Design WiseShelagh Duncan

Bathrooms – Fabulous and Functional

contemporary bathroom with tubMaking Your Dream Bathroom a Reality, and How it All Began.

Design Wise logoHaven’t we all imagined soaking in a bubble-filled tub, champagne glass in hand and looking out to a glorious view or to birds flying overhead?

Every home has a bathroom, usually two or more in reality. Since the inception of indoor plumbing, bathrooms in homes have transitioned from a luxury, to a necessity and back to luxury in the custom homes we see everywhere.

Starting in ancient cultures, bathing rituals were mainly for the wealthy and influential, and for those seeking purification. Public bath-houses came along and these were very social places. In the 1800’s personal bathtubs of cast iron started showing up in homes, and portable ones made from wood or tin at last became accessible for the masses – the great unwashed! The attitude was that people could now have a bath once a week – whether they needed one or not!

person drawing plansToday we consider the bathroom as our personal sanctuary, and of course we want it to reflect that. It is so much more than a place to get clean – it has become the place where you can really make a decorating statement. There are simple Japanese style bathrooms, elegant traditional bathrooms, rustic bathrooms, and almost any style you can imagine.

If you are designing your own bathroom, plan first for the layout as you will need to consider what you want to include in there. Smaller bathrooms are always more of a challenge, but with planning and some careful thought, you can usually include everything you want.

Royal Palm Interiors

large bath and shower combinationShowers and Tubs

There will be a ton of other decisions to be made but this is where you start, with the largest items. Showers can be open to the outdoors, glass enclosed, in an alcove, walk-in or curved – so many choices. Then you will also have to decide if you really want a tub. Consider how often you will use a tub here in CR, and if that space could be better used for a larger shower for example. I know a number people who have removed their tubs, or sorely regret deciding on those once-popular corner tubs that they never use! Another issue I see all the time is the tub placed in front of a large window. That’s fabulous when you have only jungle and no neighbours – but that can all change once the lot next door sells or a neighbour decides his view is being spoiled by the growing trees and “opens things up” – to your house! Situate the master bathroom carefully to consider any future development or add a greenery ‘wall’, to create your own private oasis.

There are not too many window coverings that will stand up well to the humidity of a tropical bathroom, however, there is one great solution available that is both beautiful and practical. It is a special window film that permits light to enter, but also provides privacy and a varying amount of the view outside. There are also beautiful custom, stained art-glass windows available too if you need something unique with privacy and colour.

Hand Basins

His ‘n Hers basins are a great idea if you have the space. A minimum counter length of 6 feet is generally required for this. Any smaller and you will be bumping elbows. They can be top-mount or self rimming basin, under-mount, vessel (above-counter sinks), as well as pedestal, wall mount and console. A wide variety of styles are available as we now have many good suppliers in Costa Rica. If you want to use a vessel sink, be sure to lower the height of the countertop and set the faucet height correctly too.

wall storageStorage

Some thought needs to be put into what you will keep in the bathroom and where it will all go. The same rules apply as in the kitchen; if you use it a lot, keep it handy. Open shelves or ventilated cupboard doors will help with air flow under sinks, and there are clever storage ideas out there to maximize small spaces. Make use of the wall space too, and think about adding a storage tower between the double sinks in the master suite.


They have come a long way! Over 2,800 years ago, the fabled King Minos of Crete owned the world’s first flushing toilet complete with a wooden seat. Lost for centuries in the rubble of the palace ruins, the invention didn’t materialize again until 1594. At that time,, Sir John Harington built a “prive in perfection” for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth, to use in Richmond Palace. The royalty it seemed, preferred their chamber pot arrangement where the ‘facilities’ were brought to them, so it was never widely accepted.

At the peak of the Industrial Revolution over 200 years later, communal privies were scattered throughout the ever-growing urban areas, and dense overpopulation and unsanitary conditions resulted in deadly waves of cholera and typhoid outbreaks in the major cities. A law was passed in London in 1848 to help stop the pollution of rivers and streets from these privies, and decreed that every new home must have its own ash-pit privy, or a water privy that would be connected to the newly built sewer systems. However homes of the day had nowhere to put this new contraption, so they plumbed them into anywhere there was some space – in a small closet or under the stairs. Hence the term ‘Water Closet’.

simple bathroom with an ocean viewSir John Harington’s work was long forgotten when in 1861 Thomas Crapper was hired by Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) to construct the bathrooms in several of the royal palaces. He had a showroom displaying all the latest offerings and their toilets were plumbed in so they could demonstrate the power of the flush. This is probably where the belief that he was the inventor of the flush toilet began.

In our bathrooms today, when a bathroom includes the toilet, typically we do not want to open the bathroom door and that be the first thing we see! Think about the practical and visual placement in the room, and remember to always keep the seat lid closed – both for the aesthetics and for Feng Shui. We are told we should not allow our good energy (Chi) to be lost and flushed away down the toilet! Try closing the lid every time, you might find out that it just does make a difference…


Try to include all three types of lighting in a bathroom. Ambient or general lighting, Task lighting and Accent lights, to throw light on an interesting feature or detail. Many people make the mistake of thinking one light source will be fine. Consider this subject carefully. It is not easy to add extra lighting to a finished house.

tropical oasis bathroomMood

In your bathroom you can aim for drama using lots of black or bold colours, calm monotones in a Zen bathroom, or go eco-friendly using natural materials. Once you have decided on the mood, then you have to decide on the details.

Tile will be your main element, and it is possible to create very interesting tile designs, both on the floor and on the walls. If you decide to use some striking imported tiles, the possibilities are endless. You can add a textured tile feature, a contrasting colour or just play with different tile layouts and grout options.

Your plumbing fixtures, towel rails etc. should all have the same finish and styling, and tie in with your overall vision. There are many inspiration-images around that showcase designer bathrooms, so keep your eyes open for the look you like.

The bathroom is one of the few places in your home where you can set your imagination free. If you are building or renovating your dream home, go ahead and make that dream bathroom a reality. Make it fabulous and you will feel fabulous when you are in there.

So, surround yourself with champagne and bubbles, and start dreaming.

Until next time…

Royal Palm Interiors – Uvita  – 2743-8323
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