Soak up the style: How to make the most of your bathroom

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Invest in brilliant basins, marvellous mirrors, trendy taps and chic cupboards

Most of our bathrooms are small and, if you're really unlucky, they don't even have a window. But, say designers, there are plenty of innovative ways to maximise space and create the kind of bathroom that could add up to 20 per cent to the value of your home.

"Ditch the bath," says interior designer Hugh Leslie. "It sounds radical, but people tend not to take many baths and they take up a lot of space. But don't be tempted by the current trend of circular showers – fitting a circle into a square makes no sense in most homes."

While showers using a single sheet of glass, where the water drains directly from the floor rather than a standalone cubicle, can make small bathrooms look roomier. Daryl Showers has ideas for spaces of all shapes and sizes. It also offers wetrooms, which will giveill give your bathroom a clean, luxurious and spacious look without costing the earth (www.daryl-showers.co.uk).

Little bathrooms need striking finishes and colours, adds Leslie. "A lot of people think the opposite and go for limestone or white walls and tiles, but the best way to get rid of the poky feel is to create impact and interest.

"If you really want white walls, choose outstanding quality paints or tiles – and never compromise on the quality of the workmanship. Uneven or badly-coloured grout lines will really stand out."

If you've got a window or a good extractor, consider using wallpaper, says interior designer Nina Campbell. "But opt for an open design – something that you feel you're looking through like branches, rather than some little, intense design," she warns. Clarissa Hulse's fascination with colour and nature are a good example of this (www.clarissahulse.com).

Unlike Leslie, Campbell believes baths can work in small bathrooms. "Just don't box them in. Replacing it with a freestanding one means you suddenly see all the floor and that alone can stop you feeling squashed in.

"The change can be incredible, particularly if you give your tiles a border round the edge."

The Albion Bath Company provides a wide range in all sizes, while the "Biella" from www.jacuzziuk.com fits against a wall, but gives a freestanding appearance.

With long, thin bathrooms, she suggests bringing the shorter end wall inwards and burying shelves into it. "The minute you bring any wall towards you in a long room, it looks wider and it adds storage in a very clean-looking way."

Bathrooms require maximum hidden storage for the various potions and tonics now essential to modern life, as well as display storage for everyday items, says Amii Yokouchi, an interior designer at Brahm Interiors. She suggests replacing traditional sinks with inset bowls in floating vanity units which have built-in storage below (www.duravit.co.uk is worth a look). "Meanwhile, wall cabinets can be recessed into the wall, so a flush-fitting mirror opens up to reveal concealed storage within."

Croydex is offering some cheaper, yet still stylish, storage solutions, including the Nile Tall Cabinet (www.croydex.com), while the Bali modularfurniture range available from Tesco Bathrooms offers a flexible and affordable storage option in a rich brown colour.

Consider corner units for sinks (www.thebathroomemporium.com has a good choice); these free up wall space and allow for more movement within the room – and remember that, however small your bathroom, you can always afford to lose 20cm in depth, says Cheryl Gurner, creative director at Bathrooms International.

"I often go for a wall-hung loo and if you continue this all the way up the wall you can then use that space behind to create around 20cm of cupboard space. This is incredibly useful storage space, rather than a traditional bathroom cabinet. Use touch-catch doors in coloured glass or back-lit Corian to enhance reflection and increase the feeling of space."

Suspend your wash basin from this same wall and beneath the basin, consider open shelves for towel storage, which looks very smart, she says. "Alternatively, something that is often overlooked is a pull-forward drawer beneaththe basin, which can also cleverly double up as a laundry basket."

Compact sanitary ware is ideal for small bathrooms – www.uk.roca.com do some great ones – and if the house is traditional, an old-fashioned high-level cistern will work. You could also get built-in bathroom furniture, but avoid low-down cupboards (these are wholly impractical). Wall-mounted taps from stores such as www.boundarybathrooms.co.uk look bright and clean and save space. If you want a bath and shower, you can always site one over the bath, says Jane Gilchriest, director of the Alternative Bathroom Company. "There are some really good-looking bath-shower screens available nowadays, so you won't have to compromise on looks."

Installing underfloor heating will avoid the need for a radiator – although be warned that if the floor space is really tiny, you might not get enough heat from it. Heated towel rails are another alternative, providing ample storage for towels and gowns, while also heating the space.

Visual effects that can make the space appear larger include frameless wall-to-wall mirrors. "They can help double the space while also bouncing around light," says Yokouchi, who adds that the current trend for eclectic mixing or antique mirrors hung together as a collage can have a similar effect.

Black and white photography also works well in small bathrooms, she says (www.ikea.com will sort you out).

Lesley Taylor, design director at Taylors Etc luxury interiors and bathrooms, advocates using shiny surfaces for smaller rooms: "Glass mosaic tiles, for instance, will help to bounce light around the room to create a feeling of openness."

Try Neutrals Glass Mosaic from www.firedearth.com. That said, don't be afraid of large tiles. "It has long been a misconception that small bathrooms should steer away from large tiles – in fact, bathrooms with larger tiles incorporate less grouting and so less broken lines, widening the illusion of space," says Graham Bayley, of Villeroy & Boch.

"When tiling, consider using the same tiles on the floor as on the walls, as this will make the floor area appear larger," says Paul Freeman, owner of Yorkshire-based luxury bathroom retailer BMF.

Lighting is key, he adds. "Dark rooms or corners will make the room feel smaller. Using spotlights on a dimmer is a simple and inexpensive way to add mood lighting and to make the room feel larger."

Consider wall-lights either side of the mirror. If there's no space, have an illuminated mirror. Heals offer a flexible and affordable range.

"Another idea is to add two pendants each side of the basin," says Sally Storey, design director at John Cullen Lighting. "Accentuate any niches with lighting where possible," she says, "and add a bit of low-level lighting to give a soft-wash of light across the floor."

The smallest room in the house

"The downstairs loo is the room most often disregarded in your home," says interior designer Nina Campbell. "Yet here's a space dying for some daring design. My advice? Let out your inner footballer's wife."

1. Treat your walls to the bold designs and textured wallcoverings from Tektura (www.tektura.com, from £160 per metre).

2. The Best Bed Linen in the World sells sumptuous luxury hotel towels that create a sense of pure indulgence at bargain prices (www.thebestbedlinenintheworld.com, from £8).

3. Introduce a touch of rustic elegance with Lombok's metal-plated round mirror (www.lombok.co.uk, £325).

4. Fired Earth's Dark Offset Mosaic Tiles (pictured above right) deliver the latest urban look that's ideal for small spaces

(www.firedearthshop.com, £249.50 per square metre).

5. Chuck out those cracked soaps – quality handwash and hand lotions are a quick, cheap and easy way of bringing in some extravagance (www.moltonbrown.co.uk, £15).

6. The Caberet four-light bathroom wall light (pictured above) from Heals can bring a bit of showbiz to an otherwise mundane mirror. (www.heals.co.uk, £128).7. The Cherry Blossom Coat Hook doubles up as a piece of wall art (www.rockettstgeorge.co.uk, £12).

8. The Flocked Floral Trail Roller Blind in black and cream is an economical way to hide a window that's seen better days (www.diy.com, £26.98).

9. The Smart Bench PurAir from Villeroy & Boch is a sleek alternative to the traditional loo that doubles up as a bench seat (www.villeroy-boch.com, £3,260).

10. Modernise your wall space with one of John Lewis' wide range of abstract pictures (www.johnlewis.com, from £40)

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