Bathe in reflected glory
Part inspirational hub, part hideout, make your bathroom a place to linger
Bathrooms are for hiding in. What other room allows you to legitimately lock the door? Irrespective of what you're actually doing in there, you're less likely to be disturbed in a bathroom than in any other place in the house. For many of us, the bathroom is an inspirational hub.
"It's the best place to get your brainwaves working," says Tony Murphy of Tile Style. "The bathroom is about the only room in the house where you can escape." That's why bathroom designs that only consider function are missing the point. Yes, function is important - the bathroom is a practical space with duties to perform - but there's a meditative aspect to it too. An ideal bathroom accommodates the mechanics of ablution, but is also a contemplative space. It's a shame that most of them are so boring.
According to Murphy, bathroom design is entering a new era of creative expression. It's becoming more beautiful, more fashion-driven, and a whole lot more fun. Among its up-and-coming trends, Industrial Vintage is a hipster fantasy style that harks back to New York loft living, Bauhaus modernism, and post-Soviet industrial chic. Symptoms include: subway tiles, concrete effect walls, exposed pipework, and thick black shower frames. "It's an industrial aesthetic humanised for a bathroom space," Murphy explains. "It combines raw materials and structured forms with white ceramics and minimalist furniture." Most people who embrace industrial vintage style combine a few key elements with sensible modern innovations, like wall-hung toilets.
In the industrial vintage bathroom, a freestanding cast-iron bath takes pride of place. This can be either a re-enamelled vintage tub, (extra points for authenticity here) or a modern version.
Freestanding baths begin around €1,200 but you can pay up to €4,000 for a cast-iron roll top bath from the Northern Irish company Arroll, available from Tile Style. It also makes gorgeously old-fashioned cast-iron radiators. But ask yourself a couple of questions before you take the plunge. Firstly, is your bathroom big enough? The average Irish bathroom measures 2.5 x 2 metres. There's not a lot of room for creative expression here.
"The Victorians have us brainwashed into thinking that a bathroom should be this size and this size alone," Murphy says. Secondly, give a bit of thought to how you use your bathroom. If you like the idea of bathing, but rarely do so, a free-standing bath is basically a large and expensive ornament.
For day-to-day showering, most people want wet rooms. An industrial vintage shower from Samuel Heath, with exposed pipework, can add character to a plain design or you can go a step further with a black industrial shower frame (around €2,000 from Tile Style). This is a standard glass shower enclosure with glass panels divided by thick black frames which, like thick-framed hipster spectacles, give it a slightly dorky retro look. This could be combined, for full industrial effect, with taps from Samuel Heath's Bauhaus-inspired Landmark collection. There are two options within this: the minimalist Pure range and the more tactile Industrial range, which has a distinctly mechanical aesthetic. Expect to pay €1,800 for a three-hole wall mounted tap (two handles and a spout) in solid brass. "I know some architects who will spend more on the taps than they do on the rest of the bathroom put together," Murphy says. They probably pay a lot for door knobs too. If the things that you touch are good quality, it gives the impression that everything else is good quality too.
Bathroom lighting must be IP rated for use in wet areas (electricity and water is a dangerous combination). Mullan Lighting has some good options, including a moisture-resistant take on the industrial bare-bulb look, but the Japanese designer Oki Sato has taken this a step further with his Water Dream shower lights for Axor. This is basically a shower with an LED inside the nozzle. It sounds like a death-trap but, apparently, it isn't. Expect to pay €2,000 for an Axor shower from Tile Style. "Some people would see a touch of humour in the design," says Murphy.
In its more extreme manifestations, the vintage industrial style can look fairly bleak and raw. In two recent projects, Kingston Lafferty Design has included bathrooms that reference industrial elements in a subtler and more feminine way. "It's more like industrial opulence really," says Roisin Lafferty. In one of these, the bathroom design was inspired by a Parisian brasserie with vintage fittings, a combination of hand-made, hand-glazed wall tiles, and monochrome floor tiles framing a decorative mosaic inlay panel. "We started with the inlay pattern and worked the design around it." In a smaller house in Ballsbridge, Lafferty designed an ensuite in a long narrow space with very limited natural light. "It's a busy family home and the owner wanted a place that she could retreat to," says Lafferty sympathetically. "I think it's my favourite bathroom that we've designed."
Deciding to emphasise the narrowness of the space was a key decision, and she did so by using a ribbon strip of geometric tiling that runs along the length of the floor and up the wall. The wall along the side of the bath is lined with moisture resistant MDF panelling, which conceals storage behind it, and the opposite wall is layered with framed mirrors, with brass and mirror cabinets. The industrial flavour here is a subtle one, evident in the school house pendants and the free-standing bath. "If you have the space for a free-standing cast-iron bath, they tend to have a lot more character."
Not everyone will have the space or the budget for an industrial vintage bathroom. A vinyl wall mural from Pixers (from €19) offers a low-cost way of introducing the look to a bog standard bathroom. And, because it's not a real bath, it doesn't need plumbing. You can stick it to a door, a wall, or a wardrobe to make it look as though you've got a very cool ensuite.
See tilestyle.ie, kingstonlaffertydesign.com, mullanlighting.com, and pixers.uk