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How to revive a washed-out bathroom

I can’t afford and don’t want the hassle of a new bathroom. How can I update my existing room?

It is certainly possible to create the impression of a completely new bathroom without huge expense and hassle. In fact, we recently faced this conundrum at home in London. We longed to give our bathroom a new lease of life, but at the same time couldn’t face the trauma of digging up our (slate) floor and replacing wall tiles, and we didn’t want the expense of a total renovation.

Keeping our tongue and groove panelling, we painted it, and replaced the wallpaper above it. These two changes were the boldest ones, and gave the bathroom an entirely new character.

We also kept the existing green tiles in our shower, but had a new blind made for the adjacent window — a job we’d put off for years. Our old glass globe pendant was replaced with a lantern, and we painted the white ceiling a very pale pink.

Switches like this I recommend to you because they are easy to manage, compared with, say, ripping out a floor. Yes, we did toy with the idea of changing the slate floor, which was put in about seven years ago; I would now prefer tiles. But in the end we decided to have it professionally cleaned and renewed.

We did allow ourselves a new sink, but we kept our bath, which is as old as the slate floor. It’s in pretty good condition, but we may have it re-enamelled to give it a little lift. (Painting the outside of a rolltop bath is another good tip: an easy way to perk up an old tub.)

The whole job became about balance: leaving this, switching that, and in the end we have a new room, totally different in feeling, that didn’t cause us too much difficulty along the way.

Schumacher’s Exotic Butterfly fabric, ideal for a blind or curtains

Schumacher’s Exotic Butterfly fabric, ideal for a blind or curtains

Introducing a new fabric into an existing bathroom can make a huge difference. Think like us and consider a new blind or curtains, or how about a curtain under a sink? A blind in a colourful fabric with a big pattern makes a statement — I am imagining something cheerful and vivid along the lines of Schumacher’s Exotic Butterfly, a faithful reproduction of a design by the mid-century Austrian-born designer Josef Frank.

Consider lighting: with the help of an electrician, old fittings are easy to replace. If you have the ceiling height for a pendant, consider something special to fill the space, although you will need to check safety guidelines for lights that are not bathroom rated, because they need to be a certain distance from sinks, showers and baths.

A 19th-century Swedish cabinet for sale via Debenham Antiques

A 19th-century Swedish cabinet for sale via Debenham Antiques

If you have space, think about bringing in a new piece of furniture. A comfortable armchair, perhaps, or wall cabinet. I noticed recently a charming 19th-century painted cabinet for sale via Debenham Antiques: Swedish and pale blue, with a large cornice and baroque panelling. What’s not to love?

Last, give good thought to accessories: these are trifles but, as always, the devil is in the detail. I must admit that I adore the accumulating accessories stage in decorating: once all the heavy lifting is done and I’m close to the finish line, all that’s left to do is to find useful bits and bobs to delight the eye.

Soap dispenser by Waterworks

Soap dispenser by Waterworks

I rather like Waterworks’ line of bathroom accessories, particularly its pewter Canter range, the design of which was inspired by vintage mint julep cups, no less. I like, too, its ceramic Dorset selection; an elegant take on French creamware.

To caddy or not to caddy? I always wanted one, you know, for a nice big sponge and a book. And now I have one! I bought a very elegant old brass number from Chiswick’s The Old Cinema. I was delighted when I found it, because all the new ones I seem to come across are made from wood and to my eyes look much too blocky and modern.

Towels from Once Milano

Towels from Once Milano

Don’t forget good towels. I made an investment recently with Once Milano: I love its hand towels, which are made from good-quality linen, are the perfect size and come in a selection of smart colours including chocolate brown, mustard and olive green. They are finished with a short fringed edge — a detail that feels elegant but not cute.

I believe one day I might graduate to super chic bespoke embroidered hand towels. After all, we all need something to aim for . . . 

If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at lukeedward.hall@ft.com. Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall

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