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It is often said that ‘they don’t make things like they used to anymore’ and to a certain extent, this may be true. It is also true that there are many beautifully designed and manufactured modern bathroom furniture options to choose from. However, many of us still crave the comfort, craftsmanship and wonderful sense of nostalgia you get from a more traditional bathing experience. No, we’re not talking about a small tin bath in front of the coal fire - far from it! Like most bathroom lovers we crave a comfortable space to relax and unwind away from the wider world and all its daily challenges. We are lucky enough to live in a time where we can achieve the traditional bathroom look without the compromise of antiquated Victorian plumbing. A beautiful period bathroom can have the sumptuous splendour (and water pressure) of a luxury spa.
You don’t need to be a period purist to have a beautiful traditional bathroom. Life is too short to worry about combining a Victorian-era roll-top bath with Georgian style wood panelling, or Edwardian taps. Unless you are recreating a historically accurate bathroom set for the next series of Downton Abbey, it’s OK to mix periods and styles to get the look you want.
Try to choose furniture that suits the space as well as the look you are trying to create. Even the most beautiful roll-top bath looks underwhelming when shoe-horned into the corner of a tiny bathroom or has an overhanging sink invading its air space. With careful planning and product selection it is possible to apply the ornate period detail of the Baroque style to a smaller space – what you lose in grandeur you gain in intimacy.
There are some great ways to maximise a smaller space (see our blog on this subject). Victoria & Albert design stunning freestanding baths for more compact spaces. Try mounting one (or two) of our Bathroom Aysgill sinks onto a period console table to create a vanity unit. These elegant handcrafted sinks are reminiscent of a traditional Victorian washbowl. Placing them on a table, rather than a cupboard leaves more visible floor space exposed and makes the room feel larger. (And we bought this table on eBay for £100!) Try adding unlacquered brass taps like these from Perrin & Rowe that will get better with age, as it develops its own unique patina. A traditional toilet basin with high-level cistern would complete the look.
Traditionally many period interiors use dark colours to create a warmer, more luxurious feel, but this isn’t a rule. Rich burgundies and dark blues were common, as was racing green and even dark grey. Again, if you want to break from traditional and freshen up the look, then choose lighter tones or off-whites to make it light and airy. The main house bedrooms at Babington House Hotel in Somerset are a great example of how to use darker colours. Try Farrow & Ball’s exquisitely-named period paint colours for a really authentic look regardless of the era.
Adding painted wood panelling to walls, then painting the doors and frames in the same bold colours, is very Victorian, but feels very ‘of-the-moment’ too. It neutralises the architectural details slightly for a simpler look and allows the crisp white fireclay or porcelain furniture to really pop against the darker backdrop of the walls.
If your main colour scheme is light, then why not be heavy-handed with pattern? We’d recommend being more reserved if using a strong dark colour on your walls, however. Bold traditional floral or animal patterns are currently popular. Opt for hand-painted wallpapers with gilded detailing for the ultimate in luxury. If you go for a bold wallpaper like these amazing examples by House of Hackney or Degournay your bath-time will better for it.
Be careful here because you can overload on textures and patterns if every surface is too busy. Chequered tile floors adorn many a stately home floor, spanning various historical periods. Floral motifs were also common. If you have dark walls or heavily patterned or dark coloured walls, go for a simple dark wood floor, or a tile with a natural dark-wood effect (which can be almost indistinguishable from the real thing). If your walls are light or minimally patterned, why not make the floor a feature with a chessboard effect or hand-painted floral tiles?
A traditional bathroom is robust, practical and functional. Designed to do what a bathroom should do for a long time. It is built to last, and by choosing quality over convenience and function over form, you are turning back to the traditional values of bathrooms of the past.
Seek out well-constructed products made with traditional techniques for genuine authenticity. Where possible, choose your cabinetry, sinks and brassware from artisanal manufacturers with a history of quality and craftsmanship. And if that sounds a bit like we’re selling ourselves (and of course we are!) then it’s also worth noting that the oldest Shaws sink we know of that is still in daily use dates from 1903. We know this because then, as now, the name of the craftsman who made the sink and the date was stamped underneath.
Whatever you decide to do with your bathroom, we hope that you achieve the period drama you are trying to create.
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