Bathing beauties

A classy bathroom can help you tap in to the value of your home, writes Rosalind Russell

It was hot and steamy, just the way he liked it. A little unusual for Farnham Common, but this was no ordinary sauna-lover. For instead of throwing cold water over the scalding stones, he poured a glass of fine Courvoisier on to them.

"He swore it was a very pleasurable experience," says Trevor Kent, the estate agent called in to value the property. "He invited me to join the family in the sauna." Mr Kent, a gent of generous proportions, declined.

What people do in their bathrooms can beggar belief. But as anyone who has ever inherited a Germolene-pink or avocado bathroom suite will confirm, when replacing it nobody should miss the opportunity to indulge in fantasy and frivolity.

"You can't," wrote Eric Linklater, "feel fierce and revolutionary in a bathroom."

But that was in 1931, when pounds 12,000 would have financed a small uprising against a minor dictator. Now it's what you'll pay for the latest hydro massage LifeBath, to be launched in September. It has 48 jets which pulsate, roll and pummel, massaging everything from hips to heart, and down the backs of your legs to the soles of your feet.

It is not, insists Max Pike - whose bathroom fittings sell to the far- from-filthy rich - one of those silly bubble baths that people waste their money on. "This," he says, "is a very serious bath."

And people with very serious money do like to splash out on the room they are least likely to share with anyone else: people who don't mind paying pounds 775 plus VAT for a nickel basin, and a further pounds 748 for the taps to go with it.

New Labour, thinks Mr Pike, may possibly be thanked for nudging the public into a more modern mind-set. "There is no curly-whirly decoration in bathrooms now. People are beginning to think modern rather than retro. Cast-iron has very few merits at all, and the Victorian rolltop is dying a natural death."

The latest material for baths, says Mr Pike, is volcanic lava from the Massif Central in France, where Volvic water comes from. Though piping in Volvic to bathe in would, he concedes, be a little over the top.

Although most bathroom firms agree that the elaborate Victoriana style is now past its peak, retro isn't altogether dead. Twyfords has launched an Art Deco suite, called Clarice.

Sottini is producing baby rolltops for the smaller bathroom, and rolltops with the roll edging on two sides so that the bath can fit into a corner. Its new Bathing Belles range includes the Calvari rain bath (inspired by the bath in the Prince Regent room, at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire), the Altesino Classic (at pounds 800, excluding cost of feet, and waste, overflow and standpipes) and the Calvari shower bath (from pounds 4,100) which has a shower curtain draped above it.

Ideal Standard have been bold. Their designers have pared down detail to the sleekness of smooth pebbles. And, bucking the trend that dictates white only in upmarket bathrooms, they have launched Contrasts: old English white porcelain for the water-bearing interiors of the fittings, with bright blue or green glaze on the outside (prices are from pounds 63.50 for a basin).

A classy main bathroom can swing a decision whether or not to buy a house. A bathroom the same size as the master bedroom, especially if the fireplace has been retained, is a major plus.

Magician Paul Daniels and his wife Debbie McGhie have his and hers bathrooms on either side of their bedroom in their Denham home. Debbie's, at 13ft 6in by 12ft 6in, is bigger than the bedroom. A commodious rolltop bath sits on a platform in the middle of the room. The property, Sherwood House in Denham, is on the market through Trevor Kent for pounds 1.5m, and has attracted considerable interest.

Michael Caine's Rectory Farmhouse, in Oxfordshire, which is also to be sold, has a bathroom bigger than the master bedroom, at 19ft 6in by 15ft 6in. The house, with eight acres, and frontage on to the Thames, is for sale for pounds 2m.

Bathrooms can produce surprises for the unwary estate agent. Atty Beor- Roberts of Knight Frank went with a colleague to value a lovely period house. "The bathroom had a lead-lined floor and a showerhead the size of a dinner plate. I turned it on to see if it worked, and water shot out from everywhere. We were absolutely soaked; all our papers were dripping. We had to dry off as best we could before we went back downstairs."

Medieval plumbing isn't necessarily a minus in estate agent terms, either; it can add a certain charm to an old place. Beor-Roberts is currently selling a medieval house with a moat - above which an ancient privy projects. The place is yours for pounds 1.25m.

Sottini 01482 449513; Ideal Standard 01482 346461; Twyfords 01270 410023; Max Pike Bathrooms 0171-730 7216; Trevor Kent 01753 885522; Knight Frank 0171 629 8171

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