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Avoid Making These Same Mistakes When Renovating your Home Bathroom

These House & Garden editors renovated their bathrooms, and here’s how you can learn from their experiences and mistakes

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By House & Garden | November 13, 2023 | Bathroom

Although it's usually the smallest room in the house, it is a notoriously difficult room to get right. Maybe it's because there can be so many suppliers and specialists skills that are involved: the tiles, the sanitary ware, taps and tubs; the plumber, the tiler the electrician et al. The fact is, one all of these elements have been added in, it's pretty difficult (and expensive) to change them. You want to do it once and do it well. So take your time and do your research. And have a read of the advice gathered from House & Garden insiders and friends - things they'd wish they known, what they learned along the way, and the mistakes they made which they want you to learn from. I'll go first….

Don’t Favour a large shower of a bath too fast

It was a mistake to get rid of the bathtub. My bathroom is pretty teeny so my idea was to sacrifice the small tub in favour of a larger shower. It would feel more spacious, I thought. It would feel more modern. Who needs a bath, anyway? It turns out that I do, around three or four times a year: maybe once with glass of wine and a book, definitely when I'm feeling poorly and sorry for myself, and also on those damp, cold winter days when the only way of getting the chill out of your bones is to have a bath. But no, I have a shower. It's a great shower, don't get me wrong. But it ain't a bath ― David Nicholls, deputy editor, H&G

It was a mistake to get rid of the bathtub. My bathroom is pretty teeny so my idea was to sacrifice the small tub in favour of a larger shower, says David Nicholls, House & Garden deputy editor. Image via Pexels.

Don’t forget about the mighty power of grout

Grout! Never underestimate grout! When the builder started filling in between the tiles with the usual creamy-white grout I had a kind of panic. It didn't look like the picture I had in my head. It sounds perfectly simple, but it makes such a difference. Going for a coloured grout which makes the treatment of these tiles so much more graphic and far less public swimming pool. Insist on the things you love! I'm obsessed with heat. And I'd always wanted a shower that was also a steam room. Everybody said steam rooms in showers don't work and break and are hopeless. I felt like an idiot pushing and pushing on it when I am not a practical person. But we have steam. And it works. And I heat myself up like a baked potato in it every day. Wood for feeling grounded. Originally the line above the tiles was just white paint. And I love blue and white; it is the colour palette of summer and the Mediterranean and holidays. But in London in Winter it felt stark and mean and raw. This is a cheeky wood effect that is actually wallpaper, so not crazy expensive. It made the whole room find its footing. It's warmer, more contained, it feels both a bit clubby and also smart. ― Melinda Stevens, creative director, @loupe_uk

Invest in heated towel rails

Heated towel rails are a must, and if possible, install one that can be operated independently from the heating system (ie electric) so you can turn it on for short bursts during the summer to avoid horrible damp towels. And make sure it's positioned high up enough on the wall so that the lower rungs are actually usable. Dark tiles might seem atmospheric and chic, but they really show limescale! If you have the space, have a walk-in shower with a large shower screen to avoid the problems that come with doors – leaking, dodgy sealant, failing hinges... ― Rose Washbourn, sub-editor and books editor, H&G

Heated towel rails are a must, and if possible, install one that can be operated independently from the heating system (ie electric) so you can turn it on for short bursts during the summer to avoid horrible damp towels. Image via Pexels.

Consider the practicality of vintage parts and fittings

I wish I’d known that antique and reclaimed pieces are a nightmare to find parts for - you need a good plumber who’s willing to do the legwork in order to make it work. But if you are working with older pieces, it’s worth doing some research first to make sure you have all the parts you need - however be warned, plumbing can be incredibly confusing. Shower curtains (if you don’t have an alternative) don’t have to be plastic. Linen is fast drying and is naturally anti-mould, so it’s great alternative to horrible plastic curtain liners. Just make sure it sits just below the top of the bath Material conjunctions are very important - consider where and how different materials meet - in bathrooms you’ll be using far more different types of material than you would in other rooms so it’s important that these conjunctions are smooth and purposeful. Match the natural mood of the space, if your bathroom doesn’t have much natural light, consider a darker, more atmospheric scheme. If your bathroom has lots of natural light, play with lighter and brighter colours. ― Davey Hunter Jones, curator, the Calico Club by H&G

Find the right shower message that works for you

I wish I'd known that those standard glass shower screens you use with a shower-bath are utterly, utterly useless. They're not long enough to prevent water trickling over the side of the bath at the corner where they end, and mine also leaks at the corner nearest the shower head. It took a few cartoonish slides across the floor and a bulging bath panel before I resigned myself to festooning everything with towels every time I have a shower, and when I called the builder back to have a look at it, he just said 'oh yes that always happens, they're terrible.' ― Virginia Clark, digital director, H&G

Know the inner-workings of your bathroom’s water flow before making any concrete decisions. Image via Pexels.

Know the inner-workings of your bathroom’s water flow

I learnt a lot of lessons along the ten days it took to renovate our tiny bathroom, the first coming as soon as our builder turned up on day one: make sure you know where your water stopcock is before they arrive to start ripping the whole thing out, otherwise you'll delay the process as you trawl every inch of your home trying to find it. Stand your ground with builders; mine were not thrilled with my choice of tiles and pushed and pushed for me to have giant slabs so they didn't have to fiddle with smaller ones. Similarly, it pays to know what you're willing to compromise on and where you draw the line. For me, I was happy for them to lay the new cork flooring over the existing tiles (albeit a rather lazy move on their part) as it saved us extra costs in laying down screed. Spend the budget on the things you touch and notice – taps, shower fittings, tiles – and save on the parts you gloss over. Lastly, make sure you know what colour you're painting your bathroom in advance of work starting as we paid plasterer to paint it all white for us, but he could have painted it in any colour we wanted for the same price. Sadly, I'm very indecisive and hadn't pinned that down at that point so we ended up repainting it ourselves. ― Charlotte McCaughan-Hawes, deputy digital editor, H&G

Keep a notebook of every detail and idea

When we were having our bathroom done, a friend advised me to have a tiled nook set into the shower so that we had somewhere to store bottles of shampoo etc. But I didn't take it in - I completely forgot. These projects can go really slowly at first and you think you have forever to make decisions about details, but then they they suddenly move very quickly and you've lost your chance to make changes. A notebook or a some sort of ideas list would have kept this detail in the mix. So instead of a shelf or two I have plastic bottles wedged in between the wall and the shower fittings. ― Jenny Lister, creative director, H&G

Hiring a bathroom expert means you don’t have to crack into freshly-laid tiles or re-paint the walls. Image via Pexels.

Ensure access to important plumbing

I tiled the side of my bath which looked lovely with the rest of the room but forgot to make sure I had some sort of access panel for the plumbing! Having a nice large sized sink would be a lovely. A narrow sink- which I have due to space constraints - means I am forever splashing the floor while washing my face or turn the tap on too enthusiastically. ― From Eva Farrington, senior designer, H&G

When in DIY Doubt, just hire an expert

My bathroom, a new addition to a loft extension, was the only room in my house where I got a specialist renovation company in to carry out my wishes. In retrospect this felt totally necessary: they then had the control they needed to do first fixes and second fixes in the correct and accurate order. For example, loosely fitting the bath so that they could tile, and then finishing the fixing after the tiling etc. It meant that I never had to crack into freshly-laid tiles or re-paint the walls because I had painted them before the joinery was finished, etc. There was a mistake, however. We fitted the wall-mounted shower fitting too low, which is really annoying! I just trusted where the bathroom company put the 'first fix' for the shower, and then when the second fix happened and the shower head was too low, there wasn't really a way to raise it without significant disruption. So I would say that if you are doing a shower room in a loft extension, which will often be newly built anyway, the best option for height will almost certainly be a ceiling-mounted concealed shower, rather than a wall mounted one. ― Ruth Sleightholme, decoration editor, H&G

This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.