I recently went to see a friend's new attic conversion. It was absolutely beautiful. The words 'rustic minimalism' instantly sprung to mind. It was the combination of clean simple lines broken only by the presence of original wooden beams - sanded just enough to reveal the natural colour, but not too much that they lost all layers of paint and years of patina. The look was truly natural, no varnish.
In essence, this was what I wanted for my new bathroom - the cleanliness of modern life, sitting side by side with the beauty of the past, and the presence of nature. I wanted the garden to be so close that you could open a window on a summer's day and it would be there. Nature was no problem as this bathroom was going to have a window overlooking the garden, the only issue was that there was very little past left in that part of the house... or so I thought!
If I’ve learnt one thing during my time at No 19 as a DIY enthusiast, it’s to be flexible and open to change. You have an idea, you form a plan, you assess your ability, and then you’re ready to go! But for me, I’m starting to realise, that’s where my planning process only just begins.
This bathroom started off as something very different… it started off as an endless list of problems that didn’t have a clear or easy solution. There was a bathroom and separate toilet upstairs at No 19, and my father did it up almost as soon as we got the house, but sadly this has had to be stripped out.
Things started to go wrong. The water pressure went down in the bathroom with one tap having so much pressure that it kept coming off the wall and flooding the upstairs. Then the water supply to the upstairs started dripping and making the kitchen walls damp which led to more issues, so in the end I turned the water to the upstairs off and ignored the bathroom and learnt to live with the one downstairs.
This was a long walk I became used to but my guests, especially my mother, was not so keen. I’d already decided I was going to redo the upstairs bathroom, but it needed a new water supply and I was waiting for the right moment, when I had enough energy and money.
I knew it was going to be difficult, but not impossible and I was going to have to do the work myself. However, plumbing is something I don’t feel confident with, and plumbers aren’t cheap… so it kept getting put off. This is when my mother stepped in and said she was not going to be making trips to a downstairs bathroom any more, and insisted I call for a quote.
It’s at this point I realised that redoing one bathroom would only cost a little less than doing two… the mess would be the same, the work would be more, but it’s crazy having one when you can have and need two. This is when I started looking more carefully at the area in question.
Next to the bathroom and toilet there was a hallway which was really just a waste of space. I calculated that if I moved the toilet to the original bathroom, I could organise the plumbing in such a way that I could have two bathrooms, both with toilets, one on either side of the existing wall, converting the hallway into bathroom no 2 which would also have a window. A room with a view!
Within a month I’d confirmed this with my favorite plumbing due, and work began. My friend Dušan and his brothers knocked all the walls down while Dušan and I started building the new structure of the whole area. We also stripped out and original bathroom as this was going be done at a later stage.
The plan had now extended to include a medium sized bedroom, a kitchenette for tea and coffee, and renovation of the main corridor. It’s at this point we realised the large (now) upstairs living room needed it’s wall supported and this was also included in the project.
Once the initial plumbing has been done, it was time to get things looking less like a building site and more like a house. We’d had to dig up the concrete floors to access the vaulting to allow a new water supply to be brought up from the bathroom below, so there was a lot of mess.
Dušan has an amazing ability to focus and get a 3 day job done in a few hours and before I knew it, the floors were down and cement drying. I decided to put down original old wooden flooring that I'd got from a neighbour's house, and use tiles in the shower room.
We’d already removed the toilet and made that space into a shower room. I’d been playing with the idea of having a bath there, but in the end, a shower won. We’d also removed a covering wall and revealed an amazing stone archway built into the structure of the house.
I’d already carved an archway for another part of the house which I then didn’t use so had decided to use it here somewhere… and the shower room started taking shape.
I rough plastered all the walls to give it a rustic feel. Although the overall theme was white rustic minimal, I already knew minimalism was not something I do successfully, but I wanted the room to express itself through texture while remaining primarily white.
We cleared off the arch of old plaster to reveal the stone. This was then treated and painted white. I got some wonderful white /grey tiles for the shower walls, and some stone effect tiles for the floor. As I wanted the whole thing to have a feeling like it had always been there I used antique floorboards and an Art Nouveau cabinet kindly given to me by a neighbour.
It was starting to come together. I had the shower base already built out of cement, the wooden floors down, and the walls and ceilings painted. I put tongue & groove wood up to even out the ceilings between the original beams which also provides a level of insulation but left the shower ceiling until it was finished to get the right height for the tiles.
Now it was time for the tiling. I’m not going to say it was easy because it wasn’t. The floor had to be cut to fit the slope of the concrete base I’d made. The walls had so many small pieces to cut I thought I’d go crazy and wished I’d bought 1x1 meter tiles!
But listening to M R James ghost stores and other audio books, I got it done. I built a door, put a marble top onto the cabinet, finally got the plumbers back to help me fit the taps and shower (I'm not a plumber at all!!) and I was ready to go!!!
If I hadn’t hit problems, if I’d had a larger budget, if everything had gone to plan, if I hadn’t waited to call the plumbers back to help, I’d now have the bathroom I started out with in my mind.
But all these things happened and I had all these problems, and as a result I now have something far better than I ever imagined, and I’ve learnt that it’s essential to be flexible and with this, more often than not, comes a change for the better.
I still have another bathroom to do, but this can wait a while until I fix up the bedroom . I’m still looking for inspiration for this second bathroom . I have the tiles, blocks, and other materials, and the plumbing is ready , I just need to find the energy 💚