The bathroom should be both a sanctuary for relaxation and a functional space. To help you design your dream bathroom, our guide takes you from floor to ceiling, with ideas for decoration, layout, lighting and heating with information about the range of fixtures available, plus how to keep costs down in your plans.
Planning a bathroom
First make a scale floor plan of your bathroom on squared paper. Take measurements from both the floor and halfway up the walls and use the smaller measurements on your plan. Mark windows and doors and where existing electrical circuits and pipes run.
Having decided what fixtures you will need in your bathroom, make sure there is sufficient space for them, remembering to leave plenty of clearance around each. A bath, for example, will need 700mm (2ft4in) clearance from walls and obstacles. Now make a list of any other requirements, such as shaver points, cabinets and shelving, mirrors, extractor fans, laundry baskets, bins etc.
If you need to do any plumbing and electrical work, preparation will need to be done before the flooring can be laid. This is known as first fixing. It is generally better to install the flooring before any fixtures (showers, toilets etc.) although some manufacturers of wood or laminate flooring recommend that flooring is laid after the appliances are in place. If your bath or flooring is heavy, you may need to reinforce the floor first. If you are fixing appliances to a stud wall, you may need to insert double noggins into the framework.
You will only need planning permission for your bathroom installation if it affects the external look of the building e.g. if the bathroom involves an extension or changes to the windows. However, if your building is listed you will still need to apply to the Planning Service for Listed Building Consent.
Your installation must comply with building regulations. If you need to make a new connection to the house’s main drain stack, you should apply for Building Control approval and make sure the work satisfies regulations. You will also need to consult Part P of the regulations for electrical restrictions. Other relevant regulations to a renovation project include guidelines on safety, access, structure, resistance to moisture, ventilation, hygiene, drainage, heat producing appliances, energy conservation, and glazing safety.
Choosing the bathroom design schemes/style
You may want to consider what scheme you want your bathroom to follow. This might depend on the current style of your home or you may want a completely fresh approach.
The classic look is maintained by soft curves, pale colours and traditional materials – roll-top baths, brass mixer taps and fittings, and pedestal sinks. Check out local reclamation yards and antique dealers to find original pieces. Symmetry is also vital to the harmony of traditional design. If you have an old house, restore the original features where possible, opening a fireplace or exposing old brickwork, beams and floorboards.
Imitate French provincial simplicity with subtle cream and white tones, shutters, distressed wooden furniture and moulded panelling and perhaps a painted screen to hide the toilet. For a sense of Victorian luxury, add latticed glass-fronted cabinets, a chandelier, curtains, marble countertops and lots of pretty bottles.
The current fashion mixes the traditional and the contemporary with accents of black or chrome and clean cut angular lines to contrast soft curves. Combine vintage or retro pieces with modern fixtures for a contemporary chic design. Mixing natural stone or wood with monochrome or stainless steel can be very stylish if you get the balance right. The black and white tiled floor has made a comeback and can be strikingly offset with chunky wood furniture, metal fittings, and modern art.
For an ultra modern room, think minimalist. Choose angular fixtures and wall-mounted taps and shower heads in chrome. Alternatively, go for unusual shapes like round or square toilets and baths. Built-in units and wall-mounted countertops are popular. Wall and floor coverings in large squares or strips of plain stone or wood create a contemporary look, enhanced by spotlights, large frameless mirrors, bold colours and slatted blinds.
Placing the bath or shower next to a window will automatically make you feel closer to nature as you bathe. Earth tones create a warm and inviting ambiance, making natural stone and terracotta a good choice for key surfaces. If you want a softer surface that is less artificial than carpet, try cork tiles. Simplicity is the key to your design so choose fixtures in plain designs with concealed fittings and controls.
For a rustic look, avoid smooth neat edges and go for rough surfaces like riven stone. A copper or stainless steel bath could look great here. For the ultimate in natural bathrooms, there are now basins which consist of a stone slab which water flows onto above a tray, baths which can be set into the floor with rocks cemented around like a rock pool and recessed shower heads like waterfalls. If the budget doesn’t stretch that far, simply place a few shells, pebbles or plants around the room.
Choosing bathroom fixtures
When choosing from the multitude of baths, showers, basins etc. on the market, look out for brand-name models as you are more likely to get better service should a fault arise. Choose a white bathroom suite to keep the room clean and bright and complement any décor changes in the future. To give you an idea of the range of features available in bathroom fixtures, here are some key points.
The standard size is 1.7m (5.5ft) x 0.7m (2.3ft) but longer and deeper baths are available. The most common bath material is acrylic as it is a good insulator, but copper and stainless steel are now popular alternatives. Roll-top baths are traditionally cast iron and can be re-enamelled.
The oval bath remains a classic choice for most people but exciting new shapes now exist, including corner baths for fitting in tight spaces, round baths, and square baths. Free standing baths are now often mounted on timber blocks or a metal frame instead of legs. Double-end baths have recesses at each end for two people to share a bath. Wall-mounted or stand-mounted taps and central plugholes keep uncomfortable fittings out of the way.
For a spa-like feel, sunken baths are popular. The bath is set into a raised platform, usually tiled, so that only the lip of the bath is visible. For total luxury, technology now enables you to recreate a spa in your own home with the introduction of the steam bath.
Hydrobaths and whirlpools
For the ultimate indulgence, whirlpool baths are becoming a popular alternative to a Jacuzzi. These come in a variety of sizes including corner pools. A good way of hiding the plumbing is to install a sunken pool or box it in behind panelling.
Features and price vary according to:
- Number of jets – usually between 6 and 11 including hydrotherapy jets, pulsating neck jets, and adjustable lumbar jets.
- Size – the larger the bath, the more powerful the pump needs to be.
- Type of controls varying from simple on/off switches to programmable keypad or remote control systems.
- Lights – some systems even come with relaxing underwater lights!
Whilst many people install showers in tiled or glass panelled enclosures, this is not the only option. If you do not have the space for a full wet room, you could opt for a walk-in shower. These make great space-saving enclosures because you don’t have to include clearance for doors, allowing you to expand the shower area. Alternatively, frameless showers have glass screens and doors, which are glued together so no metal fixings are visible. If space is tight, a bathtub shower uses the bath as a shower tray.
Some new shower systems include programmable body jets which can be angled and water warmed up by remote control. The latest technology in shower design includes infra-red or keypad controls and audiovisual features.The trend for spa bathrooms has led to the creation of steam showers. At the touch of a button you can turn your shower into a steam room at any point during your shower. In addition to standard shower heads, you can find massaging showerheads, aerated showerheads, which create a soft sensual water flow, and rain water showerheads.
There are various types of shower systems to choose from:
- The simplest form of shower is the bath mixer shower, which has the advantage of not needing any additional plumbing.
- A power shower uses an electric pump to increase the rate of the water flow to the showerhead from the water cistern. It is not suitable if the water is supplied from a combination boiler under mains pressure.
- An electric shower uses an electric element to heat the water, which is mains-powered.
- Thermostatic mixer showers have a built-in stabiliser that prevents the water running too hot or too cold.
- A shower tower unit combines the thermostatic mixer shower with a series of adjustable jets. For a tower shower to work efficiently a ceiling height of 2200mm (7ft 4in) is required and a pump may be needed to increase the water pressure.
Basins are now made from a range of materials including ceramics, stone, glass and metal. Wall-mounted basins with wall-mounted taps and spouts are taking over from the traditional pedestal sink for ergonomic efficiency and modern design. Semi-recessed and under counter basins are also available, and are designed to protrude from built- in bathroom furniture. The units are slimmer and neater, but as a result they have reduced storage capacity. Another fashion is the countertop or stand-alone basin; a bowl or tray placed on a vanity or counter. The range is extensive from metal bowls to granite troughs. If space is limited, cloakroom basins and corner basins take up very little room. The range of taps and spouts for basins is immense, with everything from antique mixer taps to automatic no-touch sensor taps.
Toilets and bidets
The standard toilet has a close-coupled cistern, with the cistern attached to the toilet. Modern cisterns tend to be smaller than in the past and extra slim cisterns are available. Low level and High level toilet cisterns are used in period bathrooms to add authenticity. Exposed pipes are often chrome or brass-effect. Concealed cisterns and back-to-wall pans are normally installed in conjunction with built-in vanity furniture. The cistern and pipework are concealed but an access panel must be fitted.
For a more modern style, consider a wall-mounted toilet. These require a special bracing frame, which conceals the cistern. Square and rounded versions heighten the contemporary designer look. Modern toilets are often operated by a push-button on top of the cistern or on the wall, which often has separate buttons for a long or short flush.
A bidet stands around 400mm (1.3ft) high and is connected to a hot and cold water supply and waste outlet in the same way as your basin. Bidets can also be wall-mounted and are often available in the same range as toilets in a matching shape.
Choosing bathroom lighting and heating
Maximise the natural light in your bathroom by removing curtains and blinds and fitting frosted glass or a thin muslin blind to let in more light. If you can get planning permission, enlarging windows or adding skylights will make the room brighter in the day.
Electric lighting should be carefully considered to complement the mood of your bathroom. If you opt for a natural minimalist look, keep lighting unobtrusive with subtle recessed light fittings or flush spotlights. Large pendant lights and wall fittings with fabric shades will suit a retro design or a more traditional décor. Lighting contrasts will make the room seem bigger so consider backlighting alcoves and recesses.
Put atmospheric lighting and brighter lights for practical purposes on different switches so you can turn off shaving or mirror lights for a relaxing soak in the bath. For a relaxing soft wash of light use low-voltage spotlights controlled by dimmer switches. Alternatively, you could be creative with uplighters, downlighters and LEDs. Downlighters cast pools of light on surfaces and will need a false ceiling to conceal the wiring. LEDs create a twinkling glow and can be set into the floor, around the bath or mirror, or even in the ceiling like stars. The easiest way to install safe LEDs is to buy LED tiles for tiling any surface. For a spa-like ambiance, add underwater lights to your bath, whirlpool or basin.
You will also need some bright lighting around the mirror. Mirror-fronted cabinets often have their own integral light. Or you could buy a clip on spotlight to attach to the mirror. Choose top quality lighting to illuminate the mirrors. For an even all-round light on your face, angle several spotlights onto the mirror, including one directly above, or install theatre-style lightbulbs around the mirror. Remember that bright white light, dim light, or soft yellow light will not give you an accurate reflection. You may also need to fit a pressure-mounted waterproof shower light to help you see inside the cubicle.
Remember that any electric lighting scheme you choose may be restricted by building regulations. Any electrical work in a bathroom will require approval from your local Building Control department and should usually be done by a professional electrician. See our section on electrical regulations for more information.
Certain areas or ‘zones’ in the bathroom will not be allowed light fittings:
- No lighting may be installed in zone 1: below 2.25m (7ft6in) above a bath or shower tray or within the width of the bath or shower.
- You may install one light fitting as well as an extractor fan, shaver unit, space heater, or pump within zone 2. This includes the space above zone 1 and an area of 600mm (1ft11in) from a bath, shower tray, basin, bidet or toilet.
- You may install one light fitting as well as an extractor fan, shaver unit, space heater, RCD-protected fixed appliances, or pump within zone 3. This includes the space beyond zone 2 – 2.4m (7ft8in) horizontally and up to 2.25m (7ft4in) vertically.
- All light fittings should be suitable for bathroom use.
Hot water central heating is the safest way of keeping a bathroom warm, but if you do have an electric room heater it must be permanently fixed at a greater distance than 0.6m from the bath or shower and controlled by a pull-cord or by a switch located outside the bathroom.
Underfloor heating is often preferred for bathrooms as it is safer, quieter, and distributes heat evenly across a room. On the other hand, it can be slow to heat up and cool down, and requires disruption to the flooring to install. The operation of the heating system can also be affected by certain types of flooring. Water-heated systems run off a central heating system and require professional installation. Electric systems consist of rolls of matting, like an electric blanket, laid under the flooring.
Heated towel rails are available in a wide range of styles and types, offering heating from hot water or electric sources.
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