Small Bathroom? Make it Look Bigger by Ignoring the Experts
How to Make a Small Room Feel Bigger
Recently, my wife and I decided to do something about our downstairs half-bath.
This room is tiny - like 5 feet by 4 feet. Just enough room for a toilet and vanity. The previous owners seemed to have some intentions for it. They primed it white, put up a wallpaper border, then left it. To make the room feel bigger, we employed some tricks that actually seem like they shouldn’t work, that they might be the opposite of what you might do to make a room seem larger. Stick with me here and you will see why.
Because our adjoining laundry room had been recently redone (not by choice, our neighbor hit the gas instead of the brakes and actually drove into my house, but that’s another story), the bathroom stuck out like a sore thumb. In addition to the white walls, there was an oak vanity with medicine cabinet, an oak cabinet over the toilet, and an oak toilet seat. My wife insisted that the toilet seat go.
As we got into the project, we learned that there are four easy things you can do to make a tiny room seem larger:
- Remove Extra or Unneeded Cabinets
- Put in a Pedestal Sink
- Paint the Room a Dark Color
- Paint the Ceiling the Same Color
- Put Up a Large Piece of Art
These tasks may seem counter intuitive, like they would actually make the room feel smaller, but to our surprise, they accomplished the opposite.
Remove Extra or Unneeded Cabinets
The first thing I did to our bathroom was to remove the tall, narrow wooden cabinet over the toilet. This thing was probably designed for a small bathroom with a pedestal sink to afford storage. But our bathroom already has a wide vanity with plenty of storage, making the over-toilet cabinet unnecessary.
This immediately made the room feel larger, now that a large piece of wood was no longer looming over your shoulder as you do your business. No need for a lengthy explanation on why this works - it's pretty self explanatory.
Bonus: I sold the cabinet on Craigslist for $20, which basically paid for the paint.
Paint the Room a Dark Color
We always hear about painting rooms light, airy colors in order to make them feel not so tiny. It makes sense, at least to our ears, but I have talked to so many people who, after doing this, are still stuck with a small-feeling room.
Even though painting small rooms light colors often doesn’t work, our brain just trusts common knowledge and we just chalk it up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, a tiny room will always feel tiny, no matter what.
This does not have to be the case.
For some reason, my wife and I chose a darker, cobalt blue. We were not initially intending to do something to make the room feel bigger, at least not through our paint choice, but it worked. Afterwards, I did some reading on why this might be the case, and the best explanation is...well, I don’t have an explanation why. Sometimes things just work because they do.
The brain is a complex thing, and hard to understand. What I do know is that conventional wisdom on this topic will tell you almost EVERY TIME to paint the room light, but when combined with the next step, you will be amazed by what you see.
Install a Pedestal Sink
I have to note that we haven’t yet undertaken this step, but it is in our plan. Currently we have a box-like vanity with a single sink, with lots of storage underneath. Our house has plenty of storage, and their really aren’t any items that we need to keep in that bathroom, so a pedestal sink will be a good way to open up some floor space.
It has been demonstrated by experts that the more floor you can see, the bigger the room will feel. Obviously if this is your only bathroom or if you live in a home with limited storage, this may not be an option for you. This will also be the most expensive thing you have to do to make your room bigger.
Paint the Ceiling the Same Color as the Walls
As my wife was cutting in with paint near the top of the walls of our bathroom, she became concerned about getting blue paint on the ceiling, and paused. Lucky for us she got the bright idea to forget taping off and being careful and just painted the ceiling the same color.
This quite possibly did the most to make our bathroom feel larger.
Because the eye no longer has a stopping point when it follows the wall to the ceiling, the room automatically is perceived as larger. Your small room wants to be perceived as smaller, and this trick can actually fool the viewer.
Put Up a Large Piece of Art
Much like the other steps above, this was realized by accident. One night I came home from a night of drinking with friends, and as I was leaving the garage, I had the bright idea to grab a large framed Monet print that was hanging in the garage. It was there because I had bought it for $1 at a yard sale, and it had broken glass.
The print was blue and matched the room perfectly, and I have since had the glass replaced. It is almost as wide as the wall it is hanging on, and is large and bold. But for some reason, it works.
What I have discovered is that sometimes, you need to break with convention and do the opposite of what the “experts” tell you. By doing so, I have created a bathroom that is still small, but no longer feels like an oppressive closet. Instead, it is warm and inviting.
The truth is that a tiny room will always be a tiny room, but at least you can make it feel bigger by following some unconventional wisdom. Don’t ask your friends if you should do this, just do it. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always repaint the room and put it back the way it was.
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