A few years ago, we wrote in Plumbing & Mechanical about the building of large homes with three to four bathrooms, sometimes even a separate bathroom for the kids or grandkids complete with kid-sized fixtures. Master bathrooms were large and had all the amenities — soaking or whirlpool tub, large shower with multiple shower heads or a steam shower, matching toilets and lavs, luxurious faucets and tub fillers.

Today, after the Great Recession, there is change in the way homeowners view their bathrooms.

“Multigenerational homes are including more bathrooms but smaller in size,” notes Diana Schrage, senior staff interior designer at Kohler. “In highly populated urban areas, space is a premium and sometimes limits opportunities. Homes where frequent entertaining is the norm may still live large and the spaces will reflect that lifestyle.”

Lars Christensen, director of product development at Hansgrohe, adds: “Now that the U.S. economy is beginning to improve, we have finally started to build homes again. We are finding these homes to be larger in size, 3,000 sq. ft. and up, and the bathrooms are pretty large. The bathrooms do in many cases keep the same square footage as before, but the soaking tub has been replaced with a larger shower area and more demand for spa-products, such as steam and or a sitting/relaxing area.”

Homeowners may look at smaller bathrooms for the rest of the house, but still prefer a larger space for the master bath.

“We do often see larger, spa-like bathrooms remain part of an overall floor plan as it relates to the master bathroom,” says Kevin McJoynt, vice president of marketing at Danze and Gerber Plumbing Fixtures. “This tends to be the room to escape to and many times still is the place for customization and luxury.”

Many homeowners, especially baby boomers, are “right-sizing” their homes to fit their needs, says Brad Crozier, senior product manager at Moen. That is true whether building a new home or remodeling. And he agrees with Christensen about homeowners still wanting amenities in their bathrooms.

“While the bathroom spaces may be getting a little smaller, consumers are still looking for a spa-like experience — and ‘upsizing’ their amenities,” he explains. “Consumers are using their space more efficiently, creating custom showers, such as vertical spas, which include multiple showerheads, in a smaller footprint.”

Boomers and millenials are making the move from suburban areas back to the city, notes Gray Uhl, director of design at American Standard. They want the urban amenities such as smaller yards and walking to the grocery store or a local restaurant.

“Even with the economy today, no one wants fewer bathrooms,” he says. “Homeowners are looking for acceptable luxury. En suite areas, such as the master bath, are becoming popular. No one has to share. But something has to give, and it’s usually the square footage of the bathrooms.”

Create an illusion

When reducing square footage, streamlined fixtures can help create the illusion of a larger bath area.

“People are learning to use their space more efficiently, which has driven the development — and recent popularity — of streamlined faucets and multi-tasking showers,” says Allison McKinney, product manager at Delta Faucet. “In small bath spaces, especially, single-handle faucets are a perfect choice because they take up less room near the sink than other faucet configurations.”

Using visual tricks can make a space seem bigger, Uhl notes, such as wall-hung toilets and wall-hung lavs. He adds that freestanding tubs are trending higher. Not only can you see the floor beneath, but freestanding tubs hold less water.  “The more floor you see gives the illusion of a bigger space,” he says.

The same is true of showers and wall space, he says. Clear glass shower doors and even shower walls, where you can look to the back of the shower, transmit a sense of space.

If wall-hung toilets aren’t an option, many manufacturers offer compact, elongated toilets. “The configuration of these toilets can save several inches in space by shortening the depth of the toilet, which is perfect for small bathrooms where the door swings in,” McJoynt explains.

Another option for small-space bathrooms is to split the toilet/lav and tub/shower areas.

“In some cases, clients see the wisdom of including a very small bathroom sink along with the toilet for each of the bedrooms but the tub showering areas are the shared areas,” Schrage explains. “The grooming functions which do not require water may be moved to the bedroom space itself, as in a small dressing table, which may be multifunctional for homework or other personal use.”

A continuing popular trend is creating custom showers. Crozier notes that homeowners are “looking to maintain the same amenities and level of indulgence of a larger bathroom in less space.” Homeowners seem to be foregoing the larger, whirlpool-style tubs and substituting them with a shower and a soaking tub within the same footprint.

“Most smaller-space bathrooms typically reflect more of a ‘powder-room’ feel — a sink/toilet combination,” McJoynt says. “However, when a full-bath layout is required, we often see stand-up shower units being installed more and tubs falling by the wayside.  Soaking tubs and jetted tubs remain popular in oversized master bathrooms, but are less prevalent in these smaller second and third bathrooms.”

He adds that smaller bathrooms are “a great creative palette” for choices in lavs and faucets. Homeowners may opt for a pedestal lav to give a room a larger feel, as long as storage space isn’t an issue. Again, exposing more floor to help create the illusion of a larger space. If storage is a concern, 24-in. furniture/vanity options are available.

Wall-mounted faucets are a “great solution” for smaller baths as they “provide unique design, versatility, extra counter space and more room under the sink,” Crozier says.

Christensen says that Hansgrohe has noticed an increase in sales of single-hole faucets compared to regular 4-in. and widespread faucets. McKinney adds that single-handle faucet configurations have grown in popularity to downsize clutter and streamline countertops.

Universal design

“In my opinion, universal design is just good design and should always be considered a factor in your design,” Schrage says. “When done well, it should be invisible. There are myriad ways a space can be made more accessible and it is most cost-effective to take a good look at what your options are at the time you begin your design.”

Jason McNeely, sales training manager at Hansgrohe, adds that universal design concepts work exceptionally well in smaller bathrooms.

“Utilizing wall-hung sinks to open the space up also makes it easier for someone in a wheelchair,” he says. “Removing old bathtubs and creating barrier-free showers gives the feeling of more space and makes the showering area easier for everyone in the household to enter.”

Handheld showers and shower panels that allow the shower head to be moved up or down are great products to look at when considering universal design.

“Universal design blends function with style to create a space that’s beautiful while also offering security,” McKinney says.

Uhl believes the prevailing trend is aging-in-place.

“Homeowners tell us that they would trade five years of living longer with staying longer in their homes,” he explains. “They’re looking for products that don’t look institutional, that are more upscale but functional.”

Walk-in tubs and grab bars are product categories where the institutional look is being replaced by more stylish options.

 “Aging-in-place is a factor homeowners consider when designing spaces throughout the entire home and especially in the bathroom,” Crozier notes. “They not only want product that assist with day-to-day activities, but they’re also looking for style and space-saving solutions.”