INTERIORS – Buying a beautiful bathroom by Barbara Chandler

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Mandarin Stone offer a bespoke service for those searching for something a little out of the ordinary in natural stone. Stocking a huge range of pre-cut, raw slabs of stone, literally anything can be fabricated from steps and pool copings to intricate bath surrounds, vanity units, staircases and worktops. Pictured Milan Polished Limestone from £62.38 per sqm and Troy Polished Marble from £47.99 per sqm; For further information contact Mandarin Stone: Weybridge 01932 849642; Marlow 01628 485015 www.mandarinstone.com

Article from FOCUS Magazine – Winter 13 issue.

Of all rooms in the home, the bathroom plays chameleon. Essentially, it has to fulfill its daily routines of cleansing and elimination, delivered efficiently and comfortably by taps, basins, baths, showers and loos. Additionally water is the classic agent of reinvigoration, and the bathroom must also awake and refresh. Suddenly however its users’ mood may change – now they want an oasis of relaxation, calming and subdued. Or the children take over: play time! Then come the shaving and beauty sessions, grooming for hair and skin. And so the changes ring – a design challenge indeed.

Yet the average UK bathroom –  despite those glossy pictures in ads and brochures – is still not much bigger than a king-sized bed. On the plus side, though, a home is now likely to have more than one bathroom. The “en suite” for the main bedroom at least (and sometimes a guest bedroom, too) is an integral part of most new homes, and an important part of home improvement plans. Remember, moreover, that even if you cannot add a complete extra bathroom(s) to your home, more limited additional facilities can also contribute greatly to a happy household – an extra shower-room, say, or a loo with a generous-sized washbasin and shaver point.

Not surprisingly, there is a major trend towards slimline fixtures and fittings to maximise bathroom space. “But that does not mean we have to compromise on design,” says Robin Levien, design director of British brand Ideal Standard, and one of Europe’s leading designers of bathroom fittings (www.ideal-standard.co.uk). Accordingly, Levien has created a new range for Ideal Standard  called Concept Space, with ceramics and baths. This also has clever storage fitments with wall-hung and modular units in up to six finishes with minimal projections. “The effect is spacious, sophisticated and contemporary,“ adds Robin.

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The fabulous range of fitted timber furniture from Utopia is designed to inspire you to create and design a unique bathroom in beautiful natural finishes of either golden oak or walnut. Many different ranges of Utopia furniture are on display in the new Bathe & Beyond showroom in Staines-upon-Thames. For more information or to discuss your new bathroom requirements, please contact Bathe & Beyond on 01784 426900 www.batheandbeyond.com

Design Stars  Elsewhere on the bathroom market, other famous designers are at work at the invitation of brands like German Hansgrohe, a leading international maker of showers, bathroom fittings and waste technology. Founded in 1901, it is still a family firm with Philippe Grohe (grandson of founder Hans) head of the Axor brand. He has a passion for design, commissioning products from a raft of international designers which include Philippe Starck, Phoenix Design, Jean-Marie Massaud, Antonio Citterio and Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec. Now comes the Axor LampShower by Japanese Nendo’s Oki Sato, which magically fuses light and water. For Hansgrohe stockists visit www.hansgrohe.co.uk

Duravit is also a prestigious German bathroom brand. Ceramic production began in 1817, and the Duravit brand name was established in 1960, to supply sanitaryware, furniture, baths, shower trays and then the new “wellbeing” products such as saunas, from talented international designers including Philippe Starck, Sieger Design, Lord Norman Foster, Herbert Schultes and the EOOS Design Group. Now comes the new DuraStyle range by design star Matteo Thun, uniquely light, simple and elegant.

Duravit is fostering one of the very latest trends in bathroom design – music. “We’ve developed a sound system for the bathroom on a par with the first-class audio systems used in other parts of the home,” enthuses Gary Dart, Duravit UK MD. His company’s Soundsystem is cleverly integrated inside a range of mirror cabinets using LED technology. The speakers are in the base of the cabinets and with an audio quality that can fill the whole room. For local Duravit stockists call 0845 500 7787 or visit www.duravit.co.uk

Making waves  Celebrating their 25th anniversary this year is Ripples, the bathroom store group which has won over 50 industry awards for design and now has 15 showrooms nationwide, employing over 20 specialist designers. Ripples was started by Roger and Sandra Kyme who opened their first showroom in Bath in February 1988. “From day one, our plan was to sell a complete bathroom experience,” explains Roger Kyme. “A bathroom is a very personal space and it is as much about the ambience it creates as it is about the equipment in it.“

Accordingly, today Ripples offers a complete design and supply service for high-end bespoke bathrooms for both residential and commercial clients. Customer service is of the first order, and all bathroom plans and schemes  are hand-drawn. “Individual” is the key word – the emphasis is on listening to customer needs, and then making sure they are fulfilled in detail. “When we started,” says Roger, “nobody spoke about a ‘sanctuary’, but that’s what our customers were looking for. So we worked with suppliers that understood that the bathroom was more than just a place to wash.” Ripples Chelsea opened in March 2011, and has the feel of a bathroom boutique (116 Fulham Road, SW3; 020 7373 3668). Ripples Richmond, established since 2006, has the same owner, Sanjay Parmar, with 1,300 sq ft over two floors (12 Lichfield Terrace, Richmond; 020 3166 4008). Ripples Reigate opened in 2008 (owner Colin Payne) with 1,200 sq ft (9-11 West Street; 01737 226450).

Luxury and elegance  Melinda  Hill, senior designer at Ripples Richmond, who frequently shares with Focus readers her bathroom industry insights, confirms that the trend towards luxury and elegance continues. She says: “Products remain predominantly minimal with soft and soothing lines to create a feeling of calm. Natural materials are at the forefront. Customers are asking for a modern spa-inspired bathroom with a touch of Japanese minimalism and tranquility.”

Moreover, 90% of clients are now asking for wet areas rather than traditional shower enclosures. “Maintenance-free showering areas eliminate hinges, seals and even doors, replacing them with simple pieces of glass or a tiled wall to walk behind. Fixed shower heads remain popular, with concealed controls and a hand-shower for flexibility and     practicality. Simple glass screens have anti-plaque treatment. For added comfort, heated seats, floors and walls create a luxurious feel.”

Indeed underfloor heating provides silent, invisible and highly practical heating for large tiled areas. Where radiators are installed, they are likely to be coloured rather than chrome or white. As towels get thicker and more luxurious, towel radiators have fewer rungs and more gaps.

Lighting is now a crucial part of any bathroom scheme, says Melinda.  Downlights give a general wash of light. But for a more interesting scheme, consider coloured LED lights in alcoves, or floor-positioned LED lights behind, say, a freestanding bath – “such a romantic touch.”

Like Robin Levien, Melinda Hill emphasises storage, and reports that wenge wood finishes, both light and dark, remain popular, though “hacienda black” is also in demand.
“Choose a double basin if you have the room. Quirky taller units have the storage on the door with a full length mirror on the wall. Wall-hung sanitary-ware creates a sense of space and makes floors easier to clean. Build in a wall or duct to hide pipe work. Plan for concealed cisterns, soft-close seats and dual-flush. I would say that slim and delicate is the current look rather than solid and chunky.”

Baths have evolved into statements, and are freestanding if space allows, in sleek, crisp designs. Tile mosaics in shiny metal finishes and glass bring glamour to the bathroom – arranged in circles and ovals, they will give a retro modern feel.

Helen Head, senior designer at Ripples Reigate has to deal with many small bathrooms, of the type mentioned by Robin Levien. But she suggests made-to-measure fitments as an answer – “for example storage, or a bespoke shower enclosure, to fit under a sloping ceiling.”  She adds: “Also consider using space-saving sanitaryware such as corner wash basins, countertop models or narrow designs with a short projection. Maybe have a smaller bath with a shower above. Also, in some small spaces. I  find curves work better than squared-   off shapes as they are softer and less obtrusive.”

Mirrors and baths Mirrors can give the illusion of space to  a small room – position mirrors adjacent to windows  to maximise and reflect  light. If you do not have room for a full-length mirror, have one horizontal along the bath. Try to keep the mirror either  the same size or smaller than the basin/ vanity unit or the mirror may appear top heavy. A frameless mirror, with inset lights creates a modern feel, though a mirror frame in polished chrome will make a strong statement. Make sure your mirrors have been made specifically for bathroom use.

Ever practical, Helen suggests a “zero-porous” material like ceramic tiles for bathroom floors, which are subjected to inroads from all the family. “A design with specks disguises dirt but plain colours and gloss show every single grain of dust…”

Various types of bath are available. Most common is the single-ended bath around 1700 by 700mm with taps at   one end. But double-ended baths are becoming more popular, which are rounded at both ends with the taps in  the middle or with free standing taps. Corner baths are either offset or equal sided. Shower/baths have a seat area at one end to give more room for showering, and are available with a shower screen made to fit. Space-saving baths have a tapered foot end.

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Roman is a leading British shower designer, manufacturer and supplier of everyday and luxury shower enclosures, bath screens, walk-in panels and accessories. Roman’s collection of hinged door enclosures span from indulgent 10mm thick glass, designer enclosures, through to affordable, high quality 8mm thick glass enclosures. www.roman-showers.com

Showers and wetrooms Today, showering is as much about an experience as simply getting clean. Buy from a specialist who can advise on drainage, water pressure, ceiling height and ventilation. Thermostatic controls  are essential, and you will need as  much room as possible, to make the most of newer options such as over-head drench or rain showers and body massage jets.  For true extravagance, a ceiling flush module which mimics natural rainfall provides the ultimate showering experience. If you live in a hard water area, install a water softener and have  “rub it clean” nodules on the shower head to prevent limescale. Chrome is a popular finish for shower and bathroom fittings – “but you could also consider stainless steel, brushed nickel or antique gold,” says Helen Head of Ripples.

Roman is a leading British shower designer, manufacturer and supplier of everyday and luxury shower enclosures, bath screens, walk-in panels and accessories. It is a well-established family firm – the current MD David is son of the founder and chairman Gerry. Says David: “People are now keen to create at home the luxury bathing environment they have experienced in hotels and commercial spas. You can do this with sophisticated shower fittings, minimalist shower enclosures, walk-in enclosures and wetrooms.”

But a shower enclosure comes in for a lot of hard wear, he warns. “Uniquely in the bathroom it has moving parts, and receives constant impact after installation.” Quality is imperative for durability and safety. “So choose carefully and don’t skimp.”

Minimal framing with clear thicker glass looks luxurious and stylish, he goes on. It’s difficult to get rid of a frame altogether, as you would need completely vertical walls, unlikely in old houses in the UK. “But there are a wide range of products now where the framing has been stripped away as  much as possible – but they are still easy to install and completely water-tight.” The movement of the shower door is equally important – “for a quality feel  and action, hinged doors should be self-closing, and sliding doors should be totally smooth and almost silent.”

David adds a few tips born out of long experience. Go and see all the products you are considering, he says. See them, touch them, try them out. Make sure you can get in and out of your shower enclosure easily – you may need a sliding or inward door. Check the manufacturer’s guarantee – what does it actually cover and is it service backed? Make sure your shower enclosure or bath screen is installed according to the maker’s instructions. “Most leaks are the result of poor installation – which may indeed invalidate a guarantee,” says David. For your local Roman stockist visit www.roman-showers.com

The wetroom shower is now well- established, but has become more  sophisticated. Older central drains have been replaced by seamless floors with a discreet drain in the base of the wall. Pioneers of this new design idea are a company called On the Level (www.onthelevel.co.uk) who, with Gerberit (www.gerberit.co.uk), have developed the new Duofix Wetroom Floor.

Similarly sleek is Xetis from Kaldewei, the very latest “shower surface”. Available in many colours and sizes, this has no waste outlet to disrupt its purist design. An integrated wall outlet and installation system sits discreetly in the wall, hidden behind the designer waste cover, which is either tiled or made of mirror-finish chrome.

Says Kaldewei’s Angela Ortmann-Torbett: “This luxurious seamless shower surface gives an ultra-flat floor but without the hassle of creating a fully tanked and tiled wetroom floor. The  glass-like enamel surface is also scratch resistant and easy to clean, making it a more hygienic alternative to a tiled floor. ” Xetis has just won the GOLD award for Best Bathroom Product at the 2013 House Beautiful Awards. For your local Kaldewei stockists visit www.kaldewei.co.uk.

Finding a good bathroom installer  A recommendation is a good way to  start – ask friends, family and work colleagues, or consult the showroom from which you plan to buy your bathroom products. They will have already checked out their installers, and the reputation of each is equally tied up with the other. Ask how long an installer has worked for a showroom, and whether they did any of the work on display. If it doesn’t work, why not? Always ask for references of recent work and check these out. Talk to previous clients and maybe even visit. Ask whether they use other contractors for specialist work. “A modern bathroom will require many trades including plumbing, carpentry, plastering, electrics, tiling, decorating and templating for bespoke items. It’s reasonable that a bathroom installer will use other contractors for some of these areas,” says Colin Payne, who owns Ripples Reigate.

A good installer will allow three to four weeks for a good-sized family bathroom, says Colin. And he runs through some other basic questions to bear in mind. Has your installer done similar work before? How will they cope with unforeseen difficulties? Take time to review a quotation, he advises. Is it set out in a professional manner? Does it include all the work required? Do not  pay for work until the installation is completely finished. Generally, installers will ask for a deposit, stage payments and the balance on completion.