Small Bathroom Solutions: How A Few Small Changes (And The Right Bathroom Vanity) Can Make All The Difference

I’ve become something of an expert in surviving small bathrooms. I’ve lived in places with bathrooms that range from cozy to outright tight, makeshift to fully remodeled. Let me tell you: in retrospect, it’s easy to see that there are a few things that can really make or break a small bathroom when it comes to storage space. And I’m not talking the conventional wisdom and small bathroom storage advice, or even huge things that will make a big difference in your storage space. I’m talking the little details that, if left unchecked, can turn into the chronic mild irritants that can start your day on the wrong foot. So how do you take your small bathroom from merely livable to absolutely lovable?

Don’t Forget The Drawers

Madrid Wall Mounted Bathroom Vanity With Vessel Sink From Design Element
Madrid Wall Mounted Bathroom Vanity With Vessel Sink From Design Element

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The number one piece of advice I’d offer to anyone getting ready to remodel a small bathroom is this: don’t forget about drawers. With so many bathroom vanities out there designed to accommodate smaller spaces, it can be all too easy to narrow your search solely by the width and depth of the vanity. But take it from me: a bathroom without waist-ish level drawers is always going to have at least one nagging irritation. Especially if your counter is too small for things like hair brushes, razors, or even a tube of toothpaste, you’re going to get pretty sick pretty fast of only having an under the sink cabinet – or no immediately reachable storage space at all. The remedy is simple: look for a compact vanity like this Madrid Vanity from Design Elements that has at least one drawer you don’t have to bend down to reach.

Seriously, Drawers

24.2" Solid Wood Bathroom Vanity 203115 from Bellaterra Home
24.2″ Solid Wood Bathroom Vanity 203115 from Bellaterra Home

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A further note about the drawers – there’s a simple reason that most smaller vanities don’t come with a top pull out drawer, and its name is plumbing. But even remedying the problem with a wall mount faucet and recessed plumbing (which is a great option if you have the budget) doesn’t fix the baseline problem that most pre-made vanities are designed to accommodate piping. So when you’re eyeballing potential vanities, be aware that just because it has a drawer plate on the upper edge doesn’t mean there’s a functioning drawer inside – it’s often just decorative. That said, many vanities, like this Console Vanity from Bellaterra, have upper drawers designed on the inside to accommodate the plumbing while still giving you that much-needed drawer space.

Shelves, Everywhere, Shelves!

Malago 24" Single Vanity V-MALAGO-24DM from Ryvyr
Malago 24″ Single Vanity V-MALAGO-24DM from Ryvyr

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It’s been said a thousand times that the best way to make the most of a small bathroom (or any small space, really) is to utilize your vertical space, but adding shelving isn’t just a solution for the walls. Even the best designed bathroom vanities have cabinets that are taller than can be used practically, which means that simply adding a shelf in the middle will effectively double your storage space. Including a shelf also helps keep the space divided up better and easier to organize, which can save you having to dig through cluttered shampoo bottles and rolls of TP just to find your hair dryer in the morning.

If You’ve Got The Space, Use It!

Walton 24" Modern Side Cabinet from Virtu USA
Walton 24″ Modern Side Cabinet from Virtu USA

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Bathroom vanities aren’t always the most efficient form of bathroom storage. You see, bathroom vanities are limited by height and by their plumbing, so while I’ll always, always aim for a bathroom vanity that’s convenient to use (see: drawers, shelves), I think it’s often smarter to supplement a small vanity with a storage cabinet than opt for a larger vanity. For one, storage cabinets are much more flexible – can be as narrow or wide, as short or tall as you need, from skinny floor-to-ceiling pillars to cute wall cabinets that you can mount over your toilet (without having to put an irksome hutch over the tank). Not only do storage cabinets offer private, accessible storage, but many of them are also designed to take up as little floor space as possible (or, in the case of wall mounted ones, no space at all). Look for storage cabinets that combine functionality – say, pairing a cabinet with a towel rack, or deep drawers with open display shelves – to get all your storage needs covered in a single unit.

If You Don’t Have The Space, Make Some

Recessed shelving makes it possible to add storage to your bathroom without taking up any extra space at all (by JRP Design and Remodel, photo by Bobby Prokenpek)
Recessed shelving makes it possible to add storage to your bathroom without taking up any extra space at all (by JRP Design and Remodel, photo by Bobby Prokenpek)

This is easier said than done, you might say – but you might also be surprised. While adding square footage is a tall order for any remodel, enhancing your space in other ways is much, much simpler. One of my favorite ways to increase storage space in a bathroom that’s too small for additional carts or storage cabinets (or really anything more than a bathroom vanity) is to create recessed storage areas. All you have to do is find the studs in your wall and remove a portion of the drywall in between them, then build the storage directly into the inside of your wall. These can be as small as a recessed soap shelf or as large as a whole section of your wall, and makes an excellent way to add convenient, reachable storage. This is actually also my favorite solution to one of my least favorite problems: if you’ve got a tiny shower or tub with no storage, adding a simple recessed shower caddy, soap dish, or even a small shelf to put your foot while you’re shaving your legs can make your small space a whole lot more usable.

If You’ve Got It, Recess It

Contempo Wood Framed Recessed Medicine Cabinet 618125 from RonBow
Contempo Wood Framed Recessed Medicine Cabinet 618125 from RonBow

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Recessing doesn’t just work for shower caddies and shelving, either – depending on your existing construction and the scope of your remodel, you can actually add a decent amount of space to your bathroom this way. But when it comes to eliminating the little annoyances, there’s nothing better than a recessed medicine cabinet. I think medicine cabinets are great – combining a mirror with storage is just plain practical. The problem is, in a really small bathroom, most medicine cabinets are too slim to be much use, or if they aren’t, they hang horribly over your sink. The solution? Recess it! Even a partially recessed medicine cabinet gives you a lot more space to work with (and a lot more storage space), and a fully recessed one will add utility to your space without the irritation of an overhang.

Making a small bathroom work for you rather than against you isn’t easy, but a few small changes can be immensely worthwhile.