Transforming a bedroom into a modern bathroom

Modernising their five-storey home, Mary Bartholomew and Mike Dearden changed a small bedroom into a contemporary en suite with a bold monochrome design

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With the existing plumbing on the oppostite side of the house, transforming a guest room into a modern bathroom proved to be a challenge Mary Batholomew and Mike Dearden couldn’t resist. 

Fact file

The owners: Mary Batholomew (right) and her husband Mike Dearden, both retired former company directors The property: A seven-bedroom Grade-II listed Regency townhouseThe location: Cheltenham, Gloucester What they spent: The couple’s bathroom project cost around £20,000

‘We’d spent two years searching for the right renovation project before we found this house,’ recalls Mary. ‘At the time, we were living in a village, in a detached house with a large garden, but wanted a more urban lifestyle, so we were trying to find a property within walking distance of theatres, restaurants and local amenities. The exterior of this house was in good condition but its interior needed serious modernisation, so it provided us with the blank canvas we were looking for,’ she continues.

In addition to adding a new kitchen on the ground floor, the couple planned to create several new bathrooms. ‘The house had one small bathroom on the first floor, and two separate toilets that had to serve the whole five-storey house,’explains Mary. ‘We wanted more of a family-friendly home for when our friends and family visit, plus we knew creating extra bathrooms would make it more appealing to buyers should we ever decide to sell. We also wanted to create an en suite to the main bedroom on the second floor, which would replace an existing small bedroom.’

Having finally found their dream project, the couple secured the purchase by agreeing an exchange period of three months in order for the sellers to find another property. While waiting for the sale to complete, Mike and Mary used the time to finalise their plans for the house. ‘We hired architect Paul Potts from John Falconer & Associates to ensure that our plans adhered to listed building consent, and then put the work out to tender,’ explains Mary.

With the confidence that their plans were possible, Mike and Mary visited the showroom at Pittville Kitchens & Bathrooms, and met with designer Simon Butland to discuss the design for their new en suite. ‘We wanted to design a bathroom that reflected Mary and Mike’s personalities, but we had to bear in mind that we were working with a listed building, which isn’t easy, as you need to preserve its historic features and blend the new with the old,’ says Simon.

‘We wanted to have both a bath and shower in the new en suite, and we’d spotted a beautiful bath by Victoria + Albert in a brochure,’ explains Mary. ‘Simon suggested that we visit their showroom at the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre so that we could test out that specific design by sitting in it to see how comfortable it was. While we were there we spotted the version with the stylish black exterior.’

The couple also chose twin basins with matching black exteriors, commissioning Simon and his team to design a bespoke vanity unit for them to sit upon. ‘We also wanted something that would provide lots of practical storage space,’ says Mary.

When Mary and Mike finally exchanged contracts on the house, they had the design of the en suite firmly in place. The next step was to meet on site with Simon and their builder, Mark Benson, to discuss the logistics of fitting what had become known as the ‘difficult bathroom’ (as the existing plumbing was on the opposite side of the house, so connecting everything up wasn’t going to be straightforward).

Together they came up with a solution that would allow for the installation of the bath, basins and walk-in shower without having to disturb the original floorboards. First, to create access from the main bedroom, a new doorway was added. Then, to preserve the floorboards, the floor level was raised to allow for the waste pipe, water flow and underfloor heating to be fitted in the space between the original floorboards and the new floor level. The existing doorway was also closed off and a false wall constructed to hide the new plumbing for the walk-in shower and cistern for the wall-mounted toilet.

‘Initially we weren’t keen on the idea of a raised floor,’ says Mary. ‘But the alternative meant cutting through a beam and tapping into the party wall, which would have been costly and unnecessary.’

The couple knew they wanted to tile large areas of their new en suite, so visited a local showroom for inspiration.‘We were looking for a marble-effect tile and fell in love with a porcelain Carrara-style design, which we chose fairly early on in the project,’ says Mary. ‘For added visual impact, Simon suggested that we opted for a larger format of tile on the wall to help them blend in with the shape and size of the glass shower screen.’

As they were going to be using such large-format tiles, Simon recommended the use of Abacus Elements board for the floor and wall membrane as a more stable surface to tile onto than plasterboard or timber, being able to support a much greater weight of tile. ‘We wanted to use it in the bathroom as it’s lightweight, easy- to-handle and waterproof,’ says Simon.

With the fixtures and fittings finalised, the couple began to think about the decorating scheme, playing around with shades of grey for the wall. ‘In the end, we found grey to be too dingy, even though we really wanted to use it,’ says Mary. ‘Instead, we opted for plain white walls to continue the black-and-white theme.’ For the window treatment, a local interior designer was commissioned to make a statement Roman blind that would add a bold splash of colour while also complementing the rest of the scheme.

With the project finished in eight weeks, Mike and Mary are thrilled they have been able to add a stylish en suite to their master bedroom. ‘I wanted a bath and Mike wanted a shower, and thankfully we have ended up with a stylish solution that we are both happy with, without compromising on space or the building,’ says Mary. ‘Everyone who visits comments on how light and spacious it is. We are really pleased with the end result, especially as we never dreamed we would be able to create such a contemporary space in our dream period property.’