Tapping the vibe

My mind’s been in the gutter these past weeks. The grated sort, that is, for showers. We’ve been organising and ordering items for a new ensuite bathroom and the revamped house bathroom and that means pondering the ins-and-outs of all kinds of drains, although the proper term is wastes, and all manner of other bathroom fittings. It’s been a journey but I think we’re nearly there.

Bathrooms were such a hot topic when we renovated in Sydney some years back that my brain almost melted. I wanted the simplest bathroom possible – plain tiles, minimal tapware, a blade of glass separating the shower. And that’s what we got, although I soon learned that plain pale tiles show every single speck of dust and every wisp of fallen hair. I would heartily recommend a heated floor, though, as there’s nothing quite so lovely on a cold winter’s night than stepping barefoot onto warm tiles.

The problem for Cloverdale was finding something that would work with the style of the house. It’s tempting to replicate the sort of bathroom that a house built in 1909 might have had, and many people in older houses do just that, with tessellated tiles and claw-foot bathtubs and quirky taps that look like you might have to crank them. I didn’t want to do that. Trawling through the internet and through endless magazines didn’t help much, either, with bathrooms in all styles, oozing marble or in coastal limestone or zinging with mid-century modern pastels. I couldn’t quite grasp which style would work.

And then it struck me that it’s all about atmosphere, the vibe. Cloverdale isn’t a fancy place, unlike the traditional timber houses you find further north in Queensland, which are often filled with all kinds of ornate wooden details. It’s not big like today’s modern houses, either, but the ceilings are high and the rooms are all a generous size so it’s definitely not a cottage. Its walls and ceilings are lined with wood, painted white, and its floors are thick boards of rainforest timber, teak in places, that was milled from the land around. This is a solid, honest house that served a farming family for generations, a house of texture and substance, and that was the key. Its new bathrooms would need to reflect that feeling, to avoid the fussy or the overly grand and maintain a sense of sturdy simplicity.

Identifying the vibe of your home is important. It’s like listening to the voice of your home.  When I see older houses that have had modern additions grafted on to them I often think they look like someone wearing an enormous hat or clown’s shoes or too much make-up. There would be the same jarring quality if there was an ultra-modern bathroom leading off this house’s old timber rooms. Contrast isn’t always a successful design element.

It’s meant that I’ve bought chunky, handmade-looking tiles for the shower area that will balance the hefty timber boards everywhere else. The wash basin for the ensuite has a raised lip on it so it looks as though it might possibly have been used in the farm’s dairy. Finding a suitable bath, though, was more difficult. The issue is that most affordable baths these days are made in acrylic and while we looked at loads that had nice shapes and whose attributes were lavishly proclaimed, I couldn’t get over the idea of having a big lump of plastic in my bathroom. I was surprised that traditional steel or cast iron baths are difficult to find, and often ludicrously expensive, as are the stone or concrete baths that feature so much in the no-expense-spared bathrooms you see in magazines. Thankfully I found an engineered stone version that didn’t cost the earth and which has a simple shape that hints at the past, not quite a roll-top but nearly.

Taps have been another slog. However much I liked a certain style, I had to think how it would work in our setting. Some were rather Art Deco with a touch of the Savoy hotel; others were too sleek and contemporary or had a consciously country look, as though they’d been nicked from a fountain in a Provençal village. And that’s before you get to finishes. There was once a time when tapware was almost always chrome. If you wanted glitz then you had the gold-plated version, like those swan-shaped bath spouts that tried to evoke Cellini but looked more like costume jewellery. Now you can have everything from plain black to weathered brass. I’m still uncertain what I’ll choose and, of course, cost will be a factor, especially as my eye has the irritating habit of being drawn to things that cost five times more than anything else. A satisfying, simple shape is what I’m aiming for, as is the feel of quality.

It’s funny how obsessed you can become when you’re renovating. Suddenly everything is of incredible importance. Like the way a company logo was stamped in too many places on an otherwise fine loo and put me off ordering that model. Or the type of italic script used on the hot and cold taps that was another turn-off. Even the thickness of the metal on a shower grate had me tutting. Would any of these things really matter when installed? Maybe not. But when you get the chance to renovate you don’t want to compromise if you really don’t have to. Which means my mind’s still in the gutter, and the shower head, and even the toilet roll holder. It’s the vibe, you see.

What’s your ideal bathroom look like?

Categories: Design, memoirTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. My ideal bathroom is somewhere between the ultra pared-down space you described in your old place to something welcoming enough to make me feel cocooned and comfortable. Sounds like you’re well on your way to achieving something truly special! Underfloor heating is definitely a win.

    • Cocooned and comfortable sounds a pretty good place to be. In our quest we’ve often reflected on various Swiss bathrooms we’ve liked so it’s no surprise that we have a couple of Swiss-made fittings, including that washbasin.

  2. I like your thought process and totally agree with it. That’s indeed the best way to ensure you do not end up with an essential room (kitchen or bathroom) that would clash with the rest of the house. Bathroom-wise, it’s usually the little fussy details (tile trim, tapware, etc.) that will date the quickest. So I’d keep my ideal bathroom very simple and uncluttered (it can always be personalized with non-fixed items).

  3. I like restrained use of natural materials in a mix that does advertise the year of its making. Perhaps something of a Japanese aesthetic. I would want the room to look as good in twenty or forty years as it does today.

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