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One of my favourite rooms in our house is the utility room. Mainly this is because Malachy couldn’t say ‘utility’ when we first moved in, and earnestly talked about the ‘yoo-tiddly woom,’ which was just so unbearably cute that we all started doing it. At which point Malachy defiantly corrected his pronunciation and demanded that we all stop teasing. Apart from this it really is the essence of stowed, my business, with some satisfyingly effective storage solutions and quirky decorating that I wouldn’t maybe have tried in the other more traditional, social spaces in the house.

The space is limited (roughly 270cm square, with a partial dividing wall that was structural), and I had an awful lot of things that I wanted to cram in. I wrote a list.

1. Downstairs loo

2, Washing machine and tumble drier

3. Utility sink

4, Drying rack

5. Coat hooks

6. Storage of football boots, sunglasses, hats, scarves, gloves, umbrellas, shin pads, roller boots, footballs…. I really could go on and on, but basically the easy-access essential kit of any small boy on his way outside

7. Cleaning supplies

8. Hoover

9. Ironing board and iron

10. Mop, dustpan and brush, broom, hey, even a feather duster!

11. Cat bed

12. Cat food and water bowls

13. Cat food supplies

In fact, pre-move, conversations between Tim and I about where things would be situated in the new home usually went something like this: “Where are we going to put the &%*”%&*?” “Oh, in the utility room….” “Not in the cellar?” “No-one will be bothered to go down there.” “OK.” In addition, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we didn’t want to fill up the hallway with too much clutter.

So we had high expectations and a little room to stash them all in.

First I had to house the immovables: the loo had its own space, with a door, and I’d already decided to pop the tumble drier on top of the washing machine, as it’s so space-efficient. I did look into some official stacking kit for them, but I still haven’t got around to it yet, and have to admit that at the moment they seem perfectly stable and unlikely to fall suddenly and dramatically on passers by. That said, please don’t you be irresponsible like this. You should definitely only stack washing machines with the proper attachments and not have them lurching over you after an energetic spin cycle.

Finally, a sink and as many storage units as I could cram in would fill the rest of the space.

We used the same sort of Ikea units as in the kitchen, Faktum units with the gloss white doors called Abstrakt. I also went for an incorporated stainless steel sink and drainage top which doubles as a work surface: superbly practical and Ikea-level cheap too.

Pile 'em high: squeezing in cupboards and machines along one wall

Pile ’em high: squeezing in cupboards and machines along one wall

Because it’s a small room and there’s not much by way of free wall space, I decided on a functional-feeling dark blue, grey and white scheme, and found these lovely tiles from Topps:

Patterned: Henley/Topps Tiles

Patterned: Henley/Topps Tiles

They provide a jaunty splashback for the sink area.

The flooring needed to be cheap and hardwearing too: buoyed up by the success of the metal-look flooring in our boys’ bathroom, I found another Carpetright vinyl sheet design which looks a bit like industrial mesh.

Metallic mesh: Carpetright vinyl flooring

Metallic mesh: vinyl flooring

I like metal-look patterns on vinyl flooring: it’s realistic and the repeating pattern suits the material. For the price of a vinyl sheet, pretty much the cheapest flooring solution you can get, there are some really interesting, stand-out designs to choose from.

For some emphasis, I had all the trim woodwork painted dark blue. It gives a nice framework to the little room, and seems neat and practical.

Navy frames

Navy frames

In the downstairs loo I found some dark blue and glittery tiles to complement the scheme.

Little loo space

Little loo space

I knew my lighting needed to be pretty strong as there were no windows in the room. I am not normally a fan of endless ceiling downlights, which I think can sometimes make a room soullessly bright and harsh, but in here we did need some illumination, so we have ceiling spots. But the single most successful light source has proven to be the door, where in a revelatory moment I realised that I had found a chance to have a window after all, and went for a fully glazed option. It’s incredibly bright in the room, and actually streams light right through to the hallway, so that you get a glimpse of the garden as soon as you come in the front door.

Keeping it bright: a glazed back door brings sunshine into the house

Keeping it bright: a glazed back door brings sunshine into the house

Having all doors glazed at the back of the house presented some new challenges with regard to cat access, but I’ll come to that next time, along with some of the storage and drying solutions that help the room live up to its name.

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Designing the family bathroom was very exciting: mainly because it meant I no longer had to share a loo seat with three boys (I do still have to maintain awareness among the troops of the basic rules of aiming etiquette but at least I don’t have to discover first hand whenever failure occurs). But from a more positive perspective (one I like to hold in the face of all the ballgames and cars) I could indulge a little imagination and colour creativity.

We converted it out of a tiny bedroom wallpapered in my favourite cartoon cat:

I would have killed for Garfield wallpaper when I was 13....

I would have killed for Garfield wallpaper when I was 13….

Spectacular nostalgic appeal here, but practicality, and the persuasive reasons I set out above, prevailed.

As you can probably see, the ceiling was low and papered in grotty woodchip. The doorway to the room was stunted because of the slope of the roof, so only really small or bendy people could get in without some sort of cranial accident. There were then two very steep steps down as a final balance challenge.

Our friend D who is a fantastic architect took a look at the plans and came up with a superb solution to this, whereby we stole a little bit of a bedroom to make a small lobby, and placed the doorway to the bathroom in the middle of the roof axis, so we could maximise on height. We then took the ceiling of the bathroom down and built the new ceiling into the roof space, to increase head-height in the room. A little bit of building control signing-off on the new doorway lintel, and we were set.

How to make a sensible doorway

How to make a sensible doorway

Now, I have a doctor friend who says that running Intensive Care in a hospital is easier than planning a bathroom. I’d beg to differ, but I do think there are a lot of things to consider and get your head around. Personally, I really enjoy it, and I think it’s better for everyone that I stay out of any medical procedures, so we’re both clearly in the right jobs. A bathroom design starts with identifying the items you need and recognising the immovables in your space that you need to work around. We had a cosy space with a requirement for bath, over-bath shower, loo, sink and copious storage. The boys wanted colour, and adore football. Tiles are a lot easier to clean than painted walls, but I didn’t want that generic “hotel bathroom” look of all-over neutral tiling. Neither did I want anything to look too cute, because despite the fact it’s a bathroom for kids, children do grow up and mine are already not babies any more.

I love the locker room style which has popped up in the last few years. I think it’s laid-back, and can look classy without trying hard. I was keen on this effect in the bathroom, and was searching accordingly for appropriate fittings. Then, I found the most brilliant sink, and I had the beginnings of pulling it all together.

What a magnificent goal! Orizzonte Latino Handbasin/ Meridiana Ceramiche

What a magnificent goal! Orizzonte Latino Handbasin/ Meridiana Ceramiche

The tiles are part of a set called Fusion by Topps Tiles. The boys saw them in a showroom in all their colourful randomness and wanted an exact replica. We used the white one as a wall covering around the sink and toilet areas: they’re bright and a bit textured and generally keep things looking fresh.

Fusion: Topps Tiles. Spontaneous ceramic placement

Fusion/ Topps Tiles. Spontaneous ceramic placement

Setting the tiles in a random pattern is actually harder than it might seem. I ended up colouring in a little drawing as a plan for my builder, who didn’t want the responsibility of not succumbing to the lure of a uniform pattern. Thankfully my brain is a lot less logical than his, and I managed it.

Running with the circles theme: bubble mirror

Running with the ball theme: bubble mirror

The little mirror bubbles bounce light around the room.

Storage hides behind here....

Storage hides behind here….

We built a false wall to hide the shower pipework. Behind this is an amazing set of floor-to-ceiling built-in storage shelves, where all our towels and bedding are stashed. Easy access, and hidden behind the bathroom door. On the opposite side, another tall set of shelves, for the excess bubble bath and bleach bottles (on separate shelves of course to prevent unfortunate accidents).

For the floor we decided against tiles which can be so chilly in winter (unless you have, as we do in our ensuite, a thermostatic electric underfloor heating system) and also so hard when you land on them at speed (not unheard of amongst certain members of the household). Wood, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, is warm and looks lovely, but doesn’t wear so well in a damp environment. To fit in with my locker room scheme I wanted a sort of aluminium effect, and found with delight that you can get lots of vinyl floor options like this. We went for a super-cheap Carpetright sheet vinyl which I love, is perfect for cleaning (no grout to get mucky), and fits the look exactly.

Wash not to like? Incentives to stay clean

Wash not to like? Incentives to stay clean

Other things I’m pleased about are the wood panelled bath side my joiner made, which is so much nicer than the plastic catastrophes which normally come with a bath, while being cheaper than a bespoke bath panel. And the useful shelf above the loo which has space for toothbrushes.

We did a secret clear-out of some of the bath toys when we moved, partly to embrace the new house aesthetic, and partly out of a need for better bath hygiene. Anything fun and squeezy for bath play inevitably ends up breeding alien slime inside after a few months, and this leeches out into the water. Actually, to be honest it usually ends up in someone’s mouth or hair, depending on the sort of game they might be playing. Despite the grossness, our boys tend towards excess sentimentality, so the clearance operations needed to be executed with absolute stealth and under cover of the school day. I think we got away with it by employing the new-for-old trick: since we bought the Olympic Ducks, no one has thought to ask for the seaside squirters or the farmyard basketball set.

Under starter's orders

Under starter’s orders

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