Contemporary design in a bathroom is not just about using up-to-the-minute fixtures. It is also about the surface finish, the need to create space, the simplicity of layout and attention to detail.
On first acquaintance, this bathroom presented a combination of unsavoury colours and surfaces, and the sink, bath and cupboard stuck out into the room like great unyielding lumps of masonry. The brief was to establish an atmosphere of understated luxury with an exacting level of finish. When starting to make our plans, we consulted the builder, Martin, about the layout of the room. A few big decisions resulted: to remove the tatty cornice and to ‘shrink’ the boiler cupboard (on the left in the photograph opposite) to provide space for a newly-positioned bath. The biggest step, however, was to move out the partition wall in which the door was sited by 18 cm (7 in) to provide just enough space for a walk-in shower. An excellent finishing touch. Of course, all this work made for an expensive piece of interior design, but as it was a long-term solution the owners felt it was money well spent.
To give a sense of space to any room, the first thing to do is get rid of the clutter: not just the paraphernalia of life but the fussy architectural detailing as well. We eliminated the cornice, shrank the cupboard on the left, and replaced the louvred doors and architraves with a very simple unpanelled door. This kind of process clears the decks for the introduction of bold statements which otherwise would appear to be too compromised and weakened by there being so much around, distracting the eye. I suppose that the trendy word for this simplified, bold approach is ‘graphic’. Some might even say ‘architectural’. The point is that it requires just as much care and thought as a more complex decorative scheme.
As the bath is a symbol of luxurious pampering, it had to take centre stage in this room. We discussed placing it in the middle of the room, but by moving back the cupboard on the left, and treating it with the same wall finish as the rest of the room, we managed to provide an important space for the bath against the back wall. A bath is a big item of furniture by any room’s standard, and so it was not surprising that having got its position right, everything else in the room slotted into place.
The next trick to provide the bath with an assertive grandeur was to paint it a contrasting colour. Orange became the obvious choice since it is the third secondary colour in the spectrum and we already had introduced the other two to the bathroom, green and purple. The colour served another useful purpose since orange appeared so alien to the ‘period’ look of the bath, it helped -link the bath to its very contemporary environment.
The maxim still holds that ‘the quickest way to change a room is with a can of coloured paint’. Only in this bathroom, we didn’t use paint, but tinted plaster with a thin wash of colour over the top. Admittedly, we could perhaps have just colour washed these walls with a green paint using the technique used in the Portuguese bathroom, but the qualities of tinted plaster are quite unlike that of paint. Rather, plaster has a perceptible translucency because it is not nearly as opaque as paint. As a consequence, the colour appears to be ‘in’ it and the surface takes on all the imperfections, dots of unmixed pigment, impurities and marks left by the ‘polish’ of the trowel, as plasterers call this final pass. Of course, it is not a technique that you should rush and try by yourself it really requires the assistance of a very competent, and very compliant, plasterer. Be prepared to pay for any time spent helping you with colour samples. This process, essential and not a little laborious, is the one we show opposite, and bear in mind that even the finished colours of your samples can vary depending on how you treat your walls: with varnish, thinned PVA, or even beeswax polish. However you intend to finish the walls, do always seal the plastered surface with at least three coats of dilute PVA first. As a luxurious alternative to all this, you could always call on one of the handfuls of specialist companies who do this kind of work, which is now becoming increasingly popular.
For a highly glossy finish that is redolent of marble, you could specify stucco lustre, or stucco Veneziano, as it is sometimes called, a form of gesso made with glue, chalk and powdered marble dust which is thinly trowelled onto the walls and then laboriously polished when dry. This is an expensive finish, but it is beautiful and durable.
The bathroom is not the first room for which you might consider a lighting scheme. Yet why not? It is surely the most diverse of rooms, the only place where a host of human activities is crammed into the smallest of spaces. We shave, dress, coiffe, clean, and even doze there. We also, amazingly, use the room for both relaxing and for revitalising ourselves. Little wonder that we ought to light bathrooms with a flexible lighting system. This room’s lighting has actually been designed in a very simple way and is connected to two circuits, each on a dimmer controlled from outside the door. One circuit feeds the four low voltage downlighters in the ceiling, and the other feeds two tungsten globe lights on the walls above the bath. The mirror lights are fitted with their own switch.