After receiving a home improvement gift from family, Claire and Craig Hillen were able to revamp the bathroom of their three-bedroom, 1930s semi in Darlington, County Durham.
It was a chance to solve all the issues that had bugged them since they bought the house in 2016. ‘The 1980s, P-shaped bath was far too small for Craig, who’s 6ft 4in,’ says Claire, an Executive Assistant. ‘It was bland, with all-white tiles that were tainted with limescale and mould, plus the shower hadn’t been updated since around 2005.’
Although they’d carried out a cosmetic update on the existing décor when they first moved in, changing the flooring and adding a vanity unit, wall cabinet and shutters, they knew they’d eventually need to move the shower wall to accommodate a much longer bath.
Inspiration for the scheme came from a holiday to Ibiza. ‘The hotel had an amazing bathroom with matt black fittings, which we both loved,’ recalls Claire. ‘Then we saw the gorgeous encaustic tiles on Instagram. I have an album of screenshots, but I don’t have the imagination that Craig does so he put everything together.’
Initially, the couple wanted a separate shower cubicle, but realised it would’ve meant losing the useful floor-to-ceiling, built-in storage cupboard behind the shower and settling for an even smaller bath, so they found an alternative.
‘The compromise was to move the cupboard back by 15cm and install as big a bath as possible with a shower above,’ says Claire.
Claire loves their chosen tiles so much that she’s propped up spare ones on shelves around the house. ‘Although they’re really thick and needed sealing twice, we couldn’t find another we liked, so decided to go for it,’ she says.
‘The tiler had never fitted anything like it on a wall.’
Craig chose the minimal, white herringbone tiles to contrast. ‘We didn’t want anything too fussy,’ says Claire. ‘They’re fashionable but also classic and tie in with the Mediterranean feel.’
Luckily, Lusso Stone had a very similar black shower fixture and taps to the designs they’d seen in Ibiza. ‘Everything matches and looks really sleek and modern,’ says Claire. ‘I also changed the handles on the vanity unit to black ones and covered the chrome toilet flush with a spare rim from the radiator pipe covering.’
The couple hired IFix Property Installations for the six-week project, during which time they showered at Craig’s parent’s home nearby. ‘They did 75 per cent of the work and were fantastic,’ says Claire. ‘We also had help from Craig’s joiner friend, who made the bath panel and built-in storage doors behind the shower.’
However, the work wasn’t without its challenges, which included removing a massive window shutter to accommodate the 2cm-thick tiles then re-instating it onto uneven walls. Craig’s idea of using a floor tile behind the shower niche didn’t work either and had to be rectified by the tiler using wall tiles.
‘We also bought a bath panel that ended up in the skip,’ admits Claire. ‘It was a shame, as Craig, his brother and dad had spent a whole Sunday trying to fix it in place.’
Now the couple have created the bathroom of their dreams on a budget, and Craig can comfortably fit in the bath. ‘As we weren’t having a separate shower cubicle, we wanted the bath to be as wide as possible so there’s plenty of room to move around in the shower,’ says Claire.
‘With a bigger budget, I’d have had an industrial polished concrete floor instead of the wood-effect ceramic tiles, but they’ve grown on me and adding bamboo accessories to pick out the beige flecks has helped make it work. It feels like I’m on holiday when I’m in here.’
Feature Karen Wilson. Photos Katie Lee.