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Concrete, colour and Conran inspire three bespoke bathrooms

Words:
Pamela Buxton

A hammam, Conran-era colour and an eclectic mix of styles inspired three small rooms where you can soak up the atmosphere

The hammam effect is reinforced through the creation of a vaulted ceiling of painted MDF.
The hammam effect is reinforced through the creation of a vaulted ceiling of painted MDF. Credit: French + Tye

Anyone for a flamingo pink basin? Or a green concrete bath? Expressive bathrooms are alive and well judging by the projects featured over the next few pages. In these, we feature three bright and bold bathrooms realised through deft use of retro elements and imaginative, bespoke design. 

In two of the projects, concrete plays a starring role. MW Architects has incorporated twin cast pink basins into a mid-century modern cabinet as part of a lavish 9m long space. At Studio Ben Allen’s The House Recast, the 2.5m long, the serene, hammam-inspired bathroom may be small but it is high on impact thanks to its extensive use of green concrete panelling and bespoke basin and bath. In Charles Holland’s house, the similarly modest-sized bath and shower rooms are a triumph of retro sanitary ware, vintage wallpaper and bold colours, with a playful tiling reference to Superstudio thrown in for good measure.

The architect sourced bent brass pipes and other components and worked with a metalworker to turn them into the finished fittings

Hand-made water spouts are counterpointed by off-the-shelf taps, stripped of their chrome coatings to reveal the brass below.
Hand-made water spouts are counterpointed by off-the-shelf taps, stripped of their chrome coatings to reveal the brass below. Credit: French + Tye

The House Recast, London
‘Essentially we were playing a lot. The whole thing is a box of surprises,’ says Ben Allen of his practice’s The House Recast, a transformed end-of-terrace Victorian house in north London that won the main prize at this year’s New London Architecture’s Don’t Move, Improve! Awards.

He’s certainly right about the remarkable bathroom, a tranquil, top-lit space inspired by a Turkish hammam. The new room, part of a two-storey rear extension, is small in space at 1.8m wide by 2.5m long but big on impact courtesy of the vivid green concrete that not only forms the bath and basin, but also lines the floor and lower wall. 

Studio Ben Allen was keen to limit the material palette to create an elemental feel to the interior and minimise distractions – even the mirror is folded away into the wall. The solution was specifying floor and wall precast panels of pigmented concrete from Concreations, which also cast the bespoke sink and basin, the latter inspired loosely on those in hammams. The same panels form two benches, one extending from the side of the bath, the other as a plinth for the basin. Drainage slots are incorporated into the floor.

The extensive concrete was the main material cost for the bathroom at £16,400 (excluding VAT). It was complemented by intentionally quite primitive-looking spouts for the basin, bath and shower. For these, the architect sourced bent brass pipes and other components and worked with a metalworker to turn them into the finished fittings. For the cross-head handles, the practice stripped back Dornbracht chrome taps to reveal the brass underneath.

The distinctive ceiling is the other key feature. The clients were interested in a skylight, and the architect responded with a series of ceiling louvres that screened the Velux window and filtered the light. 

‘The idea for the vaulting was to give a greater sense of enclosure and connect with the idea of the hammam, although these were often domed,’ says Allen, who feels that ceilings are often an underused resource in architecture. 

For The House Recast, these were created simply by the contractor in MDF and painted, along with the plasterboard walls, in moisture-resistant paint. The louvres also house lighting. A single window above the bath is shielded with a CNC-cut screen on the exterior created in waterproof MDF. This forms part of a larger expanse of salmon coloured painted MDF cladding the rear extension.

Credits
Architect Studio Ben Allen 
Structural engineer Entuitive
Selected suppliers Concreations (interior concrete panels, basin and bath) Fish Fabrications (metalwork)
Sanitaryware Dornbracht

A yellow, 70s ceramic sink and high-end, red Vola fittings clash not only colours but also luxury with the discarded.
A yellow, 70s ceramic sink and high-end, red Vola fittings clash not only colours but also luxury with the discarded. Credit: Andy Matthews

Charles Holland bathroom, Deal
‘It’s quite a DIY project,’ says Charles Holland of the new bath and shower rooms he designed for his own home in Deal, Kent.

Low budget it may be, but as you’d expect from Holland, the ex-FAT founder responsible in collaboration with Grayson Perry for the House for Essex, the results are anything but banal, from flamingo pink sink through to bright orange taps and Superstudio-inspired tiling, not to mention vintage tropical-patterned wallpaper.

The house is one of a pair of 1860s, semi-detached houses originally built to house military chaplains. As part of ongoing improvements, Holland tackled both the bath and shower rooms, and used them as a test bed for his long-held interests in pushing the boundaries of current taste, and exploring how taste changes and loops back into fashion.

‘We’re interested in old DIY books and where ideas come from, and disappear to. The death of Terence Conran prompted renewed interest in what he was doing in the 50s, 60s, even 80s. The invention and pleasure in bathrooms is quite amazing, and makes you think that current tastes can be quite anodyne,’ says Holland. 

He refers to the vivid room as ‘almost an imagination of what a Richard Rogers bathroom would be like in 1972’.

  • Conscious kitsch and trompe l’oeil effects make the extraordinary of the ordinary.
    Conscious kitsch and trompe l’oeil effects make the extraordinary of the ordinary. Credit: Andy Matthews
  • Facing the mirrored bath panel, a large circular mirror creates a doppelganger effect.
    Facing the mirrored bath panel, a large circular mirror creates a doppelganger effect. Credit: Andy Matthews
12

‘I really love colour and the visceral pleasure you can get from that,’ he says.

Star of the show is the Harvest Yellow hand basin. This was sourced from Broken Bog, a company specialising in discontinued sanitary lines from decades ago, often in retro colours more strident than is customary today. Avocado green is only the tip of the iceberg – if you’re looking for a Flamingo pink bath tub, this might well be the place for you.

The hand basin is teamed rather gloriously with the one luxury item of the room – twin Vola HV1 taps in orange with a matching trap.  

‘It’s worth spending a bit of money on the things that need to work really well,’ he says.

The colour doesn’t stop there – a well as a Traffic Red towel rail from Column Rads, the shower room features a Sorrento Blue toilet, also from Broken Bog.  

The colourful ensemble is offset with white floor and wall tiling – inspired by the endless grid of Superstudio’s Continuous Monument – with dark green grouting. 

The small bathroom features a pink hand basin from Broken Bog, but even this is overshadowed by the 1970s tropical American wallpaper, sourced from eBay. The idea, says Holland, was to channel a ‘glamorous Miami hotel’ vibe, helped also by a mirrored bath panel and black and white chequerboard ceramic tiled floor. Set at 45° with grey grouting, this is reflected back in the bath panel and a large oval mirror opposite to give an infinity illusion. 

This time the taps are classic brass from Aston Matthews’ Tradition basin and bath pillar taps range. Previously specified in the House For Essex, Holland likes them for their archetypal, neither old nor new quality. 

‘We’re using mostly quite inexpensive things and trying to do playful things with them,’ he says. 

Credits
Design Charles Holland
Selected suppliers Aston Matthews (bathroom basin taps); Broken Bog (sanitary ware); Column Rads (shower room towel rail); Vola (shower room basin taps)

The juxtaposition of cast concrete with mid-century modern creates the showcase vanity unit in this eclectic bathroom.
The juxtaposition of cast concrete with mid-century modern creates the showcase vanity unit in this eclectic bathroom. Credit: French + Tye

White House, Highgate, London
Measuring some 9m in length and resplendent with twin sinks in pink cast concrete, the generous bathroom at the White House is not what you’d expect to find in a grade II listed early 18th century London house.  Indeed it nearly took a very different form – it was only when MW Architects stripped away the plasterboard ceiling in what was intended to be a dressing room to reveal timber rafters and another metre of head space, that the decision was taken to swap uses and turn it into a lavish bathroom instead. 

The master ensuite bathroom is part of an extensive refurbishment of the whole house, which was once, many years ago, a pub.  MW Architects has renovated it throughout, and had scope for more radical change in the outrigger, which was a later extension. Here, above a relocated new kitchen, is the bathroom. 

The discovery of the room’s additional height gave scope for ample insulation to increase its thermal performance. And while the eye is drawn up to the stripped back and stained beams, there is plenty else competing for attention.

The most unusual feature is the concrete vanity unit, which has been custom-made and incorporated into a mid-century modern sideboard with a mirrored cabinet above. MW Architects was inspired by the circles on the doors and commissioned twin circular basins, which were cast in a silicon mould in a concrete tinted to match the pale pink of the facing wall. These are inset in a plinth on top of the cabinet, with the plumbing concealed within the cupboards, which otherwise remain functional for storage.

‘Concrete isn’t a perfect material. The benefit is that when you make something bespoke, you get tiny imperfections that just add to the overall look,’ said project architect Clare Paton.

The basins are half way down the length of the bathroom. To one side, a reeded glass panel partially screens views of the wet area at the far end without losing sense of the expansive length of the room. This area contains both a shower and an elegant white bath with encaustic cement tiling above in a white and turquoise bold geometric pattern. 

‘We kept the tiling to that area as the pattern is very bold and we knew it would be a bit overwhelming everywhere,’ says Paton. 
Specified from Victoria & Albert, the 2.4m long Barcelona bath exactly fits the width of the room.

Another reeded glass panel screens the toilet nearer to the entrance of the bathroom. Throughout, the architect specified a porcelain floor tile from World’s End Tiles, chosen for its concrete-like appearance and value for money. A Vogue heated towel rail was specified in a brass finish.

The result is a combination of contemporary, vintage and heritage components.

‘Neither the client nor we wanted the finishes to be too matchy-matchy, or of one particular style – the rest of the house is such a mixture. We tried to capture the best of old and new,’ says Paton. 

Credits 
Architect MW Architects
Engineer Watkinson & Cosgrave
Contractor All in One Building & Property Services
Selected suppliers AXOR (taps); Fabco (shower screens); Mortise Concrete (concrete sinks and counter); Terrazzo Tiles (wall tiles); Victoria and Albert (bath); Vogue (towel rail); World’s End Tiles (floor tiling)

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