Design

Get inspiration for bathrooms from vintage design

A deft combination of new fashions and heritage style dubbed Soho is freeing us from expectations of what the classic bathroom should look like. Period bathroom lovers can enjoy sumptuous color, most new tile collections, plus all the modern bells and whistles of a smart digital bathroom. What we’re avoiding is old fashioned, ie too twee, an effort on Downton glamour — a dire spectacle that nods to the 1980s, not 1880s.

Radical, modernist Bauhaus-style fixtures and tiling was mixed up with polite, Edwardian suites into the 1950s. Today a well-chosen cast-iron bateau can float out on any great floor tile, alongside understated Villeroy and Boch rimless loo. There’s still so much Art Deco in every crisp, new bathroom. If you long for the jazz of the 1920s, you’re closer than you think. Keeping the silhouettes simple, there’s room for easy stylistic marriages. Get it wrong and wall-hang a busy, traditional toilet pan? An unnecessary, aesthetic car crash.

1. New life for old walls. Ocean Wonders Mural, €47 per square metre, by Sir Edward at wallsauce.com.

The pandemic has changed us. We are increasingly reaching out to the natural world for comfort. Rounded, inviting biophilic bathrooms take the edges off stark contemporary washrooms prickling in sharp angles. Edwardian and Victorian suites have fluted, bevelled, and bosomy shapes. It’s a soothing sculpture and often it’s only the tapware that makes traditional suites fussy.

Still, antique flavour bathrooms are best erring on great-house rather than the outhouse. A period-inspired bathroom worthy of Hercule Poirot has a polish to it. While you might not be able to introduce very rustic, raw timber, or honed granite — inclusions like a wooden toilet seat, oxidised metals, delicately veined Carrera, and other luxuriant but honest, sustainable materials will sit comfortably in a classic room.

There’s new tailoring on offer for the standalone roll-top, including boldly modern color or a riveting metal finish to the underside. A great antique-informed tub can prove the star turn alongside modern companion sinks and loos, even contemporary brassware. A brushed brass or anodised white metal lever or paddle action will often look less Hyacinth Bouquet than the jaded, safe crosshead taps and standpipes of the ’80s and ’90s. Cheap crosshead taps and cradle showers are a very big mistake, whatever you decide. The action, plating, and feel will give them away.

Counter or wall-mounting can introduce understated, spa-day beauty to most period style taps, but they do come at a slight premium. Crosswater and Hudson & Reed are reliable brands. Aged brass is a lovely tonal inclusion, and it’s all over the market as an alternative to predictable, bright chrome choices and the new kid on the block — matte black. Need inspiration? Designers have just turned up the volume a click on established classics. Look up the perfectly performing, jeweled thermostatic crossheads for showers and taps offered by Swadling Brassware which include mother-of pearl to their center disc.

  4. Brass is back.  A selection of brass finish planters from €102 on audenza.com.
4. Brass is back. A selection of brass finish planters from €102 on audenza.com.

Artificially altered finishes and warm and wise gold can be found on the pipework of even high cistern toilets. Heritage Bathrooms offer a lofty take in their Dorchester, €1,019, on BathShack.com.

The brass planter is a period favorite to add more oxidised metals, brass or beaten golds to stage your species-size darlings. Use humid-loving ferns and palms to gentle the room’s corners. Homesense always have a superb collection of metallic planters in classic form including Greco-Roman heads, from as little as €20 a noggin. Expect some rusting in cheap mixed metals over time as the cool surface will attract moisture, no matter how fabulous your MVHR is, potentially staining vulnerable, pale, unsealed tile surfaces. Slip a little rubber pad under their toes.

Tiles don’t have to recede into blank fossils and faux stone. Eye-catching color, print, and high gloss glazing is back up for grabs. Dark, theatrical color jousting with glacial white ware can conjure classic Art Deco jazz without the austerity of sheer black and white. Shake up your current or a new classic suite by having it pop off a deep, bruised, or jewel color choice for walls and/or shoulder-high paneling. Green, in deep rich unapologetic forest shades, and sugar-dusted pink is trending in wall tiles.

Inexpensive metro brick tiles, together with 1920s fish-scale varieties recall gilded, parquet flooring and Metro station walls. Bevelled bricks are cheap, starting at just €17.90/sq m from suppliers including Woodie’s. Experiment with close (rectified) installation or mid-grey grout color for a modern take on classic subways, even with white. Eclectic printed choices with a fascinating artistic rhythm include random cubist varieties like Art Tiles by Roca €27.56 per metre and the 1920s nightclub chic of Palm Stripe, €73.96, from Bath Shack.

  3. The Matki Cross Handle tap has a carefully sculpted shape, celebrating the streamlined early 20th century design.  The center of the handle can be adorned with a choice of four discs — Black Glass, White Glass, Mother of Pearl and Black Lip Pearl in Brushed Nickel, Living Copper or Brushed Brass finishes.  €839 a pair from swadlingbrassware.co.uk.
3. The Matki Cross Handle tap has a carefully sculpted shape, celebrating the streamlined early 20th century design. The center of the handle can be adorned with a choice of four discs — Black Glass, White Glass, Mother of Pearl and Black Lip Pearl in Brushed Nickel, Living Copper or Brushed Brass finishes. €839 a pair from swadlingbrassware.co.uk.

Murals and highly ornate wallpapers are transformative in the bathroom and as far way from the queasy-making, late 20th century formulas as is possible. These can be highly illustrative, making the whole room. Many of the most beautiful themes channel the folios of paintings, prints, and drawings of natural science and topography that fascinated the Georgians and Victorians. To successfully amplify an antique note, shy away from photographic images. To keep the look light and fresh, confine your decorative wallpaper to one impactful wall or niche, and go for a super-sized mural rather than a waspish, repeating pattern. Consider trimming the focus over dado height, finishing below with paint, tile, or water-repellent paneling in a period style.

If your bathroom is lightly Japandi (a marketing word for combining Japanese and Scandi style) sprigs of blossom recalling Japanese woodblock prints can be swept down behind a upright Asian bath. Black and white engraving styles are perfect for a cool, monochrome scheme. Use only papers protected by a thick vinyl coating if you’re taking them into splash areas, and ensure your ventilation does not allow steam to condense on the walls.

If your radiator is visually annoying, a wallpaper with some intricacy to it will disrupt its presence. Prices from €45/m, various suppliers including Wallsauce.

A wider view of the beautiful Manhattan washstand from Catchpole and Rye.
A wider view of the beautiful Manhattan washstand from Catchpole and Rye.

Hovia have a good selection of papers in verdigris rusted-out metals if you like rough-luxe. For something outrageous gyrating from the 1970s, try Digital Living’s Retro 1, from €79 per panel, available to order, digitalliving.ie (Dublin)

Your choice of vanity will say a lot about your styling choice, and traditional chiffonier types are ten a penny in waterproofed, relatively cheap materials. Choose deep drawers and crisp counter materials (marble or composite pretenders are ideal). Real handles or knobs should be left in place to retain that authenticity of a turn-of-the-century bathroom, but be really daring with cabinet color. Take a peek at the seductive curves of the Burlington 1340 Freestanding 4 Door Curved Vanity Unit With Worktop and Bowl, €2,835, at OnlineBathrooms.ie.

Finally, to drive yourself wild with longing or a determination to budget the daylights out of the look, explore the aristocratic room-sets of Catchpole & Rye.

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