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Interior Design advice from Bradley Viljoen: Bathroom Basics

Image: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Have you walked into a bathroom with washbag and towel, desperately looking for a spare surface, or hook upon which to hang discarded clothes? I know I have. I have also banged my head countless times on those glass shelves placed precariously over a washbasin.

A bathroom can be one of the trickiest spaces to design. For a room that has an ostensibly simple purpose, the considerations and compromises can be enormous. Our temptation is to rush to style the room but, before doing so, we must first consider the basic requirements that need to be met to achieve a design that is both practical and comfortable. These basics may seem obvious but, from experience, are often overlooked.

  • Toilets must flush well. I don’t think I need to expand on this point but so often they do not, and it is intensely annoying.
  • Towel rails, preferably heated, need to be large enough to accommodate the maximum number of towels likely to be in use. Damp towels hanging over doors or steaming on radiators is never a good look.
  • Water pressure needs to be high enough to deal with the multiplicity of household uses. If you want a reasonable flow rate from your taps, rather than a trickle, you will need to ensure they are compatible with your home’s water pressure.
  • Taps should ideally consist of a mixer spout, particularly in the wash basin, allowing the user to choose the temperature. Frankly, there is nothing worse than cupping your hands and switching from one tap to another.
  • Storage and work surfaces are never sufficient to house toiletries, hair driers and all manner of things. Find opportunities to incorporate sufficient storage to house it all. Uber-styled contemporary washbasins that seem to float on air are exciting but are they suitable for your needs? Any bathroom clutter is mostly avoidable and detracts from achieving a stylish design.
  • Lighting needs to do its job. Task lighting for making up or shaving, is better served by two wall lights or two lighting insets in the mirror to reduce shadowing. For all bathroom lighting ensure the correct level of IP rating, denoting water resistance, serves the zone where it is being located. For ambience, get your lights onto a dimmer switch, as the level and quality of light you require in the morning and evening differs.
  • Mirrors can be used effectively to bounce light back into the room. However, if your windows are open or often unscreened, consider carefully what is being reflected to the outside.
  • Wall surfaces need to be chosen carefully; porcelain tiling is often over applied. Tiling walls up to the ceiling and on the floor results in sound reverberation. Tiling also results in a cooler room; perfect for summer but uncomfortable in winter unless you have good underfloor heating. There is no need to place tiles where water is not present or where only occasional splashes occur. Using good quality moisture resistant bathroom paints will serve just as well.
  • Planning your layout seems obvious but consider the proportions of the room against the items you wish to incorporate. Calculate the space required to open shower doors, cupboards, or the distance required behind you when you bend over the basin. Avoid putting the basin directly beside the toilet so that you don’t rub shoulders with it when getting up or down. It isn’t only the floor space that needs to be analysed but also the relationship between items.
  • Plumbing needs to be studied carefully against the intended plan. Is your newly located shower or toilet waste pipe served by the existing plumbing or will the floor boards need to come up to lay new pipework?

If these bathroom basics leave you exhausted or your budget does not stretch to a full strip-out, you need not feel that you are without choices. I have found that a modest redecoration, introduction of interesting mirrors and pictures/prints, mood-enhancing paint and lighting, new window treatment, or simply buying new towels will give you a new look if planned well.

This article first appeared in the July 2018 issue of SE22 magazine.

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