In recent years, luxury showers have moved to the top of every bathroom remodel must-have and to-do list, to the point that if there’s only one splurge you can make on your next project, it should have something to do with your shower. But in a small bathroom, finding room for any shower – let alone a separate shower – isn’t exactly easy. Space constraints can present all kinds of problems you would never run into in a larger space. That said, there’s usually a solution for every problem, and with a little creativity it’s entirely possible to get a beautiful, open-looking shower in even the smallest bathroom.
The first rule of luxury showers is: ditch the shower curtain. Now, I know a lot of people are loyal to the shower curtain and even prefer it over glass or tile. But for a finished, spa-style look, the shower curtain has to go. Plus, glass is actually a better option for a small bathroom, as the translucent surface shows off the true dimensions of the bathroom, making the space seem larger rather than cutting it off. It also lets more light into the shower, which can make the shower itself feel bigger while you’re in it.
The first problem you can run into with a glass shower door in a small bathroom is that the rigid walls can be a little more confining than a shower curtain, which – when attached to a bowed shower rod – can actually be slightly larger than the base of the shower. But the solution to this problem is almost as simple, at least as long as it’s addressed in the planning stages: in the same way you’d bump out the shower curtain, bump out the shower enclosure. Rather than a square, look for a wedge or diamond shaped shower floor. These angled showers take up a little less space than a square corner shower while affording a little more elbow room.
One of the biggest problems with glass shower doors in a small bathroom is the one that’s also the easiest to overlook: clearance. On a shower/tub combo, the shower doors typically slide side-to-side (a little like a shower curtain), but in a standalone shower, the doors often swing outward. If your bathroom is too small, or not organized just right, opening the shower door can block other fixtures – or, worse yet, the fixtures can actually block the shower door from opening all the way.
Once again, though, the solution is surprisingly elegant: just don’t include a door. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple. But, because of the way water falls, if you install your shower head properly, you don’t need the entire length of your shower to be blocked off. In fact, only a small portion needs to be shielded to prevent the majority of the water from escaping. So instead of a full shower enclosure, consider opting instead for a luxury shower with a single glass panel affixed to the wall alongside the shower head. This creates a clean, modern look and can actually cost less than a full enclosure, too.
If privacy is a concern, you can also pull this off with a tiled shower enclosure. Now, a fully enclosed space made entirely of tile isn’t a great choice for a small bathroom. Not only does it take up a lot of space, but closing the shower on all sides with tile can make it feel cramped, and without a special waterproof lighting fixture on the ceiling of the shower, it can be quite dark. That said, as with a glass shower wall, even a small protrusion can keep water inside while creating a much more open feel, especially if the tile stops at about head height rather than going all the way to the ceiling. Be aware that this design is easy to do poorly as it can be a little too reminiscent of a locker shower, but with the right tile it can also be incredibly beautiful.
If you’re feeling especially bold, you might want to get rid of all the barriers entirely. Asian style wet bathrooms – that is, bathrooms that are entirely waterproofed with a drain in the center of the floor – are starting to pop up more and more in American designs. These do away with the conventional distinction between various parts of the bathroom and allow the water to fall where it may, so to speak. This is far and away the most open look you can get in a small bathroom, and certainly gives you the most wiggle room, but does require extra care to ensure that any fixtures (from the floor, walls, and tub to the toilet and sink/vanity) are adequately waterproofed and with sufficient drainage to prevent damage. If you have that, though, you can crank the water up and enjoy a full-bathroom shower!