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Take a Powder with Half Baths

Don’t underestimate the power of a good powder room. Here’s why half-baths deserve your full attention.

Written by Donna Peak

As any designer, builder or real estate agent will tell you, kitchens and bathrooms are the most vital, most complicated, most expensive rooms in the house. They have the most infrastructure and the most fixtures, so it stands to reason that they also entail the most decisions. 

Despite this knowledge, it’s easy to brush the half-bath aside. Sure, most modern homes have one, but how much thought and care are really put into them? It’s a toilet and a sink, right? Add a door … done. 

But more people will see and use this loo than will ever step foot in your home’s primary bathroom. What impression will it make? Is it in a logical place in your plan — one that affords comfortable, private use? 

The last thing you want is to move in and realize your half-bath doesn’t live up to your full expectations. So plan it purposefully, and preferably before it’s time for the plumbing contractor to put in the pipes. Here are a few points to ponder.



First, decide if a half-bath is even necessary in your house. Some homes do well only with full bathrooms. Particularly if your design preference leans toward a single-level ranch, you could economize by intending a secondary full bath to be communal. 

However, if you’ll live in a multi-level home and you don’t want party guests climbing stairs or tramping through bedrooms to use the facilities, then your layout likely calls for a powder room. 

Half-baths aren’t just for company, however. Even family members may find them useful, especially in larger homes where the full baths near bedrooms are far away or up a flight of stairs.

Half-baths also aren’t merely a large-home luxury. They prove economical in smaller homes, too. You can cluster kids’ quarters and guestrooms near a powder room to provide access to all but the shower and tub, and, when those fixtures are needed, they can take turns in the nearest full bath. Meanwhile, this half-bath should have room for toothbrushes and toiletries, shelves and hangers and whatever else helps the room function to its fullest.



Half-baths tend to go where guests gather – this usually translates to the kitchen and living room. But I, personally have few pet peeves when it comes to their placement in the floor plan. In my opinion, for everyone’s comfort and privacy, a powder room should never open directly into either of these spaces. There needs to be some separation built into the location.

One ideal spot is in a recessed nook near the front entry of the home. (This also affords you a place to check your look as you head out for the day.) Another prime place is just off the kitchen as part of a mudroom, which has the added benefit of direct access to a sink where you can wash up after doing some yard work or car maintenance. Or, rather than carve out space for a half-bath, look for dead zones in your home’s layout. Beneath the stairs can be a clever and handy solution. 



The premise of a half-bath is convenience, but don’t neglect comfort. Twenty square feet is the bare minimum; 36 square feet is more practical, but it doesn’t have to be square at all. A long, narrow room, with the toilet at one end and the sink at the other, does the trick just fine. More space is a luxury, but devoting too much space misses the point. 



Half-baths have more design options than you might think. For smaller spaces, consider a corner sink to open the room up. If it’s on the larger side, add shelves or cabinets. You might have room for a linen closet, but if you don’t, there are plenty of ways to incorporate all-important storage.


Necessities and Amenities

Beyond the sink and toilet, strive to make your half-bath more than a closet. Here’s some basic equipment: a good solid door, an exhaust fan (required by code), interesting flooring, a towel rack with a hand towel and washcloth, a waste can, a soap dish, electrical outlets, a toilet paper dispenser and spare toilet paper. 

Half-baths can get by without fully stocked medicine cabinets, but they do need a mirror. A shelf or cabinet with extra hand towels and a few spare toiletries for guests are thoughtful touches.

Some guest baths add a urinal or bidet in addition to the sink and toilet. And for the ultimate in luxurious comfort, install radiant in-floor heating.


Whether your powder room is for your own use or for company, make it accessible to all. 


See Also: Designing the Family Bath

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