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11 March 2021

Splish Splash!

Three of the country’s top designers share their thoughts on where bathroom design is heading this year.


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Three of the country’s top designers share their thoughts on where bathroom design is heading this year.

Despite their diminutive size, bathrooms often require the most attention when it comes to design, both in terms of efficient space planning and in product and material choices.

In the past, life was a lot simpler. Bathrooms were purely utilitarian spaces, usually one per house, centrally located, and shared by the whole family. These days, many of us have the luxury of three of more bathrooms in our homes, each with its own specific function or set of users – family bathrooms, ensuites, children’s bathrooms, powder rooms.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder that bathrooms now have precedence when it comes to their design and, particularly, their aesthetics. They have to work well as individual rooms and also as part of the home. Bathrooms are big business, which means there is now an overwhelming choice of taps, toilets and tiles. Have you been into Tile Warehouse lately? Bewildering is an understatement.

To help offer some clarity on bathroom design, we asked three award-winning designers for their opinions on a range of bathroom-related topics, starting with a very general question about what style of bathroom are they seeing most of – or being asked for – right now.

“As most bathrooms I do are part of the overall interior design of the home, they tend to match the style of the house. Saying that, there is a swing to a more traditional style right now,”

says Mal Corboy, from Mal Corboy Design.

Angelique Armstrong, of Armstrong Interiors, agrees, saying she does a mix of styles, again very much dependent on the overall style of the home.

Conversely, Melanie Sa'u, from Cube Dentro, is seeing more contemporary bathrooms, but she reiterates that it really depends on the type of project and the personality of the client. “When it comes to a renovation, for example, we would advise our clients to stay within the style or era of the house… but with a contemporary twist.”

Bathroom design by Angelique Armstrong from Armstrong Interiors. Photography by Mick Stephenson.

Bathroom design by Angelique Armstrong from Armstrong Interiors. Photography by Mick Stephenson.

Colour – light or dark?
Are there any colours that are trending this year? Also, is it best to use a stronger r more striking colour as a highlight?
rather than a full colour scheme for the whole bathroom?

Melanie says she is seeing a real mix in colours, and not all the bathrooms in a house need to be the same colour. “For example, the main bathroom may be lighter and brighter, with more white tones, whereas the ensuite could be a bit moodier, with blacks and greys. Powder rooms are also a great place to be more creative with colour and different finishes,” she says. “Overall, though, keeping bathrooms neutral is a good starting point, and you can bring in different finishes like brass, gunmetal or copper with the plumbing fixtures.”

“Bathrooms are tranquil places that need to be functional,” says Angelique. “Darker colours have been popular over the past few years, though we have seen a shift towards creams and softer palettes more recently.”

Mal says he still loves a dark, moody style of bathroom, and there are some stunning tiles coming out now which can create a real sanctuary feel.

Bathroom design by Mal Corboy, from Mal Corboy Design. Photography by Kallan MacLeod.

Bathroom design by Mal Corboy, from Mal Corboy Design. Photography by Kallan MacLeod.

Bathtubs – yes or no?
Are bathtubs still popular? So many homeowners are removing them these days in order to create more spacious bathrooms, or to make room for large, walk-in showers. However, bathtubs are essential for young families. And if you have the space and the budget, why not, they’re still one of the best ways to kick back and relax.

“To have or not have is always a tricky question, as most baths don’t get used as much as they should,” says Mal. “I am all for freestanding, but done right, not jammed into the end of the bathroom between three walls, making them almost impossible to clean around. The new concrete ones are just beautiful,” he adds.

Space is the key, agrees Melanie.

“I always lean towards [installing] a freestanding bath, which provides more of a contemporary and modern look. It also lifts the space and doesn’t make it feel so heavy. I like to incorporate at least one bath within the house, as they are great for families, as well as for the people who love to unwind with a bath on the weekends, or at the end of the day.”

If there is space, Angelique usually recommends putting one in, even if it’s not that important to her clients, because they are good for families and resale.

Bathroom design by Mal Corboy, from Mal Corboy Design. Photography by Kallan MacLeod.

Bathroom design by Mal Corboy, from Mal Corboy Design. Photography by Kallan MacLeod.

Materials – manufactured or au naturel?
What materials are our three designers using – natural finishes such as marble, granite and timber, or are they opting for man-made products, such as engineered stone or solid surfaces? Also, what about options for the metal finishes on tapware?

Mal says he is definitely heading towards more matte and natural finishes. “I am using a lot of veneers and also solid surface materials, such as Corian or Hi Mac. There are also some remarkable and interesting granite and marbles available at the moment. And there is a real swing to different metal finishes in tapware, with both Grohe and Dornbracht having some lovely options in their ranges.”

Metal accents are becoming more popular in bathrooms – simply changing the colour of your bathroom fixtures is an easy way to bring these new finishes into a space, says Melanie. “Shower glass lends itself well to being a bit creative, with trends such framed, curved, fluted and reeded glass being used for shower screens.”

Vanities – go custom
What are the emerging trends in this part of the bathroom?

“When it comes to vanities the sky is really the limit in finishes,” says Melanie. “I have found that, generally, custom-made vanities are the way to go. You have the advantage that you can pick and choose your finishes and hardware – and you still tend to end up quite comparative, pricewise, to the more expensive [ready-made] vanities, with the bonus of quality craftsmanship and materials that you may not find in something mass-produced.”

Melanie says that when it comes to vanity tops, she would recommend using something durable and not too porous – engineered stone, porcelain or a solid surface material such as Corian. “We are also now seeing a lot of basins custom-made in the same material as the benchtop. However, these do come with a bit of a price tag.”

“It’s been a popular trend for a while now to have a feature bowl sitting on top of the vanity,” says Angelique. “These allow you to have plenty of storage in the cabinetry below. However, I am still a big fan of the sleek, classic looking, undermounted sink.”

Showers – hand-held or rainhead?

“Rainhead showers are popular with us males as we tend to wash our hair most days,” says Mal. “I am also doing some bathrooms with a body spray system and also steam showers. Most clients like a big double shower if possible.”

With new builds, Melanie says she tries to incorporate walk-in showers wherever possible, as they create a more modern and seamless look. “Rainheads are pretty popular, but again they come down to personal preference – some people love them and some people absolutely hate them. Also, hand-helds are really handy for cleaning the shower, too, adds Angelique.

Bathroom design by Angelique Armstrong from Armstrong Interiors. Photography by Eddison Te Reo.

Bathroom design by Angelique Armstrong from Armstrong Interiors. Photography by Eddison Te Reo.

En-suites – a must for masters?
“Yes, I love the idea of having an ensuite off the master bedroom. I designed one recently, where the back of the bedhead forms part of a double shower,” say Mal.

“The master suite has become the retreat area of the house – a private, intimate space, as opposed to the kitchen, which is the more public area.”

Angelique agrees that it’s important for parents to have their own private spaces, especially when they have young families. But even if this isn’t the case, an ensuite off the master is good to have for resale value.

“They are a great little addition – and if you don’t already have one, it can be a great way to add value to a property. I like them for the fact that they create that extra private space, especially if you have a full house or guests staying,” says Melanie.

Tiles – subway or no way?
“Anything goes these days, just as long as the colours and patterns aren’t too overpowering. Simple is best,” says Angelique.

There is lot of creativity nowadays, when it comes to tiles, says Melanie. “There are so many different options in style, colour, the way they are laid, and the way they are cut. People aren’t afraid to mix and match tiles – and when done well, the end result can be stunning. We are seeing more people using oversized tiles; however, this does come with a rather big price tag when it comes to laying them properly, particularly if they have striking patterns.

Mal says that he really encourages his clients to go with the big format tiles, and likes to use the same floor tile on the walls with feature tiling. The large sheet porcelain is very nice as well, he says, but it can be tricky to install, so a very good tiler is a must.

Bathroom design by Mal Corboy, from Mal Corboy Design. Photography by Kallan MacLeod.

Bathroom design by Mal Corboy, from Mal Corboy Design. Photography by Kallan MacLeod.

Lighten up
LED lighting isn’t new any more – it’s standard. But how is lighting being used innovatively in the bathroom space, both in terms of task lighting and decorative lighting?

“There are a few different ways you can utilise lighting within a bathroom, from general downlighting and task lighting, to decorative lighting,” says Melanie. “Decorative lighting is a great way to bring some creativity into a space, and there are a lot of different options on the market. When is comes to custom-made cabinetry, we like to incorporate LED lighting, for example, under a wall-hung vanity, or around the back of a mirror. These can also be put on sensors, which is a great way to incorporate night lighting.”

Mal says that bathrooms are quite difficult to light, so it is especially important that bathroom lighting is designed well in order to create both mood and task lighting for make-up, etc. “There have been huge advances in LED lighting in the last few years, and track systems now are really versatile.”

Powder rooms – go a bit crazy
Because it’s such a small room – and a room that most of your guests are bound to see – is the powder room the one place in the house where you can go just a wee bit crazy?

“Yes, it is, and I totally agree,” says Mal. “I always design the powder room to be very different from the other bathrooms in the house. And you really only need room for a toilet and hand basin, with a small amount of storage for toilet rolls and cleaners. But it is a room where you can have some fun with the design. Using clever patterns with mosaic tiles, or funky wallpaper, can definitely do the trick.”

Powder rooms are a favourite with Angelique, too, and she agrees that you can add a little more flare here. However, unlike Mal, she says they should still match the overall look and design of the rest of the house – it must flow, she says.

“Powder rooms are pretty popular, whether in a new build, or trying to incorporate them into an existing home,” says Melanie. “You don’t need too much room, and they are great spaces to be creative and a bit different from the rest of the house. This could be in the form of a different tile and wall finishing, tapware, or even doing something really creative with the vanity.”

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