There are few things in life more luxurious than private access to your own bathroom. An en suite should be a sanctuary in your home, somewhere you can take a few precious moments out from the hustle and bustle of family life.
For a master en suite, used by adults only, you can afford to be a little more relaxed about the robustness of surfaces. While children can’t be trusted to mop spills from marble countertops before they stain, in a well-loved en suite they’ll stay beautiful for years to come.
As private domains, en suites offer the opportunity to be more personal when decorating – you have only yourself (and partner) to please! Embrace that tile you love, test out paint colours deemed too bold elsewhere, and have a little fun. In a small area, any decorating fails will be easier to remedy.
‘Don’t forget the practical side of an en suite designed for two – a towel rail for each user and separate storage space at the basin will help ensure the room functions smoothly,’ says interior designer Irene Gunter, of Gunter & Co.
- See more: Bathroom ideas – decor ideas for wet rooms, shower rooms and more
1. Mirror moves
There are lots of clever space-boosting design tricks that work wonders on a small en suite and mirrors are top of the list. ‘Mirrors are essential for bouncing natural light around the room, instantly brightening and uplifting,’ enthuses Yousef Mansuri, Head of Design at C.P. Hart.
‘Be brave and experiment with shapes and sizes. Oversized mirrors help to make a room look much bigger, while an interesting frame design can add important detail to plain décor.’
Practical features to look out for include integrated demister pads and lighting. ‘It is always practical to put an illuminated mirror on a separate circuit to the other lights in your en suite to give the option of ambient lighting when required – usually at night,’ adds Yousef.
2. Step into the light
Stepping out of a dark, cosy bedroom into a light-filled en suite is an uplifting way to start any day.
In this modern design by Scenesmith, dead space between bedroom and en suite was fitted with bespoke wardrobes in rich ebony oak veneer. The luxurious walk-through dressing space ends in sliding pocket doors that can be left open to allow borrowed light from the en suite into the North-facing bedroom.
‘The dark finish of the cabinetry contrasts and exaggerates the delight of the bright, sun-lit en suite beyond,’ explains Scenesmith’s director Sophie Smith.
3. Raise the floor
If you’re lucky enough to have a view worth seeing from your en suite, make sure the bath is perfectly pitched to enjoy it.
‘The view from this new en suite in a Listed country home is stunning so we built a raised platform to make the most of the vistas across the gardens, while at the same time making it much easier to install the new waste pipes,’ recalls interior designer Henriette Von Stockhausen. The reclaimed wooden floor was crucial for adding warmth in the high-ceiling space.
‘The most important thing for me in any bathroom is to make it feel like a room, so I love to add art, rugs and curtains, just as you would anywhere else in the house,’ adds Henriette.
4. Wallpaper works
Taking design cues from the living room to soften the hard lines and cold surfaces usually found in en suites is a growing trend. Think flowing curtains, vintage furniture and pretty patterns. Thanks to modern ventilation systems, and a bit of common sense, you can even incorporate wallpaper in your en suite.
‘Wallpaper works really well in en suites, injecting maximum pattern and colour in a small area,’ says interior designer Penny Morrison. ‘Use high tiled splashbacks or upstands behind the bath and basin to protect wallpaper from direct splashes. A large sheet of glass sealed over the wallpaper is one of my favourite solutions as it allows you to enjoy more pattern.’
5. Smooth flow
When decorating your en suite, create a sense of flow from your bedroom into the bathroom with a complementary scheme. ‘This does not necessarily mean being too matchy. However, picking out key colours works particularly well,’ advises, Helen Shaw, director, Benjamin Moore UK.
‘Your en suite should feel personal and have the same haven feeling as your bedroom. Soothing pastel shades or off whites help to ensure the room feels relaxing while also maintaining a feeling of spaciousness due to the lightness of the colours.’
6. Let in light
Nothing beats natural daylight for waking you up in the morning. Combine with a powerful shower and you’ll be ready to tackle whatever the day brings.
If a regular window is out, consider a roof window or sky light directly above the shower area, pitching the ceiling up into the loft space if necessary. Invest in self-cleaning glass and triple glazing to keep your en suite cosy and quiet.
7. Carve extra space
If want to include a bath in your en suite, curves are the secret to comfortable access.
In this master en suite, Gunter & Co were tasked with finding space for a generous shower and double-ended bath, without making the room feel cramped. ‘There is nothing spa-like about a bath that’s wedged in,’ says interior designer Irene Gunter.
‘We designed a curved vanity and had a shower enclosure curved to match, which gave us the extra inches we needed around the bath.’ Bespoke curved glass is expensive but quadrant enclosures, which are curved at one end, are readily available.
8. Combine and conquer
When reconfiguring your sleeping quarters to include an en suite, don’t assume the bedroom should be allocated the biggest space. Since your eyes are mostly closed when in bed, why not go big in the bathroom?
Kitchen Architecture shows us how it’s done with this decadent en suite and dressing room combination that means the bedroom can afford to be smaller. Featuring floor-to-ceiling built-in wardrobes amid sleek designer bathroom fittings by Agape, the luxury of spaciousness is achieved without compromising on clothes storage.
9. Maintain privacy
The dream scenario in any en suite layout is to position the WC on the same wall as the entrance, so on view from the bedroom. Sadly, the soil pipe position on an external wall often overrules. Here, Ripples commissioned a bespoke iron modesty panel, which has become the highlight of this traditional en suite.
Other options include tucking the toilet behind a shower enclosure or dwarf wall. ‘Frosted, fluted or tinted shower glass is a really nice, unintrusive way of creating privacy in the shower,’ adds Jo Sangster, senior designer, Ripples.
10. Sitting pretty
If your en suite bathroom is blessed with an abundance of natural light it could be the perfect spot for a dressing table. East-facing bathrooms are particularly suitable for applying make-up as the light is soft and flattering.
In this Californian en suite, Geremia Design included a generous dressing table in the same grey-stained oak veneer as the basin unit opposite. ‘The natural light is perfect for reflecting accurate skin tones in the mirror and the view is nice too. It’s a pleasant place to sit,’ says principle designer Lauren Geremia.
In a smaller space, consider combining the two by tucking a stool under one end of a wide basin/vanity unit.
What typically makes up an en suite bathroom?
You can have an en suite toilet, but the bare minimum required for an en suite to earn bathroom status is a WC, basin and shower.
A compact en suite bathroom that utilises space saving fittings is possible within just 1.2 sq m but aim for at least 1.6 sq m if possible. An en suite with a bath should be around 1.4 x 2.0m for comfort.
The amount of space you afford should reflect anticipated use. For example, an en suite for occasional guests can afford to be much smaller than one for a master bedroom that is typically used daily by two people.
How do I get more light into an en suite?
Since windowless bedrooms are undesirable, en suite bathrooms created in space stolen from bedrooms are often windowless.
Unless your property is Listed or in a Conservation Area, installing a new window doesn’t usually require planning permission. The window should be similar in design and construction to those in the rest of the house, and windows on upper-floor side elevations should feature obscure glazing.
Other options include widening the doorway between bedroom and en suite to share light from the bedroom. Internal windows play a similar role and can be installed above head height to protect privacy.
Skylights and rooflights are also great for bringing in daylight without worrying about being overlooked by neighbours. Suitability will depend on the type of roof above your en suite, and budget constraints. A sun tunnel is less disruptive and emits a soft defused light.
How do you decorate and arrange a small en suite?
There are no hard or fast rules, but it helps to start by establishing if you’re looking for the calm, clean lines of minimalist fittings or the more decorative but cosier vibe of traditional/vintage design.
If natural light is lacking, seek out light-reflecting materials like glossy tiles and of course mirrors. An en suite can also prove the perfect place to experiment with luxurious materials, such as designer mosaics, as the smaller surface area won’t blow your budget.
The quickest way to make an en suite feel cramped is to overcrowd it with fittings. Allow at least 70cm in front of the WC and basin and 80-100cm in front of the bath and shower.