The floor and walls form the background against which fixtures, furniture and accessories are seen. Since they make up such a large part of the picture, the materials covering them have a major influence on the style of a room; similar or complementary materials are likely to be used for the countertops, bath surround and other hardworking surfaces. Bathrooms require two distinct types of lighting: general all-over illumination and task lighting.
The ideal flooring for a conventional bathroom is water-tolerant, easy to clean, slip-resistant and warm to the touch. Vinyl, rubber and cork possess all these qualities but tile, stone, glass, wood and even carpet are suitable floor coverings provided they are chosen and used with care. Hard materials such as tile, stone and glass are often used in modern settings, but they are cold and potentially slippery when wet.
Wood and carpet may be the least water-tolerant materials, but they are comfortable to walk on and look luxurious. Unless you choose the kind specifically designed for bathrooms, laminated wood flooring may swell and distort in a damp environment, and solid timber requires careful sealing to protect against splinters and watermarks. Duck boarding and painted floorboards remain comparatively unscathed by water and can safely be used in adult bathrooms where the floor does not get too wet.
The range of wall treatments suitable for bathrooms is almost limitless provided the wet areas are properly protected. Continuous surfaces are often chosen for a contemporary scheme to give a sophisticated, seamless look, and for small spaces which appear all the more cramped if the walls are fragmented into a patchwork of textures and colours. Materials suitable for creating this all-over look include ceramic or glass tiles and mosaic and natural and synthetic stone, all of which are comparatively expensive but long-lasting, waterproof and easy to clean. In traditional bathrooms and lower-budget installations, paint and wallpaper are decorative options for all walls other than those in the shower enclosure; if a uniform look is required, surfaces immediately around the bath and basin can be protected with clear glass or acrylic panels or plain matching tiles.
Wood panelling is an option for the walls of both traditional and modern bathrooms. In the bathrooms of the period or country homes, painted tongue-and-groove wainscoting or fielded panelling covering the lower part of the wall may be continued around the room; they will withstand normal levels of bathroom moisture though not the direct spray of a shower. Natural or oiled hardwood, such as iroko or Merbau, is the modern alternative. Dark tropical timbers resist water to a degree but will fade if not regularly oiled. Smooth, panelled surfaces are easier to clean than tiles or mosaic, which eventually accumulate grime in their grouted joints. The most. popular of these are limestone, marble, granite, Conan and glass; in urban homes, industrial materials like concrete and sheet metals may be added to the list. All of these are hard-wearing, but extra care must be taken with limestone and marble which can be marked by acidic cleaners and cosmetics and badly damaged by cleaners that contain limescale remover.
As in other rooms in the home, the best general light in a bathroom is provided by daylight. In most bathrooms, you can maximise this by keeping window treatments simple, but in windowless internal bathrooms, more radical measures will be necessary, such as replacing sections of the wall with glass bricks or obscured glass panels to allow light from an adjoining room to pass through.
After dark and on grey, wintry days, a central ceiling light, downlights recessed into the ceiling or wall fittings give even all-over light, leaving no gloomy spots in the room.
Bathroom task lighting for activities such as shaving and applying make-up centres in the mirror and should be directed so that it shines on your face. A pair of lights placed at the sides of the mirror will give a clear, virtually shadow-free light; the light sources may either be separate wall-mounted fittings or incorporated into the mirror itself.