How to splash out on a statement bathroom
17 February 2017 • 6:00am
Minimalist bathrooms may be relaxing in their simplicity, but they can also feel clinical and devoid of charisma. The latest looks are decorative rather than spartan, using pattern, colour and mixed materials together to give the space a sense of individuality. This approach allows bathrooms to flow better visually within the home. “You don’t want your bathroom to look like it’s been dropped in a container,” says Barbara Sallick, co-founder of Waterworks. “It should have design continuity with the adjacent rooms.” Technical developments – from daringly patterned waterproof wallcoverings to glamorous lighting that can still meet safety standards – can help forge this softer, more domestic look.
“People don’t want a bland, blank space in the bathroom – it’s somewhere to luxuriate,” says interior designer Nicky Mudie of Violet & George. “I hang out in mine. I’ll get home after a long day, dim the lights, light a candle or read a book. It’s an important space.”
There are wild designs available if you want them, but creating a bathroom with personality needn’t be about clashing colours or doing a complete refurbishment. “Less is more – take one or two trends and work with those,” says Louise Ashdown, manager and designer at West One Bathrooms in Tunbridge Wells. “You only need a couple of interesting textures, or maybe to stick to a colour scheme but have one thing that pops out at you. That way you’ll keep the bathroom as a calm oasis.”
Chrome no more“We don’t see a lot of chrome anymore,” says Rebecca Hitchman, showroom designer at luxury bathroom chain CP Hart. Its place has been taken by brass, rose gold and matt black.
For those who blanch at the memory of gold taps in the Eighties, today’s trimmings have a more urban, industrial aesthetic rather than those fussier Edwardian shapes. The colour is different too, “more brass than gold, not so rich and yellow”, says Hitchman. “A brushed rather than a polished finish means it’s not so in-your-face and shiny.” Gold tones bring a feeling of warmth to the bathroom. Heritage Bathrooms has brought out a limited-edition rose-gold version of its Hemsby range, with matching basin stands. Pair them “with a dark and moody colour scheme of deep greys and inky blacks, which will allow the rose-gold elements to stand out,” suggests Charlotte Conway, the brand’s interior design consultant. “For a feminine take, incorporate a whimsical patterned wallpaper and hang a large ornate mirror to brighten up the basin area.”
Feel at homeBathroom designers are striving to give a more homely character to these highly functional spaces. Vanity units have become a focus, and now look much more like the furniture that you might find in a hallway or living room, with the same craftsmanship. Justin Van Breda has designed a series of units for CP Hart using beautiful timbers, inlaid metal, lacquer and antiqued mirror. “They are meant to be real statement pieces,” he says. “The idea was that you should be able to design your whole bathroom around them. They’re decorative without being flouncy.”
Rebecca Hitchman from CP Hart singles out some other homely vanity units. The midcentury-influenced Dama from Artelinea has splayed legs and modular timber storage, while Narciso from Cielo, which looks like a dressing table, has the basin on one side and place to slide a stool under on the other. The development of waterproof wallcoverings has opened up fantastic creative possibilities. West One Bathrooms works with Italian brand Wall & Decò to supply its waterproof patterned wallcoverings, which are custom-sized to fit. “Lotus blossom motifs are popular, or something softer that looks like a trompe-l’oeil voile fabric,” Ashdown says.
Cutting edgeThe need for practicality means that bathroom décor can accidentally end up as a series of unexciting, flat, white surfaces. There is a richer alternative, however, full of texture and interesting materials.
High-end French brand THG uses crystal, porcelain and marble in its brassware, while Gracechurch taps from Heritage Bathrooms are inlaid with gleaming mother-of-pearl. Patinated, antique-looking mirror gives a softer alternative to straightforward mirrored surfaces and is highly glamorous; try it as metro tiles, like Fired Earth’s Deco Glass range, or fronting for vanity units. Replacing plain tiles with bold patterns is a relatively fuss-free update to a bathroom with a white suite, but there are subtler ways to add personality. Distressed-looking designs create visual interest but with a lighter touch, such as Topps’s Caspari range or, at the higher end, Aparici’s Carpet tiles from West One Bathrooms, which mimic a faded Persian rug. “I’m not a huge proponent of crazy stuff in the bathroom,” says Waterworks’s Sallick. “Instead, you can introduce colour and texture through handmade tiles. You get a colour variation as the glaze flows across the tile, and it looks remarkable.”
Mighty marbleNo top-end bathroom is free from some marble detailing, from large slabs covering walls and floors to a mosaic splashback or worktop. You can even buy an entire bath in marble – try Lapicida or Hurlingham – or incorporate it into taps, like CP Hart’s modern Marmo range.
Large slabs are not the most practical option, says Ashdown: “It’s thick, so there’s a weight implication.” You may need to reinforce walls and floors to take the weight, and it’s also prone to stains, needing regular sealing. People are increasingly opting for porcelain lookalikes, which have become more convincing: West One Bathrooms sells huge tiles (1.2m x 2.4m) that, put together, form a chain of irregular veining similar to that of real marble. If you like the real thing but don’t have the budget, use less-expensive marble mosaic tiles as a splashback or within niches in the bath or shower.
In line with the fashion for more decorative bathrooms, “the trend is moving towards more interesting stones and marbles”, says interior designer Alix Lawson of Lawson Robb. “Everyone’s seen Carrara marble, so we’re scouring the globe for something that hasn’t been used before.” Her current projects have used purple-veined marble with rose-gold brassware, and zebra-like grey-striped marble.
Light it upSafety considerations mean that you can’t use any old lighting in the bathroom: it needs to have an appropriate IP rating depending on how close it is to the water source. Historically, this has limited the choice of products, but manufacturers are now making some great design-led ranges.
Marquis by Waterford’s glamorous crystal chandeliers are rated IP44, so you can use them adjacent to the bath or sink (but not dangling directly over the bath, unless it’s hanging more than 2.25m above it). “People are spending more time in the bathroom and so it needs a higher level of functionality,” says lighting designer Sanjit Bahra of Design Plus Light. “We’ll introduce light in layers – good mirror lighting, a decorative light to add something to the interior design side, and indirect lighting for when you want to have a comfortable bathing experience without overhead downlights.” One of the tricks of his trade is a product that screws over a bare bulb, fully encasing it, effectively changing an unsafe light fitting into a waterproof one. “So often we see bathrooms in period homes filled with harsh, unflattering downlights. We’ve been on a mission to turn this around,” says Sheena Lawrence, owner and co-designer at Jim Lawrence Lighting and Home. Its new ribbed glass bathroom lights with nickel or brass fittings have a charming vintage look. Outdoor lighting often looks surprisingly good in the bathroom: bulkheads and swan-necked factory-style lights suit a more industrial look and fulfil the necessary safety criteria.