This has got to be one of the most commonly asked questions: where can I save space and money when designing a bathroom? So today, as part of my collaboration earlier this year with West One Bathrooms, I spoke to Louise Ashdown, the company’s head of design, to find out more about those two crucial elements and I thought it would be worth sharing it again now as the information will always stand the test of time.
It’s well known that the UK builds the smallest houses in Europe and that the bathroom is generally not regarded so much as a luxury space, but more of a practical necessity. For years the tradition has been to squeeze it into the smallest possible area.
Indeed, Louise points out that it tends to be only in Victorian and Edwardian houses where a bedroom has been sacrificed to make a really large bathroom that you tend to have a big space to operate in. For most people, it’s about trying to fit as much as you can into a small space and still making it feel luxurious.
“I always say that you start and end the day in the bathroom so you have to think about what you want to make it feel right for you,” says Louise.
West One offer a full design service and Louise is keen to point out that they deal with all budgets, from small flats to large country houses and more often than not the spaces are actually quite small.
“Showering only really took off in this country in the 90s,” she says. “Before that most people had baths in their houses, or used one of those telephone attachments. You only really came across proper walk-in showers in hotels and on holidays abroad, and a shower over the bath is still the most common scenario.”
But with the 90s and the arrival of the home shower, came the infamous P-shaped bath. Designed to make the shower over the bath experience more spacious, it stole space from the rest of the room and, while innovative at the time, quickly fell out of favour.
That still left the issue of how to create a decent shower experience if there’s no room for a separate shower? Louise has some tips for that:
“Firstly, consider if you really need that bath. Sometimes a luxury, large shower can be just as nice as a bath and unless you are developing a property for a family with a young child you really don’t need to keep the bath if you don’t want to,” she advises.
However, if you do want to keep the bath and there isn’t room for a separate shower, then choose a bath that is thin. All the wide ledge does is take space from the inside as most baths are a standard 1700mm long from the outside. So the thicker the mould the less space inside. A thin bath will give you more space to stand (and lie come to that).
Louise also advises looking for a bath that goes straight up at the tap end rather than angling out. This will make it easier to stand upright as you will have a larger platform. For that reason you might also want to ensure the plug is in the middle so that your’e not standing on it when you shower.
So if you do have a shower over the bath, this is one of the key areas where you shouldn’t scrimp too much. An acrylic bath will flex as you stand in it and over time it will drop, which can lead to leaks between the wall and the silicone joint. You would be better spending a little more on a resin bath or steel bath which is more rigid and will last longer as it won’t bend. If you have a separate shower, and don’t take baths often, then you can save on the bath and spend more on the shower. It’s always about balancing the bottom line after all.
Another way to save space is with a wall-mounted loo. I have mentioned before that this will make the room look bigger as you will see more floor, but Louise was able to talk actual measurements. So: you can buy a slimline frame of 80mm instead of the standard 170mm depth. A standard pan will also project 570mm into the room but a compact one (which basically loses that white part behind the seat so doesn’t affect the seating area) is between 450mm and 480mm so that represents a decent space saving in a small room.
The same applies to basins, which should be wall-mounted. As Louise points out – on a standard basin the pedestal does nothing other than hold it up and you still need to find storage space elsewhere. Hang the basin on the wall with a drawer or cupboard underneath and you kill two birds with one stone.
When it comes to saving money, the usual rule of thumb is that you can save space or money but rarely both. However, Louise points out that if you buy ceramic fittings, that is a standard product that is made the same way all over the world. It’s once you start looking at resins and steel and other materials that the prices rise.
“I would say that your bath and shower are the key spend as well as the shower screen,” she say. “Anything that water touches needs to be good quality as water can travel miles unseen and if you have a tiny leak it can be really hard to find it and it can do a lot of damage in the meantime.
“For that reason I would also suggest buying good quality taps because if something goes wrong you can get a spare part rather than having to buy a whole new one. You should buy the best you can afford and remember that sometimes there is a reason that the price is what the price is and that might be to do with craftsmanship and materials.”
In other words, you know it, I know it – you get what you pay for.
Having said that, you can save on other elements like the tiles as well as storage. It’s not going to be the cheapest room in the house but, to come back to Louise’s point, it’s used by everyone twice a day so it’s probably the most used room in the house, along with the kitchen.
Leaving the practical stuff for now, we all know that the bathroom has become more of a sanctuary and while you may not be able to afford the full spa system, Louise says there are elements that you can bring into your own bathroom. A steam generator that will turn your shower into a steam room (good for the pores, the arthritis and the mood) can cost around £2,000 and can be installed up to 5m away from the room itself (ie in the loft) so a small room needn’t be a barrier to that.
Alternatively a ceiling mounted Drench shower that can be adjusted to produce a waterfall – a blade that’s good for a massage, a gentle rainfall or even a cool mist following a hot shower (remember those pores) is another Spa-like element that can be found to suit most budgets.
And a final word on trends – because everyone always wants to know what’s happening just so they can ignore it. For a while anyway. So – as with kitchens where the emphasis is on having a room that isn’t too fitted, it’s the same in the bathroom. Glossy finishes are out, matt textures are in and fully tiled bathrooms are out – so that can save some money too.
I hope that’s been helpful. I certainly didn’t know those tips about showers over baths and it’s definitely something to consider.
This is part of my regular Wednesday Ad Break slot. I don’t post every Wednesday but if I do it’s part of a paid collaboration or press trip that I have taken. The other four days of the week are unsponsored. Having said that you know by now that I only work with brands that I think can tell you/us something useful or beautiful or both.
All images by Paul Craig