About catherine
Catherine is a CPA-turned-creative entrepreneur. She is the founder of Beginning in the Middle. an interior designer, photographer, writer, and business schemer.  She loves being cozy at home, miniature everything, and has a not-so-secret dream of living on an island one day.
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Before & After

Tips of the Trade: Bathroom Design


We’ve renovated a few dozen bathrooms, and one thing has become very clear over time: there is a BIG learning curve.  We know how overwhelming bathroom design planning can be, so we’re sharing some of our favorite design tricks, mistakes we’ve made, and answering your questions!

in-shower storage

  1. Wall niches || If you have lots of items in your shower, put your wall niche in a spot that’s not visible from the rest of the bathroom.  They tend to get cluttered, and having it out of sight creates a cleaner look in your bathroom.

See more of our JW Bath Remodel here.

See more of our Pearl St. Project Airbnb remodel here.

2.  Shelf || Consider a built-in shelf instead of a niche.  They’re easy to install and can provide more storage space than a niche.

See more of our CMC Bathroom Remodel here.


  1. Shower valve placement || If you have fixed shower glass planned, consider installing your valve at the end of the shower so it’s within arm’s reach from outside of the shower.  This will prevent hot or cold water from touching you while the water temp fully adjusts.

Image by Room for Tuesday of The Proper Hotel

2. Hand showers || This is something we never knew we needed until we had one.   Hand showers are nice to have as a secondary shower head, bu we love them more for rinsing kids (and pets, if you have them), and cleaning.  Being able to wipe down the shower, grab the hand shower hose and spray it down makes cleaning so much easier.  If you don’t have a hand shower but would like one without doing extra plumbing, many brands carry convertible ones that can be installed in place of your existing shower head.  This one and this one are just two examples.

3. Thermostatic valves || These are very worthwhile upgrades in our book.  A thermostatic valve has two controls, one lever that controls water temperature and one that controls water pressure.  You can set the temperature valve to your ideal water temp, and just leave it like that.  Whenever you turn on the water with the other lever, the water temperature automatically adjusts to your set temp.  This is the one we have (we purchased the valve separately).


Lighting can make or break a bathroom, and it has to be all planned before you start demo.  Sconce placement varies depending on the design of the fixture (does it point up or down? how wide?), and over-the-mirror lighting height varies based on the size of the mirror you’re using.  Your electricians will need to know all of these details when they do the rough-in (run wires) toward the beginning of your project.

  1. Sconces || Vanity sconces are great if you have horizontal space to play with.  We usually try to install our sconces so that the light bulb placement is in the middle of the mirror height, and roughly 65-70″ off the floor.

     2. Over-the-mirror vanity lights ||  These are great if you have ceiling height to play with.  If your bathroom doesn’t get great lighting, or if you don’t have other ceiling lights installed, avoid fixtures with opaque shades.  They direct light downward and won’t put off as much light as glass shades will.
     3. Ceiling lights || We usually opt for recessed lighting in bathrooms instead of one flush mount or semi-flush mount fixture.  In the shower, we’d suggest incorporating indirect lighting or installing gimbal recessed lights, which can be rotated toward the wall.  We’ve made the mistake of installing large cans in the shower and it feels like we’re standing under a spotlight.  We never use them.
     4. Dimmers and Switches || Ceiling lights, vanity lights, shower lights, and bath fan should be on different switches.  Everything should be on a dimmer switch!
     5. Temperature || We stick to 2700-3000 kelvins on all of our lighting, including bathrooms.


We could do an entire post on tile, but here are a few tips.

  1. Marble || Marble and other natural stones in the bathroom are easier maintenance than in the kitchen.  It feels luxurious and doesn’t have to be pricey.
  2. All black in the shower || Avoid black tile + black grout on a shower floor.  It gets discolored worse than white does in our experience.  A light or medium toned gray or cream that’s dark enough to hide dust but light enough to hide soap scum is the best!
  3. Floors || Large scale tile requires less grout and tends to look more contemporary.  If you do choose to go with a large scale tile, make sure it has a lot of texture and a matte finish to avoid slips and falls.  Smaller scale tile can be easier to install, especially mosaic tiles with mesh backings, but require more grout materials + labor.  The friction that the extra grout lines creates can be helpful for bathroom floors (especially in showers).

A peek at our new Pearl Airbnb opening this month!  More photos coming soon.

4.  Shower Walls || Avoid installing super small scale mosaic tiles on your shower walls, unless you love cleaning grout 😉 If we’re going with tile on the walls, we like installing tiles with built-in spacers, like subway tile.  Other lower maintenance options we’re very into these days: porcelain slabs and faux shower surround panels that look like stone (we’re using them in an upcoming bathroom remodel).

Photo Source: Jenna Sue Design

reader Q&A

Q: What’s a reasonable price per square foot for tile?
A: $5-10 is reasonable.  Under that is budget-friendly, and over that you get into more specialty tile.


Q: What are your favorite inexpensive tiles?  How do you make them look high end?
A: Marble-look tile can be VERY convincing, but it really varies on the brand.  The less pixelated and printed a pattern looks, the better.  The same is true for printed porcelain tiles that look like cement tiles.

Another trick is taking standard tile and creating a custom pattern with it.  This could be a checkerboard pattern out of two different solid tiles, mixing different hexagon tiles, etc. Just make sure the brand of the tile is the same, and the height of the tile is the same. 

See more of this bathroom remodel here.

See more of this bathroom project here.


Q: Anything to consider as I look into adding another bathroom to my home?
A: Yes!  A few things…

  1. Proximity to existing plumbing in bathrooms and showers, as well as your existing sewer line.  If it’s across the house, plumbing is going to be a much larger job than if the existing plumbing is close and you can tie your new pipes into the existing stack.
  2. Think creatively.  Can you cut into an adjacent room a few feet to add a bathroom without making that room awkward?  Is there an oversized closet somewhere that you’re not using?  A bathroom doesn’t have to be huge to be functional!

Q: How can I maximize functionality in an attic bathroom layout?
A: It’s all about using the slopes well in attic bathrooms.

  1. Shower: You want the majority of your shower to be in the tall part of the slope (we’d suggest at least 3′ of it), but your shower can extend farther into the slope where you can put a removable shower bench, wall niche or shelf for shampoo, etc.
  2. Vanity and mirror: We never put vanities on sloped walls because you lean into them when brushing teeth, looking into the mirror, etc.  I feel like it’s asking for a constant head bump.  Try to place it on a full-height wall.
  3. Toilets.  The sitting motion on toilets works well in a slope, but you do still need head room.  A skylight can help with that by increasing ceiling space by at least 10″.
  4. Tubs // A slope is a great spot for a tub because it’s low profile and involves mostly sitting.

I feel like we just skimmed the surface here, but I hope this was helpful!  Do you have any bathroom design questions?  Leave them below!

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  1. Leah Barkoukis says:

    Do you follow any rules in mixing hardware (brass, nickel, bronze) in a bathroom? Is there anything that’s a big no-no?

    • Catherine says:

      It depends on so many factors! We love mixing, but generally stick to 2 different metals max in a bathroom. Black goes really well with both brass and nickel/chrome, so we usually incorporate it somehow. When we do mix, we’ll try to keep the fixtures the same finish and introduce a secondary metal in a mirror or lighting.

  2. Judith Hume says:

    Master Bath remodel is at the top of my list of this year’s projects, and these tips were GREAT! Thank you so much!

  3. Colleen says:

    Sooooo helpful! Thank you!

  4. Leslie C. says:

    Super helpful guys! ????????Especially the thoughts about grout. Dirty grout is the worst…

    Thanks for taking the time to share!

  5. Laura Spayd says:

    This is an excellent post! Thank you

  6. Megan says:

    I love the look of a large tiled shower with a half glass wall but for me it always makes for cold showers. I like a Piping Hot shower. Any suggestions on how to hold heat?

  7. Katriena McKay says:

    This was so amazing thank you! Very helpful for our bath remodel! Is there a typical minimum size you recommend for glass shower with opening (no door) so water doesn’t splash everything during a shower?

  8. Natalie Long says:

    Hey there! I love your bathroom styles, I have a small bathroom and a corner space between the vanity and the toilet that needs some storage/towel hanging area. I want some closed cabinet or basket space since it’s close to the toilet. Do you have any recommendations for nice-looking bathroom storage and towel hanging options? Thanks!

  9. These tips were GREAT! Like master bathroom tips. Two things are much important for the bathroom like lighting and floor tiles.

  10. Carole says:

    Wait are you saying black tile in the shower is a no no? What about with light grey grout? And what about vinyl wallpaper?

    • Catherine says:

      The vinyl wallpaper has held up great! Our thoughts on black tile in the shower… only do it if you’re OK with cleaning often, or else you see soap scum build up and it looks dirty.

  11. This is best bathroom design tips. I am very glad after reading this article. Thanks for sharing with us.

  12. Love this – great information! Thank you!!!

  13. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful blog post about Bathroom Design. Your passion for the topic really shines through. Keep up the great work and keep inspiring others with your words.

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Catherine & Bryan Williamson moved from NYC to Columbus, OH in 2013.  Beginning in the Middle is a journal of the couple's design and renovation projects, real estate investment and Airbnb hosting journey, travel, and other life happenings.



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I grew up in New Jersey and always had a dream of living in New York.  There was something about the energy of the city that drew me inOur journey started unexpectedly in 2012, when we decided to make a big move from New York to Columbus. The glamour of climbing the corporate ladder was wearing off, and we knew that renting an expensive small apartment and dealing with crowded subways everyday was not going to work forever. We wanted to start creating something for ourselves, and although we didn’t know exactly what that something was, we knew NYC wasn’t the place for it.

We decided on Columbus because Bryan grew up here, and we were intrigued by all of the development going on in the downtown area at the time. We drove through many of the neighborhoods and admired the boarded up old houses, most of which were built in the early 1900s, and started dreaming about the things we could do here.

I'm Catherine, and I'm the founder of Beginning in the Middle.

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