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French farmhouse DIY on a budget: Quick bathroom makeover ideas

Writer Nick Inman explains how a daring new colour scheme brought seaside chic to the space

Wavy skirting and candy stripes add panache to a downstair loo Pic: Nick Inman

It’s a given that when you buy a done-up house you have to live with other people’s décor choices.

Some features the previous owners have chosen are easy to adapt to your taste but others are more permanent. 

A bathroom, for instance, is full of heavy porcelain items that do not easily lend themselves to a quick makeover. Whatever colour they were made they will stay, and either you live with them or you take the drastic step of ripping the whole thing out and starting again.

Demands of time and money meant that although I really wanted to transform our downstairs bathroom completely, I could not justify attacking it with a two-handled sledgehammer. I had to find a halfway solution, I realised.

‘Insipid’ yellow

The problem was the colour scheme. The bath, toilet, bidet and two sinks were all in an insipid shade of primrose yellow. Why anyone would want to make bathroom fittings in any other colour than white is beyond me, but these must have been on special offer.

The lower walls, meanwhile, were covered with grey tiles decorated with some utterly unremarkable and forgettable motif. They were not our taste at all and they did not go with the yellow.

Above the tiles, the upper walls were covered with a dark green velvet wallpaper (peeling in places) and the ceiling made of strips of varnished wood panelling. That makes four colours already.

Ostentatious

As this bathroom was never going to be monochrome, we decided to go the other way and make it more ostentatious still, embracing what we already had.

The yellow had to stay and be worked around. The green wallpaper I could not be bothered to strip and it was relatively harmless. The tilework between the two was the real problem and we decided to give it a coat of shocking pink paint – the kind made especially for tiles in humid areas.

Halfway through painting, we realised we were going to go from an excess of yellow to a glut of pink. So we came up with the obvious notion of adding a new colour.

There was one wall that could be treated to a makeover. 

I bought a lot of tongue-and-groove boards, cut them to size and painted them alternately white and pink. Then I fixed them to three horizontal battens fixed firmly into the tiles on the wall.

On top, I stuck a piece of wood to give the impression of a dado rail.

Beach hut theme

By this stage, I realised I was working to the theme of a beach hut.

That gave me an idea for the skirting board. Why play it straight when the bathroom was already whimsical?

I got out the jigsaw and cut the top of the skirting board into a wavy shape. It was a bit wasteful in terms of the wood used, but it gave the bathroom a nice touch of the semi-exotic.

I was tempted to paint the skirting board wave-blue or green but that would have been going too far. The bathroom would become more literal than ironic. 

As they say in the theatre, the best dialogue doesn’t telephone its symbolism directly to the audience. It intimates. I am sure anyone who uses my bathroom will get the point.

There was just one question left: what colour should the toilet seat and cover be? 

Not yellow, for sure, and not pink – there was too much of that.

To make it dark green would draw attention to the wallpaper and to make it plain wood would somewhat detract from the seaside atmosphere.

Why not go for broke, I thought? Introduce a sixth non-pastel colour: bright, shiny cherry red.

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