5 Top Bathroom Design Trends for 2021

A survey of 1,140 homeowners by the New Home Trends Institute reveals the most in-demand bathroom design features of 2021.
5 Top Bathroom Design Trends for 2021 Ample counter space enabled Van Metre Homes to increase bathroom storage at Prosperity Plains (Chantilly, Va.) with a tower between the two sinks. Photo courtesy DesignLens, John Burns Real Estate Consulting

Ample counter space enabled Van Metre Homes to increase bathroom storage at Prosperity Plains (Chantilly, Va.) with a tower between the two sinks. Photo: DesignLens, John Burns Real Estate Consulting

Homeowners want more from their bathrooms. That’s especially true for families. More than a third (37 percent) of family homeowners surveyed by the New Home Trends Institute (NHTI) in December 2020 plan to renovate their bathrooms in the year ahead.

Designers and builders should focus on a few key offerings to give homeowners the bathrooms they want, according to NHTI’s 2021 bathroom trends report, Bathrooms: Trade-offs and Priority Rankings. The research report is based on a December 2020 survey of 1,140 homeowners with annual household incomes of at least $50,000.

One big takeaway: Bathrooms are more than functional spaces. Homeowners, especially young families, use their bathrooms for escape and relaxation. Indeed, 40 percent of young family homeowners report having a strong emotional connection to their bathroom. Among homeowners who remodeled in the past three years, 73 percent say they have a moderate-to-strong relationship with their bathrooms.

5 bathroom design trends for 2021

1. Reconsider the tub-versus-shower debate. Stop selling the same bathtub to all customers, NHTI advises. Different consumers want different things. Young families want easy-to-clean bathtubs, while older families prefer showers. 

Of homeowners who say their bathroom time transforms their mood, showering has the biggest impact. The exception is young families, who say the biggest mood-transforming activity is taking a bath. Even so, 61 percent of young families would invest in their shower over their bathtub.

Frame at Civita, By Shea Homes, San Diego, 5 Top Bathroom Design Trends for 2021, ConstructUtopia.com
Plan 2 of Frame at Civita by Shea Homes, in San Diego, maximizes shower experience in lieu of a bathtub. The enlarged shower space is made even more impressive by its adjacency to a wet area/dry-off space. This collection targets young professionals, perfectly catering to the young singles and couples who we found were the most enticed by the idea of a shower big enough for two. Photo: DenLens, John Burns Real Estate Consulting

Homeowners rank the bathtub as the most frustrating bathroom fixture or feature. Their complaints target the tub’s size and the difficulty of cleaning it.

Size matters for showers, too. Almost half (49 percent) of homeowners would give up a bathtub altogether if it meant they could have a larger shower that has room for two. That said, two-thirds of homeowners prefer a shower bench over a two-person shower.

2. Make cleaning easier in the bathroom. Focus on ease of cleaning. “It’s a huge consumer pain point and a surprisingly high homeowner priority,” said Mikaela Sharp, NHTI Director, in a video segment about the bathroom research report

When ranking the importance of shower and tub features, homeowners give ease of cleaning a similar priority as size and design. In fact, ease of cleaning is the most important feature of the perfect shower. 

Cottage Collection, Bonterraat Cross Creek Ranch, Darling Homes, Fulshear, Texas, 5 Top Bathroom Design Trends for 2021
In the top-selling—and smallest—plan of the Cottage Collection at Bonterraat Cross Creek Ranch in Fulshear, Texas, Darling Homes includes a curbless (and doorless) walk-in shower in the primary bath. Not only does the true walk-in nature eliminate tripping hazards, the open entry minimizes glass to clean. Photo: DenLens, John Burns Real Estate Consulting

Designers and builders should consider ease of cleaning when thinking about grout, grooves, splash, glass, and air filtration. Shower doors, for instance, aren’t known for their ease of cleaning. One way to get around that is with doorless shower designs.

3. More storage in the bathroom, please. Insufficient storage is the number-one bathroom dealbreaker for homeowners. That’s true for all stages of homeowners (young singles and couples, young families, and mature families)—except for mature singles and couples, who are less bothered by insufficient storage than the lack of a walk-in shower. 

Storage is especially important for those with a strictly functional relationship to their bathrooms. They’d even take more storage over a bathtub. However, about three in five homeowners who report a strong emotional connection to their bathrooms would prefer a bathtub over additional storage.

Ladera by Lennar, Waxhaw, N.C. 5 Top Bathroom Design Trends for 2021 ConstructUtopia.com
Using space between the studs is a trend throughout the home. In the bathroom, this takes the form of recessed linen cabinets. Much as panel-ready refrigerators make kitchens look seamless, flush linen cabinets can streamline bathroom design. CalAtlantic (now Lennar) included optional stacked linen in the model home, providing ample storage. Photo: DenLens, John Burns Real Estate Consulting

Rather than a separate linen closet, storage has been moving into the primary bathroom, such as with storage towers or recessed linen cabinetry. In addition, all homeowners, other than young families, see double vanities as so important that they’re worth sacrificing a separate shower and tub.

4. Light the way. Lighting is a favorite bathroom feature for one in five homeowners. That makes lighting the second highest-ranking bathroom element, after the shower. 

Bathroom lighting should set the mood; it should be bright but dimmable. It also can be task specific, like with lighting integrated into the mirror. 

RELATED: 21 Home Design Trends for 2021, Part 1

Smart bathroom lighting products are an underrated opportunity. Homeowners at all life stages, except for mature singles and couples, prefer smart lighting and sound systems over smart plumbing. That preference is strongest among young families: 63% would opt for smart lighting and sound over smart plumbing.

5. Treat sustainable as the smart choice. With sustainable products, stop appealing to homeowners’ altruistic motives, NHTI advises. Homeowners are more likely to be influenced by the utility cost savings that sustainable products can deliver—and by how these products make homeowners feel about themselves.

Download the New Home Trends Institute's Bathrooms: Trade-offs and Priority Rankings report (NHTI registration required).