When Helen Jones and James Brannigan moved into their cottage on the Suffolk coast, they were delighted with the generously sized upstairs bathroom. ‘It’s actually one of the reasons we decided to buy it, as most of the other cottages we’d seen had downstairs bathrooms,’ says Helen.

What wasn’t so great, however, was the dated suite, tired vinyl flooring and lack of heating. The room did benefit from some lovely period features though and, despite a limited budget, the couple were determined to transform this rather bleak, chilly space into a warm and welcoming sanctuary.

Bathroom makeover: 'Recycling allowed us to stay on budget'
The couple constructed a false wall to hide ugly pipework. The new back-to-wall cistern helps streamline the room and creates a display ledge

Helen and James’s plan was to recycle wherever possible, thus leaving enough money in the kitty for quality fixtures and fittings. ‘The cottage is Grade II listed so we wanted to make sure we did it right,’ explains Helen. Not surprisingly, their first priority was heating!

‘Unfortunately, extending the existing system wasn’t really an option, as any new pipework would have to be surface mounted. So, we simply installed an electric radiator instead,’ says Helen. The couple then turned their attention to the messy job of cleaning and sealing the existing exposed brickwork, before ripping up the old vinyl to reveal near-perfect floorboards. ‘It was a fantastic surprise and, apart from a good scrub, they’re just as we found them,’ smiles Helen.

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Bathroom makeover: 'Recycling allowed us to stay on budget'
Helen and James’s upcycled bathroom
is now a warm and relaxing retreat complete with quirky, period-inspired touches and vintage accessories

Rather than invest in a new suite, the couple opted to keep both their inherited bath and the vanity unit. ‘The free-standing bath is actually acrylic and was simply refreshed with a coat of paint and new taps,’ says Helen. But it’s the revamped vanity unit that she’s most proud of.

‘I’d always wanted his-and-hers basins, so when a friend suggested replacing the top to add two countertop bowls, I couldn’t wait to get started,’ she smiles.

A coat of paint soon eradicated the original orange framework, while inspiration for the zinc cladding came via Pinterest. ‘The top and tap housing were made to order by a local fabricator and I couldn’t be happier with the result, as it’s both distinctive and practical,’ says Helen.

Bathroom makeover: 'Recycling allowed us to stay on budget'
The inherited vanity unit is now totally unrecognisable thanks to some clever upcycling

There was never any thought of recycling when it came to the existing toilet, as a replacement was a must for Helen – who also came up with the idea of constructing the false wall. ‘I’m not a fan of close-coupled cisterns, so I persuaded James to invest in a neater, boxed-in finish, which would help open up the space,’ she explains.

The clever use of easy-fit panelling and the resulting display ledge also enhance the period feel. As does the soothing green paint palette. ‘It’s quite a dark room so I confined my favoured deep green to the vanity unit, while paler tones complement the original timbers, as well as keeping things light and airy,’ says Helen.

Bathroom makeover: 'Recycling allowed us to stay on budget'
Good idea! Make an aging bath look new again by adding feature taps and painting the exterior in a colour to match your bathroom scheme

The couple were happy to mix things up when it came to those all-important finishing touches. ‘Both the antique mirror and chair were spotted online, while the bench is on permanent loan from the kitchen. A quick trip to the high street resulted in finding the storage baskets and fresh foliage,’ recounts Helen.

In fact, it’s this casual mix-and-match approach that has helped give the bathroom such a welcoming and relaxed vintage vibe. And now that it’s finished, Helen can’t quite believe it’s the same room. ‘I just love everything about it – and it just goes that to show you don’t have to spend a fortune to create a unique and characterful space,’ she beams.

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This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in Your Home magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?