Kitchen & Bath: When a Double Vanity Just Won't
The National Kitchen & Bath Association's (NKBA's)
Bathroom Planning Guidelines provide practical
dimensional requirements for every fixture used in the
bathroom, along with the floor space required around fixtures
and vanities. Of the 41 guidelines, it's difficult to implement
even half of them in practice, however, for one simple reason:
There's rarely enough space available. Still, the guidelines
serve as a useful point of reference -- it's handy to know what
the generally accepted planning standards are before departing
from them. And all of the guidelines consider safety first, a
standard I would never depart from.
Despite the obstacles, our typical client would like us to
remodel a standard, 5x9-foot bathroom to include a double
vanity and a whirlpool tub. We can't work miracles, but I'll
offer some practical ideas on how to accomplish the
Two's a Crowd
A bathroom containing two lavs, or basins, is a terrific
option, but to meet NKBA Guidelines 14 and 15 (and these are
minimum space requirements), you must have 15 inches
from the center of the first lav to an end wall or countertop
edge, and then 30 inches from center of lav to the center of
the next lav (see Figure 1).
Figure 1.For baseline, minimum access, locate the
centerline of a lav at least 15 inches from a side wall and
space double lavs a minimum of 30 inches from center to center.
For more comfortable use, allow at least 3 feet of wall space
per user and 42 inches for a single vanity width.
If you do the math, that calls for a minimum of 60 inches, or
5 feet of wall space. And 5 feet really isn't enough for
comfortable, simultaneous use of both lavs. Six feet is a
real-world comfort minimum, with 36 inches between lav centers.
In fact, most research suggests that a 42-inch-wide single
vanity is the perfect size for most users.
The biggest complaint I address in designing a bathroom (or a
kitchen) is lack of counter space. So I remind my
space-challenged clients that a second sink isn't as useful as
a larger mirror and extra counter space, which most couples
have determined are what really make their shared bathroom
work. I might also inquire whether they get ready at different
times most mornings -- if so, the need for a second bowl will
be only occasional.
Since counter space is critical, don't forget to take
advantage of the space above the toilet. I often run the
countertop right over the tank, creating what is called a banjo
top. But remember to leave the tank accessible for repair by
making the section of counter that goes over the tank
removable. Wall brackets or a piano hinge offer two obvious
Avoid the pedestal. Pedestal
lavs are great design elements in the right setting and perfect
complements in a powder room or guest bath, where a minimal
form can make a small area seem larger. But they provide no
counter space. Many wall-hung or table-mounted lavs leave the
space feeling open while also providing a work surface around
the basin (Figure 2).
Figure 2.A wall-mounted lav or basin provides the
space-saving look of a pedestal lav along with much needed
usable countertop space.
While a 32-inch-high vanity is an industry norm, and one that
works well in most children's baths, today's sophisticated,
multi-user bathrooms often feature split-level, dual
lavatories. Typically, the lower level is set between 30 and 34
inches, and the higher level from 34 to an extreme of 42
inches. In the 5x9 bath, a compromise height for a single lav
is in order. I generally choose a 34- to 36-inch-high vanity
that works well for the average adult's height. Compromise is a
key element for remodeling in general -- we rarely have an
ideal space to work with.
Mirrors & Lighting
Don't overlook the power of the mirror to transform a space.
The number one rule for determining mirror size and placement
is to make certain the mirror is both high and low enough to
work for your clients. Being tall, I find that most mirrors are
not installed high enough, forcing me to scrunch down to see
while I shave or comb my hair. In the same context, don't
forget shorter users and children. Can they see comfortably,
without straining? There are no hard-and-fast rules on
dimension here -- go by your clients' heights and preference
and what the space will allow. As a general rule, the bottom of
a vanity mirror should be no higher than 40 inches above the
floor. Don't overlook the incredible "enlarging" effect that
custom-fitted mirrors have on a small bathroom space (see
Bath, 8/02). You may not be able to make the room larger,
but you can make it feel as though you did.
Figure 3.Effective use of mirrors can transform a
small room (top). "Hollywood" lighting around the mirror
provides good, even illumination without "hot spots." The best
placement for individual mirror light fixtures is at eye level,
or 3 to 6 inches lower than the typical user's height
Lighting. Great mirrors
without great lighting don't serve your client well. The rule
of thumb that I apply here is to be certain there's good
lighting on both sides of the mirror, with light fixtures
placed at a height that will provide the greatest illumination
at about the same height as the primary users' eyes (normally 3
to 6 inches lower than their overall height). Of course, with
two users of different heights, you have to compromise.
Overhead lighting alone, as in recessed can lights or a
fan-light fixture, isn't adequate, as it tends to cast shadows
and leave mirror users in the dark. Fixtures that surround the
mirror (often referred to as Hollywood lighting) actually rate
high, as they provide good continuous lighting without "hot
spots" (Figure 3).Jim Krengelis a frequent lecturer on kitchen and
bath design and lives in St. Paul, Minn.