Refine Your Design: Line, Scale, & Shape

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Spread out all your satisfactory floor plans and pick the ones you feel work the best—the “finalists” so to speak. Try combining the best elements in each one and see if you can come up with an even better plan. You may try this several times before settling on the arrangement of your bathroom that serves most of your practical needs and has the best feeling to it.

Check Your Layout against Reality

Before you move on, make sure your layout will actually work. If you place fixtures and other large units of furniture too close together, you cannot expect the room to be either comfortable or functional. In most parts of the country plumbing codes determine the legal clearance space around fixtures. But the codes vary from one locale to the next, and the standards they set are minimums, not ideals. Consult your local codes and experiment with the minimum requirements for your region. Have a friend or a family member stand 18 inches away from the shower door and find out what it feels like to step out into that restricted a space; measure to find out if 18 inches will really be adequate knee space in front of the toilet; try to wash your face with only 14 inches between the center of your sink and the side wall. These are some of the legal minimums specified by some codes in the United States. Since you’re already going to the trouble and expense of redoing your bath

room to suit yourself and your family, you may want something more.


These elevation sketches show you how a design is tied together with line, shape, and scale.

Large scale elements are used to keep the size of the room integrated as a whole. Small scale elements carry out the large-scale effect.

Major horizontal lines are carried through the space. Shape. Square, rectangular, and elongated rectangular shapes are repeated throughout the room.

Esthetic Considerations

Once you feel satisfied that your basic layout meets your needs, move on to the more esthetic design considerations. When you start to make esthetic choices about remodeling your bathroom, there are no hard and fast rules. Some people establish a color preference first and work other elements into the scheme; others prefer to select their fixtures first. If you have some special feature in mind—perhaps you’re installing an antique pull- chain toilet you just bought—choose other items which support the tone of this element.

The way you approach the esthetic considerations is up to you, but continue planning as if it were a game. You might think of it as a picture puzzle; you are trying to develop a completed picture of your bathroom by assembling pieces that really fit. There is bound to be a certain amount of trial and error, so bear in mind that each idea—even those you end up discarding— contributes to the final effect.

Visualizing Your Design

Part of the confusion that arises at this stage of bathroom planning results from the difficulty most people have in visualizing how their floor plans will translate into three-dimensional reality. One way to deal with this is to draw elevations. You may know that you want a cabinet over the toilet back, but how wide will it be and how tall? Do you want open shelves or doors covering them? How far above the tank do you want it to start? How does it tie in with the rest of the elements on the wall? What kinds of materials do you want to use? You can settle these questions with an elevation sketch.

Drawing Elevations

If you approach your elevation sketches first with an eye to line, scale, and shape and then focus on color, light. and materials, you can avoid feeling confused by too many choices at once. Break them down, deal with one or two principles at a time, and your ideas will fall into place. The sketches below are elevations of Plan 10. They should give you some idea how to approach your own elevation sketches.


Horizontals—created in obvious ways by tile borders or painted trim or in more subtle ways by the tops of doors and windows, soffits, counters, and floors—carry the same or harmonious line around the room and hold the space steady. Use these lines to create continuity. For example, if you have a wall 6 feet wide and can afford the space, use a 6-foot vanity to carry the line through the horizontal space instead of chopping it up with a 4-foot vanity. If you’re deciding how high to make a wall cabinet, consider tying it in with the tops of doors and windows even if the top shelf will be impossible to reach. Here your consideration is the overall effect of your de sign rather than pure function. Finish treatments, like ceiling moldings and light soffits, can also be used to unify the lines in your bathroom. When you bring tile only part way up the wall, you create another horizontal line. It doesn’t have to be arbitrary. Instead, you can tie it in with other elements and carry it around the room. The idea is to be aware of these obvious and not-so-obvious lines and use them to your advantage.


Small spaces often use dropped ceilings to proportion the volume of the room. Unless you specifically choose to feature a high ceiling even in a small room, you want to avoid a vertical tunnel effect. By the same token, it you’re installing a skylight in a high ceiling, you want it big enough so it doesn’t feel like a suction cup.

If your bathroom space is small, you may want to avoid large, closed cabinets. You can change the apparent bulk of a shelving unit by using open shelves on the wall or perhaps even in one part of your vanity. Enlarging or pushing out a window changes the apparent volume of the whole room, so when you’re sketching elevations, try altering the size and type of your windows. Considering the volume of your bathroom allows you to scale its elements appropriately.


Continuity in shape also lends harmony to your design. If you have narrow vertical shelving units, a single oval mirror, round basins, and wide rectangular counter surfaces, you may feel jangled by your design. Obviously this doesn’t mean everything has to be the same shape, but try to avoid too many contrasting shapes; rather, try to tie the whole together by using similar, repeated shapes. Look at the elevation sketches in this section with this principle in mind.

Next: Color and Light

Prev.: Sketching Floor Plans

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Updated: Wednesday, 2011-03-30 11:52