When it comes to British bathrooms, the world is an expert – or so it would seem. “They are so small,” our continental cousins are ones to smirk, while our friends across pond find it impossible to understand how we can possibly function in a home without at least one bathroom per person plus an extra one just incase a visitor drops in.
It seems that the UK bathroom designer is fighting a continuous war against small bathrooms, but if you think the average UK bathroom is a bit on the small side, how on earth do you tackle updating or installing an en-suite facility.
One of the main secrets to success in any size of bathing space – even if you have the acreage of a French chateau’s bathroom in which to flex your design skills– is in careful product selection.
In terms of complete suites of bathroom products to make the most of the space in an ensuite, Ideal Standard’s Space by designer Robin Levien is still in a league of its own. “We created a ‘room’ full of moveable plywood walls, which very quickly was dubbed ‘The Space Lab,'” explains Levien. “Using photographs of bathrooms supplied by customers, we recreated the most difficult layouts and then put our Styrofoam models into these tiny spaces and figured out how to make them work, often deciding to modify our designs and return with new models for a follow-up session.”
For Levien and his team, the ‘Eureka Moment’ was when he propped a ladder up against the corner room they had built so he could take a plan view of the installation. This revealed how it was possible to fit a fully functional bathroom with shower, washbasin, and loo in the same amount of space as a large corner bath.
While Space remains the only full space-saving suite, the number of bathroom products that can go into producing a luxury ensuite experience has grown substantially. Back-to-wall sanitaryware can help to make a small room seem larger for example, while wetrooms being more than a hint of luxury to the business of bathing.
“I always start with the customer,” says Dan Cook, principal development designer at C.P. Hart. “They are the users; they are the people who will interact with the space daily. There is all manner of product across many manufacturers so finding the right one for the customer is where our specialism comes into its own. It can be an overwhelming experience for many people but I see a large part of my skill is not only the design knowledge but also the product knowledge. By understanding what they want and replying that to the professional, means they can cut out swathes of options that really are not viable or suitable for their bathroom
“Products that leave as much floor space as possible on view are a good idea, such as wall-hung sanitaryware and an open-plan shower area rather than a bath,” suggests Raffaela de Vittorio, marketing and brands director at Geberit. “A popular option where giving over the space to a shower is acceptable, is to opt for an open-plan wet room. This is a good solution in small bathrooms, opening up the space and creating a luxury walk-in finish. “Wall-hung sanitaryware lends itself to the ensuite too, where creating a sense of space and making cleaning as simple as possible is important. The Gerberit Duofix framing system for example is a good solution, being easy to install – even to a stud-wall – and neatly concealing the dual flush cistern from view.
“As a private space, the ensuite is often seen as a sanctuary, with products that enhance wellness being popular. A compact, wall-hung shower toilet is ideal here. It won’t use lots of space but offers spa-like benefits that really raise comfort levels.”
Many think of the ensuite as the ultimate ‘me room’ that is rarely used by visitors, but it can also be used to convert a master bedroom into a self-contained holiday accommodation where guests are staying for a night or two and welcome their ‘own’ bathroom that does not disrupt the rest of the household.
“As ensuites are connected to the bedroom, it is important to ensure they create as little noise as possible,” suggests Michael Gray, Grohe UK project manager. “Installing a toilet with a quiet flush is a great way to reduce bathroom noise levels. Grohe’s Rapid SL is the first WC system range to be awarded the Quiet Mark for its Whisper quiet acoustics, which produces just 21dB compared with the average flush noise of 75dB. Thanks for its decoupled pipe supports and silent filling action, families are guaranteed a good night’s sleep.”
Most family bathrooms are something of a compromise insomuch as they have to cater for the household, but in the privacy of an ensuite, the luxury bathing experience your client craves can be delivered.
“True to life marble can provide a solution for small bathroom spaces if you opt for a manufacturer that offers a bespoke design,” says Gemma Stockberger of Versital. “This means that the marble can be moulded to fit even the smallest of spaces, from vanity top surfaces to wall panels. Versital’s true-to-life marble surfaces can be shaped to fit any size or shape requirement, and is available in a large choice of colours for flexibility in design and décor.
“Bespoke designs offer clever ways to maximise limited space – for example integral basins built into vanity tops. Bespoke shower trays are another option to maximise the space available in an ensuite and create a shower that would not have been possible before. A bespoke shower tray for example can often be more cost effective than knocking down walls or moving pipes, and bespoke trays can also include shapes around corners and pipework, as well as custom waste positions.”
“Space saving solutions such as concealed shower valves and installation frames for products such as WCs often come in different heights, so you can find one that best matches your space requirement,” adds Kelly Everest, of Grohe’s UK marketing communications. “Grohe for example has launches a bespoke small, medium and large product line, which provides customers with the option of selecting a mixer size which most suits their needs and space. Brassware fittings are perfect for standing the test of time, so this should be a focus.”
“There are a number of examples of bathroom products that were designed and manufactured with the larger bathroom in mind, but will be just as at home in an ensuite. Should the designer automatically kick out the idea of a bath in an ensuite if there is a family bathroom in the home? “Bathrooms are about the user and how they are used,” says C.P. Hart’s Cook “There is no ‘must’ in any of it as it is your space and your bathroom. Not everyone loves a bath, just as not everyone loves a shower. However, as a general rule of thumb if there is a bathroom in the house (i.e. the main family bathroom) then I would feel free to do whatever I wanted in my ensuite. If that means an amazing wetroom shower or a sumptuous freestanding bath then so be it!
“By taking the right brief and by understanding your customer you are able to help them understand what is going to be the most beneficial for them. It certainly is possible to create a space that can be seriously functional but also that luxury sanctuary people are after.
“Whether you start with the ‘perfect’ product and design a solution around that or whether you start with a concept and find the right product to suit it doesn’t really matter. Working to a brief is the foundation of any design and can certainly help determine the success and failure of a project.”
To see the full feature buy the February issue of Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Magazine.