February 23, 2024

Designing a modern retro bathroom in my new build

FILED IN: The Interiors

This blog post on designing my modern retro bathroom contains details of a collaboration with VitrA Bathrooms. As ever, all views are my own and I only work with brands that I can recommend wholeheartedly.

When we broached the idea of buying a newly built home, the thing that filled me with dread most was the bathrooms. Even though we had bought off-plan, the choices we had were still basic and bland. “Would you like grey, grey, or grey?” said the developer. 

I knew that whatever design we went for, it wouldn’t be something that we loved, and decisively asked for the absolute bare minimum to be installed. While we would need something liveable (alas, no budget will do that to you), I also didn’t want to be ripping perfectly good fixtures out. Happy with our choices of a white faux marble tile and dark walnut LVT, I left our off-plan design meeting feeling as though I wouldn’t need to make any immediate changes. A lick of paint would do while we tucked away the pennies for our dream revamp. When the day finally came to see the house at a further stage, we were brimming with excitement, soon to fizzle out as we toured our new wrongly installed kitchen and bathrooms. Reader, we literally entered 50 shades of grey (and not the good kind). 

Modern retro bathroom mood board featuring modern retro bathroom designs in earth colours of blue, tobacco and burgundy
A little look at some of the modern retro bathroom inspiration compiled before speaking with the VitrA design team

Long story short, we ended up keeping the kitchen but asked for the bathroom tiles to be changed to our requested choice. I knew that we were a while off being able to afford a renovation and I couldn’t face the dark grey tiles in a North-facing room. When you’re paying the premium for an off-plan property, you expect to get what you have asked for. Wise words of hindsight for another day, as I perhaps now have enough space from the situation to talk about it without quite so many swear words. 

Back to the purpose of this post, it was shortly after that VitrA Bathrooms got in touch with me about working on some projects with them. A trip to Milan, and a trade show design later, and the team expressed an interest in working with me on my bathrooms. I’ve been a fan of the brand since my early days in PR, so it immediately seemed like a natural progression (hopefully one that will see me with a cocktail and book in the bath) and I set about creating mood boards and enquiring with trades. Fast-forward today and we’re nearing the renovation stage of our project, but I wanted to share the initial design plans with you too. Of course, the full process and reveal will be shared here and via my social media channels. Here’s what we’ve got planned for our modern retro bathroom, and will hopefully be bringing to you very soon.

Modern retro bathroom moodboard compiling of tobacco, burgundy and sky blue tiles, terracotta basin and terrazzo.
Some of the VitrA products that were on my original modern retro bathroom moodboard

Utilise a bold colour palette 

I’m a firm believer in creating a playful bathroom. After all, it’s not a room that you have to spend much time in, so you can afford to go bold with it. Seemingly, many people disagree and often think about future buyers, opting for neutral schemes, but I always design for my now and the bathrooms will be no different. 

My initial starting point for the bathroom colour scheme was VitrA’s Pro Colour tiles. The ‘Pool Blue’ and ‘Burgundy’ immediately struck a chord with me, but after being vetoed for being too similar to West Ham’s football kit, I decided to introduce the ‘Tobacco’ hue. Yes, it’s a bold colour scheme (and could very easily be too much) but I’m hoping that the layout of the tiles will help the room become lighter and brighter, while still giving the level of drama that I’m after.

Maximise the floor plan

It’s fair to say that this room is the perfect size to accommodate a toilet, bath, sink, and not much else. The current layout is the only possible layout without removing the bath, so there won’t be much change there, but I’m hoping to make use of the dead area in the room, while also looking at options to give the effect of a larger space. 

A mirror spanning the full length of the wall above the sink and toilet should help with the illusion, and hidden storage at the end of the bath will act as a space to store toiletries. As we’re opting for a floor-standing pedestal sink, a wall-hung WC makes sense to give the impression of more floor space. The Plural WC is such a wonderful shape and works seamlessly with the retro design.

Incorporate colourful sanitaryware 

Talking of WCs, the Plural range is available in a range of colours including a matt taupe, terracotta, and a muted sage green. For me, it’s a modern take on the avocado and peach suites of time gone by.

When we were saving to buy our first home, it was the thought of going bold in a bathroom that had me transferring every extra spare dollar to that Lifetime ISA. My love for coloured sinks was enough to change a lifetime of bad money habits, and this range is the perfect fit for my modern retro take. The Plural Monoblock Washbasin is set to be the pièce de résistance and as soon as I saw it at the VitrA showroom, I knew it was for me.

Install a shower 

An issue from our ever so slightly neglectful developers was the lack of shower in the main bathroom – something that was certainly on the floor plan but never made it to fruition. This has been a detail that we’ve struggled with greatly when having guests, so it was top of our priority list for this renovation. There are plans for an in-built shower head, hand shower, and diverters, as well as a swish bath filler (as opposed to taps) which I can’t wait to test out.

Create a statement bath 

I’m a bath girl through and through, so creating a space where I can relax in the tub is important to me. While a freestanding option would have been the dream, I know from experience that this option doesn’t bode well with a shower above. It’s just not practical.

The solution? A sunken bath with a tile edge and tiled bath panel. We’ve opted for the Neon Bath which should hopefully slot into place and give the retro effect, while still being incredibly practical. It’s a big tub (or at least deeper than our previous model), so will once again ooze luxury compared to a standard suite.

Add pattern with terrazzo

A big interior dream of mine is to introduce terrazzo to a scheme. I’ve lusted after the options at Diespeker for a long while now, and after concluding that kitchen countertops likely weren’t within budget, a countertop for our slim bathroom counter was a great compromise. We’ve opted for a teal shade (TE107, I believe) and you can see an unboxing of this on my Instragram. The quality of the stone is incomparable and I’m so glad that we spent a small fortune on this slab, if only for my satisfaction when looking at it.

Bring on the brass 

An earthy scheme like this deserves a little bit of glam, so all of the fixtures and fittings will be a shiny gold finish. I’m talking taps, accessories, and the aforementioned shower and accompanying controls. The Juno Basin Mixer is a particular favourite of mine thanks to the cross handles on the taps. Conveniently, it works super well with the Plural basin too.

So, there you go. My bathroom plans spelt out. It’s fair to say that this wouldn’t have been possible without a helping hand from Shahnee at VitrA Bathrooms (designing your first bathroom is no mean feat) and I’ll be sharing more of the process in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you have any questions on the process, or something you’d like to see, drop me a comment or a DM on the gram.

Loving the look of my modern retro bathroom renovation? For more interior inspiration, colour clashing and sustainable finds, check out the rest of my blog. Follow me on Instagram for more EJP in your life.


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Emma Jane Palin is a freelance art consultant, interior stylist and multi-award-winning blogger residing in Margate, UK. She has worked with various home and lifestyle brands not limited to West Elm, Apple, John Lewis, Habitat, MADE, Caran D'Ache + No.3 Gin. Emma is also a regular contributor to Hunker where she writes about design trends and interior advice.

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