The contemporary bathroom look – and how to get it

Our guide to contemporary design and where you need to go to make your bathroom stand out.

So – the time has finally come to get rid of that horrible old avocado suite and floral shower curtain. Instead you’re planning a gleaming modern bathroom masterpiece.

But there’s a fine line to be trodden here: get it right and you will have created an exciting contemporary room that will enhance your home and give you enjoyment for years. Get it wrong and you’ll be lumbered with something only one step away from the stark functionality of an upmarket motorway services.

So what are the secrets to successful contemporary bathroom design?

According to Paola Antonelli of New York’s Museum of Modern Art: “Contemporary design is experimental in its use of materials and is often inspired by genuine necessity. Still, it sustains elements of surprise and deep intellectual beauty, because it relies more on invention than on the elaboration of styles.”

What that means in practice is that items are designed to get the job done simply and effectively, without fancy bells, whistles or twiddly bits. Dullness is avoided by their originality – perhaps they offer a clever new way to do an old job, or maybe they are made from an unusual material.

In a bathroom, that might mean a sink that consists of a coloured glass bowl instead of the usual ceramic construction, or a shower enclosure left semi-frameless to create a bright and airy space.

Contemporary colour

Think of contemporary design in some rooms, particularly active parts of the house like living rooms and children’s play rooms, and you immediately think of bold splashes of bright colour. In contrast, many people’s idea of contemporary bathroom decoration fails to extend beyond white, slate grey and chrome.

But there is actually no reason why a smart, modern bathroom shouldn’t also use colour or especially natural materials such as wood, stone or textiles – this has been a key recent trend in contemporary bathroom design.

Blue often works well in a bathroom – modern or traditional – and it can work particularly well fading towards certain shades of grey or with some types of metalwork.

To prevent the room becoming too stark, mix in some warm pale browns or some well-designed wooden bathroom furniture or flooring. A good rule of thumb is to make the breakdown between the three tones – white/metallic, blue and brown – 60 per cent to 30 per cent to 10 per cent.

Of course, there’s another influence at work – budget. Contemporary design looks expensive, and its occasional use of unusual materials means that sometimes it can be. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many suppliers in the UK offering affordable pieces that can be assembled into a striking and stylish whole.

Raising a smile

Another good way to keep your contemporary bathroom project on the rails, and to prevent it becoming too clinical, is to keep your eyes peeled for quirky or humorous ideas that will bring a light touch to the entire project.

Remember that bit earlier about the element of surprise, and about finding new ways to do familiar things? This is a good way to achieve just that.

For example, you might look around for details such as taps, door or cupboard handles and accessories that fulfil their function in surprising or amusing ways. An excellent example of this is a bathroom cabinet by Marcus Beck and Simon Macro of Freshwest Design that has pictures of its contents stencilled in outline on the exterior. Read more on our blog here.

You can even add interest by finding a nice piece of modern art to put on the wall – as long as whatever you choose is robust enough to stand up to the heat and warmth of the bathroom atmosphere.

Kill the clutter

A key feature of obtaining the contemporary look is a willingness to shift the clutter right out of your bathroom. This will have lots of benefits – not least in ease of keeping the room clean – but it’s not easy to do.

We recommend starting with an almighty sort-out, throwing away everything that’s more than a year old, or that is simply no longer relevant – for instance, if your children are now teens, some of the bathroom toys may well be dispensable.

Next, sort the remainder into two piles. One should contain stuff you use daily such as toothbrushes, shower gel and deodorant. The other should contain stuff you use weekly. Anything not in either pile (excluding medicines or first aid supplies) should probably go, at least into another room.

Once you’ve done that, and you know how much stuff is left it’s time to find storage solutions that go with the contemporary look. Hunt for stylish wooden or mirror-fronted cupboards, bright single-colour plastic baskets, tubs or tidies, or mimimal chrome accessories. Treat this bit as a reward for doing the decluttering.

Once your bathroom supplies are out of sight using storage solutions that are bathroom highlights in their own right, you’ll be well down the road to achieving the contemporary look.

Some more ideas: