When we bought the house, the 10’ × 12’ bathroom was a complete mess. The loo was perched precariously on extremely rotten floorboards, the bath had some very peculiar plumbing that meant that it took ages to empty, and the hand basin was fixed to the wall with nothing but silicone. It all had to go, but we also needed a fully-functioning bathroom throughout the duration of the work.
So, just what would it take to change this…
We planned to partition off a section of the bathroom to provide an en-suite for the master bedroom, so it made sense to get the en-suite up-and-running first so we could empty the bathroom completely. For one reason or another, however, there was always a hitch that prevented this from happening, so after a while I took the decision that I would just have to work around the rest of the family as they went about their ablutions!
Throughout the early stages of work on the bathroom, the plumbers were in and out on a regular basis. First, the bath was repositioned to allow the plaster to be stripped from one of the exterior walls. The plaster had blown quite badly and, with so little of it still stuck to the underlying stonework, it all had to come off.
The removal of the plaster coincided with me reading a copy of Period Living magazine that contained an advert for And So To Bed, whose adverts I have always admired. They often shoot their gorgeous beds against a rustic background and in this particular advert that background was a beautiful old stone wall. It looked fantastic and I decided that if a bed could look great in that kind of setting, why not a lovely old roll-top bath? After a quick site meeting with Michelle, we agreed (unusually) that this was the way to go. Instead of re-plastering the wall, I raked out the joints, cleaned up the stone and then repointed. It looked great.
We like mixing up our textures in this house and the bathroom would be no exception; complementing the stone wall would be painted plaster and lashings of tongue and groove (full height on the partition and half height for the remaining walls).
The ceiling was in a pitiful state and, as much as I usually resist re-boarding ceilings, I simply had no choice. The plaster finish in a period house is really important as it tells you that it’s an old house. It shows you that the house has seen some action and becomes the foil against which everything else is displayed. Therefore, if the finish is dead flat and free of any imperfections you might as well be living in a modern house (and why would you want to do that?). Luckily, whilst my plastering skills are OK, they are not perfect, so I am able to deliver a finish that matches the time-worn surroundings!
As I’d already had to replace the timber lintels over the windows and doors along the back of the kitchen, it was no surprise to find that the joists that supported the bathroom floor (and kitchen ceiling) were also in a pretty grim state. Not unusually, the ends of the joists had rotted where they had been in contact with the exterior wall, since the house was built. The easiest way to correct this is to fit additional joists, bolted alongside the originals. So, I bought some treated 8”× 2” timber and set about fitting the new joists. This sounds quite straight forward, and so it would be in a bedroom, but with the existing pipework crossing under the bathroom floor in all the wrong places, it proved to be a bit of a challenge. I got there in the end though, spanning between the new kitchen window lintels and the load bearing internal wall that runs across the width of the house. Once in place the old and new joists were bolted together before the ends of the old joists were cut off (to prevent the rot spreading to new joists). `
I could now construct the stud wall that would provide the division between bathroom and en-suite. This was built from timber, in the time-honoured way, and was clad on the bathroom side with ¾” thick beaded tongue and groove. For now, the studwork would be left open on the other side to allow the plumbing to be concealed within the wall.
Things were now moving at a reasonable pace and it was time to finish the floor. The original floorboards were only fit for the fire, so new floorboards were laid. I used tongue and groove boards as they provide a great deal of additional strength, once they are screwed down, and lock the whole floor together. Bearing in mind the weight of the cast iron bath that the floor would later be asked to support, this was a very good move indeed.
Having spent a fortune on plumbing, getting the pipework in place ready to supply the toilet, hand basin, bath and radiator (which also incorporates a heated towel rail), I decided to be brave and tackle the final fix myself. I made this decision after working out that if I made a complete hash of it, to the extent that leaking water brought the kitchen ceiling down, I would still be able to re-board the ceiling and re-plaster (plus repair/replace anything damaged by the flood) cheaper than the cost of getting the plumbers back to finish the job!
First I moved into the en-suite in order to fit the loo and hand basin in there. Once these were in place I could take out the old toilet from the bathroom and the hand basin, which meant that I could fit the new bath.
The bath just had to be cast iron. Acrylic ones look OK from a distance but don’t fool anyone at close quarters. I tracked down a beautiful bath at a very reasonable price from The Cast Iron Bath Company who also supplied a shallow bath trap and all the taps we needed. The service they provided was first class and the bath is just beautiful.
Before installing it, I gave the exterior of the bath several coats of eggshell. Unusually, we made a brief departure from the usual Farrow & Ball and, instead, had decided on Bells Green (actually more blue than green, if you ask me), a National Trust colour from Fired Earth. I applied this to the bath with a gloss roller, and painted the ball and claw feet to match. When the paint was dry, I fitted the chrome trap and the mixer tap and connected it all up to the waste pipe I had installed under the new floorboards. I connected up the hot and cold pipes and we had a brand new working bath.
In this situation the bath is located directly above the Rayburn, which is permanently lit and, even when slumbering, produces a reasonable amount of heat that rises up to keep the chill off the cast iron. This means that when you run the bath, the hot water doesn’t have to heat the iron first. The heat from the Rayburn flue is also used, warming the airing cupboard that’s built into the partition wall on the en-suite side.
The toilet and basin were purchased online from Bathstore. The basin was plumbed in easily using a chrome waste and some nice brass push fit connectors that I discovered at Screwfix. Again, all the pipework is hidden in the partition wall, making for a nice clean job. The lovely, period style basin taps, from The Cast Iron Bath Company, are nice and solid and have a quarter turn operation, giving the impression that they cost the earth when, in actual fact, they were very reasonably priced.
When it came to the toilet, only a high level cistern loo would do. Once again, this came from Bathstore. The chrome flush pipe, ornate cistern brackets and other bits and pieces came packed in a cardboard box with a foam insert that had a specially-made cut out for each component. Putting it all together was a bit like assembling a sniper’s rifle, taking each piece from its padded compartment before locking it altogether. I assembled the loo from the floor up – pan, flush pipe, cistern, and it all went together extremely well. The only problem was that the flush was so violent that water splashed out of the pan onto the floor. With a little bit of trial and error, this was rectified by making a restrictor from a short section of plastic waste pipe. This was inserted into the flush pipe just before the pan and served to reduce the flow. This works a treat.
To finish things off, I took an inexpensive pine toilet seat and gave it a good rub down, followed by a few coats of Farrow & Ball eggshell. The colour is Railings, which is a very, very dark blue and looks amazing as a classy alternative to black. The cistern brackets, which were silver (and a little bit too shiny for my liking), were also given the Railings treatment and now look wonderful.
The floorboards were sanded nice and smooth and after a coat of primer/undercoat and a bit more sanding, were painted with three coats of Farrow & Ball floor paint in Lime White.
In common with the other rooms, the ceiling was painted with Farrow & Ball All White. On the walls, the plaster was painted Light Gray and the tongue and groove, and all other woodwork, was painted in Lime White.
As with the rest of the house, the sash window was stripped completely and restored to its former glory. I quite liked the idea of making a bit of a grand statement about the window and did this courtesy of a pair of old internal shutters that we picked up at Semley Reclamation. These were almost the right size for the bathroom window and came complete with their original hardware.
All that was needed was a framework that would provide a convincing housing for the shutters when opened. I started with some CLS – this is a commonly available grade of timber that is generally used for constructing stud walls. It is really nice to work with as it’s planed and has slightly rounded edges and it also has the added attraction of being very reasonably priced. With the shutter hinges screwed to the sash frame, I positioned the CLS to form a 3-sided frame with two uprights, starting from floor level, and a cross piece at the top. Onto this I attached capping pieces made from left-over tongue and groove. With the tongue planed off, this forms a lovely looking frame, complete with beaded detail running around the edge. The position was adjusted until the shutters folded back into the housing with a small, equal gap around all sides.
Finally, the new skirting board was fitted, butting up against the shutter frame on the outsides and mitred to return to the floor, on the insides of the frame. An architrave was added to the frame to add a little more grandeur and the space below the window was filled with beaded tongue and groove to match the other walls. After a really good sand, a coat or two of primer/undercoat and some decorators caulk to fill any remaining gaps, all the woodwork was given three coats of Lime White eggshell. I am so pleased with the end result – it looks amazing.
When it came to dressing the bathroom, we wanted to keep things simple but still end up with enough storage for the usual bath-time paraphernalia. For this we employed an old kitchen pot stand. It was sanded to remove some rust and flaking paint before being given several coats of primer, followed by several more coats of Farrow & Ball eggshell, in Railings. This now sits between the bath and the basin and holds a mixture of bathroom necessities and decorative touches. On the wall at the end of the bath sits an old tin bathroom cabinet that has also been repainted in Railings. This offers more discreet storage for further bathroom supplies.
Mounted on the wall above the heated towel rail is an old printer’s tray that is now home to a small selection of odds and ends, including a metal doll’s house bath tub and remnants of the old nautical wallpaper that had previously decorated the bathroom.
Dotted around the room is a selection of over-size perfume bottles, from Michelle’s days as a window dresser, some of which are filled with soap and bubble bath – a pleasing alternative to modern-day plastic bottles.
Lighting is courtesy of a wall-mounted lamp that we got from Ikea. We decided to go for a wall light, rather than the usual ceiling mounted variety, for two reasons. Firstly, we couldn’t find any ceiling lights that we liked (that were suitable for use in a bathroom) and, secondly, because lighting the stone wall from one side is much more dramatic than from above. The lamp came with a circular shade which I removed before giving the lamp several coats of Lime White eggshell to match the tongue and groove wall.
It’s important to have a decent rug in a bathroom with a painted floor, if you don’t want to do the splits every time you exit the bath. We chose to use an old woven leather rug that we bought in Habitat a long time ago. It has a non-slip texture that also allows it to dry quickly, making it the perfect choice. Oh, and it looks great too!
We needed a mirror above the sink but also needed a shelf, so I set to work adding a shelf to the bottom of an old mirror that had seen better days. I cut out a couple of fancy wooden brackets and a shelf from some reclaimed timber, screwed it all together, and after a few coats of paint it was ready to look after our toothbrushes!
We also decided to look for a grand old mirror to go above the bath but, at the time of writing, we’ve still not found the right one (actually, we came close at a recent antiques fair but were pipped at the post by another couple looking for the same thing). For now, I’ve painted a cheap reproduction over-mantle mirror that will suffice until we come across the real McCoy.
As with the rest of the house, the bathroom continues to evolve. Things get moved around and new pieces are added on what seems like a daily basis. It was a room that cost a lot more in time that it did in materials and is living proof that you don’t have to spend an absolute fortune to get a lovely looking bathroom. As I always say, the devil is in the detail, and it is amazing how a cheap basin can be transformed with a decent set of taps and how a few lengths of timber can be transformed into a very convincing surround for some salvaged shutters.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this part of the renovation; now, please close the door on your way out, I think I deserve a nice long soak!