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  • Stephen Crafti

Making a Splash

The modern bathroom is awash with standout design details that promise to renew both body and mind. By Stephen Crafti.

The striking plaid-tiled vanity in Suite Five of boutique hotel Drift House in Port Fairy, Victoria, designed by Multiplicity. Photography by Martina Gemmola.

The bathroom was once considered an ancillary space — the area often left over from a bedroom. Whether it was an ensuite, a main bathroom or the ubiquitous family bathroom, the idea was simply to provide a clean and clinical facility with a no-fuss-and-bother attitude. But today, architects and interior designers appreciate the importance of these zones, transforming the experience of bathing, whether it involves showering or soaking in a tub.

And rather than settling for rudimentary materials and finishes, they’re treating bathrooms as pivotal to an overall design. Many spaces are now orientated to a view and include appropriate amounts of sunlight. 

Melbourne-based architecture firm Multiplicity takes great pride in its design and delivery of bathrooms. This attention to detail can be seen in the studio’s work on Drift House, a boutique hotel in the rural Victorian township of Port Fairy. Each of the six guest suites features a unique interior, with every ensuite, like each room, providing a point of difference.

Playful colour and details — including a statement 1950s bathtub — in a Geelong home designed by Multiplicity. Photography by Emma Cross.

One ensuite, located in part of what was once a Federation-style home, accommodates a portion of original hallway complete with decorative timber fretwork. The wall tiles in the space, which includes a shower and a vanity (with a freestanding bath forming part of the bedroom), are oversized plaid-patterned tiles evocative of Burberry’s signature print. And unlike conventional towel rails, which can detract from a space, one long, continuous version has been created, morphing into a soap holder (as part of the vanity) and a grab rail for the shower. “[The rail] is one detail, rather than breaking things up into three or four parts,” says the architect Tim O’Sullivan, who worked closely with the interior designer Sioux Clark on the project.

Closer to Melbourne, Multiplicity included a new bathroom in its renovation of a house in Geelong. Designed primarily for the owners’ children, the space features a 1950s tub, painted in a soft pale green, “floating” above the floor on exposed steel frames. “For this project, we wanted to combine a sense of history with a certain amount of playfulness for the children, making bathtime something to look forward to,” O’Sullivan says. The approach is as bespoke as the galvanised steel handrails that encircle the separate shower. 

While many architects like to create bathrooms in large spaces, for Multiplicity, some of its most memorable ones have been created in pint-sized nooks. “I always have fond memories of being in those sleeper trains where a door opens to literally a cupboard-sized bathroom and everything has been meticulously considered,” O’Sullivan says. 

A clean, green ensuite featuring floor-to-ceiling Artedomus tiles in a Melbourne house designed by Studio Doherty. Photography by Anson Smart.

Leading interior designer Mardi Doherty is known for her use of colour and sense of adventure. This distinctive style can be seen in a new house in Doncaster East, Melbourne, designed for the couple who operates Fibonacci, a company that imports terrazzo from Italy. The brief to Doherty and her team was to look beyond Fibonacci’s signature product and explore a range of materials. For the ensuite to the main bedroom, Doherty used soft green mosaic tiles sourced from Artedomus. These tiles appear on the floor and walls and also provide the finish for the elevated bath, thoughtfully positioned below a large pivoting porthole-style window. The window ventilates the ensuite while also providing a vista of the garden’s densely planted bamboo. “Normally we tend to design rectangular-shaped bathrooms, particularly when renovating period homes, but here we had the luxury of starting from scratch, hence the large square-shaped footprint,” says Doherty, who appreciated the flexibility this project offered.

A clean, green ensuite featuring floor-to-ceiling Artedomus tiles in a Melbourne house designed by Studio Doherty. Photography by Anson Smart.

To create a sense of transparency and increase the light in the separate shower, Doherty designed a Mondrian-style wall, located above the vanity, in a combination of clear and fluted glass panes. And there’s also a large skylight directly above the shower. “I feel this bathroom sums up our approach to all our bathrooms,” she says. “They’re designed to be restorative and invigorating yet still provide a sense of calm — whether it’s first thing in the morning or the last thing at night.” She sees this revitalising quality as being linked to a restrained use of materials — with the white ceiling also appearing green, although it simply reflects the pale green tiles. And while traditionally, a significant part of a renovation budget would be given over to a guest powder room, Doherty says that today “the focus is on the ensuite or the family bathroom, where more time is spent by the family rather than visitors”.


An appropriately calming bathroom interior by Zen Architects features a tub with prime garden views. Photography by Derek Swalwell.

Architect Luke Rhodes, director of Zen Architects in Melbourne, has also observed a shift in the way bathrooms are treated. “Previously, you would often see a bathroom in one of the less desirable parts of a house — out the back and often without any special aspect,” he says. But in a new house created by the firm in Eaglemont, Melbourne, the family bathroom is set on a north-east elevation, benefiting from full sunlight throughout the day. And rather than put the bathtub in a corner, the architects positioned it below an elongated picture window aligned to the verdant back garden. To create privacy, external timber battens act as a “veil”. Although the materials used are simple — timber joinery, a seamless stainless steel bench that includes the sink, and large porcelain tiles for the walls — there’s a transportive feel as soon as one enters the area. “It’s important to create connections to other parts of the house and certainly not see bathrooms as simply ancillary spaces or service zones rather than places to enjoy,” says Rhodes. 

An appropriately calming bathroom interior by Zen Architects features a tub with prime garden views. Photography by Derek Swalwell.

A similar approach was taken by Melbourne’s Edition Office in its award-winning renovation of a Federation-style home in St Kilda West. The ensuite to the main bedroom, on the first floor of a new contemporary wing, features a high semicircular rendered-walled terrace at one end and a fully tiled circular-walled shower at the other. Between the ensuite and the main bedroom is a series of enclaves that includes: spotted gum joinery in the dressing area; a marbled vanity carved into a nook; and a toilet discreetly set to one side. “From the shower you can see directly to the sky [via a 90-centimetre-wide skylight] or the giant limbs of a towering lemon-scented gum tree in the neighbours’ back garden,” says architect Kim Bridgland, director of Edition Office, who worked closely on the project with the firm’s co-director, architect Aaron Roberts. The dark charcoal glazed tiles that wrap around the shower, complete with a bronze shelf and robe hooks, provide an immersive ambience that elevates the experience of showering. Approximately two metres in diameter, the ensuite features the same burnished concrete floors as the bedroom. 

“The ensuite is integral to the bedroom,” explains Bridgland, “and is very much a part of the pleasure of waking up first thing in the morning and spending those precious moments just reflecting on what lies ahead.” 

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eleventh edition, Page 110 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “Making a Splash”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.  


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