Best Ways to Smarten Up Your Bathroom

Sure you can use another coat of paint, change your shower curtain or buy matching towel sets to smarten up your bathroom. But we asked bathroom experts Roger Cooper, director at Bathroom Brands, Nu-Heat product development manager Heather Oliver, Barbara Sallick of Waterworks, designer Billie Towers of Ripples and Mark Bickerstaffe, director of New Product Development at Kohler for expert, tried and tested tips on smartening, updating and creating a beautiful bathroom whatever your budget. Even small bathrooms can benefit from a luxurious refit. It’s not just for the pleasure of using the room – a great bathroom can increase the value of your property up to 3%, so go ahead, indulge yourself…

Tap into the latest trends

The most obvious way of smartening up the smallest room is by making sure it’s absolutely up to date. Roger Cooper says: “Larger basins with elegant mixers and free-standing baths are popular… New, compact designs are making it increasingly possible to fit a freestanding bath in small to normal sized bathrooms. They often have the same or larger internal dimensions as the natural stone material allows for thinner rims.Showers are still a big area of growth: thermostatic control, high flow rates, and shower heads which offer many functions continue to stimulate consumer interest.”Mark Bickerstaffe adds, “Digital technology is allowing us to create totally new experiences with water without simply using more of it. Our new DTV+ system can create spa therapies with hot and cold water, in different streams and zones combined with steam, music and light. It really can be bathroom theatre if that’s what you want, or it can be the most relaxing immersive experience.”

Even if you can’t go the whole digital hog and have a small bathroom, consider converting it into a wet room. As Mark says, “No one really wants to ‘step into’ a small box to have a shower. We want to walk into a tropical waterfall!”

luxury bathrooms can benefit from larger or even double basins with elegant mixers completing the look

Move away from minimalism and back to comfort

The natural urge in bathrooms is to go for function over form but our bathroom experts reckon that can ruin the experience.Mark agrees:If you take a purely rational approach and ignore the emotional you end up with the worst sort of functional design.” Roger says, “Classic design in recent years went to minimalist designs and this became quite severe. We now see clean and modern designs but with a softer, less minimalistic look. Traditional designs which mirror the styles of the Victorian and Edwardian eras are increasing in popularity as these are seen as reassuring and have a resonance with many English home designs. Barbara Sallick concurs: “There’s lots you can do to soften the space. Use white tiles, but paint the walls a fabulous warm blue, use beautiful rich textiles or find an extraordinary bathmat. I might go and find a vintage tray and put some beautiful things on there, or I might add a vase of flowers. Wallpaper makes a room look great, and if you hang a nice inexpensive print on the wall, you’ve changed the paradigm.”

Amangani - Suite Bathroom 2

Allow your personality to shine through

Following on from a move away from minimalism, there’s also a move away from hotel-like impersonality (even hotels are becoming more boutique and less impersonal!) led in part by the sheer amount of choice out there. Barbara says, “My own bathrooms are very simple because they’re very small, but there are still ways that you can really spice up a small bathroom. If you’re building just a shower, put some fabulous mosaic on the shower floor – it’ll be a special thing, just for you, that you can look at every day and feel glad.” Mark goes a step further: “We are all talking about bathrooms having more of a living-room feel. It’s such an important place: sometimes very private and intimate and at other times where you and your partner and family meet, converse and interact. I always feel that a bathroom that makes you reach out and touch, that engages all your emotions, is best. So the use of texture, colour, material to enrich and connect a bathroom to you is special.” 

Indigo Accessories_Family ver2 - square tray

Use joined up interior design thinking

Barbara suggests taking your cues from the architectural style of the house for a sophisticated look. “We should think about our bathrooms as being no different to the living room, the kitchen or the dining room. You would give these areas architectural elements that give it character and speak to the style and taste of the person living in the house, so why wouldn’t you do that in the bathroom? You can slim it down – you don’t have to have the elaborate mouldings that you might find elsewhere in the house, for example – but it can’t be naked, either.”

Invest in underfloor heating…

Stepping onto a cosy heated floor on a cold, dark winter’s morning almost feels decadent, and certainly makes early rising a lot easier to bear. But they are cost-effective as well as pleasurable as Nu-Heat product development manager Heather Oliver reveals. “Underfloor heating (UFH) uses a lower flow temperature than radiators, and using less energy means it is more efficient. And there’s more – UFH is great for small bathrooms too. “It’s an invisible heating system which gives you freedom to place fixtures and fittings wherever you please. A further benefit is that there are no hot or sharp edges, which is good for children, or the elderly.” It seems like an extreme strategy for modernising and smartening up your bathroom, but could involve less disruption and than you think: “The majority of systems on the market are low profile (on average 20mm high), and designed to be laid directly over the existing floor, so there’s no need to dig down to avoid height build-up. The lowest profile solution that we offer, LoPro10, is just 15mm in height.”

Stone or ceramic tiles are highly compatible with UFH, because of their high thermal mass and good conductivity. Photo: Octagon

…And fabulous lighting

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your bathroom is – it’ll never be cosy and welcoming if the lights are so bright and harsh you feel like you’re about to be interrogated or so dark you feel like you’re applying make up at the bottom of the sea. Billie Towers of Ripples explains, “A bathroom needs to create layers of light that encourage a warm and welcoming feel. There are lots of decorative tricks that can be done with lights that are IP rated [for bathroom use] – for example, using mini LEDs in feature areas, a strip hidden under a countertop basin or in recesses in shower areas. A warm-coloured light in and around the mirror will be most flattering for skin tones. It is important to avoid having lighting placed above the mirror, as it can accentuate shadows on our faces.”
But it’s also about having fun with it. Billie says, “Do something unexpected. Have coloured LEDs for mood lighting, putting them on a separate switch to the main lighting. Highlight any architectural features or key design points with separate lighting to really turn heads.”


Consider storage carefully

The smaller the bathroom, the more important storage becomes, and is one of the top things buyers look for when considering a house. Mark Bickerstaffe says, “The storage all around you as you stand in front of the basin and mirror is critical. It needs to be easy and quick to access and plentiful.” He also has a clever solution: “Up to now the area under the basin has been somewhat of a ‘black hole’ with pipes and water connections cutting through the area underneath. So we tend to use it more for cleaning products than personal care. We’ve invented a basin with a system called Freedrain which puts the drain at the back of the basin next to the wall and allows for a shallow drawer directly beneath, which is the full length and width of the basin, and a deep drawer below that for the larger things. This storage unit is totally uncompromised and separated from the piping, water connection and spiders’ webs!”


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