select light countertops.

Next, make sure your floor tile has a high coefficient of friction and use smaller tiles so that you have more grout lines. I think the wood look tiles are actually perfect for a Universal Design bathroom because many of them are textured and only 6″ wide. Avoid high-contrast patterned mosaics which can seem to vibrate.

studio mcgee floating vanity

Studio McGee

#5 Float the vanity. If you raise your vanity off the floor by 9″, it will make your bathroom feel larger and add a contemporary vibe to the design. It will also accommodate the wheels of a walker. This is definitely one of those Universal Design principles no one will ever think twice about. They’ll just think you have a cool modern bathroom. You should install the countertop height at 34″, which is 2″ lower than standard height.

Some other vanity features that are great for Universal Design and Aging in Place are:

  • Create a seated makeup counter. If it gets harder for you to stand as you age, or if you have a mobility issue, you may prefer to dry your hair and apply your makeup while seated.
  • Install a swing-out, lighted makeup mirror with a magnifying option. These are great for shaving too, completely illuminate your face, and make everything easier to see (good and bad). You also don’t have to lean over the counter to see yourself.
  • Install pulls instead of knobs. Pulls are easier to grasp than knobs, especially for arthritic fingers.
  • Select a faucet for your sink that has a single lever handle, which is the easiest style to operate.

#6 Design your lighting with intention. In order to use your bathroom safely, you need to be able to see properly. Install a variety of lighting including scones on either side of the mirror, recessed can lights both inside and outside of the shower, and LED strip lighting under the floating vanity or in the toe kick of a regular vanity.

What about the tub?

If you don’t have room to create a large shower with all of the features I described unless you eliminate the tub, then get rid of the tub. If you do have room for a tub, then consider a model that is shallower to reduce the perils of stepping over the side and keep the thickness of the side as narrow as possible. If you absolutely must have a tub and do plan to use it for as long as possible, then you may want to consider investing in a walk-in version.

When do Aging in Place design considerations become less important for a bathroom remodel?

This is a very good question. I think there are a couple circumstances in which it would be less important to consider Aging in Place for a bathroom remodel.

First, if your master suite is on the second floor of your home, then it’s less likely you’ll remain in your home if mobility becomes a serious issue. You may want to consider creating a more accessible bathroom and bedroom suite on your main level instead.

Second, if you are in your sixties but planning to move within the next five years, then it sounds like your remodel might be driven more by resale considerations than your personal preferences. But, it’s never a bad idea to use Universal Design principles whenever possible. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, if you thoughtfully approach your bathroom remodel from a Universal Design perspective, then it probably will not affect the aesthetics of the design.  You can still achieve a beautiful new bathroom that can serve you for many years to come.


I believe it’s possible to consider Universal Design in a bathroom remodel project given each client’s particular situation to create a flexible space that adapts to their changing needs as they age while making it beautiful and meeting their aesthetic vision. When executed thoughtfully, many people wouldn’t even realize that a space incorporates Universal Design principles. The whole point of Universal Design, in my opinion, is to minimize the differences in our physical abilities, not to call attention to them.

I hope you found this post on remodeling your bathroom for Aging in Place helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions on how you can incorporate these ideas into your bathroom remodeling project.

Chief Architect X10 PBR Rendering Bathroom

Masculine Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Design Concept & Progress Photos

My masculine modern farmhouse bathroom remodel is inching closer to the finish line, so I thought this would be a good time to share the design concept and some progress photos.

When I introduced the project, I mentioned how my clients didn’t want white trim or finishes in the bathroom. White is my go-to in general and especially for bathrooms, so this was definitely a challenge. I saw it as a great opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and go a little darker with the materials and finishes.

Design Concept

My overall design concept was to create a warm masculine space that referenced farmhouse style but in a more modern way. I chose a palette of warm grays, browns, and black with subtle organic textures and pattern.

Masculine Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Remodel Finishes, Jillian Lare Des Moines Interior Designer

I chose a warm brown-gray stain for the cabinetry and paired it with black quartz countertops that have subtle taupe veining. For the floor tile, I specified a porcelain tile in shades of gray, taupe and cream that resembles concrete. It looked fabulous in combination with a gray wood-look tile in the shower. I flipped the traditional combination of white trim with gray walls and decided on Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter for all of the trim and wainscot paneling.

I like mixing metals in my designs because I think it’s more interesting than when everything matches. In this bathroom, I selected polished nickel plumbing fixtures for a little bit of shine and oil rubbed bronze lighting and hardware.

Masculine Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Plumbing Selections

The soft lines of the modern soaking tub are echoed in the curves of the faucet and the white lightens up the room and keeps it from feeling too dark.

Masculine Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Lighting and Hardware

If you look back at the floor plan, you’ll see that the vanities are asymmetrical. I decided to use pendant lights on the longer side and a more traditional vanity fixture on the shorter side where the wall space was too tight for another option.

Here is the overall mood board…

Masculine Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Design Concept

And here is a quick rendering…

Chief Architect X10 PBR Rendering Bathroom

Progress Photos

I love how the winter landscape echoes the colors in the tile.

My contractor is doing an amazing job with the trim work details.

Loving these pendant lights with the dark cabinetry.

I’m so excited by how this project is turning out and my clients are as well. We’re waiting on the countertops to wrap up the trim detailing at the vanity and to install the sinks and faucet, but otherwise, we’re pretty close to wrapping this one up.

Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Irwin Builds

Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Inspiration

I was recently hired by new clients to redesign their tired master bathroom. They relocated to a rural property south of Des Moines from Alabama and are beginning the process of personalizing the house, which is dated (probably to the 90s) and a little grandma. When we sat down to discuss the design direction, they said they wanted to create a modern farmhouse. This popular style made perfect sense to me, given the location and style of the home.

The master bathroom is their top priority because they suspect a leak in the shower, and we’ll likely tackle the decor of the master bedroom at the same time.  The clients showed me a few inspirational images from magazines but said they trusted me to come up with a design they liked. They did have some interesting criteria, which will test my creative juices.

Criteria #1: No white anywhere. No white trim, no white tile, no white countertops.

Criteria #2: Pet-friendly materials and finishes (see Criteria #1), minimize the appearance of dog hair (I can relate!).

Criteria #3: Incorporate a comfortable soaking tub, free-standing preferred.

Criteria #4: Design a large shower with bench and integrated storage, preferably appropriate for aging in place.

Criteria #5: Inject a healthy dose of masculine style into the room.

Criteria #6: Two sinks or a double sink in the vanity.

I find projects like this to be the most exciting. As Barney would have said, “Challenge accepted!” Thankfully, they did not reference Joanna Gaines or Fixer Upper at any time during our consultation! I did ask if they had any objections to shiplap, and they did not.

My first step is always to draft plans of the existing conditions, and my second step is to gather inspiration images. I knew research would be especially important in this case because no white! I can’t think of any past project in which white didn’t figure heavily into the equation.

From my measuring, I know that a freestanding tub will fit with room to spare, but I couldn’t help looking for images of built-in tubs. I could definitely see planking the side of the tub with wood.

BrePurposed

I love how the wood planks feel both modern and rustic at the same time. I also think a vintage rug would be a fabulous addition.

Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Studio McGee Wood Plank Tub

Studio McGee

My gut feeling is to do some kind of paneling whether it’s shiplap or a board and batten wainscot, painted in a neutral earthy tone. The room has two huge windows, so I’m not worried about it feeling dark. I also think incorporating some reclaimed wood might be a good idea. Thankfully, we have no shortage of old barnwood here in Iowa.

Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Irwin Builds

Irwin Construction

I know this room below is white, but I like the texture of the paneled ceiling. Maybe it’s a little too much shiplap though? A combination of board and batten and shiplap could be interesting.

Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Inspiration Hoedemaker-Pfeiffer

Hoedemaker Pfeiffer

My clients mentioned wood plank tile in the shower. At first, I wasn’t quite sure about it, but then I spotted this design by Juxtaposed Interiors and am now open to it. I worry about wood plank tile being trendy or looking fake, two things I try to avoid whenever possible (ditto the shiplap and reclaimed wood).

Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Inspiration Juxtaposed Interiors

Juxtaposed Interiors

I love the overall feeling of this space below, though I know it’s too white and too feminine to appeal to my clients. But, there are aspects of it worth considering for this project, like the farmhouse sinks, wall-mount faucets, and soft gray tiled walls.

Modern Farmhouse Bathroom Tim Cuppett

Cuppett Architects

It’s definitely worth checking out the rest of Cuppett Architects’ portfolio. I am totally obsessed.

It was surprisingly hard to find good images of modern farmhouse bathrooms. I don’t use any images on my blog that can’t be credited to the original designer, so I find the number of images on Pinterest without proper credit to be really frustrating. Designers, watermark your images! I plan to go back and mark all of my photos.