Don't Move, Improve: The golden age of steam

Bathrooms have never been so glamorous. But good design is about more than flashy taps
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I recently heard a designer telling his clients that "bathrooms are the new kitchens". I had to bite my lip. True, many architects like to think of themselves as above mere fashion, but as design has become more mainstream, the notion of trends in buildings, and particularly interiors, is here to stay.

There was a time when kitchens were utilitarian places; now, as well as being the centre of all family activity, the kitchen (or rather, kitchen/breakfast/family room) has become a showroom of beautiful gadgetry and functionality to rival the Audi on the drive. I do not wish to sound cynical – I could not be more delighted that people are so enthusiastic about well-designed things in beautifully functional spaces.

In that sense, there is no question that bathrooms are now central. Whether describing an anniversary weekend at Babington House or night at a Hotel du Vin, it is invariably the bathroom that is described in ecstatic detail. But when people try to replicate this at home – well, it doesn't always work out so glamorously. People can't just take the mirror from one hotel, the taps from another, and the bath and shower from a distant memory of another wonderful weekend away, then throw in the sink you saw at a neighbour's house and expect the room to work.

The first thing to consider, before you start buying any toys, is the space you're working with. Bathrooms do not necessarily have to be large – although more space can add a sense of luxury – but it is vital to keep the lines simple and maximise the sense of unity. A common mistake is to try to cram too much into a smallish bathroom.

If you cannot choose between a bath and a shower, don't buy both. Instead, find an elegant way of using the bath as the shower tray. Resist the temptation to squeeze in a bidet between the basin and WC, unless there is genuinely plenty of room. Twin basins are great, unless they have to be too small and too close together in order to fit – much better to give one large basin the space it needs, so that everything feels larger.

In terms of simple lines, try to think about complete surfaces. Tiling up to a splash-back line, with a painted wall above, breaks up the simplicity of the space more than you would imagine. Bite the bullet and tile the whole wall. Also, try to run lines from one element through to another. A "vanity" top that supports wash basins can extend to conceal the WC cistern, and even beyond into the shower as a shelf. It's important to find the optimal height for all functions, because the whole effect can be ruined if you have to make a step in your clean line.

The next golden rule is to use "real" materials. By this, I mean materials that express themselves as they are. High-quality white ceramic sanitary-ware, tiles made from stone or porcelain, glass, pebbles, timber – they're all good materials. But no acrylic baths, fake slate floors or, even worse, vinyl flooring that pretends to be tiles. And above all, no shower curtains.

Save money on quantity and spend as much as you can afford on the quality of your materials and fittings. These are things where the quality in the detail makes a huge difference.

Another fundamental is gushing gallons of hot water at good pressure. There are few things more disappointing than a beautiful bathroom that has a dribble of a shower. This is often much more involved, complex and expensive than many people imagine. Most commonly, a pressurised system is the answer, but this might require a new water main from the road and in all, it could cost some several thousand pounds.

Finally, the place has to sparkle, so the lighting has to be right. Simple recessed low-voltage halogen down-lighters are yet to be matched by anything more energy efficient for their light quality in bathrooms, but make sure you select the closed type suitable for bathroom use.

Hugo Tugman is founder of Architect Your Home;

Project: Fitting a new bathroom

How much will it cost?

There are two variables: the complexity of the plumbing and the level of specification of the materials and fittings. If you need a whole new pressurised heating system and extensive below-ground works for the drains, it is conceivable that the plumbing could cost in excess of £10,000. The cost of tiles, stone, sanitary-ware and fittings is hugely variable. Tiling and fittings for a gorgeous bathroom of medium size could cost anything between £3,000 and £12,000.

How much hassle is it?

Simply fitting out a bathroom where the supply and waste plumbing is established can be fairly easily contained and will take less than a week, so as long as you have an alternative facility, you could get off quite lightly. If you need extensive and complex plumbing work, the hassle factor will be cranked up significantly. Consider a short holiday while you have no hot water and nowhere to wash!

What's the first step?

Start with the space. It is easy to get seduced by a beautiful wash basin or a stand-alone bath that looks like half a giant pink grapefruit, but their glory in the showroom will be entirely lost if your space at home is incompatible. The design is vital and if not properly considered, can lead to daily disappointment as you brush your teeth and think of what could have been.