I mentioned once, a magnolia rock that a few people have been living under when it comes to selecting paint colours. Well there is another rock, just next to that, for those who have never used the term "ooh, that would be nice for the downstairs loo."
I can honestly say that there is not a week that goes by where I don't hear somebody say this to me. However, if you are one of those people, living under this collection of rocks, what they mean when they say this, is usually one of following two things.
"Ooh that's a cool idea that’s quirky and different. Unfortunately I'm not bold enough to use it for the rest of my house, so I'll just relegate it to the smallest room, the room I visit the least, the one that guest will see and comment on the most, the downstairs loo." OR "Ooh, I need to make an impression on my guests. There is a room in the house, made just for them, where I can show them I care by filling it with gimmick and whimsy, the downstairs loo."
Now, I'm all for people injecting as much design flair into their homes as possible, and if the downstairs loo has become that space where people get to explore this world and try new designery things, then why stop them. However you must admit that the concept is a little odd.
Most wouldn’t think twice about making a guest sleep on the sofa, but God forbid you don’t wow them, or provide them with anything amusing to look at when they’re having a slash.
As a designer myself, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I haven't used both of the above rationale to convince a client to push the boat out a little, and in the studio, every discussion about designing the downstairs loo always includes the phrase "we can do a little better than that, no? "
It all boils down to risk as to why the downstairs loo became the outlet for our weird taste and potential questionable choices. It literally is a room we can shut the door on, and ultimately has little impact on the rest of the house. Furthermore the small size of the room means that, in the grand scheme of things, anything you want to do in there isn’t going to cost you much, so you can really let loose…so to speak.
But what started as something fun, something that we just happened to do in our homes, has now become something serious we are expected to do. The competition is well and truly on. The downstairs loo has almost become a litmus test to who we are as adult home owners. Have we done enough with our lives if nobody comments “love your loo babe” every time you have guests over? Forget the kitchen being the heart of the home. The downstairs f**kin loo is where lines are drawn between a normal house and a spectacular home.
So what separates a good downstairs loo from a forgettable, normal, nobody comments when they come over loo? As much as what has been suggested above, the success of a downstairs loo is not just about throwing in a bunch of random ideas and making space for a toilet and sink. Believe it or not, there are some steps to take to ensure your loo has the royal flush.
OK Boring stuff first. This space needs to be practical as well as special. It might just be the room that you dart into every now and then, but for a guest, this room needs to cater for a bunch of needs. I’m not saying it needs to be equipped with a nappy changing station, but for a guest, this room needs to be furnished sufficiently so they don’t have to sheepishly exit, and awkwardly ask “sorry, do you have an X, Y or Z”
Shit happens. They might not be the best looking thing in the world, but a bog brush and spare loo roll are sometimes needed. If you don’t like your spares on show, I know I don’t, ensure that they are easily found. The number 1 cause of an awkward “sorry do you have an X,Y or Z” is a number 2.
If you have the luxury of space, make sure there is some sort of a surface area if your "vanity" consists of just a pedestal or wall hung basin. I know this isn’t a train station loo, so the floor will suffice for most, but it’s always handy to have this. Worst case, include a hook on the door or somewhere to hang a bag, coat etc.
You want to create ambience. You know how a crap changing room can make you want to flee a shop and never step foot in public again? A downstairs loo that doesn’t make your guests love themselves is basically the same, and you will never earn the prestige of a “nice loo babe” nod from your mates.
Nobody is planning on doing surgery in this room, so tone down the lights. I know I said that this room needs to be practical, but practical for what? The lighting in this room needs to be softer and more forgiving than the rest of the house. In pretty much every project I have ever done, I always incorporate multiple sources of light in a bathroom. Wall lights generally, for softer lights, and overhead downlights for when it’s Blackpool illuminations. There are about a million different ways to include a secondary light source, so have a think about this.
Don’t be shy with the mirror. If you are only providing your guests with a collar-bone up view of themselves, you are just being spiteful and cheap. Go as big as possible.
I think this goes without saying, but it’s a hard no on floor mats, toilet mats or another sort of mat in here. They are gross. If you have a mate with shite aim, let them deal with that themselves.
Right, now on to the good stuff. How to make the downstairs loo sing. Like I said earlier, it’s not just about throwing a bunch of ideas in the room and calling it a day. The ideas need to have purpose and make sense with the rest of the homes design. My motto is that the downstairs loo needs to be a concentrated version of whatever flavour you have chosen for the rest of the house.
For example, if you’ve got a bit of a hobbyist vibe going on, and you have things that you have collected on your travels, displayed around the house, interesting textiles etc etc, go full Indiana Jones in the loo. Vintage map-of-the-world wallpaper, a reclaimed vanity unit, frame some of your favourite pics you’ve take on your travels. Really have a go at it.
If you don’t really have a notable “theme” happening in your home, take what I said in the blog #theposterchild about art and how you should only frame pieces that are meaningful to you or tell a story. Simply put, if you like to cycle, and rightfully so, don’t want a bicycle themed house, go full Tour de France vibes in the loo. At least you are being personal in your choice and that alone will leave a (skid) mark in people’s minds. A vital step in ensuring your downstairs loo is not to be forgotten.
Tying in with what I mentioned about the loo being the condensed version of the rest of the house, is the idea of consistency. Consistency is key in any successful design. As well as creating a unique space in the downstairs loo, don’t forget to have some level of consistency in finish, use of material, or colour with the rest of the house.
You rooms should always flow seamlessly from one to the next and it’s no different here. For example, replicating the stone on your vanity tops with the stone used in the kitchen, is a good way of tying the spaces together. Same goes for architectural detailing such as cornice or skirting and even floor finish.
Design all four walls (and the ceiling if you can) The best received spaces are the ones that have a 360 degree application of design. I know the downstairs loo might be small and you may think that covering all the walls in a paper or bold colour is going to be an over kill/make the space seem cramped. It won’t. This room needs to be a little bit steroidy, in your face and loud. Don’t chicken out and do a feature wall or half arse it. There needs to be something on every wall. If a wallpaper isn’t for you, think about layering with art, or draw your attention upwards and paint the ceiling etc. Nobody ever said “nice loo babe” to a room with pedestal basin, and a feature wall.
And finally, bear in mind, that in close quarters every detail matters. Not to pile more pressure on the blood sport that is downstairs loo design, but pay attention to the small details, the finishing, junctions and the quality. Nobody wants to stare at a mismatched pattern in your wallpaper or worse, worry about a wobbly door handle or dodgy flusher.