Bathroom product feature: Small wonders

With UK bathrooms some of the smallest in Europe, demand for compact design is on the rise. Lara Sargent looks at how product innovation and effective planning combine to create elevated spaces, even with the smallest footprint.

It will probably come as no surprise that the UK is home to the smallest average bathroom size in Europe. 

And there are several reasons why industry experts think compact bathroom layouts are here to stay. “Firstly, there’s the trend towards smaller homes,” explains Ben Bryden, sales and marketing director for RAK Ceramics UK. “With urban spaces becoming more crowded, designers must get creative with how they use every inch.

VitrA’s Archiplan range was developed specifically for smaller spaces.

“Another big influence is the rise of multigenerational living. More families are living together under one roof, so bathrooms need to be versatile and accessible for everyone, from kids to grandparents. Designers should be focusing on smart storage, flexible layouts, and user-friendly features to meet these evolving needs.” 

Nicola Friel, showroom manager at VitrA London couldn’t agree more: “The rising cost of living and high interest rates makes it difficult for young people to get on the housing ladder, and an ageing population and exorbitant care home costs are driving families to take elderly relatives into their own homes.”

More people living under one roof necessitates more rooms, which “naturally sacrifices the space in each”, adds Hayley Bowman, marketing manager at Frontline Bathrooms. 

“Traditionally the average British bathroom is a modest size and that’s unlikely to change soon,” adds Helen Clark, head of marketing at Utopia. “We are trying to squeeze more cloakrooms, bathrooms and ensuites in without the footprint changing, so room sizes are inevitably impacted.”

Shrinking new builds are another factor, adds Yiota Toumba, senior designer at Ideal Standard. That means developers and designers are being asked to work with smaller footprints when it comes to residential projects – with bathrooms being one of the first places to see a cut in size.”

Victoria + Albert has extended its range of compact freestanding baths (all around 1500mm long) with the new Lussari.

Size matters?

So what does that mean for the consumer who is planning their dream bathroom space? Is a spa-at-home sanctuary out of the question for the compact bathroom?

Certainly not. “While many of us dream of large, luxurious open-plan bathrooms complete with a roll-top bath and spa shower, the reality is that the average UK bathroom measures little more than 2m x 2m,” explains Bryden at RAK Ceramics. “But with careful planning, this actually gives ample room for comfort.”

Some of the bestselling products at Frontline are slim vanity units, compact freestanding baths and a corner entry, walk-in shower enclosures, indicating that “homeowners are looking for stylish, yet space-saving solutions for their homes,” says Bowman at Frontline Bathrooms. 

Maximising the small space through clever design and special products is a key sales driver, which means the consumer no longer has to compromise on style or functionality. Product innovations aimed specifically at compact bathrooms are thus naturally on the rise.

Step forward space-saving options such as corner basins, wall-hung fixtures, shallow-depth WCs, recessed shelving, compact tubs and slim cabinetry which all become useful components for the designer. That’s not forgetting minimalist brassware, concealed shower valves, modular fitted furniture and thin shower trays to create the illusion of more space. 

The BABY ILI range from Flair Showers is a collection of 1800mm shower doors designed specifically for smaller bathrooms and loft conversions with low and sloping ceilings.

“The depth of an average washbasin is 450mm, however there are smaller styles with shorter projections that offer a neat solution,” says Friel at VitrA London. “Installing a wall-hung toilet can create a greater sense of space, and in smaller bathrooms, useful storage is essential.”

“We’ve seen an uptick in interest for compact bathroom offerings, ranging from fitted and modular storage solutions to versatile fittings such as mirrored LED cabinets and tall wall units,” adds Charlotte Tilby, head of marketing at Woodstock Trading Co. owner of the Calypso Bathrooms and Veldeau brands. “These solutions optimise vertical space while providing ample storage.”

Key sectors to the compact bathroom market are cloakrooms, shower rooms and en-suites. In part, down to multigenerational living where large family bathrooms might be scaled back in size or shape to make way for an additional bathing space.

“A lot of people want an ensuite in their property so will either find space to create one, or if they have one existing, then the family bathroom tends to be compromised,” explains Dena Kirby, senior designer at Ripples Harpenden. “There’s a trend for removing the bath from the family bathroom (especially in households with older or no children) and inserting a large enclosure instead. New build projects tend to not include a family bathroom at all and just have an ensuite for each bedroom.”

For Dan Banks at Just Trays, the versatility and efficiency of cloakrooms, shower rooms and en-suites is what makes these compact bathing solutions so popular. “They offer tailored solutions for various needs within limited space. Cloakrooms provide convenience, while shower rooms offer efficient bathing options, and en-suites enhance privacy. As such, small space planning remains a crucial aspect of contemporary bathroom design.”

With urban spaces becoming more crowded, designers must get creative with how they use every inch, including bathrooms.

Ben Bryden, sales and marketing director, RAK Ceramics UK

For Emma Mottram, brand marketing manager at Laufen, cloakrooms present “a unique opportunity to make a statement that differs from the traditional family bathroom.”

The family bathroom still remains an important household space – it just might look and function a little differently to a latter-day traditional set-up say industry insiders.

Tilby at Woodstock Trading Co says: “While there has been a trend towards creating separate ‘self-sufficient’ ensuites for each floor or room, the traditional family bathroom remains relevant. Families are re-evaluating their home layouts to accommodate all members of the household for accessibility, functionality and enjoyment – but still valuing the communal aspect of a shared family bathroom.” 

Changing family dynamics, smaller floorplans and the need to create an inclusive bathing environment are all key factors for any compact bathroom. Whether this means extra bathrooms in place of a single large bathing space – or simply more ensuites in new build developments – it’s clear that compact bathrooms should be a focus area for retailers.

Roca’s wall-hung In-Wash with In-Tank smart WC saves space by integrating the cistern within the pan.

All our experts agree that compact bathrooms shouldn’t mean slimmed down style or limited storage.

“Currently, shower toilets seem to be the most asked-for item,” adds Kirby at Ripples Harpenden. “Compact furniture with shaver sockets in the drawers is also a popular feature – it avoids having toothbrushes and clutter out on show when they are being charged, providing a minimal look in a small space.” 

Next up, expect smart tech such as sensor-activated brassware, adjustable lighting systems and voice-controlled fixtures to overhaul small spaces. “Touchless taps are a great space-saving solution,” offers Lewis Neathey, leader, product management at Lixil EMENA and Grohe UK. “Infra-red controlled taps offer compact, slim profiles which are lever-free for a streamlined appearance.” 

Hidealoo is a foldaway toilet frame that aims to maximise space in small bathrooms.

And there should be no compromise on sustainable materials and water-saving technologies in compact bathrooms. “Consumers will expect the same luxurious aesthetics, innovative technology and strong eco credentials in a compact bathroom as they would in larger spaces, says Ziggy Kulig CEO at Graff. 

“Additionally, incorporating elements of visual interest like statement tiles, accent walls, or strategic lighting can elevate the design without overwhelming the space,” adds Banks at Just Trays. “While the focus of a small bathroom may be on fitting things in efficiently, a skilled designer should integrate functionality with sophisticated style, transforming even the most compact spaces into inviting sanctuaries.”

Small really can be beautiful.

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