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Bathroom design with Owen Barnes

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Got a bathroom project coming up and don’t know where to start? You’ll want to hear what Owen Barnes of Bubbles Bathrooms has to say


In our chat with Owen, he gives his top tips and explains just how important waterproofing is. Take a look below ...

Where should people look for inspiration if they’re planning a project?

I like to travel. I find places like Milan, Dubai and Germany are great as they’re the centre of new and emerging concepts.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your own project, my advice would be to just look around. Inspiration is all around us. You’ll find inspiration in street art, nature, travel and people. Imagine how different things could work together.

What’s something people often fail to consider with bathroom design?


People forget about the importance of a focal point for the room. There needs to be something that demands attention. If it isn’t obvious, or there are too many stand out elements, the eye gets confused and the room becomes too busy – it bounces around and doesn’t settle anywhere.

A good example of a strong focal point would be a hand-crafted bronze basin – it’s a really strong feature. Where people go wrong would be when they introduce an amazing painting on the opposite wall. It’s a balance of subtlety.

People also fail to consider flow and entry points. For example, they’ll have a shower with an entry point next to the basin or bathroom door. This means you’re left with big puddles right next to the bathroom entrance. I always come across these mistakes and I need to pull people up on it!

What’s the biggest misconception people have about bathroom projects?

It’s definitely the cost to move plumbing. People think it’s going to be absurdly expensive to move the shower from one wall to another, but unless you live in a high-rise apartment, it won’t be more than around 2-3 thousand more on top of the renovation. When you’re already paying to upgrade your bathroom, pay the extra to get the layout right.

I find that even if you’ve got concrete walls and floors, it’s going to cost much more.

What’s the most important thing people need to keep in mind?

Waterproofing. I’ve seen so many bathrooms where the builder just didn’t have the expertise to actually construct the space, or the owners have failed to consider how important it is. In fact, I’ve actually seen places where eventually, parts of the bathroom collapse from water damage as people just haven’t waterproofed.

My advice here is to find the right designer and builder, ideally people with experience. Throughout the process, stress the importance of waterproofing to them!

Should people who are renovating re-use elements from their old bathroom?

I’d say if it’s quality, go for it. The important thing to remember is that you want your bathroom to last, so only bring things across that will go the distance in terms of durability and waterproofing.

Of course, you can get away with using old tiles or an older faucet if the bathroom isn’t used very often and won’t be subjected to constant wear and tear.

What’s the key thing to consider with showers?

I love rain shower heads – they’re fantastic. My advice here is to get a shower space to accommodate the shower head. Rain shower heads are made much better if you put them on an arm where they can pivot.

Got a favourite current design trend?

I never really have a favourite trend that I use – I like to take what’s popular and incorporate it into a space to create something timeless. That said, I really like to work with metals.

Right now I’m quite excited about freeform shapes and seamless waterproofing. For example, just recently I was experimenting with creating freeform basins and how they fit into a bench top. These freeform/seamless materials allow me to effectively solve the waterproofing issue and also create something unique.

Can you explain your approach to bathroom design?

It’s definitely focused on the building aspect. I like the bathroom to look good, but I’m always concerned with how it functions and how waterproof it is.

This is one of the reasons I’m apprehensive about 3D modelling and rendering. I think people can get caught up in the look of something and then find it doesn’t actually work well or doesn’t meet expectations.

How do you work with clients? Is a collaborative process?

It is. In most cases, they’ll bring their own ideas from places like Pinterest. I can then have a look at their preferences and tailor my own design accordingly. It’s important to start the designer/client relationship off with a good understanding of what they like and dislike.

How did you get started in bathroom design?

Well, around 20 years ago I found that ineffective building practices and inefficient design were leading to serious waterproofing issues in Australian homes and buildings. After developing new solutions to solve these problems I found myself with plenty of projects to work on. The business grew from there.

Now I work on home bathrooms and the occasional commercial project. I also do some consulting work for architects.

Any last words of wisdom?

Plan your bathroom well and make sure everything is sorted out before you get tradespeople in to start work. One of the worst things you can do is change your mind halfway through a project, deciding you don’t want a certain sink or shower, for example. This always leads to problems.

At the outset, speak to a designer who will help you make good, informed decisions.

Bathroom renovations can be stressful, so take a look at some of our other articles if you’re still feeling a little lost.

First published date: 26 July 2017

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