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Smart, Space-Saving Bathroom Storage

Martha Stewart Living, April 2007


When I was growing up, one of my chores was to keep the bathrooms in our home neat and tidy. Rule number one: Find a rightful place for everything. Now, as the home editorial director of this magazine, I know that looks are just as important, even in the most utilitarian areas. The lessons of function and form are evident on these pages, in which I give three bathrooms -- one for a family, one for a couple, and another for guests -- a stylish yet practical makeover. If yours is already perfect, hold tight. I'll do the same for other rooms of the house in upcoming issues.

Family Fare

As you might expect of a bathroom shared by four people, this one can get a little chaotic, especially during the morning rush. Although large by most standards, the space wasn't used efficiently. The sink area was crowded with toothpastes and hair brushes; towels were constantly finding their way onto the floor. The result: It felt more cramped and cluttered than it really was.

Sufficient storage is the most important factor in any bathroom, so my first move was adding a standing cabinet, which I painted white to coordinate with the sink and mirror. Then I focused on the wall-mounted medicine cabinet, eliminating items that don't belong there, such as prescription medicines (which can be affected by humidity and heat). To the right are four more storage solutions, including one for all those pesky towels, which I ended up replacing, since they had suffered a few too many falls to the ground. The new green ones match the walls and the linoleum floor.

Compartmentalize

If you can, choose cabinets that offer separate spaces -- preferably one for each person who uses the bathroom. On this refurbished antique, the bottom drawer contains the kids' bath toys, while the top one holds mom's hair-care essentials, plus a first-aid kit. Lazy Susans make accessing toiletries, stored in pretty clear containers, a snap.

Make Use of Magnets

Sometimes you have to think behind the box. This medicine cabinet became more efficient after I affixed a sheet of precut galvanized steel to its interior with construction adhesive. Magnetic hooks now hold scissors and a mirror, and small plastic cups with magnetic bottoms corral small necessities, such as rubber bands and hair clips.

Think Vertically

The walls and doors in this bathroom were underutilized. I wanted towels and washcloths to be handy for bathers, so I installed a hotel-style multitiered rack on the wall next to the tub. It's also essential to have plenty of places to hang wet towels when a lot of people will be in and out of the shower. I added three towel bars to the back of the bathroom door, replacing a single, inefficient hook.

Bottle It Up

Uniform plastic bottles not only look better than the usual shampoo and soap containers, but they also fit more neatly in storage devices, such as the hanging wire basket I installed in the shower stall. It's always helpful to identify bottles with laminated labels, adding either the names of family members who prefer their own products or else listing the contents of the containers.

His and Hers

Sharing is important in any relationship, but not when it comes to the bathroom. Case in point: the sharp-elbowed nudges caused by an unorganized vanity. The solution was to divvy up the surfaces and compartments. Each partner now sticks to one side of the countertop; trays keep frequently used personal items in place.

Once the vanity was organized, it offered plenty of storage for the room. As a result, I was able to retire the over-the-hill medicine cabinet and mount an antique mirror in its place; its gold frame goes well with the wallpaper. I also added parchment shades to the wall sconces. They provide gently diffused light for grooming and coordinate nicely with the vanity.

Divide and Prosper

Bathroom drawers are second only to junk drawers in their potential for messiness. It's too easy to toss grooming products in there pell-mell. Wooden boxes and trays help categorize the items and are available in various sizes and materials, so they can be mixed and matched to fit any sort of drawer.

Let It Slide

The central cabinets are fitted with roll-out wire trays, the kind used in kitchens. One contains a first-aid kit and miscellaneous toiletries. A pair of hooks fastened to the inside of the doors hold a hair dryer and a flat iron. In the adjacent cabinet, a second sliding track holds the bathroom's trash can.

Keep to Yourself

In the same way that the vanity's countertops are divided evenly, so are its side cabinets. Many of the husband's shaving supplies are kept in a portable basket. His toiletries don't fill up the entire cabinet space, so the bottom shelf is given over to spare bath towels and extra bottles of shampoo.

Guest Services

This bathroom is located next to the spare room in my beach house, which means it gets a lot of traffic from visitors all summer. When I built the room during a recent remodeling project, I tried to keep this fact in mind by ensuring that everything my guests could possibly need during their stay would be at their disposal. The space is situated in an attic, so it's fairly compact, with lots of awkward little angles. Rather than fight those, I used them to incorporate additional storage. For example, I built one cabinet into the wall beneath the roof eaves and another into a crawl space to the left of the sink. The classic subway wall tiles and marble mosaic on the floor create a clean feeling that makes everyone, no matter their own tastes, feel comfortable.

Bulk Up on Supplies

Guest bathrooms require frequent cleanings, so I keep a plastic bin with all the necessary supplies in the largest cabinet, built in under the roof eaves. I also store a season's worth of toilet paper in there, so guests never have to make an awkward request for more.

Construct Cavities

I added a recessed shelf between a pair of wall studs that frame the shower. The cavity is only three inches deep, but that's plenty of space for shampoo, conditioner, and body wash that's been decanted into narrow plastic containers; labels identify which is which.

Hide It in Plain Sight

One item guests seem to forget more than any other is a hair dryer. Rather than make them root around in the cabinet for one, I mounted a streamlined unit to the wall beside the sink. I found this compact device through an online supplier of hotel accessories.

Comments (55)

  • 28 Oct, 2009

    How far apart do you space towel rails when you place them one over the other like on the featured door?

  • 19 Oct, 2009

    I have l/4 the space. Hard to see how I can use this informaton
    P. L in Indiana

  • 19 Oct, 2009

    This is great, but the pictures are so small it's very hard to see how everything is stored. I have a big screen, but have problems anyway. V in Norway

  • 19 Oct, 2009

    I have seen the chrome towel racks at Costco, just like to ones at hotels

  • 19 Oct, 2009

    You can find chrome towel rack at Brookstone.com

  • 19 Oct, 2009

    anyone know where to get the hotel type chrome towel shelf? Good idea!

  • 8 Mar, 2009

    I really was inspired to organize my small bathroom. I share this little bath with my tween-age daughter and teen-age son. You can imagine the amount of products we have. I got some great ideas from

  • 4 Feb, 2009

    Great ideas and very nicely presented. All with that typical "Martha" style and attention to details. Great job!

  • 4 Feb, 2009

    I too had problems down loading the video and gave up. Still pictures and text as a back up?

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    Melanski, that free-standing unit looks like an old medical office cabinet. I used to see them occasionally at flea markets. Happy hunting!

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    I agree Sashab. After waiting over an hour for the video to completely download, it would not run!! Very frustrated, I pressed the close icon and, surprise, there was a picture of the first bathroom, with the other 2 baths on 2 other webpages. There was no indication that the pictures were available. Having said that, none of the bathrooms was as small as either of my 2 bathrooms, one of which is small and the other tiny. Talk about a waste of time.

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    Where can I find the free standing unit in the video? Great video!

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    Seems to take a couple of minutes to download 5 seconds of video on dialup. Waste of time. Just some bullets would work better. I hate the websites that don't bother to check to see first before cramming video on me.

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    Not everyone has hi speed internet. Everyone can see the small pictures, which can be enlarged. I think it would be the best idea to have both; pictures and video.

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    This video floats my organizing boat. I absolutely love it!!! Thank you.

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    really like this video. in fact, getting your children and husband to watch it so they understand how you want the bathroom to to function. like the narrator says, organizing is all about putting things back where they belong. and its impportant everyone is on the same page.

  • 3 Feb, 2009

    I love the organization of the bathroom. Being able to see a little demo was really helpful and a nice change from the small picture ideas.

  • 5 Jan, 2009

    I think the whole ear plug thing is kind of creepy. But that's just me.

  • 20 Nov, 2008

    i liked the bathroom storage unit and had a carpenter make it my house is so organized thank you so much

  • 3 Nov, 2008

    And for the guest room itself, I like to line a pretty basket and put in a few new toothbrushes, paste, bandaids and neosporin, nice hand lotion, few cough drops and other sundries. And to add a single rosebud makes them feel special.
    Grammababy

  • 1 Nov, 2008

    Excellent tips for bathroom organization ! Thank You =D

  • 31 Oct, 2008

    I like how instead of fighting the angles, you can work with them.

  • 30 Oct, 2008

    I forgot to add I use the plastic containers that new sheets/bedding etc. come in to slip closed the towels I want guests to have available. That way our normal family won't grab them and leave me without a matching set for guests. I fold towel, washcloth, handtowels together, tie with raffia bow and put in the bag. That way - regardless of how little time I have - I have fresh lnens. (I also do the same with their sheets and pillowcases sans bows.)

  • 30 Oct, 2008

    I love the idea of having the toilet brush out of sight!!! EEEWwweee

  • 30 Oct, 2008

    Where did you get those wooden boxes?? Who makes them?
    Thanks for the tips....

  • 30 Oct, 2008

    Where did you get those wooden boxes?? Who makes them?
    Thanks for the tips....

  • 30 Oct, 2008

    Where did you get those wooden boxes?? Who makes them?
    Thanks for the tips....

  • 27 Oct, 2008

    Thanks so much for the ideas. I really needed help organizing my bathroom.

  • 27 Oct, 2008

    Thanks for the Ideas ... we have just completed remodeling a basement bathroom and I have been trying to decide where I want everything to go.

  • 27 Oct, 2008

    Thanks for the Ideas ... we have just completed remodeling a basement bathroom and I have been trying to decide where I want everything to go.

  • 26 Oct, 2008

    It would be helpful to be able to make the pictures larger and more detailed, giving us a closer look at the item. Thank you.

  • 26 Oct, 2008

    Just save a copy on your computer and then use your own programs zoom feature.

  • 26 Oct, 2008

    I Hear you. I've asked myself that ever since I joined this web-site. Please Martha let us zoom in on the pictures.

  • 26 Oct, 2008

    I don't understand why the pictures can not be clicked on to enlarge the view.

  • 26 Oct, 2008

    Amen! to the request for larger or "zoomable" photos. Frequently the ideas sound good, but the illustrations are too small and too few for us "visual learners." And, as I have noticed since I joined that this is a frequent observation/request, I have to wonder if any of the folks at Martha Stewart read these comments, or is it just the visitors to the site?

  • 25 Oct, 2008

    The ideas sound good but to make them worthwhile, the pictures should be large
    enough to see the ideas better. I am also frustrated why after people keep posting
    about this problem, nothing is done to fix it. Please help us out Martha and make your
    pictures bigger or else people will start to delete your emails. I am just about at that point.

  • 25 Oct, 2008

    I have to agree as well. This site would be so much more enjoyable if I could actually see the pictures. Please make the pictures bigger!

  • 25 Oct, 2008

    I agree! Need bigger pictures!!!

  • 25 Oct, 2008

    I totally agree. They are very difficult to see. Zoom would be great!!!!!!

  • 25 Oct, 2008

    I agree; I get frustrated and regret joining as most of the tips are so difficult to read or see

  • 25 Oct, 2008

    Please, please make the pics zoom-in-able. I seriously have a hard time seeing the details, as do others......

  • 25 Oct, 2008

    I don't have drawers but I can see how I can incorporate a shelf in my master vanity. A few hooks on the doors for my hair appliances...a slide out or two....all these things would make my master vanity a lot more organized. My master vanity is set up like a hotel room, it isnt in the master bedroom but in an alcove that faces the master. The bathroom is to the left and the master walk in closet to the right. Its nice but can get cluttered being the landing zone between bathroom and closet.

  • 19 Sep, 2008

    I use a vertical paper towel holder that sits on its own base as a toilet paper holder to keep those extra rolls handy. I have a tiny bathroom (5X5 1/2) and the holder is easily stashed in the back corner where the toilet meets the corner of the walls.
    If you can't find a holder like this, one can be easily made from a wooden base with a dowel attached with a screw through the bottom in a countersunk opening. Top the dowel with a round wooden ball glued or screwed on.

  • 6 Sep, 2008

    I think the suggestions are great. I disagree with people that don't feel they are for 'real' people. These are a collection of ideas; of course they have to use a larger room to demonstrate! I have a very small room, yet there are ideas I can incorporate to make it more appealing. The ones I can't use, I gloss over. They can hardly do a show for every conceivable situation; therefore, they group them all into one and use a size room to accommodate them.

  • 5 Sep, 2008

    I agree with the previous comment about wanting to see something more real. Not all of us live in a beach house with a guest bathroom with marble floors *laughs*. I'm hoping in the future to see more realistic depictions of what *most* not all of us go through day to day. I'm a newleywed trying to debachelorize my husbands house and having a difficult time. I'm doing everything, including steaming off the terrible wallpaper that the previous owners of the house hung. TACKY!

  • 4 Sep, 2008

    My problem w/lack of towel rack space is our sliding pocket door to our tiny single bathroom: can't hang any type of hook on that one! BUT I recently found a double-shower-curtain-rod and use the inner rod for the shower curtain and liner and the outer rod as a giant towel bar.

  • 4 Sep, 2008

    The ideas are good ones and the staging is always first-rate, and I can admire the pictures, but most of us do not have such large spaces, as other visitors have noted. Using a lazy Susan with vintage found objects is a chamring idea, but wholly impractical for most of us. I have asked before that we see ideas for real people with real postage sized bathrooms and kitchens. Hopefully the editors read our comments!

  • 11 Apr, 2008

    I was always forgetting if I had taken a medication and I needed an easy way to mark it down. I started writing on the back of my medicine cabinet door with a dry-erase marker. It comes right off and it is in the same place I keep my medicine.

  • 8 Apr, 2008

    We have the same problem! We live in rented accommodation, so making adjustments isn't an option - I've resorted to using suction cup hooks and holders for reducing the need for shelf space, and found a storage stool in Ikea - it has a towelling seat cover that can go straight in the machine (and could easily be replaced to match the existing decor - it's just velcro round the edges), and is large enough for endless stores of toiletries etc - it's a godsend in a truly tiny bathroom!

  • 8 Apr, 2008

    We have the same problem! We live in rented accommodation, so making adjustments isn't an option - I've resorted to using suction cup hooks and holders for reducing the need for shelf space, and found a storage stool in Ikea - it has a towelling seat cover that can go straight in the machine (and could easily be replaced to match the existing decor - it's just velcro round the edges), and is large enough for endless stores of toiletries etc - it's a godsend in a truly tiny bathroom!

  • 28 Mar, 2008

    mine too. Tiny NYC prewar bathroom. The biggest sink I can take is 24" and I always need storage. Their idea of small isn't very relavant. I wish they would have more solutions.

  • 28 Mar, 2008

    Exactly my problem.

  • 27 Mar, 2008

    These sugestions seem to be for homes with space. How do we who live in smaller homes like 3 bedroom homes built in 1950? My small bathroom has a sink, toilet, bath tub and medicine cabnet over the sink. No counters. I use the toilet cover and sink ledge. I have put up shelves above the toilet to hold towels. Woul love suggestions. jeannedog@aol.com

  • 9 Feb, 2008

    You can get tall cylinder vases here : http://www.jamaligarden.com/pID_16198.asp

    You can also use a tall apothecary jar like these for toilet paper :
    http://www.englishcreekgardens.com/Apothecary.htm

    hope this helps

  • 5 Feb, 2008

    When I saw this in 2007, I immediately zoomed in on the toilet paper holder and looked everywhere for one just like it. It looks like glass, but I'm sure it's some sort of acrylic, or plastic. Anyone know where I can find something like this? My bathroom is the size of a postage stamp and this would be perfect.