A Quick Guide To Making Long, Narrow Bathrooms Work For You

Small or unusually shaped bathrooms are always difficult to decorate, but if you ask me, long, narrow bathrooms are the hardest to work with. While there are lots of tricks for working around a small space, trying to fit all the fixtures you need into a narrow room while also maintaining a comfortable walkway can be a real headache. Just making sure the room doesn’t feel crowded is a trick in and of itself, let alone making the space feel inviting, but with a little pre-planning and the right layout, even a very narrow bath can be beautiful.

Bathrooms with all the fixtures on one side can feel unbalanced, so it's impotant to arrange them in a way that feels visually interesting from different points in the room (by Atelier Noel)
Bathrooms with all the fixtures on one side can feel unbalanced, so it’s important to arrange them in a way that feels visually interesting from different points in the room (by Atelier Noel)

In a very narrow bathroom, there might not be enough space to do anything but put all your fixtures up against one wall and leave the opposite one completely open in order to have a clear walkway through the space. But while this arrangement is pretty inherently imbalanced looking, paying attention to the visual focal points in your space can make a big difference in the overall feel of the bathroom. For example: pay attention to what you’ll see when you open the door to the bathroom. If the door is on the long side of the bathroom, it should open up directly on an important design feature – like a freestanding tub, or your bathroom vanity. The far ends of a long bathroom are where you’ll have the most room to work with, so put your bigger fixtures (like a shower or a large mounted tub) there, and make sure they’re attractive to look at across the length of the space.

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Slightly wider long bathrooms benefit a lot from good pre-planning and a layout that ensures there's enough wiggle room around each fixture (by Beverly Broun Interiors, photo by John Cole)
Slightly wider long bathrooms benefit a lot from good pre-planning and a layout that ensures there’s enough wiggle room around each fixture (by Beverly Broun Interiors, photo by John Cole)

In a slightly wider bathroom, you might have the space either to stagger your fixtures to either side of the room, line them up across from one another, or recess some of them into one wall or the other. In this case, your walkway will be right down the middle, so the ends of the room won’t be the focal points of the space. Especially if you stick to open-air fixtures or frameless shower doors, this will create a much more open, balanced feel. That said, what you really need to keep in mind with this type of layout is clearance. Shower doors, cabinet doors, and bathroom doors can easily butt into each other if you aren’t careful, so it’s important to arrange your major fixtures so their doors won’t touch when they’re both open, and you won’t have to maneuver around them to use your space comfortably. For example, you probably want to put your vanity next to your tub rather than your shower, so the shower door won’t bump into you if it’s opened while you’re brushing your teeth at the sink.

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Trimming down the profile of your vanity and toilet can open up more space in a narrow bathroom than you might expect (by Matt Gibson Architecture + Design)
Trimming down the profile of your vanity and toilet can open up more space in a narrow bathroom than you might expect (by Matt Gibson Architecture + Design)

Downsizing your fixtures is an important first step in any small or odd-shaped bathroom, but in a long or narrow bathroom, that means something a little different. Rather than fixtures that are narrower, you want ones that are long but shallow, like vanities that aren’t as deep (or even wall mounted sinks in place of full vanities), and wall mounted toilets. The closer to the wall your fixtures sit, the wider your walkway will be, and the more open the space will feel. It might not be a big enough change to make a one-sided narrow bathroom into a two-sided one, but with a skinny vanity or a tankless toilet, you’ll really feel the extra wiggle room.

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Japanese style soaking tubs are some of the most stylish space savers, and can give an odd shaped bathroom a really elegant, sophisticated feel (design by Coates Design Architects Seattle)
Japanese style soaking tubs are some of the most stylish space savers, and can give an odd shaped bathroom a really elegant, sophisticated feel (design by Coates Design Architects Seattle)

Of course, not all narrow bathrooms are particularly long, and if you don’t have the space to line up all your fixtures single file, you’ll either need to pick and choose, combine functionality, or get a little creative with the way you use your space. Obviously, swapping out a full-sized soaking tub and  shower stall for a shower/tub combination is an easy way to save space. But if you want to keep the luxurious feel while taking up a little less floor space, you might want to try a slightly more innovative option, like this in-floor ofuro, a Japanese style soaking tub that’s deep enough to stand in, and can easily be combined with a wall- or ceiling-mounted shower head, providing all the sleek elegance and functionality of both a soaking tub and a shower stall in less space than you’d need for either.

Windows high up on your bathroom wall let in plenty of natural light while helping you retain your privacy (by Ohashi Design Studio, photo by John Sutton)
Windows high up on your bathroom wall let in plenty of natural light while helping you retain your privacy (by Ohashi Design Studio, photo by John Sutton)

Long bathrooms also present a worse-than-average problem when it comes to windows. Any bathroom layout demands a certain degree of finesse in balancing natural light and ventilation with privacy, but in a long bathroom it’s particularly difficult to find a place to put a window that doesn’t look directly in on something you’d rather not have your neighbors spying on. The solution, though, is surprisingly simple: narrow rectangular windows placed all along the upper edge of the bathroom provide ample natural light without setting you up to be peeped on. These narrow windows work equally well on either long side of the bathroom, or if one of the short sides of your bath happens to be the exterior one, a narrow horizontal window (especially a frosted one) can give you a little bit of extra light without opening up a full wall and sacrificing a lot of privacy.

Long bathrooms are actually surprisingly kid-friendly, and work well if you have multiple kids using the same space at the same time (by Feinmann Design Build, photo by John Horner)
Long bathrooms are actually surprisingly kid-friendly, and work well if you have multiple kids using the same space at the same time (by Feinmann Design Build, photo by John Horner)

One of the few places a long, narrow layout actually works really well is in a kid’s bathroom. While a bath designed for a gaggle of kids won’t have the sleek, elegant drama of many of the bathrooms pictured here, having a long multi-sink vanity (or even a long trough-style sink, in a particularly narrow bathroom) is perfect for shuffling multiple kids through their morning and bedtime routines. A combination shower/tub, again, isn’t super glamorous, but it’s plenty effective for your growing brood, and paired with a handheld shower head is perfect for bathing the little ones. Just hang a towel bar opposite the vanity for every kid who will be using the bathroom, and put a footstool in front of every sink, and you’ve got a surprisingly comfortable setup for a growing family.

A long, narrow space is hardly ideal to work with, but if you take care with it from the start and plan your layout and fixtures accordingly, you can absolutely get a decadent, luxurious feel from even the oddest-shaped space.