8 things that date a bathroom instantly, and the easy switches you can make

Avoid the design no-nos to create a modern and stylish bathroom design

The bathroom is a VIP area of the home – a space we enter to freshen up and start the day, but also where we go to unwind and relax. But if you haven’t upgraded your bathroom in a while, it could be sporting some questionable design elements that are putting a dampener on proceedings.  

We spoke to some of our favourite names in the bathroom world and interiors industry, who have a hit list of things that can date a bathroom. They’ve also provided tips on turning the tables to create a fresh, modern space.    

White bathroom with green geometric tilesCredit: Chris Dyson Architects / Edwina Boase Designer / Daniela Exley Photography

To get the look right, you need to see past trends, prioritise elements with longevity and consider the existing details of your space. “Bathroom design is always an investment,” says Emma Joyce, Brand Manager at House of Rohl. “Trends tend to have an expiry date; instead, consumers are increasingly designing spaces to suit their own taste.”  

Whether a full bathroom renovation was on the cards or not, if your space features any of the following, you may have some edits to make. 


1. Too many colours

Stick to a limited palette for a spa-like finish

White bathroom with green scalloped tilesCredit: BFDO Architects / Francis Dzikowski
An easy way to create a bathroom that doesn’t date is to take a monochrome backdrop and add a single colour through tiles, towels and accessories

“I’d avoid using too many colours, as this can make a space appear busy and chaotic. A bathroom should always be somewhere you can go to unwind and relax,” says Juliette Thomas, founder and director of Juliettes Interiors. She recommends sticking with one or two key colours at most, then variations on those hues. This give a flawless finish that is effortlessly contemporary.

That’s not to say that you should completely avoid colour in a bathroom. “Brightly coloured and intricately patterned tiles are seeing a renaissance,” notes Thomas.

Sea greens and blues are classic, can’t-fail accents for a room with a white backdrop. Or you could embrace Moroccan or checkerboard styles. Wall-to-wall tiles can feel a bit overpowering, so use them strategically – perhaps to line a shower cubicle, or as the backdrop to a bath. Avoid damask patterns or multi-coloured mosaics – both will send your bathroom straight back to the 1990s.

Consider a colourful bathroom suite

Also consider introducing colour through your bathroom suite. “Nowadays, the choice goes beyond 1970s orange and browns, or the notorious avocado bathroom suite,” says Joyce. “Bath brand Victoria + Albert offers a choice of 199 RAL colours that can easily be matched to any scheme.” And even if avocado is your thing, it’s not a faux pas if it works with the other colours in your bathroom space.

2. Overdoing it with cool tones

It’s better to warm up the space with soft pink or vibrant terracotta

Bathroom with peach walls and white metro tilesCredit: Farrow & Ball

Some colours and finishes do a bathroom more justice than others, especially if you are working with a small space. Tiny rooms may need brightening up, while large airy bathrooms could call for added warmth over cooler tones. In a room full of hard tiled surfaces and crisp white sanitary ware, this is essential.

“Softer pinks, those without too much blue through them, can be totally flattering and a great colour choice for a small bathroom,” says Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball. “Their gentle tone will add some warmth without overpowering the space – think Pink Ground or Setting Plaster in Modern Emulsion for a delicate atmosphere.”

Fans of grey should opt for nuanced hues with lilac notes over cooler tones, shares O’Donnell. “They will feel urbane and chic without being too clinical. Peignoir or the slightly deeper Dove Tale will add a sophisticated, restrained elegance.”

Another way to create warmth in a functional bathroom is to use wood. Solid wood could warp in the humidity of a bathroom, but engineered timbers, or even wood-effect ceramic tiles, will do the job nicely.

3. Paisley and Jacobean floral designs

Go geometric or opt for classic florals

Victoria + Albert Eldon bath with green geometric tilesCredit: Chris Dyson Architects + Edwina Boase Designer + Daniela Exley Photography

Florals around the home are not dated – however, there are some golden rules to follow. “To avoid a dated bathroom, it’s best to steer clear of paisley and Jacobean floral designs,” says Interiors Expert, James Greenwood of Graham & Brown. But a touch of mother nature does get the green light: “Florals are a great celebration of colour and greenery and shouldn’t be avoided,” Greenwood adds.

Instead, choose geometric accents and embrace more contemporary tile trends. If you absolutely want the curves of a more natural pattern, consider true floral designs, or even houseplants and dried eucalyptus that will thrive in humid spaces, for the fresh, modern finish that Chris Dyson Architects and Edwina Boase Designer have created.

4. Carpeted floors

Tiles are more stylish, functional and hygienic in a bathroom

Grey and teal bathroom with triangle pattern floor tilesCredit: Ca’Pietra

Though perhaps a little obvious, if you have some form of carpet in your bathroom, we would advise removing it. Carpets and damp spaces don’t mix, and we dread to think of how much bacteria may lurk in a carpeted bathroom. Not to mention the effort needed to keep it looking pristine.

“Once a popular choice, it is now an unwritten rule to completely avoid carpets in the bathroom, as this will make it look instantly dated – and isn’t at all practical,” notes Thomas.

There are now so many more beautiful and functional options out there.We love the detailed tiles in this bathroom styled by Farrow & Ball. Thomas also recommends tiling or engineered wood flooring for their versatility in style and function.


5. Shower curtains and rails

Opt for a chic glass shower frame instead

White bathroom with marble tiled shower stall and freestanding bathCredit: Victoria + Albert/Lauren Messina Interior Design + Patrick Brickman

A good-looking shower curtain isn’t something you see every day. There are lots of designs on the market, but they aren’t always suited to a timeless bathroom space. Moreover, they can quickly develop a build-up of mould and mildew around the bottom, which is far from attractive.

Thomas tells us to avoid them altogether, swapping them for more refined choices. “Shower curtains and rails are a big no-no,” she says. “A simple glass shower frame is an elegant choice and far more hygienic.”

6. Under-par and fluorescent lighting

Warmer, more natural lighting will make the space feel more modern

Wall mounted bathroom basin with yellow panelling and green wallpaperCredit: Davey Lighting

Working with natural light levels is an important aspect of designing any room, and will influence how much task, ambient, accent and/or decorative lighting you install. Get it wrong and it may have an adverse effect. “Think about how much light your bathroom receives and/or a lighting scheme. Often bathrooms do not have windows, so the lighting will make a huge difference to the ambiance,” shares Thomas.

The biggest no-no is the fluorescent strip lighting that was everywhere in the 1980s. According to Michael Meiser, president of lighting company Lumilum: “Sitting under intense, bright light or being exposed to the stroboscopic/flicker effect can cause headaches, fatigue and migraines”, as well as eye strain and blurred vision.

“The artificial UV light given off by fluorescent lights can increase the likelihood of developing eye diseases, like age-related macular degeneration. Replacing bright ambient fluorescent lights with warmer LED strip lighting reduces the strain on your eyes and your chances of developing painful eye injuries,” notes Meiser.

Another trick to getting lighting right is to monitor the rooms throughout the day. This may even influence the paint colour or tiles you put on the walls. You might want to use lighter shades in a particularly light-starved room, for example, whereas a room with big windows might suit darker tones that will make it feel cosy rather than stark.

Then think of how you need the room to work and go from there. Warm LED spotlights may be practical by day and give more atmosphere by night. While installing wall sconces may be a better option to fulfil the space’s decorative and functional needs.

7. Chrome taps

Take a softer approach with antique brass or nickel

Worktop-mounted basin with deep green splashbackCredit: V + A Baths / Bentley Hagen Hall / India Hobson Photography

Your brassware can go a long way to dating a bathroom, both in terms of its finish and condition. That super-shiny chrome may look great today, but if it’s poor quality it could tarnish over time, leaving your bathroom looking tatty and dated.

Avoid cheap taps – because they’re a moving part of your bathroom, they come under greater wear and tear than, say, a ceramic sink. The trick is to spend more on brassware and save on sanitary ware. Avoid abrasive cleaning materials and products that might scour the surface. “Look for brassware with a PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) coating,” says Roca’s Brand Marketing Manager, Natalie Bird. “It boasts anti-corrosive and anti-limescale properties for a surface that’s highly resistant to scratches and cleaning products.”

Joyce notes that creating a sense of relaxation is more of a priority in modern bathroom design, as is longevity. Choosing tap finishes that will “grow old gracefully” is part of that and you’ll feel far less paranoid about it ageing. “Softer finishes such as nickel and satin brass are preferred to standard chrome finishes for brassware and fittings,” she says. Both materials will develop a natural patina, which will add charm to your bathroom, rather than dating it.

8. Non-existent storage

Clutter dates a space

Oak vanity unit in bathroomCredit: Ca’Pietra

Messy surroundings leave little room for tranquillity, and from a design perspective it’s not a wonderful look either. “My number one trick for stopping bathrooms looking tired is to remove visible clutter,” says Emma Stanley-Brown, Category Lead for bathroom products at John Lewis. “This creates a serene vibe – perfect for relaxing – whilst also keeping functional spaces clear.”

Stanley-Brown shares some of her must-have bathroom storage items to help conceal washroom necessities. “Whether freestanding or wall-mounted, bathroom cabinets can hide away clutter, as can storage boxes and baskets. You can pair these with fresh accents, by replacing towels or accessories, to inject a modern feel

Credit: Industville/@mossley_hill_home

Be selective with what you do display and consider mirrored vanity cabinets with storage for less cluttered bathroom counters, too.

It’s all about curating a beautiful space that is functional, sustainable and in-keeping with your overall scheme.

“Social media has given consumers the confidence to ignore trends and design for themselves,” says Joyce. “Almost every style can be found online, executed with flair and imagination, providing a template for a minor makeover or complete refurbishment. There is a recognition that by getting the design right and choosing quality products, the bathroom will work for the long term. This will make it more sustainable and a better investment.”

Camille Dubuis-Welch

Written by Camille Dubuis-Welch she/her


Camille is a freelance writer based in north London with her cat and two friends. She has been writing on lots of interesting subjects over the past few years, starting out with a travel blog and online fashion column when she was studying English Language and Italian at the University of Manchester. Cam has been in love with everything interior design and garden-related since before she can remember. She previously worked for Yankee Candle, as well as Groupon, and is the former deputy editor of realhomes.com where she got to collaborate with some very inspiring DIYers and focus on small-space improvements.