Bathroom Design Ideas for Renovators

Functional doesn’t have to mean clinical and regimented, as there are so many options for creating a stylish bathroom, says Emily Smith
by Emily Smith
4th April 2017

A dated bathroom is likely to be high on your rip-out-and-start-again priority list when renovating.

While the perfect design might seem easier to attain if you’re building from scratch, working with a pre-set piping arrangement needn’t be too great a challenge. So what’s involved in designing a bathroom that will ooze stylish functionality for years to come?

How much work is needed?

You’ll need to have a thorough understanding of how major the project is so that you can budget accordingly. Think about what’s currently in the bathroom – does the whole space need to be gutted or can anything be salvaged; is it just a case of an aesthetic update or does any of the plumbing need to be replaced?

Another thing to bear in mind is whether the water pressure is strong enough for a good shower or if you may need to fit an additional pump.

You should also check for obvious signs of water damage and leaks. Common indications of a potential problem include: mildew or mould; disfigured, stained or warped floors, walls or ceilings below the room; and musty or earthy smells that persist even after a thorough clean.

Victoria Plumb Cavendish bathroom suite
The Cavendish bathroom suite range from Victoria Plum presents a classic turn of the century aesthetic

Unfortunately, if you discover a leak then finding the source could mean ripping out and replacing more than you originally budgeted for; hence why understanding the scale of the project before you start to think about design details is so important.

Having a firm idea of how much you can afford to spend before you start shopping for individual tiles, fixtures and units will go a long way to helping you to focus your finances.

A comfortable environment

The best way to maintain the brand new look of your bathroom is to reduce the potential effects of airborne moisture by making sure there’s efficient waterproofing and ventilation. If your bathroom update is part of a major house renovation then you may want to close up trickle vents and reduce the need to constantly open windows by installing a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system (MVHR).

These work by drawing damp, stale air outside, recycling the warmth from any moisture in the air and feeding a fresh, warm supply back into the home. If you’re working on a smaller project, simply installing a decent extractor fan should work wonders.

Heating is another core consideration – what is the current setup and can it be updated? Will a heated towel rail be enough to warm the whole room, for instance, and have you considered retrofitting underfloor heating?

Planning the bathroom layout

Armed with a budget and an understanding of the work that’s needed, you can move onto the fun job of thinking about how you want the finished space to look.

“Consider what you want to get out of the refurbishment as well as what don’t you like about the current room. Does the layout need to change dramatically; is there enough storage space and, if not, which areas are the most prone to clutter?” says Georgina Spencer from Roca Group.

Fired Earth free standing basin
Designed by Fired Earth, this freestanding vanity unit with a drop-in basin brings traditional style to an elegant bathroom scheme
Topps Tiles sink with brass trim
Adding a trim to the edge of your tiles creates a neat, professional-looking finish. Shown here is Topps Tiles’ Foundry trim in antique brass

Look at the space and think carefully about where everything should be positioned and whether that fits the current pipework layout. Start with the essentials (toilet, shower/bath and sink) and base the rest of the scheme around these.

“There aren’t the same specific zoning rules for bathroom designs as there are for kitchen configurations, as there are so many options. However, there are certain dimensions that need to be followed,” says Georgina.

“As a general rule, leave 760mm from the front edge of all fixtures free of obstacles.” Following this rule will ensure there’s enough space to move around the bathroom easily and means it won’t feel cramped.

Also consider who is going to be using the room and how your family’s needs might change in the future. For example, is there enough room for a wheelchair to turn?

When it comes to planning the sequence of work, get the infrastructure in place, then start at the top of the room and make your way down to reduce the risk of damaging materials. There’s no point in fitting expensive new floor tiles if you’ve still got to paint the ceiling, for instance.

Bathroom style versus functionality

Once you have a firm idea of the most suitable layout for your bathroom, you can get stuck into style choices. Deciding whether to go traditional or contemporary will be largely based on the look of the rest of the house. You should also think about how to achieve an appearance that isn’t going to date.

“Play it safe by drawing upon the simple styles of the 1920s-1950s, or those from earlier periods, by opting for heritage touches, such as ornate taps,” says Adam Chard from

The wet nature of a bathroom lends itself to moisture-resistant materials. Ceramic and/or porcelain tiling is an obvious choice, but anti-mould paint and water-resistant wallpaper are also popular options. Don’t assume you have to avoid fabrics – there are plenty of suitable bathroom blinds out there, for example.

Solid wood flooring isn’t ideal for wet zones because of its sensitivity to humidity, which can cause movement, but stable engineered varieties are an attractive alternative. Vinyl, stone, rubber and even polished concrete are all favoured surfacing choices, too.

Lighting for bathrooms

Bathrooms are often the preferred place for grooming and beautifying, which is why a mirror above the basin is a key part of most schemes, but remember that lighting is also important for this. For optimum illumination you need to direct brightness out from the mirror surround towards the person – units with built-in lights are great for this.

Browse the gallery for more bathroom designs:

Lighting can also be used to enhance the overall ambience of a room, whether that means including a dimmer switch that can be turned down if you’re enjoying a rejuvenating bath or creating a focal feature with an ornamental fitting.

“Our first ever collection of decorative lighting has been designed to provide the finishing touch to a variety of schemes and add character to a space that can sometimes appear clinical,” says Emma Gaskell from Frontline Bathrooms.

Take note of the growing trend for living room style bathrooms and luxury-led design by making your lighting into a focal feature. Flush ceiling fittings, elegant chandeliers and/or bar spotlights are all stylish solutions for an attractive centrepiece.

A touch of luxury

Much like other areas of the home, the way that we interact with our bathrooms is changing. While it will always remain a functional zone, the rise in popularity for achieving the same indulgent grandeur found in hotels and spas is encouraging more and more homeowners to create their own retreat-like haven, ideal for relaxation. This doesn’t just apply to large bathrooms and big budgets – opulence can be brought to compact zones and even wetrooms, too, given the right design.

Spacious countertops, waterfall showers, freestanding baths, seating areas, integrated music systems and smart controls – these are just a few examples of the kind of additions that could create the ultimate space for personal sanctuary and advanced usability.

“It’s now easier than ever to replicate the look and feel of a spa in your own home,” says Adam. “Multi-functional showers with different outlets allow you to experience various sensations, plus a greater choice of lighting options means you can really set the mood without having to reach for the candles.”

Main image: Having a decent amount of storage is vital to keeping your bathroom free from clutter. In this scheme by Roca, a large wall-hung cabinet and a vanity unit offer plenty of space to hide away pots and potions

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