Decorating ideas for your bathroom

Update your existing space or create the perfect new one with expert advice from luxury bathroom designer Barbara Sallick

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The bathroom is the most challenging room in a home to design. There are a limited number of components – usually a sink, a WC, a bathtub, and/or a shower – but each one is attached to the wall, the floor, or both. And if anything doesn’t look right, work properly or feel exactly as it should, the option of tearing it all out and starting over is a pipe dream.

Quality bath fittings and fixtures are quite expensive to purchase and even more costly to install. That, coupled with the permanence of all the bathroom’s elements, demand that you take your time to analyse the options, and make selections for the long term.

bathroom with dressing area

A feature rug and vanity area make this bathroom feel formal yet modern, while curtains help give the unusually large space character

So, what exactly is the perfect bathroom? It should be a space with a meticulous balance of practical considerations – such as shower velocity, flattering light, a tub that fits your body, a faucet that is comfortable in your hand – and design dynamics – a blend of materials, colours, textiles and accessories that add scale and visual appeal. That is why the foundation of all successful bathrooms is planning: failure to do so can lead to havoc, not only in the room

What to include in your bathroom?

The first step in going from unchecked fantasy to achievable reality is simply beginning a process of choices – here are some things to consider:

  • Do you want a combination tub and shower or to separate the two?
  • Will one or two people be showering at the same time, and how big a space, shower heads and valves are needed?
  • Do you need a seat in the shower?
  • Are you planning to have a hand shower?
  • Where will you place your bath products?
  • Is one sink sufficient?
  • Are you planning for storage in the bathroom?
  • Do you want the WC in its own dedicated space?
  • Where will you place the sockets to power your razor and electric toothbrush?
  • How about the laundry basket?

Elegant double sink with chandelier

This elegant bathroom has double sinks so two people can use the space at the same time

Once you have made these choices, weigh them against the square footage – for example, if you decide on a double vanity, consider whether there will be room for a separate tub and shower – and your budget. This process will enable you to think in concrete terms about what you really want or need, to prioritise your preferences, and to make choices that allow your bathroom to take shape.

Deciding on a bathroom design

It’s essential to become clear about your design preferences, and this must be done before you hire a professional or make any aesthetic decisions. Every detail should look and feel like a deliberate choice, and the more clearly you articulate your personal style and taste, the better equipped you will be to make smart selections for your bathroom. Tear out examples of rooms that you like from magazines, tag pictures in books, and mine the multiple online resources that are available.

Once you have assembled your images, take time to edit your portfolio. Patterns, colours, and similarities will emerge and help paint a picture of your personal aesthetic. In the end, there will be 10 to 12 images that tell your story – they will be useful not only to you, but to the design professionals you work with. A good designer will help translate this information. Remember, once the work is done, it is your house – and you need to own the outcome.

Gold and marble bathroom

Gather images of bathrooms you love and take them to your first meeting with your designer. This gold and marble bathroom is in London

Bathroom plumbing

Water is the single most important consideration in the bathroom’s planning and design. When we move into a new house, water is seldom uppermost in our minds. But given how much time we spend in the bathroom, and our practical and experiential desires, the issue should be front and centre. The challenges one faces in an apartment can be especially tricky. Moving stacks, pipes, and drains is next to impossible. And your ability to control temperature fluctuates over the course of the day as overall usage waxes and wanes.

Houses, of course, offer greater flexibility, and, if you install a pump, you will have near complete control over the water pressure. These considerations are less than glamorous but a comprehensive understanding of your home’s water situation will enable you to make far more nuanced and effective choices. Consult with your contractor, get to know your water, and plan accordingly.

Shower with outdoor view

You may need to install a pump to provide enough water pressure for two showers. Here, setting the shower valves on freestanding legs helps to keep the view clear 

Creating a comfortable bathroom

It is never too early in the design process to consider ergonomics, which is, simply put, the science of comfort. Comfort remains as important a consideration as any on bathroom design; if the space isn’t comfortable, it’s not going to promote rest, reflection, or restoration. Even

Also worthy of consideration are the ergonomics of personal preference. I always recommend that people sit in a bath before making a decision about it – not only to be certain that it is capacious enough, but also to ensure that the angle of the back is comfortable, and that the depth won’t leave you over or under-submerged.

Issues of comfort that are specific to oneself are central to the bath experience, so make sure the ergonomics, both general and personal, are as well considered as the way that things look.

Bathroom lighting and mirrors

In no room is proper lighting more essential than in the bathroom – the place where you need to see well enough to put on make-up, get a close shave, and inspect the outcome. And, of course, you must have something to see in, which means accompanying the best lighting package with an equally high-quality mirror.

Many designers recommend a combination of mirror lighting for applying make-up, down lighting for overall illumination, and a decorative pendant. As for the mirror, it needs to be of sufficient quality to stand up to the bathroom’s atmospheric conditions, and the alternation between dryness and moisture, while also enabling you to see yourself accurately and cleanly.

Bold red bathroom

Choose a large mirror and adequate lighting. Although bathrooms are normally neutral, a bold colour can work – as shown by this red space

Choosing a bathroom designer

When it comes to bathroom design, a talented, experienced architect or designer can ensure the success of your project. Hiring one might seem like an unnecessary or extravagant expense, but a trained professional can often save you money and time by improving your bathroom’s layout. They will also find ways to maximise the space you have available by creating drawings and plans that will be used to construct the finished space.

A design professional will know what will and won’t work in terms of materials, lighting, and construction. And by supervising your contractor, managing the subcontractors, phone calls and ordering of materials, a designer will make the process more transparent and less frustrating. If you find the right collaborator, your new bathroom will come to life in unexpectedly satisfying ways.

Bold green bathroom

A designer will help you choose the best layout for your space and include all of your ‘must haves’ in their design. Here, a designer has made sure the tiles are laid perfectly to enhance the height of the bathroom

How to find a plumber

Word-of-mouth recommendations are always the best way to find tradespeople. If this isn’t possible, try the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC). The APHChas plumbers inspected in line with membership rules, including accreditation under the Competent Persons Scheme and Water Regulations Approved Contractor Scheme.

They must comply with minimum trading standards and building regulations, and follow a set-out complaints procedure. Visit the site for guides on understanding your plumbing and heating systems, and to search for a local tradesperson.

This is an edited extract from The Perfect Bath, by Barbara Sallick, published by Rizzoli, RRP £35, ISBN 978-0-8478-4893-5. Visit for more inspiration