It’s usually the smallest room in the home, so when it comes to the downstairs toilet, our decorating habits tend to sit in one of two camps – either we neglect it to focus on bigger projects, or we see it as an opportunity to experiment with bold features we’d be tentative to try in main living areas.
We err on the side of bold decorating choices, and would encourage keen decorators to embrace colourful tiling, patterned wallpaper, feature lighting, and clever storage tricks to make the most of their space.
Read on for 9 ideas to transform your downstairs toilet.
The benefits of a downstairs toilet are many; useful for children, easy access for elderly relatives, and less wear-and-tear on upstairs bathrooms and en-suites. But where to put one? To save costs and disruption, site one within easy reach of the existing water supply and soil pipes – a good location is under the stairs, or you might section off the end of a long hallway. Experts suggest that for a toilet and basin, you need a space measuring at least 80cm x 140cm.
According to principles of Feng Shui, you should never put a loo adjacent to the front door, as any good fortune is literally in danger of being flushed away.
There are plenty of clever design techniques you can employ even in the smallest of downstairs toilets. First, have the door opening outwards, sliding or folding to make the least impact inside the room. For your bathroom furniture, choose a triangular-shaped or wall-hung corner toilet if you can and box in the cistern if feasible.
Traditionally, a lot of space is taken up by having your sink floor-mounted or freestanding, so opt for something wall-mounted instead – extra space underneath can be used for storage baskets. Keep taps unobtrusive, and avoid ‘waterfall’ models in such a limited area – unwary guests could cause a flood.
Despite its size, the downstairs loo is still a magnet for clutter. Boxed-in storage or a wall-mounted vanity unit are absolute essentials, and use clever storage solutions like drawer inserts, and shelves over your door, and corral every day essentials onto trays to keep them tidy.
Utilise the space well and it can double up as a mini boot room. Interior designer, Cato Cooper of The Emporium Somerset, thinks it’s a good idea to fix pegs around the walls to hang coats, hats and scarves. ‘Don’t forget about shoe storage too,’ she says. ‘You could create customised cubby-hole style shelving to keep pairs together and store other items such as shopping bags and umbrellas.’
Chances are the door to your downstairs loo will always be closed, and the space itself is usually fairly unobtrusive, so it’s the perfect opportunity to experiment with a strong paint shade – such as pink or mustard. ‘You can go crazy with wall coverings and colours, but for a sense of harmony, tie in with the floor colour,’ advises Peter Keane, director of The Natural Wood Floor Company.
We’re fans of bold, decorative wallpaper in a downstairs loo, such as Annie Sloan’s decoupage paper in collaboration with the RHS. ‘There’s been a big resurgence in the decorative, Bloomsbury-style aesthetic recently and decoupage fits in to that perfectly. It’s a delightful decoration technique with so much history,’ says Annie.
Adding wallpaper is considerably less labour intensive than installing tiles, especially if you use paste-the-wall wallpaper, that allows you to spread your adhesive directly onto the bathroom wall rather than the wallpaper itself.
A lot of downstairs loos are limited in terms of natural light, and some don’t have a window at all, so bringing in effective lighting is vital. As well as your usual wall or ceiling lights, an illuminated bathroom mirror or LED mirror can really help.
Also, consider adding a niche behind the loo which you can light with a downlight, says Sally Storey, creative director of John Cullen Lighting, ‘This will bring some indirect light to the space and adds depth to the room.’
Play with perspective and introduce a large or ornate mirror to reflect and refract as much light as possible. Position this on the back wall, likely to be above the toilet, or opt to display a collection of smaller mirrors – perhaps vintage or with co-ordinating frames – arranged close together for maximum impact.
Tiles keep walls and surfaces sparkling, but don’t go for the obvious. ‘I often advise customers to opt for larger tiles than they first think because they create the illusion of a more luxe feel in a small space,’ says Chris Grainger, managing director of The Stone & Ceramic Warehouse. ‘People often make the mistake of using small tiles or even mosaics here. These can be useful to create intricate designs and patterns, but there are far more grout lines exposed compared to larger format tiles. This, combined with the heavy use the room gets means you will need to clean it frequently to keep the grout looking clean and fresh.’
There is nothing less welcoming than a chilly bathroom. A heated towel rail is useful, so too are slim, wall-mounted radiators in complementary colours (see Bathroom Mountain for a good selection.)
Where wall-space is restricted, underfloor heating is the ideal solution – run it off the existing central heating system, or install an electric mat. See Screwfix for ideas and prices. If there is no window, a well-maintained ventilation fan is a must. EnviroVent Ltd spokesman, Adam Slinger, has this useful tip: ‘If an extractor fan cannot hold a postcard it is not providing sufficient ventilation, ideally you should replace the unit or clean the filter.’
The downstairs loo will need a practical eye when it comes to flooring – even in a small space, poor quality flooring will effect the longevity of your bathroom. Consider vinyl flooring as a durable and cost-effective way to mimic more expensive styles.
‘Vinyl flooring is a great and inexpensive way to add colour, pattern and personality to a room without compromising on safety or quality,’ says David Snazel, Hard Flooring Buyer at Carpetright. ‘In recent years there have been many developments in design and styles that mean the effects vinyl can create, such as tile or wood, are incredibly realistic.’
Vinyl is made to be durable, and resistant to heat and moisture, plus it’s typically super easy to clean – perfect for your downstairs loo.
Photographs, menu cards, cartoons and framed mementoes… In upper-class homes, the downstairs toilet has long been the place to hang cherished items with an ironic twist. ‘It’s the idea of being “amusing”,’ says vintage homes expert Alexandra Campbell. ‘An interior designer once told me that women always consign their husband’s previous life to the downstairs loo, which is why you get certificates, awards, school photos and so on.’
You could streamline this classic idea by creating a montage of family snaps, or a visual history of your home in plain black frames.
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