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A Portuguese bathroom

A Portuguese bathroom

The clients for this bathroom were very particular. They wanted to convert a rather dingy and extremely small bathroom on the landing of a Georgian house into something that, well, represented something of a fantasy for them: a space that would remind them of their holidays to northern Portugal. Easy, you might think. But, in reality, it posed several problems.

The first was how to shoehorn in all the plumbing and sanitary ware, given that they wanted a bigger bath, much larger basin and a shower. A more aesthetic - and more demanding - problem, however, was how to get the decoration right using Portuguese tiles, without it looking like an effort tastelessly thrown together in the 1960s! To create a bathroom like this would cost less than �1000 if the fittings weren't to be replaced.

To give a truly Portuguese look to the room, it was pretty clear we had to use traditional Portuguese tiles with a strong baroque design, and these we found from a British importer. However, it wasn't all that easy. But to avoid that ghastly 1960's feel, it was also necessary to concentrate on the details. I chose seagrass flooring, and there were subtle things we could do like boxing in the toilet pan to suggest a Mediterranean or even Arab 'bench', or adding curves and strong baroque scrolls to the design.

The real secret to the visual success of this bathroom is, without doubt, the tiling. The problem was that the border tiles to go with the pattern just weren't in the country, and of course, being August, the Portuguese factory was closed. The less-than-obvious alternative was to paint our own, a good weekend's work, but worth it. I used low-firing ceramic paints that can be fired in an oven, and although this was my first attempt, the results are quite satisfactory. This was despite the fact that when the colours were diluted to watercolour thinness, the resultant glaze was less stable in parts after firing. However, a pleasantly random unevenness of colour was produced.