Monday 19 August 2019

From hiding the cistern to ditching the ensuite - the latest bathroom trends

Homeowners are flush with options

Bathroom from Essential Home
Bathroom from Essential Home
Smithers of Stamford River Thames bathroom
Sonas Edge bathroom furniture
Bathroom with lighting from DelightFULL
Palm Springs wallpaper from Mind the Gap

The notion that you can create more space in your home must be the single greatest hoax of interior design. Unless you extend your building - up, down, or sideways - it's actually impossible. Witness the laws of physics. You can change the way that space is allocated, or use it in a more efficient way, but if you find more space in one part of the house, you lose it in another. It's a zero-sum game.

Take the toilet cistern, for example. Not glamorous, I know, but where would we be without it? Once a clanking gurgling presence on the bathroom wall, the cistern can now be hidden in the wall behind the loo. The toilet floats a few inches from the floor, as does the washbasin, with not a pipe or a cistern or a grubby u-bend in sight.

It makes the bathroom seem larger because the floor is clear, but this apparent space comes at a cost. The wall has to be extended into the room to conceal the unsightliness behind, reducing the bathroom in size. Clever engineering has hidden the utilities, but those pipes and sewers and cisterns are still taking up space. They haven't gone away, you know…

This year, Katherine Kelliher and Tania Miller of Kelliher Miller Architects are taking to the Inspiration Stage at House where they'll be talking about the functionality and aesthetics of bathroom layout. "Putting in a wall-hung toilet means that we lose between 24 and 25cm," Kelliher explains, "but only up to the height of the cistern, which can be as low as 90cm, depending on where you want the push plate." Above this level, the joinery can be cut back to make space for shelves, alcoves or a mirror.

Palm Springs wallpaper from Mind the Gap
Palm Springs wallpaper from Mind the Gap

Kelliher and Miller are brand ambassadors for Sonas Bathrooms, sponsor of House 2019, Ireland's biggest home and design show which takes place later this month at the RDS. Sonas is one of the go-to companies for people who need help with designing their bathroom. "The choices can be daunting, so we often end up sending our clients out to Sonas to help give them some direction," Kelliher says. "We can provide a sketch, and they will talk the clients through the pieces that can make it happen."

Sonas is a wholesale distributor rather than a shop, but has a large showroom in Dublin where people can go to see what's available and get free advice on what might or might not work for their project. You don't have to be using an architect, or an interior designer, or even a builder to avail of this service but, if you decide to buy, it has to be done through one of their suppliers. The price range at Sonas is wide, but individual items are not extortionate. Bath taps, for example, range from perfectly adequate metal heads (€44) to the fancy black Bingley bath filler (€225) and you can pay anything from €844 to €1,899 for a free-standing bath.

Back at home, the battle for space continues. "We're finding that people think that they need an ensuite, but then they also want a dressing room and a place to hang their clothes. Once we've talked them through the options, many of them decide to take out the ensuite and focus on a larger, more luxurious bathroom with a stand-alone glass shower cubicle and a free-standing slipper bath as a showpiece."

Often, Kelliher's clients offset this single stylish bathroom by upgrading the downstairs loo into a working wet room. Having a shower room on the ground floor has many advantages, especially for the very young and the very old. It also preserves the main bathroom as a ceremonial space. And fewer bathrooms mean less cleaning.

When it comes to concealed systems - that's the goings-on behind the wall or under the floor - Kelliher recommends that you spare no expense. Once these are installed, you don't want to think about them and you really don't want to have to uproot them if they go wrong. "If you're installing a wet room on the first floor, make sure it's watertight," she says. "The prep work for a bathroom is fundamental, but you don't have to spend the earth on tiles. Not in my opinion, anyway."

Behind every stylish interior is a lot of hidden utility space. If you're undertaking a project that requires the planning of waste pipes and drainage, it may be worth also revisiting the utility room.

"This is becoming a busier room that requires more attention," says Kelliher. "But often it's in the wrong place." Utility rooms are frequently found at the back of the house, taking up a sunny corner with direct access to the garden. "It works much better to move the utilities to a dark space at the core of the house, preferably adjacent to the wet room and to free up the parts of the house that have natural light for living in."

Many of the systems that help to reduce the carbon footprint of our homes demand quite a lot of utility space. Solar thermal panels, for example, require a new hot water cylinder that will be bigger than the one you already have. "It takes up a big chunk of space," Kelliher says. Rather than try to squeeze it into the hot press, she recommends you put the cylinder in a utility room at the core of the house, and that you also use this room for drying clothes.

That room can also accommodate the control panel for underfloor heating or an air-to-water heat pump that extracts heat from the external air and distributes it through radiators or underfloor heating.

"A heat-pump replaces the traditional gas boiler and grants are available for this kind of technology, but you need a dedicated service zone isolated in a utility space." She suggests that you allow between four and six square metres for a utility room large enough that the rest of the house is free of mechanisms and control panels.

Once this is sorted, Kelliher recommends that you keep the remaining rooms multi-functional with doors that can be opened out or closed over. "That whole open-plan glass box thing didn't work because there were no proper zones. Everyone needs their own space. So don't lose the quiet room and, if you work from home, it's nice to have a dedicated office that's not a place where you relax," she says. "If the layout is right, everything else falls into place."

See sonasbathrooms.com and kmarch.ie. For grants on deep retrofitting and sustainable solutions for the home, see seai.ie.

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