Downsized doesn’t mean dressed down.

Contractors, start thinking small. Or at least smaller. The physical dimensions of the bathroom certainly exploded over the past 10–15 years as more and more consumers turned a formerly utilitarian room into a fashionable rest stop. The “bath suite” was born somewhere along the line and, before you knew it, people started bringing along everything but the kitchen sink into the bathroom with them.

Still, most of your customers live in homes with a traditional sized 5 by 8 foot bathroom.

“It’s great to talk about expensive plumbing products when you’re in such a prosaic industry,” jokes Mark Haddock, vice president of sales and marketing for Mansfield Plumbing. “But most jobs are modest in size.”

Emphasizing this smaller space is welcome news to David Lyon, the designer who helped David Judd build the showroom described in the preceding feature. One of the hallmarks of Lyon’s floor plan is to include a traditional sized bath vignette, no matter how large or grandiose the overall showroom is. Lyon purposely designs the vignette in order to wow customers with designer possibilities.

“Anyone who has gone to purchase a diamond knows that more often than not, size in not synonymous with quality,” Lyon adds. “Quality is determined by many other factors.”

There’s evidently plenty of diamonds in the rough out there. According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, half of all bath remodeling jobs are for spaces 65 sq. ft. Haddock added that he’s seen data that concludes 60–70 percent of all bath remodeling falls under $2,000.

In addition to the remodeling market, many other manufacturers we talked to for this story told us many home builders are constructing homes with, as one put it, “more rational-sized spaces for the bathroom.” Even the powder room or half bath is getting dressed up.

We’re not here to announce the death of the palatial bath suite. Far from it, and anyone attending the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show this month in Chicago will see acres of high-end plumbing products to the contrary.

But take a closer look at this year’s exhibits and you’ll find plenty of ideas manufacturers are coming out with to capitalize on outfitting a smaller-sized space.

Downsized definitely doesn’t mean dressed-down. “Everybody’s tastes have been elevated; consumers have been constantly bombarded with ads and stories on how to turn the bathroom into a real showplace,” Haddock says. “As a result, everyone’s notions about what they expect to see are much different today.”

In other words, regardless of size, people now expect to see a pedestal lavatory, a low profile water closet and a whirlpool. Mansfield, for example, has several models of even entry-level builder lines of whirlpools to fit a regular bathtub space. Mansfield even makes the Aleur, a pseudo one-piece water closet that offers customers that low-slung profile for about half the price. “The luxury look was doubtful in this range of the middle market just a few years ago,” says Haddock.

Even Kohler, a company best known for luxury bathware, came out last year with a BodySpa module that fits a standard bathtub alcove, making it ideal for remodeling as well as a potential upgrade for new construction. The price of $3,100 may not be peanuts, but it’s a far cry from the $10,000 price tag for the original BodySpa.

The company also recently introduced a couple of suites, the Folio and Memoirs — ensembles of products designed for luxury on a budget.

“People are more conservative when it comes to the actual size of the bathroom than they were in 1980s,” explains Steve Bissell, senior product manager for Kohler Co. “But they are definitely expecting more.”

Haddock says he’s pleasantly surprised that even builders — notoriously known to peddle the most basic chrome and white products — are open to new ideas.

“It used to be that the outside of the house was by far the most important item the builder made an extra effort on,” Haddock explains. “The bathroom was just along for the ride. Now builders realize that it’s the only room they sell that comes ‘furnished.’ Only in this case, the ‘furniture’ is made of metal and porcelain.”