I caught up with renowned property expert, businesswoman, TV presenter and writer Sarah Beeny, as she works on her latest home renovation, to discuss all things bathrooms.
She’s been a familiar face on our TV screens for many years, fronting popular series like Property Ladder, Restoration Nightmare and Double Your House for Half the Money, but now Sarah Beeny is facing a brand new challenge.
Along with her husband Graham and 4 sons, Sarah and family have swapped their London life for a new start on 220 acre former dairy farm in Somerset. Together, they plan to build the home of their dreams and it’s the subject of her latest TV series Sarah Beeny’s New Life in the Country.
Despite having a very busy schedule, Sarah kindly took time out to chat with me about all things bathrooms, with some top tips for renovators and families alike.
Hi Sarah. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. I know you’re extremely busy. The first thing I’d like to ask is, how is the new property coming along?
It’s getting there…we’ve broken the back of it. We have another house on site, which we are still living in, but, yes, we are getting there. It’s a big project to take on, but we will spend Christmas there in some form or other—although, it may mean setting up camp inside!
As you can imagine, with 4 sons all getting older, they take a lot of time and energy. There’s less time than there used to be!
How have your current bathroom renovations differed from any you’ve worked on before? I can imagine your homes in London and your last project in East Yorkshire (Rise Hall) were all very different.
This project is a little more difficult, as this will be our permanent home. So, each bathroom will be tailored to a specific family member, unlike some of the bathrooms I’ve created before, which were more generic…like Rise Hall, for example. I know exactly who will be using each of our new bathrooms, so I know it needs to fit their tastes and purposes.
I want each bathroom to have a different character, rather than all being exactly the same like a motel! With any bathroom, you have this amazing opportunity to make it feel like a really luxurious space in which you want to spend time.
The idea is to futureproof the whole home, including the bathrooms. So we’re designing it with the next 10 years in mind. I’m thinking of a time when all the kids have left home and I want them to come back and visit as much as possible. So, I figured, give them all an ensuite and they’ll definitely come back loads!
If we were simply doing up a home to sell, the designs would be a bit more generic. But, as we’re not, it gives us the freedom to go a bit crazy! In fact, I was looking at some really crazy wallpaper with one of my sons the other day.
Despite this, we wanted to get the basics right from the start, with really good quality fittings. In our family, we all like bathing, so we’ve included a bath in each of the bathrooms.
Is there anything you’ve learnt from this project?
Yes…all the bathrooms now have cupboards in them, in which to store the loo brush. I mean, who wants to look at a loo brush? You certainly don’t want it on display alongside your toothbrush…that’s disgusting!
Another thing we’ve introduced is electric underfloor heating in all the bathrooms. I really believe it makes good sense in this type of space. As you control it separately, you can have a really warm room without having to turn your whole central heating system on.
"Electric underfloor heating is a really good solution. Ultimately, it's all about controllability"
Do your sons get actively involved in the planning of their bathrooms?
Yes. We encourage them down the right lines a little bit…but they’ve been very involved in it. 2 of my sons tiled their own bathrooms, with really, really lovely tiles and have done a great job of it.
We talked a lot about whether they wanted a bath or shower. One of them has a bathroom big enough to have a separate shower and a separate bath. But one of the others only wanted a bath, so he has no shower at all. Every night they all bath, so that’s the priority.
I also feel quite strongly that you should design a bathroom for longevity. I would rather go down the classic and traditional route… that’s not saying I’m anti-modern, but if you do choose a contemporary style, it’s got to be something that will still look good in 20 years time. The idea of swapping a bathroom after, say, 3 years, because it has become unfashionable offends me a bit. The planet has been ruined enough! We need to do it once, do it well, and do it so that it has longevity, in terms of quality of fittings as well as its design.
This was certainly an issue I had with my last bathroom renovation. With our children growing up, we didn’t really think about futureproofing and were more focused on their needs at that moment in time.
Life moves so quickly. Many people with a young family, buy a house, renovate it, and before they know it, their children are teenagers!
When undertaking a bathroom project, are there certain items you’d recommend spending a little more on?
I would make sure you get good quality fittings. You want to ensure there are fewer things that can break, if you can possibly manage. For example, there’s really nothing wrong with a classic chain stay plug…it’s worked perfectly fine for over 100 years.
Spend what you can afford on your bathroom fittings and hire a decent joiner to box things in really well. You want as few “mechanics” on show as possible. Try and have as much concealed as you possibly can, as this leaves fewer areas for dirt and dust to collect.
Good advice…that’s something I’ll certainly be doing with my own bathroom project next year. And conversely, are there any items on which you should save your pennies?
If you really are short of pennies, instead of tiling, I would choose vinyl flooring—it’s really practical. With this type of flooring, it’s highly likely you’ll never change it…or if you do, you’ll change it for more of the same. In the past, it’s had bad press, but times have changed. These days, you can get really amazing patterns, it’s cheap to fit and doesn’t feel cold underfoot…it ticks all the boxes. Choosing vinyl or laminate flooring is really good tip to make your bathroom look amazing without breaking the bank.
I read recently you use the same bath water as your husband and sons to avoid waste. Do you have any other water or energy saving bathroom tips for budget-conscious families?
It’s really funny… I mentioned the whole sharing bath water thing in passing with someone and amazingly it went viral. I thought “Really? Am I the only one who thinks this is normal?”.
Even when we had multiple bathrooms in our house in London, the boys would never use their own. Instead, they’d always come and use ours instead! For example, I’d be in the bath and they’d come and use my loo as they wanted to come and chat about their day. It was quite a communal life!
We currently share bath water, because we’re in a house with one bathroom where all the hot water could run out. If we didn’t share bath water, we’d either have to wait a few hours before we could run a fresh one or have a cold bath, so needs must.
I mean, people have been sharing bath water with their family for decades. If you think about, going back 100 years ago, most of us would only have had an outdoor loo and a bucket!
"We wanted to get the basics right from the start, with really good quality fittings"
Things have certainly moved on! Is there any water or energy-saving advice you could give to people looking to save on their bills? And do you take environmental concerns into account when working on bathrooms?
As I’ve already mentioned, electric underfloor heating is a really good solution. If you can keep your main central heating switched off for longer, that’s better for the environment and your wallet. Electric underfloor heating can be quite expensive to run, but if used in a small area and only when you need it, it still works out cheaper than having heating on throughout the house. Ultimately, it’s all about controllability.
In our new house, as we do have a lot of space, we’re planning to be off-grid. We’ll have solar panels to power our energy, an air source heat pump to back up the heating, plus a bore hole for fresh water and a sewage treatment plant, so we’re not adding back into the system.
Again, sharing bath water isn’t a bad thing! Someone did once say to me “Yeah, but what if the boys wee in the bath?”. Well, first off, there’s a loo right next to the bath. I mean, there’s never been any confusion in our family as to which is the bath and which is the loo. There are only 3 major things in the bathroom, it isn’t that difficult!
Many people say showers are better than baths for saving water…but it totally depends on how long you have a shower.
True. I can’t remember who said it, but someone recently mentioned that they play “Don’t stop believin’” by Journey when they get in the shower. It’s around 4 minutes long, which means when it’s over, they need to get out.
Ooo…that’s good advice.
You did a podcast series, Round the Houses, where celebs gave you unprecedented access to their homes. Without naming any names, did you find any celeb bathrooms to be particularly extravagant?
There was one…it was a bathroom in a top floor flat, complete with luxury bath and a full glazed wall, looking out over the whole of London. It was a-ma-zing. A bath with a view…isn’t that the ultimate luxury?
"Play it safe with some really lovely traditional design"
I expect you have worked on some really crazy bathrooms in the past. Are there any limits to a bathroom project?
The thing about bathrooms is that they contain plenty of moisture. So, whilst it’d be lovely to have sofas, curtains, fabrics and soft furnishings, unless you have a bath in the middle of an enormous room, it is probably impractical.
At Rise Hall, we did have a carpet in our bathroom which was really nice underfoot. But as soon as we had small boys, the carpet came out. It’s a lot like owning and maintaining wooden kitchen worktops, you can have a really luxurious, extravagant bathroom as long as you’re prepared to make sure you keep it ventilated and dry. It requires a lot of care.
Speaking of ventilation… it can be a real issue in many bathrooms. Do you have any advice?
My advice is quite simple: If you take a bath or a shower, open the window or simply leave the door open. In some of the flats I have let, the tenants will often have terrible problems with black mould…usually because there’s 4 or 5 of them sharing a property, which means a solid hour or so of showering in the morning. They then go off to work, leave the door closed, the heating off and the bath mat on the floor. Then they wonder why they have a black mould problem! It’s as simple as hanging up the bath mat, opening the door and leaving the window open slightly.
One of the things we’ve explored in the past is whether you need a bath to sell your home. What’s your take on this? Do you absolutely, positively need a bath when you go to sell?
I would strongly suggest having a bath in place if you’re looking to sell. I would compare it to staying in a hotel, when they put me in a room with just a shower…I mean, it’s such a disappointment. With no bath, I feel you’re limiting your market…you can always have a shower above a bath.
And, finally, if there was one piece of advice you could give a homeowner looking to renovate a bathroom for the first time, what would it be?
Go classic. Don’t try and be too contemporary. Play it safe with some really lovely traditional design. If you want to go a bit crazy, do it with your accessories like wall pictures or a blind. Don’t go off on a whim of fashion. You don’t have to restrict yourself to Victorian or Edwardian style exclusively, just try and be a little less wild and more sophisticated with your bathroom.
Thank you for your time Sarah. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to keeping up with your latest home renovation.
If you've enjoyed this article, why not check out our next interview with Sarah, where she picks out her top 5 bathroom products?
You can also see how Sarah and her family are progressing with their new home in series 2 of Sarah Beeny’s New Life in the Country which begins on Channel 4, 8pm Tuesday 30th November 2021. Why not catch up with Series 1 now?