8 bathroom ideas inspired by antiques

Showcase your personality with a bathroom that mixes antique finds with modern styling

A freestanding cast iron bath with polished lacquer finish
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Add A Statement Shower

Every home should have a shower, and while purists might prefer the antique, James Lentaigne of Drummonds, points to the need to ‘ensure quality and efficiency.’ He recommends period-inspired designs rather than actual antiques.

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Catchpole & Rye’s ‘Sentinel’ shower bath (from £36,000) is based on a 1900s Edwardian design

Exposed surface-mounted systems teamed with oversized shower heads offer classical styling with minimal damage to walls – a real bonus for older or listed properties – and work surprisingly well with minimal enclosures and wet-room screens for that eclectic lived-in look.

For a traditional take on the modern wet-room, look to 19th-century France; the birthplace of an enclosure made purely from perforated brass pipework that delivers water from all sides and now replicated by companies such as Catchpole & Rye and The Water Monopoly.

Alternatively, opt for a classic freestanding shower or check out the gloriously eccentric Victorian and Edwardian canopy bath, complete with zinc or glass enclosed showering area, and guaranteed to be a unique focal point.

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Let There Be Light

With practicality in mind, look to a combination of ambient and task lighting, and don’t be afraid to team modern down-lighters or spots with key statement pieces. Bathroom lighting needs to be IP44 rated, however, as Karen Wallis-Smith of Fritz Fryer points out. ‘Those living in period properties with very high ceilings may find lights are outside regulation zones.’ If not, then IP44 rated feature lighting – including chandeliers – is readily available.

Alternatively, most antique lighting can be converted for bathroom use. But as Wallis-Smith cautions, ‘this must be carried out by a registered electrician.’ It’s also advisable to select materials that won’t be adversely affected by moisture, such as chrome, lacquered brass and nickel, or painted finishes.

‘Deco-style lighting is often simple to convert, with globe shades and pillar lights working well in bathrooms,’ suggests Wallis-Smith.

This bespoke twin washstand (from £1,999) by Podesta features an oak stand with hand-turned legs and a Bianco Eclipsia marble surface
This bespoke twin washstand (from £1,999) by Podesta features an oak stand with hand-turned legs and a Bianco Eclipsia marble surface
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Inject Personality

The appeal of the vintage bathroom lies in a look designed to blend and reflect the relaxed character of your home, so favour informal freestanding pieces when considering storage solutions. Antique cabinets, tallboys, or washstands are a given, but it also pays to experiment with classic boudoir pieces in larger spaces, such as a chest of drawers, linen press or table. Of course, all bathrooms will benefit from the addition of a comfy chair.

For Tina Robinson of Heritage Bathrooms it’s the ‘finishing touches that make all the difference when pulling an interior together. A unique mirror is a key accessory to suggest a period look, while also helping to fill the room with light,’ she says.

Traditional soft furnishings such as luxurious full-length drapes, soft Roman, London or roller blinds, also bring welcoming warmth and casual elegance to the room. While an array of decorative hooks, rails and baskets help to get things organised. ‘Try using attractive glass bottles or china tea cups as storage,’ suggests Robinson – this is about expressing individuality after all.

'Chesham Grand' ornate mirror (£1.495) teamed with 'Penrose' freestanding acryllic bath (from £1,600) both from Heritage bathrooms
‘Chesham Grand’ ornate mirror (£1.495) teamed with ‘Penrose’ freestanding acryllic bath (from £1,600) both from Heritage bathrooms
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Plan Ahead

The key to a successful layout is to plan prudently. And while this nostalgic look is all about a careful curation of old and new, never be tempted to simply cram in items. Most designers recommend 60-70cm around key elements.

Of course antiques tend to be one-off pieces, so bear in mind that specific sizes may not be an option, and always check that the position of any outlets will match standard plumbing. ‘Outlets on antique lavatories for example often go straight down through the floor, whereas the norm, now, is through the wall,’ says Justin Homewood of The Water Monopoly.

Hiring a vintage-friendly plumber, happy to work with the idiosyncrasies of old fixtures and fittings, can avoid costly mistakes, as will purchasing professionally refurbished and tested antiques. Evidence of wear and tear may be charming, but you need to be sure you’re buying distressed character, rather than damaged or incompatible pieces.

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The ‘Usk’ freestanding cast iron bath features a polished lacquered exterior (£5,340), shown with the ‘Lowther’ double vanity suite in Arabescato marble (£6,540), ‘Classic’ basin taps (from £630) and the ‘Nene’ shower rose (from £2,514), all Drummonds
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Think Twice

Double vanity units bring an element of luxury and handcrafted design to the bathroom, says Rita Rendo Castro of Catchpole & Rye. However you may also want to go vintage or even adapt an existing piece of furniture. Whatever your choice, opt for versatile pieces that compliment the style and proportion of the room and help create a space that is uniquely yours.

A vanity is the perfect storage solution for those prone to clutter as it allows you to conceal all your bathroom necessities. Cabinetry choices, marble or stone variations, plus the option of deck or wall-mounted taps, can give a traditional or contemporary look. Alternatively, consider the traditional washstand, as this can prove less overpowering in smaller bathrooms.

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Look to the Past

A freestanding bath, ‘encapsulates the vintage bathroom and sets the tone for the whole room,’ says Tina Robinson. Choose an original and recieve the ‘joy of owning a piece which is unique and often irreplaceable,’ says Justin Homewood.

Typically fashioned from cast iron, copper or earthenware, specialist, such as The Water Monopoly and Antique Bathrooms of Ivybridge offer fully-restored items with prices starting at around £1000, but rapidly rising according to size, style and rarity. Make the most of your investment and ensure it is the first thing you see when you enter the room.

However, always check joist positions and calculate bath weights when full of water, as this can be an issue. Steel, copper or brass can prove a lighter alternative, but most statement baths tend to be deep so also check that your hot water system can cope with the demand.

Fired Earth's copper 'Babylon' bath (from £5,750) features a polished nickel interior, is available in three sizes, and is shown here with 'Mademoiselle' bath and shower mixer in brushed nickel (£1,175)
Fired Earth’s copper ‘Babylon’ bath (from £5,750) features a polished nickel interior, is available in three sizes, and is shown here with ‘Mademoiselle’ bath and shower mixer in brushed nickel (£1,175)
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Focus on Fittings

Quality fixtures and fittings finish a bathroom so ‘select fittings crafted from timeless materials that hint towards a classic vintage look,’ advises Tina. Crosshead or lever handles instill traditional styling and, for added impact, consider wall, as well as deck-mounted, taps.

Investing in superior pieces should ensure fittings don’t discolour or seize up over time and always check compatibility, as not all brassware is suited to gravity-fed systems or low water pressure.

In terms of heating, select classical-styled towel warmers, or, for that touch of authenticity, seek out companies specialising in original reclaimed radiators. The Old Radiator Company offers a wide selection of salvaged models, expertly reconditioned and adapted to modern heating systems.

Bisque's 'Decorative panel' radiator (from £442.80) is available in 26 colours,13 finishes and a host of sizes
Bisque’s ‘Decorative panel’ radiator (from £442.80) is available in 26 colours,13 finishes and a host of sizes
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Get Creative with Surfaces

A perennial favourite, timber is tactile and inviting, both on walls and floors. However, as traditional timber is prone to twisting and warping, it’s advisable to consider engineered floorboards that can withstand moisture. Alternatively, inject casual simplicity by painting floors, or panelling, using quality oil-based timber or floor paint by Farrow & Ball or Little Greene.

Louisa Morgan of Mandarin Stone also advocates ‘antique finished sealed stone, classic veined marbles and patterned tiles’, for visual warmth and suggests, ‘mixing and matching formats for that eclectic feel.’ Traditional designs are currently experiencing a resurgence in the bathroom, so get inspired to add personality to surfaces with hand-decorated tiles.

Also look at Victorian or Edwardian inspired chequerboard and encaustic designs – a flooring favourite in the vintage bathroom. Consider wallpapers to add a pattern, but ensure it is hung correctly and that the room is well ventilated, and protect it with glass splashbacks, tiling or panelling.

Topps Tiles' ceramic 'Diamante' (£38.33 per sq m)
Topps Tiles’ ceramic ‘Diamante’ (£38.33 per sq m)
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Edited for online by: Katie Vause