10 Bathroom Trends That Will Shape Your Self-Care Regimen in 2021, According to the Pros

updated Dec 18, 2020
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Freestanding tub in a white bathroom by Breegan Jane
Credit: Ryan Garvin

This past year saw home take on a new meaning for almost everyone. Dining rooms became WFH offices, living rooms became the hip spot for Saturday night cocktails shared over Zoom, and bathrooms became a prime destination for retreat and relaxation. In order to gain some insight into what the experts see coming down the pipeline for home spaces this next year, I tapped several design pros to give me the lowdown on what will be trending in bathroom design over the next 365 days and beyond. Spoiler alert: It’s gonna be good, especially for self-care.

1. Inset storage

Organizing your bathroom can be complicated. Often, they’re the smallest rooms with the most stuff to corral—towels, cleaning supplies, and all 97 steps of your skincare routine, just to name a few. 2021’s ingenious solution to this issue? Lots of nooks and crannies added into the bathroom. 

“The built-in niche is on the rise, and it’s not for just the shower or tub area anymore,” says designer Linda Hayslett of L.H. Designs. “Space can be at a premium in a bathroom, and the more storage, the better. Cabinetry takes up a lot of room, so adding cubby holes can be a fun way to display cute creams and jewelry.”

Make this trend work in your space by carving out a nook on either side of your sink for a bonus place to house toiletries or your humidity-loving plant babies. For an added dose of personality, consider lining this area with a bold tile, paint, or wallpaper. 

Credit: Ryan Garvin

2. The custom experience

What works in the bathroom of your favorite restaurant or the home of your most stylish neighbor isn’t necessarily going to be what’s right for your space and its inhabitants, and that’s why true customization—and finding solutions that work for your lifestyle—is on the rise. Designer Breegan Jane agrees, noting that one of the places this can be most intimately seen is in how homeowners are choosing to lay out and outfit their bathrooms. “My clients are beginning to ask the right questions based on their own personal needs when it comes to their preferred bathroom experiences,” explains Jane. “Overall, people seem to be more concerned with fixture placements—like individualized rain heads and hand showers—for their self-care needs versus years before.”

When taking stock of your own bathroom’s design, don’t forget to consider not just how you connect with it aesthetically but also how it works for your lifestyle. If 2020 has taught us anything, the idea of home is just as much about how we function in a space as it is about how it makes us feel. 

3. Upgraded vanities

No longer is your bathroom countertop just a spot where you vie for precious real estate during your nightly elbow-to-elbow toothbrush showdown with your partner. Now this area is potentially another full-blown design statement. 

“The average vanity is in for a reinvention in 2021,” says designer Whittney Parkinson. “We’ll see an uptick in the use of more detailed edges as well as backsplashes with shape and interest that feel like architectural elements in the room.”

Designer Julia Miller agrees, noting that bathroom vanities “designed to be more like furniture pieces” are going to be in the spotlight. Think oversized units that mimic mid-century modern credenzas or antique French Louis XIV sideboards transformed to house all the modern conveniences of a 21st century bathroom.

4. Unique tile applications

If there’s one material that is synonymous with the phrase “bathroom,” it’s tile. Perennially beloved for its easy-to-clean and water-resistant nature (especially important in bathrooms for all the obvious reasons), designers and homeowners alike are recognizing the design potential held in even the most utilitarian tile picks. The key to aesthetic success? It’s all in the pattern.

“Classic penny tile has become fresh and modern again,” says Hayslette. “Designers are using it to make cool, contemporary patterns that help it shake its traditional feel.” Miller agrees. “I think we will see lots of unique shower tile and backsplash patterns this year. Tile is the unsung hero of a bathroom, and I think 2021 will bring us a lot of gorgeous and interesting applications of tile and stone.”

The best part about this trend? You don’t have to break the bank to get in on it. Install traditional subway tile in a square basket weave or double herringbone pattern to bring visual interest to this builder-basic finish.

5. Floating sinks

Bathrooms that are short on space (especially powder rooms) will see a boost in functionality and aesthetics in 2021, thanks to the rise in popularity of floating sinks. 

“A suspended sink is a great way to maximize space in a smaller bathroom,” explains designer Zoe Feldman. “There are so many different finish options, but I especially love marble.It’s hard to go wrong by introducing a natural stone with movement.” 

By freeing up the space below your sink, you’ll up the airiness of your powder room, making it seem larger in the process. Another style bonus here: Exposing the “inner workings” of your sink by eliminating its base means yet another opportunity for a designer touch, this time in the form of handsome exposed pipes or other sink fittings. 

6. Medicine cabinets

After living in apartments for over a decade, I’ve come to think of these workhorses as the ugly but necessary sacrifice you have to make to stash all of your stuff. According to designer Max Humphrey though, 2021 is here to change my mind on all that. 

“I’ll add a medicine cabinet to a bathroom whenever I’m designing a new home or working in a renovation,” says Humphrey. “Typically I opt for inset ones, which look cleaner and more modern than surface-mounted styles. They’re a great inexpensive way to add useful storage to smaller bathrooms.” 

To be honest, I kind of forgot inset medicine cabinets where even a thing, and I’m already more on board. Humphrey had another hot take though, and this added tip sealed the deal for me. “Look for styles that have a mirror on the inside of the door as well as the outside,” he suggests. “They can act as a makeup or shaving mirror instead of having one of those telescoping arm ones or a separate countertop mirror.” Genius!

7. “Living” metals

Patina is a word you hear a lot in design, and at first, the whole concept can be kind of baffling (in the immortal words of my husband, “Wait, you bought something that looks really old on purpose?”). All design fans know, however, that a few pieces that boast a time-worn appeal is what makes every room come alive, and bathrooms are no exception to this rule. One easy place to capture that nuanced touch? Your fixtures. 

“For 2021, I foresee the continued embrace of living metals in bathroom fixtures, specifically your plumping and hardware,” says Parkinson. “Metals such as unpolished brass, pewter, and bronze age and patina beautifully over time, making them the perfect addition in traditional and modern spaces alike.”

Credit: Courtesy of Zoe Feldman

8. Plaster walls

I actually suspect plaster walls—real and faux—may be all over homes in 2021, but I especially love the idea of this decorative treatment in smaller spaces like a snug office or—you guessed it!—a bathroom. “Plaster wall finishes are a great way to get creative in a bathroom,” says Feldman. “You can opt for different applications and even introduce color to plaster work, making it a versatile material to design with.”

The unique texture of a plaster finish instantly helps you master that “lived-in” feel so many of your favorite Insta-saves boast. Plaster is also a great way to draw out the coziness of a room. Maybe it’s just me, but I also find the “movement” of plaster relaxing to look at; it’s the perfect mindless distraction for while you’re chilling in the tub—wouldn’t you say?

9. Natural woods

With all that metal hardware, porcelain, and tile, it’s no surprise that bathrooms can sometimes end up feeling a bit sterile, especially when there’s nary a window in sight. A great way to up the warmth factor of your space is by finding a way to incorporate a few natural elements, like wood, into the decor scheme. 

“Lately, I’ve been bringing unfinished and painted wood wall treatments into bathrooms for both clients and my own home,” says Humphrey. “It looks way cooler than boring white drywall, adds warmth, and looks modern when paired with clean-lined bathroom furnishings and contemporary tile. Cedar is an especially great option because it doesn’t warp due to moisture, and it smells awesome.”

Credit: Ryan Garvin

10. Freestanding tubs

After this year, it’s no wonder copious amounts of self-care is on many to-do lists. Creating an at-home sanctuary for yourself can often be as easy as lighting the right candle or pouring the right glass of wine. For those that want to take it a little further, Jane suggests a bathroom accent straight out of the playbook of some of your favorite luxury hotels: a freestanding tub. 

“With the stress of 2020 behind us, creating spa-like serenity at home has never been more important,” says Jane. “A bathroom designed with clean lines and simplicity in mind can provide a comforting contrast to the hustle and bustle of daily life. The curvature of standalone tubs is visually and aesthetically soothing, and homeowners are bound to welcome those aspects of tranquility in their places of rejuvenation.” Pour us the bubbly (bath), please!