When we first moved into our house, we knew that we would have to do something about the bathroom. It was probably last updated in the 1990s, judging by the peach painted walls overlaid with a sponged stencil. Remember when rag rolling and sponge stencils were really popular? I am definitely old enough to recall that – and the peculiar passion for peach.
The estate agent suggested that we might divide the room into two, and make a small ensuite from our bedroom, with a family bathroom next to it. But we decided that as the bathroom is right next door to our bedroom, and only two of us live in the house most of the time, there was little point in this. We would prefer to have one lovely, large bathroom instead.
The big question was – who would we ask to do the building and installation work for us? Last year, we had a complete disaster with a builder. We took someone on, who knocked through our two reception rooms for us. He did an okay job, and we trusted him, so we paid him 50 per cent of the fee to install a wooden bay window and a new front door. To cut a very long story short, he took £2,500 from us, but never did the work. He did send a carpenter to put in a front door (badly), four months after we paid him, but the window was never done. We took him to a small claims court, and our case progressed to the point where bailiffs were sent to his property. Because he had moved out of his house, and left no forwarding address, we have recently learnt that the money cannot be reclaimed. It was devastating. Not just the sum of money, but the betrayal of trust, and the slow realisation that someone we thought was a good guy was in fact a conman! We needed to put this episode behind us and choose wisely for our bathroom project. I researched the subject using Which?, and I found the top 5 recommended installers in our region. No. 1 was Bathstore http://www.bathstore.com. A large chain, and with their own installers. We knew we’d probably be paying more for this, but having been burned so badly in the past, we decided it was going to be worth the extra outlay.
We made an appointment at Bathstore, Peterborough just after Christmas. I’d been saving images from Pinterest and ripping pages out of magazines for months, so we knew the look we were going for. Modern with a vintage twist, not too stark. I liked the industrial look, black taps and copper, but we thought this might date fast. Open showers/wet rooms are lovely but we both prefer an enclosed space. A designer, Pete, sat down with us and put together a 3d/CAD design which was very helpful as it really helped us to see how the space could look. We came away after a two hour session feeling excited. As we suspected, the inhouse installation is not cheap, compared to sourcing the fittings ourselves and finding an independent builder. But, it scores highly in online reviews, and we decided we would go for it. We spent a week thinking about our proposed design, and Pete sent us a fully costed price list. We went back into the store a week later and pared back the spend, substituting some items for cheaper ones to keep within our budget (no one needs a £400 loo!). We signed the forms and it was all systems go. Just a couple of days later, we received a visit from the builder, Patrick, whose men would be doing the job. He did a thorough survey of the bathroom, and told us that there would be an extra charge for the electrical work, and for laying a new base for the tiled floor. The budget was busted again, so we went back to Bathstore and found a slightly cheaper shower cubicle. This wasn’t a problem.
Now came the hiccup that we had with Bathstore. We had ordered some beautiful Moroccan style terracotta tiles from V&A Designs which were displayed in the showroom. There were three patterns, which would create a patchwork effect. The deal with Bathstore is that you pay 100 per cent of the money upfront, before anything is delivered, or any work takes place. Our bathroom arrived, filling up our small kitchen, and we were then told that one of our three patterned tiles was no longer available. The installation was delayed by two weeks (during which time our bathroom was sitting in our kitchen), while Pete frantically tried to source an alternative. In the end, we had to compromise, and go for a complete mix of patterned tiles, rather than just three patterns. I did feel that we had been sold something which did not exist and I wasn’t sure why this hadn’t been identified when we paid upfront. I’m still not sure. We didn’t receive any compensation or goodwill payment for the inconvenience of having a bathroom in the kitchen for a month, and this is the only black mark against Bathstore.
I was very nervous as the tiles were being laid, as I thought we may have agreed to something that just would not look right. But thanks to Marius, the brilliant tiler, who did not flinch or roll his eyes when he walked into the kitchen one day and found me laying out an intricate pattern that I said I wanted transferring exactly to the bathroom upstairs, it was okay in the end. Marius also suggested that instead of having wooden skirting boards, that we had tiles instead. This works very well, and it is super easy to clean.
There were two workmen, who came every day at 8am on the dot. They worked through solidly until 5pm, with very few breaks. They brought their own kettle and strong black coffee so I never even made them a brew! They were polite, incredibly tidy, and I never felt awkward around them (not always the case with builders that we’ve had). I was in the house on my own, as Perry was away for most of the installation, and at no point did I feel patronised. Again, that isn’t always the situation with builders we have used in the past. Patrick, the boss, popped in every couple of days to check on progress and make suggestions. He came up with the idea of grey grouting (rather than white), which was genius. More importantly, he made an amendment to the bathroom design, which meant that our shower was tucked further into an alcove in the room, giving us more space between the bath and the cubicle. We felt that he did think about the design very carefully, and obviously had loads of experience.
The tiled shower ledge…
I wanted to have a tiled shower ledge, to avoid having a shower hanger, and I was really pleased with this detail.
The installation took two weeks, which was a short time for the amount of work involved. Everything in the room was moved round, so new pipe work had to be laid, and we were impressed that the men achieved this in a fortnight.
It was so exciting as the bathroom took shape.
Bathstore rang me regularly to see how the installation was going. This was helpful and reassuring.
Finally, at 5.30 on the second Friday, the bathroom was finished!
It was nice that the installers seemed really proud and pleased with what they had done. They said that they loved the tile patchwork effect and they took photos on their own phones.
A few days later, the boss came to see it, and made sure we were happy. There was a tiny leak in the corner of the shower, where the seal had not been applied, and the next day, the men came back to fix it. Now, it is absolutely fine and we have had no further problems. To save money, we decorated the walls ourselves. In retrospect, I would rather have saved up and had this added to the project, as the bathroom looked so beautiful, we felt our decorating skills were not quite equal to the rest of the room.
I enjoyed adding some accessories: a vintage wooden stool, to contrast with the sleek bath. This is something I’ve had for years. I just knew I’d find the perfect place for it one day. New towels from Matalan. A bath mat from John Lewis. A basket from Trouva (http://www.trouva.com. And my favourite Neal’s Yard bath oils and lotions http://www.nealsyardremedies.com. Now, I’m just searching for a slim white cabinet to hang over the loo, where we can stash cleaning things. Maybe that will be an Ikea solution. Plain white cube shelves from B&Q http://www.diy.com
The LED mirror is our only hi-tech touch, and it is brilliant. The perimeter lights up with one touch, and gives perfect (and slightly scary) clarity.
A vintage wall cabinet came with us from our last house and fitted in perfectly.
What we’ve learned:
- For such a large project, it is worth paying a little more for an in-house installation service. Check online reviews carefully first.
- If you have to pay upfront, which is not ideal in my view, just make sure at the point of payment that everything on the list is definitely in stock. Ask the store to check while you’re there so you can see for yourself.
- I would never pay a sole trader upfront for anything ever again. If you are conned, there is little that you can do about it. Court action costs more money and doesn’t always succeed. You can report the trader to Trading Standards but they are very neutral/non committal and I am not sure if they are investigating our case or not. I did leave a negative Google review for our cowboy builder. I also contacted websites where he was advertising for staff and informed them about his practices. He sent me a threatening email after I did this, but he was barred from recruiting with them.