Designing a downstairs loo: 8 mistakes to avoid

two designs in pink and brass for a downstairs loo

Nine times out of ten, your downstairs cloakroom is a shoebox of a space. A closet. A glorified cupboard. But the best things come in small packages. So here are eight mistakes to avoid when redesigning your downstairs loo.

Designing a downstairs loo can be full of pitfalls. Luckily, Ca’ Pietra’s Head of Creative, Grazzie Wilson, has come up with a hit list of eight mistakes to avoid.

Designing a downstairs loo: Don’t treat it as a cloakroom 

In homes where space is limited, keeping the hallway clear of coats really can open up the space. But what often happens is the coat rack and friends migrate to the downstairs loo. And this is a room that’s already on the cramped side. Even with amazing decor, no downstairs loo is going to thrive when stuffed with coats, scarves and brollies. Avoid this if you can. But if there’s no other option? Then try to box it in with cupboard doors painted in the same colour as your walls. Or in a colour that matches your wall tiles. That way, everything is contained, kept out of sight, out of mind, and no longer a messy distraction. 

a downstairs loo with a black vanity unit, black tap and blue floral tiles
Designing a downstairs loo: Wild Botanicals Porcelain Blue tiles by Clarissa Hulse, £3.90 each, Ca’ Pietra. Vanity unit, taps and mirror from Roper Rhodes.

Don’t paint it white to make it seem larger

It’s a tale as old as time, and yet still one of the most seen decorating faux-pas. A lot of downstairs loos either don’t have a window or they do and it’s a tiny one. Naturally, that means a room with limited natural light. So however bright and brilliant your white paint, it’s never going to do the job of sunshine pouring in. There are ways to lighten it but this is where tiles can be your friend. Choose glossy glazes that will bounce the light around the room. (Try California in Pearl or our Lyme Metro Tiles in Antique White.) Try large format tiles that can make a space feel larger with their fewer grout lines. (Hello, Maldives in White and Magnifique Statuario.) Or the same tile from floor to wall that will also make the room feel lighter and larger. (Rotterdam Calacatta being a great example.) 

geometrical wall tiles behind a round mirror, hexagonal pink basin and vase with yellow flowers
Designing a downstairs loo: Cuba Wall Ceramic Gacela 3D Patterned Tiles, £1.34 each, Ca’ Pietra.

Designing a downstairs loo: Don’t paint it dark but not light it to max the mood 

Ready to embrace your loo’s lack of light with darker tones and a moody atmosphere? Then be sure that your lighting is speaking the same language. Dramatic tiles such as Wightwick in Emerald or Marble Luxe Laurant and colours like bestselling Delphine’s Ink are fabulously atmospheric. But they lose their impact when the room is lit with dozens of spotlights. Think downlighters, a pendant light and dimmer switches. 

a downstairs loo with a light grey vanity unit, a wicker basket holding towels and a cheese plant in a white pot
Milano Aston Light Grey 400mm Traditional Cloakroom Vanity Unit with Basin and Choice of Handle Finish, £189.99, Big Bathroom Shop.

Don’t forget about the ceiling

In the world of interiors, we always talk about the ceiling as the fifth wall. It’s as worthy of paint, pattern and attraction as your other vertical surfaces. Tiling it is an option just as wallpapering it is if you want to create some drama. But otherwise, why not think about painting it in a colour that complements your floor and wall tiles? Think Bamboo Lustre in Cappuccino halfway up your walls with a warm white grout. Then Carter’s Rose on the remainder of your walls with your ceiling painted in Maple’s Cloth.

a round brass basin with brass crosshead wall mounted taps, an aspidistra plant in a dark grey pot and an octagonal wall mirror in front of white rectangular wall tiles
Designing a downstairs loo: Delicate Wall Ceramic Mini Metro Tiles, £0.58 each, Ca’ Pietra.

Designing a downstairs loo: Don’t restrict wall tiles to the sink splashback

The classic downstairs loo has a minuscule cloakroom sink and small patch of tiles behind to stop splash marks. But don’t limit your bathroom wall tiles to a postage stamp when the sky’s the limit. (Or the ceiling in the case of our homes.) If your budget doesn’t allow for endless wall tiling, focus your tiles on one wall alone to make a feature. There are certain tiles that are designed to behave like wallpaper that work especially well in this scenario. For example, the Glendurgan range from our National Trust collection. 

a downstairs loo in neutral colours featuring a dark wood vanity unit and beige tiles with a wall painted olive green
Minnie 400mm Floorstanding Cloakroom Vanity Unit and Basin, £164.99, Drench.

Don’t forget about underfloor heating

Underfloor heating is a little luxury worth investing in, giving you a cosy, comforting, luxurious space. In a downstairs loo, it’s always less expected because, but the cosiness it creates is priceless. Be sure to check you’re choosing a compatible floor tile such as porcelain or ceramic. These are fabulous conductors of warmth for that toasty toes feeling. 

a cloakroom painted in forest green with white sanitary where and brass fixings
Burlington Riviera Cloakroom Basin, £83.30, Sanctuary Bathrooms.

Designing a downstairs loo: Don’t order too few tiles

One of the most frustrating things when decorating a room is to run out of paint or tiles. But it’s a common pitfall when designing a downstairs loo. Tiling is a fiddly job even for experts. So we always advise you to order an extra 10% to cover you for waste and breakages. If you’re going for a herringbone layout, we suggest 15% because all those cuts and angles typically means more wastage. Fail to prepare then prepare to fail as they say! 

a downstairs loo featuring a pink pedestal basin, hexagonal floor tiles, marble wall tiles and a snake plant in a brass pot on a tall black side table
Florentine Porcelain Tiles, from £39.26 per sq m, Ca’ Pietra.

Don’t follow bold advice when it’s not really you

Another age-old line you’ll read in interiors magazines and decorating blogs is ‘go wild when designing a downstairs loo’. Because it’s a lesser used room, we’re told to unleash our inner creative, go crazy with colour and extreme patterns. All of this is true, but don’t fall into the trap of being pushed into something that you’re not. It’s your home and you have to live with it. Still all about greys, grounded by neutrals, and want to limit pattern to a floral hand towel? Then stay in your happy place.

a cloakroom featuring pastel pink rectangular wall tiles behind a matt black basin with a brass tap
Popolo Cloakroom Basin in Matt Black, £549, Crosswater.

So, did you enjoy this feature on designing a downstairs loo? Then you’ll love this piece on cloakrooms too.

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