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    Back to basics in bathroom design

    Deborah Singerman

    Getting wet is part of the bathroom experience but being wet behind the ears is best avoided. Successful bathrooms are just as much about keeping water in its place, having enough space for everything to fit, storage to please the client and an exact layout, without which it is not worth salivating over snazzy fixtures and fittings.

    Says Richard Reed, senior director of bathroom supplier Candana: "The normal continuum for bathrooms is first to resolve the layout, then decide how you want it to look, which usually reflects what you are doing with the rest of the house, choose your wall and floor coverings, usually tiles or marble and granite, and then select the fittings; the bathroom theme will tell you the style."

    Consider the budget for the job, too, deciding on authentic materials or imported lookalikes, brand names or private designer labels, and checking product warranties all the while. 

    "Be original and creative," says Scott Beechey of Mitcham Plumbtec, "but design the room for your client's needs rather than the cover of Belle."

    "The client and architect make decisions when choosing products but there is only so much you can put in a specification or a drawing", says Reed, who studied architecture for years in Canada and sympathises with modern architects and the code regulations, energy-efficiency ratings and state-specific requirements they need to know these days.

    Other factors such as floor wastes being required and the floor sloping to the waste outlet have also added to the load in Australia. For instance, "shower screens need to be custom fabricated to allow for a slope" and toilets "have to be on a bed of cement to get them level", Reed says, meaning that suppliers here do not install bathrooms, unlike in most other parts of the world. This is also one of the reasons he favours using a licensed builder to quote, coordinate - and take responsibility for - subcontractors. 

    For Roger Ibrahim, designer at Domayne Alexandria Bathrooms & Design Centre, research, product knowledge and training on what is available are important. At least go to the websites of reputable suppliers, and also listen to word of mouth advice.

    If renovating a bathroom, allow enough time to be able to access professional quotes, completely itemised to avoid hidden costs, and "to have the designer explain the plan in a visual term of how much space you will have left in your bathroom," says Len Nucifora, general manager of Harvey Norman and Domayne Bathrooms. "What's the point of having a luxury spa bath if you need to jump over the toilet to get into it?" 

    When space is tight, baths are often the first thing to go, as highlighted in a Sydney Morning Herald Weekend Away review of a lower north shore hotel whose small bathroom with existing plumbing had a "toilet, washbasin and shower recess. No bath. No spaciousness." 

    Image courtesy Harvey Norman and Domayne Bathrooms

    If measurements are not right, there also may not be enough space next to the basin, or it might be hard to reach or the spout is too low. At its worst, a fitting may have to be returned. Mistakes can be rectified, however. Luke McCarthy of Jetforce Plumbing Services remembers when the specific gap an architect wanted between the back of the basin bowl and the taps was too small for the user to turn the tap, so the taps were re-positioned higher up.

    In all cases, communication between the builder and plumber is absolutely vital to bathroom work (and lack of it a major pitfall). The consequences of mistakes with bathrooms, where plumbing is very costly, are that much worse than with say the more innocuous living room, he says. 

    Angela Macri, JD Macdonald regional manager, adds that products must suit consumer needs and comply with any washroom-relevant Australian Standards with accessible washroom fittings and fixtures also needing to comply with Australian Standard 1428.1-2009 Design for access and mobility - General requirements for access - New building work.

    She refers to easy-to-use products that are able to cater for the number of people using the washroom. For commercial bathrooms this may include checking if a combined paper towel dispenser and waste bin is too small for the amount of waste generated by a high traffic washroom and needs replacing with, say, a hand dryer. Size suitability also applies to residential use. Reed mentions the three-way bathroom, useful for a busy household, where the basin has its own space, for brushing teeth, for instance, and the toilet and shower/bath are separate.

    Keep cleaning and maintenance in mind. Avoid unnecessary gaps between fittings and walls - Beechey recommends flush-to-wall toilet suites for easy cleaning. Ari Zorlu, Director of Paco Jaanson, mentions furniture in bathrooms, "delineated from the ceramic ware", with independent storage that can be changed "without gutting your whole bathroom".

    Know what the current trends are. For instance, Zorlu says "colours are definitely coming in. In sanitaryware it is black and in tapware, black or white with mixer taps in oranges red and yellows for contrast." 

    It also pays to know some fundamentals. "More than any other room in the house, it's important to get the lighting right in the bathroom," says a Special Lighting media release. "Appropriate facial lighting is key. Ideally, mirrors should have a light source at face height or above that provides both reflected and direct light to the face, minimises shadows and provides even light distribution. These can be wall lights on either side of the mirror or on/above the mirror."

    Large tiles on the walls help create a bigger space in a small bathroom, says Ibrahim, though he recommends using smaller tiles on the floors for ease of laying. Wall-hung vanities help open up space, but you need to find out weights and check you have support on your wall to hold the vanities in place.

    Remain realistic about how much storage you will need, he says; tall boys and shaving cabinets help store your bathroom essentials. All showerheads, taps and toilets now have Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme, WELS, labels on them with various star ratings.

    And ensuring no stone is left unturned, waterproofing (what type of membrane to use is a subject unto itself, Reed warns) is crucial on the floor and up the wall (in wet areas) before fitting finishes. 

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