More so than in any other room (except perhaps the kitchen), good bathroom design depends on forward planning, because the style of fittings and equipment needs to be governed by practicality – waterproof, warmth, ventilation, water pressure, etc. – as much as by looks. By all means do your homework into materials and finishes, because the bathroom of your dreams may well be within reach – but ultimately the type of room you end up with will be dictated by space and budget. Space is a luxury, layout requires considered thought, including sightlines to the toilet if that’s a concern. Don’t forget, storage and good lighting for different uses is essential. Consider hiding powerpoints for toothbrushes and hairdryers within cupboards.

Fit for the purpose

  • Will there be long, relaxing baths or quick showers? Do you need a bath at all?
  • Do you want a wet-room where everything can be splashed by the shower, or a more traditional design with some separation of the shower stall?
  • Is your prevailing climate chilly or warm – this will dictate heating in the bathroom – underfloor or air?
  • Will there be a family scrum for the basin in the mornings, or is it to be a smart spare bathroom for guests or private en suite? In which case, will you want two basins?
  • Do you want the toilet located separately?

Once you’ve decided on major fixtures, plan the layout.

  • Is access to the shower and bath easy?
  • Does the door open the right way or is a cavity slider better (usually for smaller bathrooms)?
  • Will you be able to open the shower door and bathroom door without hitting anything, or bend over the sink without bouncing off the wall behind you?
  • Is there standing room for dressing/undressing?
  • Do you have sufficient storage for makeup, first aid, personal products, towels, etc.?
  • How will you deal with dirty laundry?
If in doubt, visit friends’ bathrooms and ‘road test’ your needs.

Surface finish

  • Your choice of finish – tiles, timber, paint, stone – will have a dramatic effect on the look of the bathroom but also may affect its upkeep; remember that plumbing requires access for maintenance (service valves, u-traps, unions, etc.), and that bathroom materials need to abide by Building Code regulations. Waterproofing is essential, so don’t scrimp. Even though you can’t see it, water will seek out weak areas, and incorrect application will be costly in repairs.
  • Tiles are an obvious choice of finishing material. Large tiles help make a small room feel large and uncluttered, and they also make cleaning easier. Conversely, small mosaic tiles are very fashionable and work well in small spaces, too. Large mirror walls also add scale, but will need frequent cleaning. That said, don’t overlook traditional finishes such as timber and/or paint, or modern options such as concrete. Modern tile designs combine the look of timber but as a tile, making the best of both worlds.


Bathrooms need heating both for comfort and for practicality: ideally you want a bathroom to be dry within 30 minutes of use. Underfloor heating provides a discreet means of heating the bathroom and is particularly welcome in the winter. Heated towel rails are an essential item in New Zealand’s damp climate. Hand in hand with heating comes ventilation, which is essential to control humidity and condensation and must be planned from the start.


Lighting is important, from task lighting for makeup application to soft, non-directional lighting for relaxing baths or night-time visits – consider step lights or similar for late night use. Natural illumination is often sacrificed here: consider installing a roof window or solar tube.

Bathroom fittings

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bathroom fitouts, from traditional to sleek and modern the options are enormous and it largely comes down to personal taste. Above all, aim for comfort, practicality and durability as well as visual impact.
  • There’s a bewildering choice of tapware, too.
  • Fixtures come in a range of materials, so examine the performance and build characteristics before making decisions.
  • A good tap or shower mixer should give smooth and trouble-free service for many years and not drip (saving your water bills). Ensure the washers and internal parts are made of good quality durable materials.
  • Find out, in any case, whether you have low or high water pressure, and check the pipe bore in your plumbing system: there’s no point spending a fortune on a mixer tap that looks stylish but gives just a trickle of hot water.
  • Given that you’ll need to use a qualified plumber and electrician, ask them for advice (and ask them early in your planning so you can build in their suggestions to your budget before walls go up); they should know what will and won’t work.
  • Also check product warranties and after-sales service when selecting bathroomware.
  • For more on tapware, go here...
A shower must have toughened (or tempered) NZ Safety Glass, or the council will not sign it off. Acrylic shower linings should be cleaned only with appropriate products. Designer: Ezequiel farca  

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