There is a lot of research and time spent against creating standards and best practices for spaces that are accessible and easily used by aging and disabled people, but not much for kids. I’m still not exactly sure why that is – but I think it has something to do with the fact that people view this as a transient phase that will pass when the kids grow up. But as I have noted before on this blog and even in my online bio, if you have 2, 3 or 4 children, the ‘kid’ phase can be quite long-lasting – so why not design a bathroom with kids in mind, that functions equally well as they grow older?
A key pillar (do I have pillars? Maybe I do…) of my family-friendly interior design approach is encouraging independence with kids. After all, it helps everyone! Children gain confidence and learn how to do things themselves, and since they’re less dependent upon mom, dad, or other caregivers, there is less work and stress for the grown-ups.
This comes into play big time when it comes to bathroom design. There are a lot of ways to do it well, and just as many, if not more, to do it wrong. When you’re making an investment as big as a bathroom renovation, you want to get it right – the first time.
It is indeed possible to design beautiful spaces with young children in mind that are exceptionally functional, do not look like a preschool restroom, and can go the distance to serve the family well beyond the little-kid years. I’m going to break it down for you with 10 great design ideas for making a bathroom kid-friendly (note that I did not say kid-PROOF…because that’s only part of it…).
(And a bonus…5 mistakes to AVOID…equally important!)
I’m actually going to share, as a sort of warm-up, with a cool collaboration I did last fall with Splash, a plumbing showroom in the Boston area. I visited their showroom and pulled together a design scheme for a hypothetical shared boys bathroom, using the products I found there.
Using my own kids (boys aged 8 and 5 – soon to be 9 and 6) as inspiration, I did a deep dive in the showroom to source fixtures that were ideal for now AND later. When you undertake a bathroom renovation, you certainly do not want to have to do it over again in 5 years.
[Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click through and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission. Thank you for your support of this blog!
Here are 10 ideas you can use for designing a kid-friendly bathroom, whether you’re a design professional or a homeowner:
1.) FAUCETS & SHOWER TRIM WITH RED AND BLUE COLOR CUES FOR HOT AND COLD WATER
I’m sure you’ve seen these and not given it a second thought. Or maybe you looked at them and thought it seemed unnecessary, maybe even unsightly. But consider a child who you want to encourage to wash their hands, or maybe even start their own shower.
The red and blue hot/cold water indicators take the guesswork out of operating the faucets or shower trim – and it is even a good idea for adult guests. When you’re out of your element and away from your own familiar bathroom fixtures, it is easy to forget which side, or which direction to turn a faucet lever to get the desired water temperature. I think the color cues are better than ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ labels, because even children who are unable to read can easily learn and remember what red and blue stand for.
2.) PRESSURE BALANCING SHOWER TRIM
This one may stir up some controversy among aficionados of thermostatic shower controls, whereby temperature and volume are controlled separately, but I always recommend pressure balanced shower trim for guest and kids bathrooms. Again here, you want to take the guesswork out of operating the shower. With pressure balance trim, there is only one handle. You turn it on and keep turning it to increase the temperature of the water. This is more common and more intuitive.
3.) SCONCES WITH NIGHTLIGHTS
I have to say…I’m not a big fan of a plugged-in nightlight. But a nightlight is always a good idea in a kids’ bathroom, to make sure little ones can see their own way to any late night trips to the potty. They’re a little hard to find, but there are some bath sconces out there that have a nightlight feature. Your electrician will install two switches – one for the ‘main’ lights that illuminate the room, and one for the low-wattage nightlights.
Here’s what it looks like in action, with the Robern Uplift Wall Mount Bathroom Sconce with Night-Light Option.
Pretty cool, huh?
My favorite of this very rare breed of light fixture is the Kohler Purist One-Light Sconce. The nightlight is the glass disc underneath the metal band holding the glass shade.
In fact, I am using this sconce (3 of them) in a different finish for my own boys’ shared bathroom in our Berkshires project.
4.) TILED OR PANELED WOOD WAINSCOTING
OK…this one is somewhat specific to boys, but is a good idea for anyone. Growing up with only a sister, I honestly had no idea what a terrible mess boys could make in a bathroom! Good Lord. In fact, I wrote a blog post about this years ago, though it was specific to powder rooms.
I can sum it up in two words: Pee. Everywhere.
You’d think the toilet would be a substantial enough target, but no. Pee on the toilet seat, on the inside of the lid, behind the toilet, pee on the floor, on the walls, on/in the tub, in the crevices of the baseboard, even pee on the floor and walls opposite the toilet, too (that’s when you know they are really mad at you). These are only some of the locations in which I have found pee in our bathrooms.
Urine on the walls is especially hurtful, because they are often left bare, with only paint or wallpaper to cover them. Incorporating a tile or wood-paneled wainscoting into the bathroom design gives you a less worrisome, wipeable surface in the spray zone.
THIS IS NOT THE LAST TIME WE WILL TALK ABOUT PEE…
5.) DITCH THE MEDICINE CABINETS IN FAVOR OF STORAGE IN VANITY DRAWERS
I personally don’t think that medicine cabinets work well in bathrooms used by young children. There are a few issues – one of which is the ability to reach it. Another is the likelihood of fingerprints on the mirror (if it is a mirrored medicine cabinet), courtesy of less-careful hands.
I would instead plan for storage inside vanity drawers, which are more easily accessed by all ages. And you don’t need the fancy built-in dividers and inserts in this case – I think it’s better to buy the freestanding bins, trays, and caddies. Plastic is most cleanable. And as kids grow up and their storage needs change (um…hello makeup!), you can change out and reconfigure the bins, trays, and caddies, without having to change out the entire vanity.
I’m going a little quarantine-crazy with The Home Edit’s new collection of refrigerator bins, and their bathroom drawer organizers are next on my list to snap up for our Berkshires bathrooms!
6.) INSTALL BATH TOWEL HOOKS, NOT BARS
The use of towel or robe hooks in lieu of linear bars to hang bath towels is an overarching trend in bathroom design. People are wising up to the fact that a wet towel that’s folded in thirds and draped tightly over a metal bar is not the most sanitary solution. Much of the time, the towel never really gets full dried, and this also promotes mildew.
Admittedly, I am having some difficulty weaning myself off of this standard, largely because a towel hung on a hook is a look as much as it is a solution. It’s more casual, more modern. But I really do think it’s better. Especially in a kids’ bathroom. I can tell you my own children hang their towels up properly on the towel bars in their (unrenovated) bathrooms exactly 0% of the time. And a couple of female designer friends also remarked that their husbands had similar challenges with towel folding/hanging. Just sayin’…
Keep reading all the way through to read a big mistake to avoid, related to towel hooks!!
7.) INTEGRATED SINKS
An integrated sink is a sink (or, lavatory in design parlance) that is a continuous part of the countertop. Integrated sinks can be made of many different materials – natural stone, concrete, solid surface (e.g. Corian), engineered stone (e.g. quartz), etc. They can be custom designed and fabricated, or ‘off the shelf’ to coordinate with ready-made vanities. The most siginificant benefit of an integrated sink is you are reducing the number of seams, attachment points, and crevices in general where yucky stuff can collect. A kids’ bathroom that is as easy as possible to clean is a gift that keeps on giving!
I am using an ‘off the shelf’ integrated sink/vanity combo in our Berkshires home. It will live in a basement powder room, which will serve the nearby game room/lounge where the cousin crew – which currently comprises of 13 super-close boys and girls ranging in age from 5 to 20 – will be spending most of their time.
(I am using a different configuration with a chrome faucet and white surface, but this photo best shows the sink and how it is one with the countertop surface).
8.) ONE-PIECE TOILETS
This is directly related to #7! And #4 :). Most people do not put a lot of thought into selecting or specifying a toilet for a kids’ bathroom. I would argue it is one of the most important decisions you’ll make! I could write a whole blog post about toilet features that matter, but I’m not sure how exciting that would be to read!! ;).
Most generally and most importantly, a one-piece toilet is what I recommend for a kids’ bathroom. They are typically a little more expensive than a two-piece (where the base and tank are separate parts, assembled on site), but there is a major benefit. And it is, once again, ease of cleaning. One-piece toilets do not have a break or gap between the tank and the base, just a continuous surface that curves gently upwards. And when the pee (or worse…) inevitably goes everywhere, you want there to be as few spaces for it to collect and hide as possible. This is way easier to wipe down.
The Toto Promenade One-Piece is a favorite of mine in more traditional designs.
9.) POP DOWN DRAIN
The Zero Drain from California Faucets was my Friday Family-Friendly Find last week, ICYMI. It is a lavatory (sink) drain that has no lift rod and doesn’t protrude from the sink’s surface when open. Instead, it is flush with the sink when open. When you need to close the drain, you simply push down on it. It kind of makes sense, don’t you think? Push down to close, push again to release. I love intuitive design.
Another benefit I didn’t mention on Friday is that – I think – the Zero Drain would be played with/tampered with less by kids. With nothing sticking up or out, and no tempting rod to pull up or down, the drain can just sit there looking good and not causing a flood. 🙂
California Faucets also has a Zero Drain for tubs!
10.) NON-WHITE TOWELS
OK, so this is less of a design idea per se, and more of a decor recommendation…but it is actually a design consideration, because it could affect the color and type of materials and finishes that are selected for a kids’ bathroom.
Crisp, bright white bath towels look great when they are brand new, and they are almost always fabulous in photography. But, practically speaking, they are very hard to keep clean and looking, well, white. Especially hand towels. Unless your kids are way better at washing their hands than mine.
Gray, beige, or brightly colored towels can look very tasteful, even FUN, if you plan ahead, and they work with the overall bathroom design.
5 MISTAKES you’ll want to AVOID making when designing a kids’ bathroom:
1.) INSTALLING A MARBLE FLOOR
(WITHOUT A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT CAN AND LIKELY WILL HAPPEN TO IT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE BOYS).
OK…I’m not meaning to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, but there is something you need to understand about marble flooring – let’s call it Marble Math. It goes something like this:
Marble + Urine = Etching
Remember Pee Everywhere? If there are ANY boys in your house (and this includes big adult boys, also known as husbands, boyfriends, and dads!), there WILL be pee on your bathroom floor with some regularity – at the very least, right at the base of the toilet. Sorry if this makes you feel uncomfortable to read! Moms with younger kids tend not to be phased by, or sugarcoat discussions about bodily functions, myself included!
You can seal and clean a marble floor until the cows come home, but no amount or frequency of sealant or fastidious cleaning can fend off the assault of frequent urine drips. Etching happens when an acidic substance comes into contact with the marble, and results in what appears to be dots or an area where the finish looks different. It’s not the same as staining – that can happen too, but etching is the bigger issue.
Please note – I am not saying to never use a marble floor in a kids’ bathroom! In fact, there are very few things I would say to ‘never’ do in interior design or decoration. It all comes down to education – knowing the properties of the materials and how they behave, as well as your own (or your client’s) tolerance level, and making the appropriate choice. Not all marbles and tile formats show etching equally, to be sure. For example, a mosaic with smaller tiles (e.g. 1×1) and a honed marble with a lot of movement and color variation, and a lot of grout, will mask the appearance of etching more than a 12×12 bright white polished dolomite floor.
Here is one type of (honed) marble mosaic I think would fare better than others on a kids’ bathroom floor, given etching…
This was a long one…but important…
2.) HANGING WALLPAPER WITH POOR VENTILATION
I would strongly caution against using wallpaper in any bathroom that doesn’t have very good/new ventilation. Moisture is not a friend of wallpaper, and you could easily find your walls bubbling, peeling, and growing mildew/mold if it’s not being efficiently removed from the bathroom. Love the look, though…
There are two wallpaper alternatives to consider if you want that look of a pattern in your bathroom. One is tile that has a repeating pattern applied to it. This is a bit of a new category, so there aren’t tons of options, but it is one I expect to grow in the months and years to come. Another is to have a decorative painter create a pattern on the walls for you. Not only do you avoid the potential issues of wallpaper, but you have the benefit of being able to customize the pattern, colors, scale, etc. however you like.
I love this otomi-patterned mosaic tile from New Ravenna – it is colorful, whimsical, and would make for a great accent wall in a shower or behind a vanity to get a patterned wallpaper look with the resilience of tile.
3.) SELECTING A BATHTUB WITH A HIGH THRESHOLD
Tub showers are a great solution for a kids bathroom. But too often, people do not consider the ease of getting in or out of the tub, or an adult bathing a child while kneeling outside the tub. There is a very basic alcove tub I specify again and again for tub showers in kids’ bathrooms because it has a 15″ height measured from rim to floor, timeless styling (I prefer the rectangular inside shape to oval in an alcove tub), as well as a nice flat rim for corralling shampoo bottles and soaps.
The Bellwether Tub from Kohler is made of sturdy enameled cast iron, and is a very good value. It’s an easy thing to check off the to-do list!
4.) PLACING THINGS TOO HIGH TO BE REACHED
If you want the kids to be able to use things independently in the bathroom, it goes without saying that they need to be able to reach them. Sure, there is the inevitable stage of step stools in the bathroom (bonus tip – floating vanities give you an easy place to stash stools out of the way when not in use!). But these should really be used for reaching the faucet and using the toilet – I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a child to drag the stool all over the bathroom to dry their hands, hang up a bath towel, and certainly not to reach toiletries in a shower niche.
While this is not a kids’ bathroom it does show a great example of a shower niche within reach for kids. To keep the main shower walls super clean and uninterrupted, we tucked a nice long niche into the half wall.
6.) NEGLECTING TO GET DESIGN INPUT FROM THE KIDS
Whether you’re a homeowner/parent or a designer, your client on a bathroom for children is…the kids. Client feedback and input is important, and that includes little ones. That doesn’t mean you cede control of all of the direction and decisions to the under six set, but it is wise to give them a voice in the process. You can absolutely control and limit what you put in front of them for consideration, the choices you give (there should be no ‘bad’ decision possible with your options), and how you present everything (super positive!).
The things I usually let my kids help determine are overall color palette (which you could then interpret in whatever way you feel appropriate), paint color (from two or three options I give them), and small details kids always notice like decorative hardware.
Not involving kids in the design of ‘their’ spaces is a risky proposition. Many kids don’t like change, and would prefer to keep things just as they are. This is especially true with moving to a new home or major renovations. Keep them looped in and feeling like they have a stake in the process, and they are much more likely to be excited instead of upset and shocked on reveal day. I am going to write about this in more depth on the blog in the near future…
Tell me…which number tip is the biggest ‘a-ha’ for you? Did any of the mistakes to avoid surprise you? Please drop a comment below!
And if you enjoyed this post and want to bookmark it for future reference (highly recommended if there is a kids’ or family bathroom reno in your future!), please pin the image below.