The only other room that the bathroom compares to in terms of price is the kitchen. Both are expensive because the bones plumbing, electricity, permanent fixtures are so difficult to get right. And they can be a very expensive mistake if you get them wrong. It makes sense then to plan a bathroom in the same detail as you would a kitchen. You need graph paper on which to draw a scaled plan of the room, and you need cut-out templates
Before you start playing houses and moving the shapes around, however, you must mark on the other immovables in the room: windows and doors (remember you must be able to open the doors); cupboards, radiators and towel rails; and anything else you want to keep in its present position. You should also mark where the existing plumbing is, as this will give you some idea how expensive it will be to relocate it. Include the layout of existing water pipes, sewage ducts and ventilation ducts. There may be local water or building regulations that would make it almost impossible to move them.
If you are ecologically minded, you could also consider fitting bath and basin waste-water drains to an external pipe leading to a water butt. Most plants are happy to drink soapy water – particularly in drought conditions. Programming the water temperature correctly from the boiler will also save fuel and money. Baths really only need the addition of cold water if the temperature is set too high. A seven-day timer allows you to adjust water usage from day to day according to what you are doing during the week.
Now look at the room and think about the design possibilities than with your graph paper and templates see whether they would work in practice. Make sure the basin allows enough space for washing and shaving in comfort. Check where the person using it will need to stand they should have about 40 cm (20 in) space on each side and 70 cm (28 in) in front. This is especially important if you plan to site the basin in a corner. If you box in the basin, you must allow kick space at the bottom for feet 10 cm (4 in) or so and the basin must be at the front of the unit so as not to put too much stress on your back.
A standard bath measures 1700 x 700 mm, but again you need to allow a 70 cm (28 in) wide space alongside the bath for getting in and out. You should also have 70 cm (28 in) clearance in front of the loo and bidet. Showers require a minimum of 80 cm (31 in) of space to step in and out. As you plot the position of fixtures, show these extra spaces as dotted lines around the room. You might well find that the existing layout was chosen for a purpose or, conversely, why it has never worked very well. I devised all sorts of alternatives for the owners of the Portuguese Bathroom, only to conclude that the previous occupants had got it right and that there was no other solution!
Don’t be disheartened by how cramped your bathroom space appears. Catalogues give the impression that everyone else enjoys palatial bathrooms, but that’s only because they are shot in enormous warehouse-style studios. You wouldn’t really want a cavernous space; it could be difficult to heat and you would always find you needed something that is a walk away.
Design with common sense
Plans have one major flaw they are horizontal only. You must also think about the height of each person in the household. Small children can crack their heads against the corner of a pedestal basin; tall men will tweak their backs bending low over one to wash. You might have to consider boxing-in for the former; putting it on a plinth for the latter. Perhaps there is a little nook you could utilise for the bidet, but not if you hit your forehead on a beam every time you stand up. Similarly, shelving might be a great idea, but not where it is going to concuss someone getting out of the shower.
Putting it into practice
Once you have decided where the key pieces bath, basin, loo, bidet are going, try to imagine yourself using them. Have you allowed enough knee and elbow room? Is the towel rail close enough to the bath? Where is the loo roll holder going to be positioned? Where are you going to keep children’s bath toys, shaving gear, make-up and medicines? Could the door be rehung to open the other way, so opening up another few feet of space? Check, too, that the floor joists are strong enough to take the weight of your chosen bath. Cast iron roll tops look wonderful, but you might have to strengthen the floor.
If you are installing a shower for the first time, you need to think about how deep the drop is from the tank to the shower head. If it’s not enough, the shower will only trickle unless boosted by a pump.
Don’t scrimp on plumbing for it or you may need to have it fed from both the hot and cold tanks, otherwise, anyone using it will risk being scalded one moment and frozen the next.
While you are planning the layout, it is also worth taking a long, cool look at your budget. Fixtures may seem expensive, but they will only account for about half of the total cost. An awful lot of money will be swallowed up paying professionals to install everything safely for you. A plumber and electrician are essential don’t risk your own safety or that of your family attempting a DIY job here. You might also need to employ a carpenter to box in everything well; a builder for structural and plastering work; and a tiler particularly if you are using hand-made tiles which are irregular in shape and colour. The decorating is the only task that you can probably undertake yourself. On top of all those wages, you will need to find the money for all those special extras: lighting, flooring, tiles, paint and fabric.
The final choices
Don’t expect your bath and basin to arrive looking as they do in the catalogue either. In fact, you will find that in addition, you will have to order essentials such as plugs, waste traps, cistern handles and taps separately. It’s well worth writing down all the items you need just to plumb in the bathroom. In the Portuguese Bathroom, for example, my list was something like the items listed below:
- Bath in white
- Mixer taps (spout not required).
- Chrome waste, plug, overflow, and chain to match
- Washbasin in white, two tap holes, no pedestal
- Chrome full taps to match
- Chrome waste, plug, overflow, and chain to match
- Back-to-wall WC
- Low-level cistern
- Porcelain and chrome WC handle
- Antique pine finish seat and lid with chrome hinges
- Pump unit
- Chrome shower mixer and head
Just writing it down in cold black-and-white tells you just how expensive it could end up being. But better to know now and budget accordingly than end up with a half-finished bathroom and a hefty overdraft.
Stand at the door of the bathroom and try to imagine where all the pipes will go you don’t want it to look like spaghetti junction, but it has to function properly. Hiring a good plumber will be a. large chunk of your budget, so listen to the advice he or she gives: for example, 10 cm (4 in) diameter pipes, the ones used for waste from loos, take up a lot of room and can’t cross joists under the floor. However, you could run them round the walls and box them out of sight, so creating a low-level shelf.
Another solution is to raise the bath onto a platform and conceal large pipes within this. But this is not a very practical idea if you have small children. Instead, perhaps you would do better to create a false wall behind the fixtures so that plumbing can subsequently be hidden behind it. This has the advantage of creating valuable storage space (you can build cupboards or shelves into the niches you create) but it will reduce the dimensions of the room. Each solution has its advantages and disadvantages.