I was lucky enough to win a room set design opportunity at Grand Designs Live, the UK’s largest self-build and home improvement event, held last week at the ExCel in London. The brief was to design a downstairs toilet set (The Lavatory Project – “Design by You”, so I went all-out Bright Designs…) 

Now I realise that designing toilets doesn’t sound terribly glamorous, but I used the opportunity to talk to event visitors about my broader design ethos: MAXIMAL minimalism. It is this idea that I followed when designing the set, and discussed at length with more than 100 people over the course of nine days (no kidding). While I will introduce MAXIMAL minimalism properly in another blog post, this one will give an initial flavour of what it is.

Small spaces, big ideas

Ultimately, I think all of the designers of the lavatory sets at the event were trying to make the same point (even if we all went in wildly different directions with the actual design): you can do a lot with a small space. A number of visitors I spoke to said they are timid when it comes to using colour, pattern, and certainly the two together, in large spaces within their home. My suggestion is far from rocket science – try things out in a small space first! The very downstairs loo is a good place to start – often whitewashed, left for last or simply ignored. Why not try something bold instead, put your stamp on it and show your personality. See how you go; you may just discover a whole new dimension to decorating. It’s a tiny space, no one will judge you.

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The Lavatory Project at Grand Designs Live 2018, by Bright Designs

Embrace colour

The dominant colours in my scheme were turquoise blue and orange verging on red. These are complementary colours that will work together fantastically the vast majority of the time. If in doubt, consulting the colour wheel is always a good starting point. That’s not to say that other schemes don’t work, but it is certainly a useful tool to refer to if at all you have any doubts. The third colour in my scheme was yellow. Yellow is under-used in interiors in general, and bathrooms in particular. Just six yellow metro tiles, used vertically as a splashback, make a big impact. Working in unison with the splashback are more of the same tiles, used horizontally, as a skirting board. Seriously, which bathroom would you rather walk into on a gloomy winter morning: top-to-toe greige or one in a warm Mediterranean inspired scheme with yellow accents? 

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Dominant colours: turquoise blue and orange verging on red

Creative use of familiar products

Talking of metro tiles. These are possibly the cheapest tiles you can buy. More often than not, you will see them used in white, in a brick pattern, alongside white grout. That’s it. A cheap and cheerful look that’s made a bit of a comeback. By using mine vertically as a splashback and horizontally as a skirting board, I was trying to make a point: you can do interesting things with simple products. And yes, yellow and gloss, on turquoise and orange… it sounds like your head should be spinning, but trust me, it works! My favourite simple trick for sexing up metro tiles is using a contrast grout – they come in so many colours nowadays (as do matching silicone sealants) that you are certain to find something you like. 

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Yellow metro tile splashback, alongside some other details of the set (Photo credit: Om Dhumatkar)

Pattern scale

Mixing patterns can be risky business! Well, that’s what many people think, and that’s why very few even attempt it. The good news is, that just like with colours, there are some tricks here too that can be employed for better results. There were two distinct patterns in my toilet scheme: the 1930s suburbia pattern, melancholic and humorous at once, in a warm and uplifting orange colourway (on the wallpaper) and the cool blue and white geometric pattern on the tiles.

Why did the combination work? The patterns were of a different scale: small and large, respectively, and therefore did not compete with one another. This is my top tip for mixing patterns: whether there are two or more of them, the key is to vary their scale for maximum impact. I also made a point of taking one of the patterns all the way (the wallpaper covered the three walls of the set, in their entirety); while the pattern on the floor was framed with matching plain white tiles. In my opinion, contrast is key to a successful scheme, and delineating patterns is an easy way to achieve it.

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Large floor tile pattern meets small wallpaper pattern

Consider ergonomics

Not the sexiest of topics, but ever so important! A wall-hung vanity unit can be really useful, as it can be hung at a height that is suitable for your exact measurements (doh!) I am fairly short, a number of the show visitors who said that they liked the unit were particularly tall. Forget about the average, design for the exact user of the space. As for my three staggered mirrors – they could be interpreted as a naff attempt at decorating, but actually hanging them this way was a fully intentional decision, driven by practical considerations. All your guests will use your downstairs toilet, and all your guests will be of a different height. Really, the thought process is as simple as that. Another conscious decision was not to place the toilet in the middle of the set (1.2m in width), but on one side. Realistically, the vast majority of us would find it very difficult reaching for the toilet paper otherwise. (I’m sorry, perhaps I’m getting into TOO much detail now!)

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Wall-hung vanity unit and staggered mirrors

Less stuff, more impact

I have saved the best for last, as you do. If there is just one thing you take away from this post, I hope it is this. My MAXIMAL minimalism design ethos amounts to a very simple notion: everything that is in a space is there for a reason (the reason can be functional or aesthetic). My starting point is Scandi-inspired clean and simple lines and planes. Less stuff, clutter and ornament. (This is the minimalist part.) The 3D effect is largely achieved through 2D means: impactful colour, intriguing pattern and thoughtful detail (this is the MAXIMAL part).

Nothing trivial here; everything is thought-through and balanced. Be it the vanity with drawers to hide your toiletries in; a vertical radiator to keep the room nice and warm, while barely taking up any space; or an air-cleaning plant for the users’ health and wellbeing – practicality is always my first consideration when designing and decorating. Then comes the visual stuff: pattern, colour, unusual but practical accessories. More thinking, more impact, less stuff… knowing when to stop is key.

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One of the most satisfying things about being an Interior Designer is seeing your work, your creation, come to life. An opportunity to see people react to it in real time, and talk to them about it, is even more amazing. But by far the best is seeing a space that you created put a smile on people’s faces (which is what I got to experience at GDL). Now there’s an idea: creating spaces that put a smile on people’s faces. 

A big THANK YOU to all of the below for their support and/or coverage of the set: Grand Designs Live, Mini Moderns, Walls and Floors, Porcelain Superstore, Trouva, KLC School of Design, Daily Mail, Utopia KB, Good Homes Magazine, House Beautiful, HappilyTaniaChristchurch Creative, Shelan Communications, @odbole, @littleannies_eyes, @leonnaise, @helencooperdesigns …and anyone else who I might have forgotten!

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Last day: shattered but all smiles!