For many years designers and builders tended to make bathrooms small with only enough room for the basic fixtures and little else. Now that us 'baby boomer's are aging in place, the "tiny bathroom", in older homes, has out lived it's functional usage.
Once you experience the advantages of a taller, elongated toilet, you begin to appreciate some of the more modern design criteria being used today. A shower with no or a little step is a real pleasure when your legs don't want to step over a tall curb like in your younger years. To find grab bars in a tub/shower combo were rare. I never could understand why a small 24" door was so popular in bathrooms. It makes using a walker difficult, and a wheelchair near impossible!
A vanity can be a help or a hinderance, depending on design and available space. When adding space in a bathroom is not practical or cost effective, more efficient use of that area is the only solution.When your bathroom needs work, first examine the 3 main bath fixtures:
1.) Toilet. --is taller(17") and elongated bowl. Some type of grab bar to assist is needed.
2.) Bathtub-- Do you really need a bathtub? A nice shower with no step and grab bars/with seats available can be a nice setup and change the room layout. Put in recessed light in shower area-even heat lamp if in a cold weather area. Area gained by removing tub could be storage area for towels.
3.) Vanity- Many options available, depending on users needs. Cabinet under sink could be used for storage, or open area could allow sitting in front of vanity, depending on available room at the site.
4.) Last but not least- 24" Door- has got to go! Sometimes there is enough wall space to add a pocket door-at least 32" door. Sometimes a larger swing door will work if you change the swing.
Also keep in mind,when your bathroom needs work, relocating plumbing lines can get expensive-Quick! Whenever you can keep drain and water locations the same, the better. If you are living in the home being remodeled, many other challenges await you! Hopefully you have a 2nd bath to use during construction of 1st bath. Be prepared for some dust and various utility interruptions.
Paint colors are also a good way to give a room a larger appearance. Well placed mirrors can have a similar space effect. Lighting is everything in a little 5x9 bathroom! The usual compromise being ceiling light/often combined with exhaust fan. The light in the vanity area is important for putting on makeup to shaving. Two lights, separate switches, plus one in shower area! Awesome look! Now this dull and dreary bathroom you were complaining about will become very user friendly and bright.
With ceramic tiles covering walls and floor this will be a very durable and useful bathroom area. Run one row of wall tile midway up with a decorative accent tile all around. Pretty inexpensive way to get a custom tile job! Don't forget grab bars!