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Getting the basics of your bathroom right

Getting the basics of your bathroom right

Many people consider it a luxury to install a bathroom from scratch. More likely, they will make do with a previous owner's choices, adapting what is already there. But think carefully about this while assessing your home. Every other room in the house is the sum of the pieces you put into it, but the bathroom is dominated by its sanitary ware and the bathroom furniture design. If you don't like the style or colour, then no amount of careful choosing and editing of accessories will alter the look. So, a new bathroom may rise to the top of your real, or wish, list.

Think of it another way. The sofa is the major 'classic' investment in the sitting room. Plainly styled white sanitary ware is the equivalent in the bathroom. It will always be worth the investment, as it can be dressed with so many different looks.

If the existing suite is white, but old-fashioned, much can be done by effecting small changes. Taps may seem of insignificant size, but can make a radical impact on a room. Try replacing Victorian-style ones with sleek contemporary taps. They needn't be expensive designer ranges - the choice of modern, budget taps is ever-widening. The basin is also a tool for making a strong style statement. Swapping a traditional pedestal variety for a modern bowl set into a storage unit creates an entirely new look. A change in bath panel, from painted MDF to toughened sandblasted glass, is another option. Or the judicious inclusion of a reconditioned salvage piece (a butler's sink or quirky old-fashioned taps) can add a pretty, decorative twist to a plain bathroom.

The towel rail is a crucial basic. If the bathroom is being installed from scratch, choose a fitted, heated model. Some may consider this a luxury, but it's the best basic you can invest in. Match your towel rail to your lifestyle. In a family bathroom, a multi-rail is essential, while smaller quantities of towels look good on ring holders. A bamboo ladder gives a more eclectic look, and won't date.

A mirror and chair or stool are also essentials, even in a tiny bathroom to help show off the look of the bathroom furniture properly. Avoid frosted-glass or pattern-emblazoned mirrors or cork-topped stools, which will either date or simply lack character. Instead, choose a mix of simple pieces that can blend with any style of sanitary ware. Ultra-plain is fine - a round glass mirror or slatted-wood folding chair will last for ever - or seek out unusual pieces that will inject a little individuality.

When choosing storage it's tempting to be swept away by the sort of open glass shelves or coloured acrylic drawer-trolleys specially designed for bathrooms. Try, instead, to pick storage in natural, neutral-coloured materials and in a style that appeals to you. If you can imagine the piece still looking good in another room, you're on the right track. Woven seagrass baskets and lidded trunks, a freestanding, retro-style metal cabinet or a stainless-steel trolley are all possibilities. Alternatively, the traditional metal or glass-fronted medicine cabinet is the ultimate classic.

Don't forget small but important basics such as the toilet brush, toilet seat and toothbrush mug. How they look (and function) really does matter, as they are items you will use every day. Pick the simplest designs in good-quality natural materials, from a stainless-steel toilet brush to a soapstone soap dish. Manufacturers fall over themselves in an attempt to brighten these items with fussy detail or novelty colours. Resist! Tasteless accessories can ruin a pared-down bathroom.

Yet unless you want a particularly austere bathroom, a splash of well-edited colour and a dash of frivolity is essential. Once you have the neutral building blocks in place, concentrate on finding pretty or fashionable accessories that will bring the bathroom to life. Your toothbrush mug doesn't have to be a traditional glass-and-chrome affair - it could be a Turkish tea glass, a lime-green child's beaker or a quirky pottery cup. For storage jars, investigate not just the bathroom options, but also kitchen jars, from glass to stainless steel, ethnic baskets or junk-shop finds. The bath mat is another vehicle for introducing a splash of colour:

Look out for bright rubber or photo-print plastic designs. All these things are fun and fashionable yet easy to change in a year's time.

White towels are always the best buy, not only because they look fresh and will go with every tile or wall colour, but also because they won't fade, as many bright colours do after years of washing. In terms of practicality, if buying new, invest in a small hand towel and give it a few washes to test for absorbency and softness. Try to buy the best quality - good towels should last at least ten years. Look carefully at sizes. Although jumbo bath towels seem tempting, they can be too large to squeeze on to a towel rail. For interest, look out for variations on white such as ribbed or waffle textures or stone, charcoal and black colourways.