It’s a small room, but an important and expensive one – and a lot can go wrong with a bathroom remodel.
We spoke to experts about the problems they’ve encountered in bathroom design and how to avoid them.
As Christchurch interior designer Alex Fulton says, “It’s a small room but it’s a big deal”.
Alex Fulton, of Alex Fulton Design:
- Tradies not singing from the same song sheet
Fulton is a big fan of using a job document for each room that details products, professionals, and schedules, and sharing that document with the electrician, plumber, builder — whoever is on the job.
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“When you’ve specified something and the plumber assumes it will be something else, that’s where the cost comes in.”
Examples of this would be if a plan called for a light in the shower and the electrician was unaware of it and there was no access, or if the design included a small wall corner in the bathroom bath
“If it’s a bespoke idea, or if you want to do something a little different, it’s about working backwards and moving forward. . . if I want a shower shelf it’s built and tiled, that’s something the builder needs to think about before Gib.
People don’t really know what they want
Fulton says there’s a lot of detective work in interior design.
“My job is part detective and part adviser, especially with a private space like a bathroom.
“When I listen to a client’s briefing, I ask, why do you want this? At this point, many people think they want something, but you have to understand how they live.
Sometimes customers get “stuck” on certain ideas, like having two sinks.
“If your favorite activity is brushing your teeth together, that could be a practical reason. But it’s worth asking.
Bathrooms also need storage
“Some people like to have stuff on display, some don’t. It’s a small room, so you have to be smart about storage.”
Fulton says an example of a clever idea is to create a cavity behind a mirror “so it’s not a big, clunky thing.”
Lighting is neglected or not prioritized
When it comes to lighting, there are both practical and aesthetic considerations.
“Lighting is missed in many projects, left to the electrician to decide where the lights go. And they will tend to put that light there because that is exactly what they are doing.
Lighting can make the room look pretty and can be practical, like a “pee light” with a sensor that turns on at night and task lighting above the mirror.
“A black beast would put two different lights in a bathroom, one warm and one cooler. It doesn’t work, especially in a small room.
Leave the color out of the bathroom
Bathrooms don’t have to be white, says Fulton.
“A lot of that is down to living where we live: we have suppliers who offer products in white, black and tan, and that’s fair enough because retailers have to decide what they think will be the most popular product.
She says specifying different colors or more unusual products can add delays.
“It’s about lowering expectations and letting everyone know who you’re dealing with.”
Natalie Du Bois, Wood Design:
Du Bois says she often sees people making toilets the “hero of the play.”
“I always try to avoid placing the toilet in direct view of the door leading to the bathroom.
“You can create a much better impression of the room with a beautifully crafted vanity or a beautiful sculptural tub which are much more pleasing to the eye and also encourage thinking about the pleasure rather than the purely utilitarian aspects of a bathroom. .”
Blurring too much of the space makes the room uncomfortable to use, she says.
“There’s nothing worse than hurting yourself on a towel hook too close to the toilet or banging your head on a shelf placed too low on the wall.
The bathroom is the wettest room in the house, so a breeding ground for mold, she says.
“So make sure you have good conduits. Sometimes you can even have two bathroom ducts if the space is large. One near the shower and another near the toilet.
Failing to consider both task and ambience lighting
Sometimes people forget to include good task lighting around the mirror,” says Du Bois, “but I also find that many pre-renovated bathrooms forget to include mood lighting.
She says we want our bathrooms to be a place of “retreat and enjoyment rather than just a functional utility space”. “To feel relaxed, you might want to control the amount of light you have in the bathroom by dimming it while you take a bath or use the toilet, but you’ll want something brighter if you make up.”
Overlooking the glades
Du Bois says a big problem people overlook is the door swinging on the toilet, which means the door won’t be able to open or close properly. Cabinet doors also need clearance space.
Another spacing issue can be a faucet too far from the sink “so you can’t put your whole hand under the faucet.”
“We look at these details a lot – every fitting and fixture needs careful planning so you don’t end up with an awkward space.”
Dave Georgetti, Renovation Specialist, Refresh Renovations:
Renovation expert Dave Georgetti, of Refresh Renovations in Auckland Central, says bathrooms require more thorough planning than most rooms because they are expensive, have multiple plumbing connections and because sealing is a problem.
He has some practical considerations for those considering a redesign:
Framing is important before the plasterboard continues
“Any accessories that are going to be wall mounted need a wooden frame behind them,” he says, “so mark the locations for your heated towel rail, toilet roll holder, wall vanity, rail glass shower etc. and builder can put on extra nogging if needed.
Specify exactly where you want your fittings
“If you leave it to the plumber, you might not like what you get.” Some points :
- Position the shower mixer so that you can turn on the water from outside the shower without soaking your arm.
- Make sure the shower head is high enough if you have a large family. Similarly, choose the height of a suspended piece of furniture according to the users.
- The vanity should be mounted lower if you have a container/bowl that sits on top.
The electrical wiring must also be well thought out
Besides basic lighting, extractor and a power outlet, some options to consider are underfloor heating, another power outlet inside the vanity drawer for the hair dryer, soft lighting under the vanity with a sensor for night visits, the wiring for an LED light and anti-fog built into the mirror.
“Position the extractor above or as close to the shower as possible.”
Keep Bathroom Accessories Consistent
Georgetti says it’s best to choose all taps, mixers and spouts from the same series and “try to achieve a consistent look for the other taps”.
“If your faucets are cylindrical, choose a cylindrical profile for your heated towel rail, toilet roll holder and shower door handle. If they have a square body, choose a square profile all over.
Another check on the fittings is to make sure that they are suitable for the pressure of your hot water tank.
Georgetti points out what can happen if all the elements are not considered:
- Vanity drawers that won’t open because they hit the door architrave
- A tower basin mixer that blocks the opening of the mirror cabinet
- A shower slider that wasn’t big enough for dad
- A nicely tiled shower without the requested soap recesses
“If it looks a bit like a minefield, that’s because it can be,” he says.
He recommends homeowners who lack the time or the confidence to hire a professional rather than trying to handle the bathroom themselves.