Creating a stylish en suite

If you’re thinking about creating extra bathroom space in your home, the Real Homes expert panel can help you get the best from your space

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How much space do I need to add a new en suite for my bedroom?

Geoff Wells says: ‘The essential elements in an en suite are a shower, basin, mirror, towel rail, WC and lighting. If the layout is well planned, you could have an en suite with minimum dimensions around 150x 130cm. Pay for a professional design, with drawings to suit your measurements and tastes, and you can visualise what can be achieved realistically.

‘I would say the most practical layout in a small en suite would be to install a corner shower and, if possible, a corner wash basin and a corner WC. This is because corner vanity units are especially suitable for smaller bathrooms, making the most of an unused area to really maximise space. Consider other space-saving solutions such as corner baths and sinks, too, and go for-wall hung sanitaryware, cabinets, taps and towel rails to leave floor space clear and to ensure accessibility. Planning properly is vital to optimise the use of your space — choosing the maximum cubicle size possible, for example, for the best showering experience. The minimum size should be an 80cm quadrant; I think this is still quite small, but nevertheless it’s one of the most popular and bestselling sizes we see.

‘My single top tip to maximise use of space, though, is to ensure that the en suite’s door opens outwards into the bedroom. This way, you really open up the space inside and the door won’t collide with any sanitaryware.’

What are the best interior design solutions for an en suite?

Nina Campbell says: ‘In order to make an en suite feel more spacious, I like to install mirrored doors leading from the bedroom into the bathroom. This will make the two spaces connect and flow. Following this up by installing mirrored bathroom cabinets, with at least one reflective surface directly facing the entrance, will also seem to expand the space.

‘It helps, too, if you continue an element of the design scheme from the bedroom into the en suite — for example, the wall coverings. If you have wallpaper in the bedroom, you could match up the same colour in paint to use in the en suite, so that it continues the scheme seamlessly from one space to the other.

‘Wallpaper is generally not a good idea, however, as the steam from using the shower or bath will quickly destroy it. One way round this is to use a design that’s specifically made for humid areas.

‘Skylights and windows provide plenty of natural light, which helps open up the room visually and add to the sense of combined space. Sufficient ventilation – ideally an extractor with an exterior vent – will also make sure that the bathroom is never too steamy; clouds of steam will make it appear smaller.

‘I’m a great fan of monochrome schemes for any bathroom. The most typical colours are shades of cream, white and black. Marble, tiles, glass and mirrors are all good materials for creating a spacious, luxurious feel, and good lighting is also essential. Two lighting circuits are preferable, with one that comes on as soon as you enter and turns off when you leave – saving electricity – plus a dimmer switch for creating atmosphere during a long, relaxing evening soak.’

Are there any fixtures and fittings that will make the most of the space?

Alan Dodds says: ‘Creating an en suite with limited space doesn’t mean that you’ll have to compromise on style and functionality. There is a variety of space-saving products you can choose from that will help make the most of the room you have. For instance, compact cloakroom basins are great, as they don’t stick out so much and therefore don’t impact on the main area of the room. Corner basins are also a good option for small bathrooms, as they help make the maximum use of all the available space. In addition, there is a number of compact suites on the market that have been designed specifically to solve the problem of small spaces.

‘Look for innovative storage solutions, too. Wall-mounted under-basin units not only help to hide unsightly pipework, but can also provide drawer and/or cupboard space. Or a small shelf on the wall beneath a basin offers an easy and convenient way to keep your towels and toiletries tidy and to hand.

‘A walk-in wet area for a shower doesn’t require a large space for installation and can offer a simple look while creating the illusion of more space, because you don’t need a cubicle door opening into the room. They are also easier to clean. Underfloor heating is an obvious choice in small spaces and this can even be run beneath a shower area for a really decadent feel.’

How difficult is it to connect plumbing and drainage?

Bob Griffiths says: ‘Adding an en suite bathroom means installing additional pipework to supply the sanitaryware and remove waste. ‘Cold water is usually from a tank, and hot water is either from a storage cylinder or direct from a combi boiler — check which you have before choosing a shower to suit. An electric shower heats water instantly from cold and therefore needs only a tank inlet, making it easy to install. Mixer showers require both hot and cold supplies, and can have concealed or surface-mounted connections.

‘Generally, a toilet is installed near a sewage or soil stack; if it will be too far away, a macerator pump mechanism will be needed to allow for a smaller-diameter pipe to the main stack. These units cost £200-£400 and some fit neatly behind a WC and operate with minimal noise.

‘Water pressure is another point to consider. If your en suite is above your hot-water cylinder, that may need to move, or you might need to fit a pump. Always consult a professional if you are not sure about plumbing a new en suite.’

Can I DIY my project?

Bob Griffiths says: ‘The development of plastic piping for the hot and cold water supply makes fitting a new en suite far easier than it was with old-style copper pipe, which required welding. Plastic is relatively flexible and pipework for showers and wastes usually uses plain, pushfit connections. These seal themselves with an internal ‘O’ ring and securing washer, making plumbing far faster for plumbers – and easier for DIY-ers. However, there is far more to creating a new en suite bathroom and Building Regulations will need to be adhered to.

‘You must employ professionals for any gas and electrics. B&Q’s online Knowledge Centre (diy.com) provides Advice Guides on projects such as fitting baths and showers but, once your new room is complete, you must gain Building Regs approval for all new drainage, electrics and ventilation, plus checking that glass meets safety standards. Check with your local authority or the planning portal website at planningportal.gov.uk about rules and regulations relevant to bathrooms and WCs.’

What will it cost?

Alex Michaelis says: ‘Specialist companies are able to give an all-inclusive price for the design, building work and installation of the en suite – including plumbing, electrics and tiling. Expect to pay from around £6,000. Or you can employ individual tradespeople, for which you should expect to pay £100-200 per day. Ask for a written quote and agree in advance who’s responsible for acquiring all materials.

‘Creating an en suite bathroom should add value to your home — as much as 5 per cent, if it’s completed to a professional finish. Certain factors must be considered, though, including how much space you shave off an existing room. Ideally, use dead space near a waste pipe for the most cost-effective solution, or take a little space from two rooms, which is easier if the partition walls aren’t structural. But reducing either to a boxroom risks devaluing your property, so ensure ample space for a bed.’

Will there be structural alterations required?

Sarah Buck says: ‘Building a new en suite often entails removing existing walls, as they’re invariably in the wrong place. You may then need to build new walls to form the en suite bathroom within the bedroom or adjacent in the most suitable place for access to it.

‘Also, many people want a bath as well as a shower in their en suite, and this will put additional weight on the floor, which may need strengthening as a result — a large bathtub full of water can weigh as much as a tonne. Structural considerations for walls and the floor are likely to require Building Regs approval. A structural engineer (find one via istructe.org) can provide advice and all the necessary calculations and drawings to support an application.

‘Before removing walls, it is very important to check whether they are load-bearing. The load from above might be another floor or wall, or part of the roof. Assuming the en suite is on the first floor of a two-storey house, it is more likely the wall will be load-bearing in older buildings, but less likely in a building with a more modern construction. The usual way to replace the support for the load above is to install a steel beam. The structural engineer can calculate the size of beam required and advise on the temporary support needed while the wall is taken out and replaced.

‘Existing timber floors do not usually have the strength to support the weight of new walls and so they will most likely need strengthening. This can be done by adding extra timber joists to carry the additional load. Don’t forget to allow for even more strengthening of the area beneath a bathtub.

‘Finally, another important consideration is how the waste pipes from the bath, shower, basin and toilet will be routed out of the house. The floor joists cannot be cut and this fact will dictate to some extent not only the position of the sanitaryware, but also where the bathroom itself can be located.’

Meet the experts

Allan Dodds Managing director of bathroom specialist RocaGeoff Wells Bathroom planning expert with Dolphin BathroomsSarah Buck Chartered structural engineer, director of BSW Consulting in Exeter
Alex Michaelis Architect, director of Michaelis Boyd AssociatesNina Campbell International interior designer ninacampbell.comBob Griffiths Qualified plumber and employee of B&Q in Barnstaple