It’s usually the smallest room in the house, so when it comes to the downstairs bathroom, our decorating habits tend to lie in one of two camps: either we neglect it to focus on larger projects, or we see it as a opportunity to experiment with bold features that we would like to try in the main living areas.
We’re wrong on the side of bold decorating choices and encourage keen decorators to embrace colorful tile, patterned wallpaper, feature lighting, and clever tricks to make the most of their space.
Read on for 9 ideas to transform your downstairs bathroom.
The benefits of a downstairs bathroom are many; useful for children, easy access for elderly relatives, and less wear and tear in upstairs bathrooms and suites. But where to put one? To save on costs and inconvenience, place one a short distance from the existing water supply and ground pipes – a good location is under the stairs, or you could separate the end of a long corridor. Experts suggest that a space measuring at least 80cm x 140cm is required for a toilet and sink.
According to the principles of Feng Shui, you should never put a toilet adjacent to the front door, as any luck literally risks being washed away.
There are many clever design techniques you can employ in even the smallest of downstairs bathrooms. First, make the door open outward, be it sliding or folding to minimize the impact inside the room. For your bathroom furniture, choose a triangular or suspended corner vase if you can and, if possible, built into the box.
Traditionally, a lot of space gets taken up by having your sink mounted on the floor or freestanding, so opt for something wall-mounted instead – the extra space underneath can be used for storage baskets. Keep the taps discreet and avoid “cascading” models in such a confined area – unwary guests could cause a flood.
Despite its size, the downstairs toilet is still a magnet for clutter. Boxed storage or a wall-mounted vanity unit are absolute essentials and use clever storage solutions like drawer inserts and shelves above your door and store everyday essentials on trays to keep them tidy.
It uses space well and can double as a mini trunk. Interior designer, Cato Cooper of The Emporium Somerset, thinks it’s a good idea to attach pegs to the walls for hanging coats, hats and scarves. “Don’t forget the shoe storage too,” he says. “You could create custom cubicle-style shelving to hold couples together and store other items like shopping bags and umbrellas.”
Your downstairs toilet door is likely to be closed all the time, and the space itself is usually quite unobtrusive, so it’s the perfect opportunity to experiment with a strong paint shade, such as pink or mustard. “You can go crazy with wall tiles and colors, but for a sense of harmony, match it with the color of the floor,” advises Peter Keane, director of The Natural Wood Floor Company.
We’re fans of bold, decorative wallpaper in a downstairs toilet, like Annie Sloan’s decoupage paper in collaboration with the RHS. ‘There has recently been a major resurgence in Bloomsbury-style decorative aesthetic and decoupage fits in perfectly with that. It’s a delightful decorating technique with so much history, ”says Annie.
Adding wallpaper is considerably less labor intensive than installing tiles, especially if you are using wallpaper glued to the wall, which allows you to spread the adhesive directly on the bathroom wall rather than on the wallpaper itself.
Many downstairs bathrooms are limited in terms of natural light, and some don’t have a window at all, so it’s vital to include effective lighting. In addition to the usual wall or ceiling lights, an illuminated bathroom mirror or LED mirror can really help.
Also, consider adding a niche behind the cabinet that you can illuminate with a spotlight, says Sally Storey, creative director of John Cullen Lighting, “This will bring some indirect light into the space and add depth to the room.”
Play with perspective and introduce a large or decorated mirror to reflect and refract as much light as possible. Place it on the back wall, probably above the toilet, or opt to display a collection of smaller mirrors – perhaps vintage or with matching frames – arranged close together for maximum impact.
The tiles keep the walls and surfaces sparkling, but not for the obvious. “I often advise clients to opt for larger tiles than they initially think, because they create the illusion of a more luxurious atmosphere in a small space,” says Chris Grainger, managing director of The Stone & Ceramic Warehouse. ‘People often make the mistake of using small tiles or even mosaics here. These can be useful for creating intricate designs and patterns, but there are far more exposed joints than larger format tiles. This, combined with the intensive use of the room, means you will need to clean it frequently to keep the grout clean and fresh. ‘
There is nothing less welcoming than a cold bath. A towel warmer is useful, as are thin wall-mounted radiators in complementary colors (see Bathroom Mountain for a good selection).
Where wall space is limited, underfloor heating is the ideal solution – drain it from your existing central heating system or install an electric floor mat. See Screwfix for ideas and pricing. If there are no windows, a well-maintained ventilation fan is a must. EnviroVent Ltd spokesperson Adam Slinger has this helpful tip: “If a vacuum can’t hold a postcard, it doesn’t provide enough ventilation, ideally you should replace the unit or clean the filter.”
The downstairs toilet will need a practical eye when it comes to flooring – even in a small space, a poor quality floor will affect the longevity of your bathroom. See vinyl flooring as a durable and cost-effective way to mimic more expensive styles.
“Vinyl floors are a great and affordable way to add color, pattern and personality to a room without compromising on safety or quality,” says David Snazel, hard floor buyer at Carpetright. ‘There have been many developments in design and styles in recent years which mean that the effects vinyl can create, such as tile or wood, are incredibly realistic. ‘
Vinyl is made to be durable and resistant to heat and moisture, plus it’s typically super easy to clean, perfect for your downstairs toilet.
Photographs, menus, cartoons and framed memorabilia … In upper-class homes, the downstairs bathroom has long been the place to hang precious objects with an ironic touch. “It’s the idea of being ‘fun’,” says vintage home expert Alexandra Campbell. “An interior designer once told me that women always hand over their husband’s former life to the downstairs toilet, which is why you get certificates, awards, school photos and so on.”
You can simplify this classic idea by creating a montage of family shots or a visual story of your home in plain black frames.
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