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Small Bathroom? Make it Look Bigger by Ignoring the Experts

Updated on December 16, 2011

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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    • AlexisAlcorn profile image


      4 years ago from Melbourne, Vic, Australia

      keep it up dude. I liked that idea of selling the cabinate ;)

    • profile image

      Michelle@Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust 

      6 years ago

      I agree with these great ideas - even though the dark paint goes against conventional wisdom. I had a similar vision for my half bath. I finally got up the courage to take down the cabinet over the toity & guess what - we can't get it off! Hubby took all the screws out & that thing is still holding on for dear life! Did you have any trouble getting yours down? I know how hard it is to repair a lot of wall damage & we are trying to avoid it. Please email me:

      Warmly, Michelle

    • marriedwithdebt profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for stopping by, wordscribe. I've been meaning to add some photos to this hub, but I'm afraid that a photo of a small room is gonna look small no matter what.

      I think a big, bold piece of art, perhaps a nature scene, would give the impression of a window into a large expanse.

    • wordscribe43 profile image

      Elsie Nelson 

      6 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      That is interesting... Funny thing we have a small downstairs half bath that's a dark red with a pedestal sink and I have to agree with you. It does look bigger than it did before with the neutral walls. I didn't intend for it to, but it does anyway. I'll have to give the big piece of art idea a try, I make my own so I will keep you posted. Great hub!

    • marriedwithdebt profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Blondepoet for stopping by!

    • blondepoet profile image


      6 years ago from australia

      Great hub and advice a big thumbs up from Australia :)

    • BradyBones profile image

      R. Brady Frost 

      6 years ago from Somewhere Between a Dream and Memory

      I think it's funny when real estate photographers try to fish-eye bathroom photos. Fish-eye effects on a small bathroom are horrible. Sinks end up looking huge and are usually a point of reference for most people, so a warped sink totally breaks the suspension of disbelief.

      I completely agree with most of your points here. I'm not sure about the large piece of art as I've never seen that as part of a small bathroom in action. Though I've often thought that "pee art" above the toilet at eye level would be interesting.

      If you have a small bathroom you can make it look bigger by ensuring it isn't cluttered. A minimalistic style with elegance and grace is required to make the best of a small situation. Very good points, very good hub!

    • FabLiz86 profile image


      6 years ago from Los Angeles, Ca

      Sounds awesome. I like the idea of painting the entire room dark. I am curious to see what it actually looks like. A photo might be interesting. Great hub!

    • moonlake profile image


      6 years ago from America

      I love painting the walls and ceiling the same color. I also believe this makes a room look larger.

      Enjoyed your hub.

    • marriedwithdebt profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks MT - it's funny because these are things I probably would have never believed would work if just read them online. A lot of them happened by accident, except the paint color.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      These are great ideas. Voted up. I can see how using a pedestal sink and taking out the cupboard will make the place look bigger - there is more open space. Painting the room darker - I am not quite sure if or how that works to make it smaller, but the dramatic blue with a large painting sounds like it would make the room look nicer. I am envious - I would love a small bathroom downstairs - and if I ever do manage to get that done, I will be sure to use your tips.


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