Downstairs Loo Makeover

Starting as I mean to go on with the first renovation project of the year already done. Actually it was started last year and it was a rather accidental refurbishment if I’m honest. When we moved in we painted tiny (and I mean tiny – I’ve got friends who can’t fit in here) everything in blackboard paint and let friends and family draw what they wanted.

dramatic downstairs cloakroom
dramatic downstairs cloakroom

To start with it was all piles of poo and huge exclamation marks from the children. Then a friend who’s a graphic designer came for dinner and the following morning (after he had disappeared rather more times than it was polite to mention) we discovered a huge drawing taking up one wall. That remained for about two years while naff jokes and erudite quotes appeared round the rest of the walls.

But over the last few months I had begun to feel bored. The chalk left dust on everyone and the walls had become dusty grey rather than sharp black. It was time to think about a change. But the main problem was the basin. We had a tiny, ugly one that the builder had picked up for about £30 and there was no hot water.

We needed to find another tiny basin and they’re not easy to come by. I had seen them around for £250 but that’s just the basin. By the time you add in the taps – and you have to have the right taps – and the waste you’re looking at the thick end of £550 and that’s without delivery. And that was out of the question.

downstairs loo at
downstairs loo at

Then on one of my casual wanderings round the internet I spotted one on eBay for £150 all in. There was a small chip in one corner but at that price I didn’t care. In the cart it went. Operation downstairs loo was GO.

But when it turned up it wasn’t white it was cream. Either the vendor had neglected to mention that or the images were over exposed or we hadn’t read the small print. Caveat Emptor and all that. Especially when it comes to buying second hand.

A few days later I received an email from Farrow and Ball saying that my bathroom had been chosen to be in their new ebook of 50 Fab (that’s Farrow & Ball) homes and there was a prize to be had. Now it was starting to look interesting. I have loved this Lotus wallpaper for years and I knew instantly that that was the plan. We had some left over Railings gloss from another project and suddenly the decor was decided. Even better, the lotus wallpaper is a sort of dark cream/bone colour that matched perfectly with the new basin.

The builder installed a dado rail as a divider between wall and wallpaper and the room was almost done. The next step was the floor. It was yellow rubber which I had always hated but worked with the chalkboard. There were no floorboards to expose but I felt instinctively that wood was the way to go. Over the last year I had read a lot about vinyl but wasn’t convinced. Surely it was just plastic and nasty.

Well I contacted Amtico and asked if they could send me a single square metre – that’s how small the room is – so I could check it out for real – and for you. And I like it. It’s warm, non-slip, easy to clean and it looks great. I would definitely use it in a bathroom and perhaps a hallway too. So that has been a great discovery and I shall come back to them in more detail in a couple of weeks as I went for a fairly traditional finish because I had busy wallpaper but there are some great patterns and designs to choose from.

de gourney monkey wallpaper by brianotuama
de gourney monkey wallpaper by Brian O’Tuama Architects

So the room is finished. Apart from one small detail. The loo is glaring white. Any ideas? I looked at getting a vintage seat that would cover the whole of the top but they are around £450 which is too much for a loo seat. I think I will just have to get a wooden one and not mind about the white strip at the back. What do you think?

And while you’re doing that bear in mind these suggestions for small spaces:

  • You can afford to be dramatic. It’s small and you aren’t in there for long.
  • You can perhaps afford to go luxury as you won’t need much of the material
  • Dark colours work well in small spaces – see above – do the ceiling as well
  • Gloss works well in a loo – especially if you have boys but also as it can look like lacquer
  • This is the room to have fun with.
image by Brian O'Tuama Architects
image by Brian O’Tuama Architects

A final word to any of you who do have a Barbican basin. Did you know it came with a built-in loo roll holder underneath? No nor did I until someone pointed it out to me. Mine has the holder intact, one of my instagram followers immediately substituted a pencil. It turned out that lots of us didn’t know that. So I’m telling you now.

koi carp wallpaper image by Brian O'Tuama Architects
koi carp wallpaper image by Brian O’Tuama Architects

And for more inspiration on fabulous downstairs loos do have a look at Brian O’Tuama Architects who seem to have made it a point of principle to include one fabulous loo per project.

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. Ha – this is familiar. My downstairs loo is 137cm long by 78cm wide.

    I also scored my Barbican basin from eBay (not without drama). I use the toilet roll holder for the hand towel which actually works well

    My dramatic large scale wallpaper is Daydream by Hygge and West, also from eBay (it’s astronomically expensive) but the way the pattern matches I could only get two drops from it, so this was the only wall it could go on!

  2. Get black loo seat to match the gloss in ebony wood. Timeless and classic . Will detract from the white loo and will go with the Deco wallpaper vibe .

  3. Thank you for such a perfectly timed article – just about to tackle our little loo after 18 months of talking about it. Was hesitant about going for a very deep navy, but this has convinced me to go dark!

  4. You have gone all the way with your renovation and it looks absolutely amazing! Love everything, especially the basin….just everything. So my question is, why make a compromise with the loo seat? You should consider finding a loo that has the creamy color. You will buy it once, have it forever and be tickled pink every time you open the door. No compromise, just content.

    1. yes you make a fair point. The issue is slightly that we did this on winnings and bargains and ripping out the loo will involve redecorating and the cost of installation so it’s not really something I want to do. I am going to change the seat and a lighting expert suggested that putting a warm led bulb will also soften the whiteness. Or, as someone else said, bring in some more white – towels perhaps not just loo roll – and make it look like you meant it. Always a good plan.

  5. Unbelievable, I have just redone my very own cloakroom bathroom last week!! We are talking about an 80cm width room so I agree that what you do with it really counts. I’ve decided to omit dramatic wallpaper but made up for it with plants and antique mirrors go give the space some character and life. Great post, thank you Kate!

  6. love it –

    personally would just change for a black loo seat and that will do the job

    p.s i read the other day about these chalk pens that don’t omit the dust !!! yes – how fab x

  7. Oy! I am also on the paper parade! I am using the koi in Paprika found on via the Alley Exchange. Costing me a ton but again – small bath – with an existing wallmount sink in a reddish color. And a white loo. So it will be dynamic. Using wood-look floor tiles left from a previous job. Not dividing with dado rail though…. hope that doesn’t disqualify me from the club! Keep up the great info Kate! Love your writing!

  8. OMG! Is there something in the zeitgeist, are we all redecorating our downstairs loos?
    Mine was last decorated in 2001 – sans Pinterest, eBay and online shopping days, when visual inspiration and funds were sorely lacking. However the university library where I worked had a selection of 18th Century chap books which I laboriously photocopied, cut into tiny, tiny pieces and pasted on to the walls. A sponging or two of coffee and several applications of matt varnish later – it took weeks – and it was done. And It looked absolutely great until last week when, with a view to freshening it up, I applied some gilding paste. Big, big, big mistake, and unremovable, so, albeit with reluctance, the ‘paper’ has to go. After 48 hours glued to my iPad, I have chosen some ‘real’ wallpaper this time, although my choice might have been different had I read this post last week…

    Oh, dear, I think I’m suffering from lotus leaf envy!

  9. …..and last year my friend in Barnes’ builders threw out her basin in white, said it was rubbish!!! Perhaps they put it on eBay too!!

    Love the loo decor and as a black loo seat won’t work because you have hard water stains, the dark wood seat has to be the solution Kate.

  10. Yep, I agree with Jane- I love the koi carp wallpaper( and I don’t generally go for wallpaper!) I also like the idea of loo roll holder incorporated under the basin, excellent use of space in what is generally the smallest room in the house…however I’ve just bought 2 Ferm Living black triangle loo roll holders which I love, so won’t be changing them any time soon…
    this was a very timely article, Kate, thank you- I’ve been wondering how to decorate the boring downstairs loo with pedestal basin we inherited, you’ve inspired me to think a bit more creatively!

Comments are closed.