How to design a beautiful AND functional bathroom

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the bathroom lately, and I can’t blame my old lady bladder. I’ve got four new bathrooms in progress, have just started designing another, and I’ve got four more in the pipeline. That’s a lotta loo’s. And they all have one thing in common. Size. Or should I say lack of it.

The average UK bathroom is just over 4 square metres, which isn’t much bigger than a kingsize bed. This seems crazy to me considering (a) how important they are in terms of our daily ablutions, and (b) how much we need to cram into them in order to carry out aforementioned ablutions.

Compact under stairs cloakroom bathroom
Compact cloakroom – image via Victoria Plum

Yet despite these being the smallest rooms in our houses putting in a new bathroom is not cheap. You can expect to spend at least £3,000 – £4,000 including fitting and tiling, and can easily spend considerably more. It can be tricky getting the layout right and picking all your fittings as there are so many options and things to consider. And if you get it wrong you will be reminded of this at least twice a day. I think this is why I get asked to design so many bathrooms.

Now I don’t know if I would call myself an expert….. *tosses hair over shoulder* but I’ve certainly designed enough bathrooms to give you a few pointers. So if you’re planning a new bathroom hopefully there will be at least one tip in here that will save you from a lifetime of regret, not to be overly dramatic of course…..

How to design a beautiful AND functional bathroom

Hide the pipes

Number 1 on my list of ‘things I hate in bathrooms’ is exposed pipes or obvious boxing in. If you can’t bury the pipes in the existing walls or under the floor build a new stud wall and then use it to your advantage by creating additional counter space, shelving or storage.

Compact wet room bathroom with hexagon wall tiles and vintage accessories
Shower room in the Lowther project

Storage, storage, storage

Number 2 on my hate list is those little sets of drawers or baskets people have to buy from Matalan or Argos or wherever because the idiot that designed their bathroom didn’t factor in any storage. If you have room for a sink then unless we’re talking tiny cloakroom basin then you have room for a vanity unit. If there isn’t a window above your toilet chances are you could hang a wall cupboard, or better still fit a back to wall toilet with a concealed cistern and take the housing to ceiling height to create a cupboard. If you don’t want or need a bath than use your longest wall for a shower with sliding doors and build an airing cupboard at the end. Think creatively and maximise every inch of space.

Luxury shower room bathroom with floating sink and under sink storage
In this project the customer chose drawers under the floating sink that also acted as shelves for towels

Fit the biggest shower you can

Obviously this shouldn’t crowd the bathroom so you’ve no room for anything else, but work out what space you need for your sink and loo, and somewhere to stand and dry yourself and if you can make your shower tray a little bit bigger do it. You won’t regret it. Especially if you’ve got long hair and like your elbows without permanent bruises.

Shower in Victorian style bathroom designed by Amelia Wilson
Large shower in Victorian style bathroom I designed which was featured in Real Homes magazine

If you can go for a frameless enclosure or better still no door even better. More glass and less frame will make the space look bigger.

If your bathroom is on the ground floor you may not be able to bury the shower waste pipe in the floor as you’ll need some height difference with the drain outside. Equally if you’re upstairs it will depend which way your floor joists run as you can’t cut a waste pipe size hole in a joist. But if possible sink the tray in the floor or use a wet room kit to avoid a step up into your shower as this will also make the floor space look bigger.

Avoid shower caddies

This is number three on my hate list. Those ugly chrome shelves that either hang over the shower screen or attach to the walls with suction pads. They never hang straight, your shampoo bottles are always falling over and your razor constantly falls through the gaps.

The solution? Most bathrooms are 2m x 2m. A standard bath is 170cm long and 70cm wide. You should typically allow a min of 60cm wide for your toilet space and the same for your sink. So somewhere in that 2m x 2m space there should be room for a stud wall either at the end or side of your bath or shower so you can create a tlled shelf or alcove for all your toiletries.

Back to wall bath with storage shelf in bathroom designed by Amelia Wilson
We created a shelf behind the bath at the Lowther project for toiletries and towels

Two heads are better than one

If you want to make your life easier fit a shower with two outlets so you can use the smaller one to wash your shower screen. Or if you’re at my house your muddy dogs.

I opted for an exposed valve in my wet room as I like the look but if you prefer a concealed shower valve then be a real smarty pants and fit the shower controls at the entrance to the shower instead of under the shower head so you don’t have to get a blast of cold water when you turn the shower on.

Large walk in wet room in bathroom with large roof light and floor to ceiling tiles
My own wet room

Don’t let the shower compromise your bathing

If you’re fitting an over bath shower then choose your bath taps carefully. Consider a mixer with a swivel spout so you can move it when you shower  and avoid bruised shins.

Also pick a hinged shower screen that folds back 90 degrees or a bifold one so you don’t have to reach around the screen to turn the taps on, or even worse lie in the bath with the screen in place so you feel like you’re in a fish tank.

Over bath shower with hinged screen in bathroom designed by Amelia Wilson
This shower screen folds back flat against the toilet cistern to allow full access to the bath, and the bath mixer taps swivels so it isn’t in the way when the shower is being used

Lighting

Whenever possible I like to fit 3 sources of lighting all on separate circuits; downlighters in the ceiling, lighting around or above the mirror, and then some form of concealed lighting for soaking in the bath or late night loo visits when the last thing you want is glare. (For the same reason pick an extractor with a timer and connect it to the ceiling lights so this doesn’t come on when you want peace and quiet).

Under bath lighting in family bathroom
We installed concealed lighting under this bath and in the shower alcove

I also try and avoid ‘bathroom’ lights where I legally can, by which I mean those rated IP44 or higher. I don’t know why but a lot of specialist bathroom lighting is ugly, particularly ceiling lights, which is why I always use rated downlighters in the ceiling. If I can I use regular lights around a sink but this depends on its distance from your bath or shower, so check with your electrician and if you’ve got the distance then distance yourself from bathroom lighting.

Traditional style vintage bathroom wall lights
Vintage wall lights in bathroom

Heating

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is towels never dry on their own in Cumbrian bathrooms. So I usually recommend dual fuel towel radiators so that the radiator can be turned on in the summer when the central heating is off. I always make sure the BTU output is higher than the estimated output needed for the bathroom too to ensure the room is warm enough. You can’t risk a chilly bathroom in Cumbria…..

Underfloor heating is a luxury, and you do need to consider the expense but ground floor bathrooms, particularly those with exterior walls can be cold so it can be a good investment.

Gold bathroom fittings
Image via Houzz

Tiles

Big tiles are often a good idea in smaller bathrooms because there are fewer grout lines, which can make the room close in. However, you don’t need to worry about this if you’re only tiling essential areas, which will also save you a few pennies.

There are lots of beautiful tiles on the market but consider bevelled or unusual shapes carefully if you’re going to be tiling around internal or external corners as you may end up with uneven shapes or crooked lines if your walls are not 100% straight and even. This is also when you need a good tiler so make sure you get a good recommendation and have seen examples of their work.

Uneven hexagon wall tiles in bathroom
Feature tiles like this work best on one flat wall without internal or external corners

Mirror mirror on the wall

Personally I like a regular mirror in a bathroom as I find bathroom mirrors a bit clinical looking. But I’ve got to admit those with lights, demisters and shaver sockets are pretty practical. If you’re like me then you can buy a demister pad to use with some regular mirrors just check with your electrician before making any purchases. And if you need a shaver socket for your electric toothbrush but don’t want it on show then stick it in the cupboard that you will have factored in if you’ve been paying attention….

Industrial and vintage black bathroom fittings
Vintage style mirror and lighting – Image via Houzz

Enjoy the view

So this is my final tip. Don’t think you have to have frosted glass in your bathroom window just because it’s a bathroom. If you’re not overlooked then make the most of your view and keep it clear.

Open air bathroom with freestanding bath and ocean view
My dream bathroom……

So I hope that helped those of you in the market for a new bathroom. Let me know if you have any hot bathroom tips.

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