Downstairs Loo Makeover (II)

Welcome to the third, and final ( I hope but never say never) makeover of the Downstairs Loo. This room has never been quite right since we built it nine years ago. It’s under the stairs but we stole a bit from the kitchen and, to be honest, we didn’t quite take enough.

black loo and wall mural

Under the stairs, there is a door leading down to the cellar. Lots of people block off the area under the stairs and make that the entrance to the loo – so that, effectively, the loo contains the access to the cellar. Our builder suggested leaving that area open so we could hang coats and store shoes. That works really well as the hall is completely clear of junk and, given that it’s narrow, that’s a godsend.

The loo is then less than 1m square opposite the cellar door. Now, while I say it’s too small the truth is that there was nothing to be done about the width as it has to stop by the kitchen door, and I’m not sure that making it longer would have achieved much.

So that’s the space. And if you are thinking of doing the same thing that really is the minimum you can get away with. When we moved in we installed a tiny cloakroom basin, which wasn’t pretty, but was the smallest we could find and a wall-mounted loo to maximise the visible floor space and make cleaning easier. Slapped some blackboard paint on the walls along with a disco ball on the ceiling and that was that.

wall mural by wall and deco

But we always hankered after a Barbican basin as they are even narrower than the one we had – as well as being a design classic. But they’re about £600 by the time you have bought the taps and everything that goes round the actual porcelain basin. And that’s if you can find one. Wandering through the corridors of eBay one day I spied one for £150. There was a small chip in one corner but we didn’t care about that since it was purely cosmetic.

It arrived. It was cream. The loo was bright, spankingly white. It was just wrong. And yes I know there are bigger things to care about. Shortly after that Farrow & Ball emailed to say that in return for using an image of The Mad House in an ebook they would send me a roll of wallpaper. Well given that the loo is so tiny, a single roll would be enough. We chose Lotus (see below) and used it on the top half of the wall with some leftover Railings below.

The wallpaper matched the basin perfectly. We decided to ignore the loo.

wall mural by wall and deco

Then, as many of you will remember, I did a collaboration with West One Bathrooms writing about their products and design service. We explored the return of the coloured bathroom suite (still coming for you), how to trendproof your bathroom and how to save money and space in your bathroom design.

I also wrote about the waterproof wallpaper they stock as they have the exclusive rights to it in the UK. Well one conversation led to another and West One initially said they could solve my white loo issue by replacing it with a black one.That solved one problem but meant I would have to change the navy blue walls and wallpaper or the mix of black and navy, white and cream might have tipped The Mad Husband over the edge. So we decided to leave it.

Then West One suggested installing the wet system wallpaper so I could find out firsthand what it was like. This design is called Coralfull from the 2016 collection and it is properly waterproof. The idea is that you combine the highly decorative effects of wallpaper with a fully waterproof wet system. There is a minimum installation cost of £750 as it takes five visits to install it. It can fit over the existing tiles or wallpaper or whatever you have so there is no prep. First the wall is tanked to make it waterproof. Then the paper is applied the following day (or next visit). On the third visit it is sealed to stop the ink running when it gets wet – which it won’t in my house – but imagine it in a shower. Then there are two coats of sealants applied on two different days to allow it to fully dry.

wall mural by wall and deco

The finished result is glossy and tactile – the paper – which is actually made from fibre glass – is slightly raised to the touch. I chose this design, which I had seen in green in the West One showroom (but guess what? The green didn’t go with the cream basin)….

Then I spied the orange and brown colourway and it was perfect. It’s very dramatic in such a small space but, as I have said before, the downstairs loo is the one place where you really can go over the top. You’re not in there for long so it doesn’t matter if it’s a little eye popping.

Ours was installed by R&K Bathrooms, who had the genius idea of fixing a sheet of ply over the panelled door and running the wallpaper onto that as well so you can see more of the pattern.

When you choose your pattern, you also specify if there are any features that won’t be changing – such as a window, or a mirror and, as each panel is created to order, that means Wall and Deco will make sure that the best bit of the pattern doesn’t disappear behind a piece of furniture. In our case there was nothing that mattered but there are other patterns with giant flowers or pictures – rather than abstract murals – so it might make a difference in your house.

Now, while we didn’t need a waterproof downstairs loo, there are definite advantages to installing it in a shower as you don’t have to deal with grubby grout lines. A single wall also looks amazing behind a bath and is another way to bring in pattern to a space that traditionally doesn’t have any.

There are dozens of patterns to choose from – here’s the link – and let me know your favourites. Here’s what the loo used to look like. And, you’ll be seeing this wallpaper later in the week, in the home of Pearl Lowe, who we interview for this week’s podcast.

dramatic downstairs loo at
downstairs loo at


Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Kate, it looks gorgeous! The patterns are amazing too and I already found a couple for my design project. Hope to share it soon on my social media (the last one was about a month ago).

    xo, Daniella

  2. Been thinking about your magnum opus downstairs loo since I posted yesterday.

    Instead of books on that shelf, how about you elegant designer, OH SO EXPENSIVE, black bird taking their place?

  3. Looks absolutely gob smackingly great! I also really appreciate you cataloguing your meandering design journey for this awkward space …surely we all have those!!!! That one area that’s just takes a few extra efforts, sometimes over a period of time, to really gel!

  4. This is brilliant. Love it. Is the finished very gloss? You mention it is textured, and it looks more matt but interested to hear if there are different finish options?

  5. Wonderful!! I love how the wood shelf ties in with the branch in the wallpaper and that it’s not perfect. Genius!!!

  6. Love it! One question….is a black loo a problem in a hard water area with calcium deposits?

    1. Well to be honest we haven’t had it long so I can’t say. That said it’s the downstairs loo and it isn’t used very often so I don’t know if that will make a difference.

  7. Wow the Gruffalo lives in there, what fun and what an genius product. Only thing I’d take out are the books because I don’t approve of books in the loo. When you last showed that tiny room I sent the article to a friend who exploded because the day before she had sent her Barbican basin, white and perfect, off in the builders’s skip. Tiny basins that are attractive are difficult to find. Click Basin’s range is worth looking at.

  8. Morning Kate, how Fabulously Amazing this space looks. It is brave, artful and sooo of the present…love it xx

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