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  • Writer's pictureStjohn Axbey

CASE STUDY: Designing and building a new bathroom in an 1800's cottage.

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

It is often underestimated what is involved in the creation of a new bathroom and how much time they actually take to construct. In this article I will explain the journey of the design and build process through the same pair of eyes: not only was I the designer on this project, I was the tradesman too.


The rear of a small weatherboard cottage was to be re-configured so the living space could take in the north facing aspect of the beautifully landscaped garden.

Standing in the way of the view was an existing bathroom - an asbestos relic from the 1950’s - that simply had to go.

It made sense to position the new bathroom closer to the existing bedrooms, so by splitting the existing lounge/dining area a new bathroom and 3rd bedroom was created.

The existing kitchen remained in its original location albeit heavily modernised and reconfigured. The rear wall was completely removed to open up the space that would allow free flow to the new lounge room/ dining space, bathroom and laundry.

The new addition at the rear of the property formed an open plan living/dining area with a new laundry to allow access to the garage and clothes drying area. A new large deck ventured deep into the generous reserves of the landscaped back garden.

Stage one of this project started with construction of the new bathroom and bedroom, so please keep reading to discover how I went about the design and build for this project.


My client wanted a high functioning, easy to clean, warm, masculine and industrial bathroom with modern fittings.

He had seen a photograph in a product brochure that displayed metal look tiles and decided that this was what he wanted to go for - it was from this image that the new bathroom took shape.

Because the bathroom was being built from scratch, I could afford to play around with the width of the space and decided to make it fit the 900mm wall tiles, eliminating the need to cut them!

The layout centered around three key features - the imposing industrial tiles, the full width shower and the wide vanity unit.

The shower would be separated only by a glass shower screen and bounded on two sides by high level windows.

There was some deliberation as to whether the room should be tiled floor to ceiling, but because the client wanted the bathroom to be as light as possible, it was decided to only fully tile the shower recess.

Additional natural light would be increased by the inclusion of a ventilated skylight.

Another unique feature was the floor wastes. To simplify the design and to negate the need to cut tiles, the floor was laid to falls across the room to the longer of the external walls, where the water would be collected and carried via stainless steel channels that that would run the entire length of the room.

During winter Katoomba is particularly cold, so it was a prerequisite that the floor should be heated to supplement the ducted warm air system installed throughout the house.

The toilet was to be screened by a low nib wall so that it could not be seen from the open door: the nib also formed a convenient frame for the floating vanity unit. Blackbutt cladding on the nib wall extremities helped to frame and contain the industrial sized wall tiles.

Rendered perspectives of the finished space.


Work commenced in earnest in early October 2012

Before internal work could start, remedial work had to be carried out on the existing flat roof: the wrong type of metal sheeting had been used on the almost flat roof and was allowing water to penetrate into the external walls. The roof was replaced with Trimdek profile sheeting, and a new skylight was installed over the new bathroom space.

The original lounge-room, which itself was an add-on, had two large aluminium picture windows that wouldn’t work in the new arrangement - so out they went - and were replaced with 2 high-level windows for the bathroom and a small sash window for the new third bedroom.

By early December the external walls were sealed back up - complete with insulation and new weatherboards - and work could commence internally with the erection of a partition wall to form the new bathroom and the forming of new doorways to the bedroom and bathroom. The original floorboards in the bathroom were removed and replaced with 20mm fiber-cement floor sheeting.

It was essential to maintain a comfortable environment for the owner - who was to remain in the property for the duration of the build - so my attention turned to the fit-out of the temporary lounge room that would eventually become the third bedroom/home office.

By Christmas 2012 the client had a functioning temporary lounge-room

With Christmas and the New Year break out of the way the plumber and electrician were called to rough-in and as the end of January 2013 approached, all the walls had been clad and the ceiling had been plaster-boarded. All joints were taped and joined, closely followed with sanding and prep coat of paint.

Sikaflex was applied to all joins & holes around tap protrusions, and a sealer coat was applied to the Villaboard in preparation for waterproofing membrane. Three coats of waterproofing were applied over the course of three days and allowed to cure.

Tiling was commenced at the beginning of February 2013

The 450mm x 900mm wide tiles where challenging to work with, to say the least, and I quickly became aware of the importance of having flat walls to attach them to - something not commonly found in an old house. The benefit of using such large tiles was the dramatic reduction in tiling time.

The 450mm² floor tiles were easier to lay, but before they could go down the underfloor heating system was installed. The wiring loom was laid directly onto the waterproofed fiber-cement floor and was then covered by a 30mm thick sand/cement screed protecting the cables and forming a bed that the tiles were adhered to.

Also bedded into the screed were the stainless-steel floor drains that run the entire length of the room.

By the end of February, the floor and wall tiling was complete

Installation of the vanity unit, shower screen and woodwork quickly followed. The walls and woodwork received their final two coats of Dulux Natural White, and the plumber was called back to install the tap-ware and shower - all sourced from Reece Plumbing in Katoomba. The final trade on site was the electrician who wired up the square glass wall lights, the power sockets, floor-heating and extractor fan.

The project was officially completed by 24th March 2013, some six months after we started.

Quality workmanship and attention to detail ensured outstanding results, and the client was over the moon with his new bathroom. Some 6 years later the bathroom is as good as the day it was completed.

More images can be seen from this project in the portfolio section of my website

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