One of the most conspicuous signs that a bathroom is beyond its prime is outdated bathroom tapware. But there’s a unique design challenge presented by a bathroom that’s slightly unfashionable but in otherwise perfect working order. Gutting it for a costly renovation feels like a waste, but finding a way to put your own stamp on an existing space can feel tricky, particularly when everything is already set in stone (or in this case, tiling, grout and plumbing).
After renovating 15 bathrooms herself and witnessing around 180 bathroom builds on The Block, television presenter, real estate agent and ABI Interiors ambassador Shelley Craft has learned a thing or two about making a bathroom beautiful. And the secret weapon she swears by to breathe new life into a bathroom on a budget? Tapware. “Once you start messing with tiles and layout, that’s when big bucks start racking up. But changing tapware can do wonders to lift a bathroom and make it feel fresh and loved,” she says.
Here, Shelley runs through her favourite tapware, the age-old conundrum of whether to select a mixer or a tap set and the best tapware to help you create a contemporary yet timeless bathroom you’ll love for years and years.
What is the best finish for bathroom tapware?
Gone are the days of chrome, chrome, chrome – bathroom tapware is available in so many finishes these days, ranging from classic brass to contemporary matt black. But for Shelley, three finishes stand out from the rest for their versatility and beauty.
“I have used brushed gunmetal in many of my projects. I love the subtle sophistication of the finish,” she says. Shelley created this cathedral-like bathroom at Pacifico House and selected brushed gunmetal tapware to complement the room’s earthy materials palette.
“My next go-to would be brushed brass, as it allows me to bring some glamour and fun to a space,” says Shelley, who selected brushed brass to complete her girls’ Jack and Jill bathroom at Pacifico House.
“Brushed copper is so rich and unique and brings a lovely challenge to selecting the rest of your colour choices for the space,” says Shelley. One surprising shade that goes well with copper is blue, an example of which is on display in this luxurious space designed by Am Interior Studio.
There are several advantages to selecting tapware with a ‘brushed’ finish. The first is that it doesn’t show fingerprints and watermarks as readily as polished metals. The second, is that it adds subtle bling to a bathroom without being too in-your-face. It’s also extremely versatile, and will look just at home in a modern bathroom as it would in a classic, Hamptons style bathroom.Advantages of brushed tapware
What is the most popular bathroom tapware?
There are no hard and fast statistics on the most popular tapware choice in Australia, but one of the most common tapware finishes is chrome. Chrome is so widespread because it hits the trifecta of durablility, affordability and ease of maintenance.
Want to take the style of your bathroom up a notch without having to revise your bathroom’s entire design scheme? Switch out basic chrome taps for those in a brushed nickel finish. Brushed nickel is like chrome’s subtle and sophisticated older brother. And the best part? Because of the colour similarity, it will fit right into a bathroom that previously had chrome tapware.
What’s better, a mixer or tap set?
“I am a mixer fan,” says Shelley, but admits there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing between a mixer or tap set. The choice really boils down to personal preference, your budget, and the style of your bathroom. “Take into account the period of your home and the overall design you are going for. Sometimes the space will dictate the best option, so keep an open mind.”
Pros of a mixer tap
A mixer tap is perhaps the most convenient – in terms of both installation and everyday use – option for a modern bathroom. It’s simple for children to use, requires less effort to operate and makes the whole process of adjusting the water temperature so much easier.
Pros of a tap set
There’s something undeniably beautiful about a stylish tap set. Maybe it’s the symmetry of the spindles and the spout, or the customisation and personality opportunities a pair of spindles presents? Either way, a tap set is simply another opportunity to add pizazz to a bathroom. The downsides: they may require more room and those that are designed to be wall-mounted can be expensive to add to a pre-existing bathroom. Some spindles can feel stiff and difficult for some people to operate.
“It really is important to speak with your plumber or builder in regards to layout and wall cavity space for what will work best,” says Shelley. “Be flexible, as sometimes your first choice might be impossible or double the cost of work.”
Keep it consistent
Mixing metals may be a trend in the jewellery world, but in a bathroom, it can look jarring and awkward – which isn’t ideal when the goal is style and harmony. If you do decide to update your tapware, it’s a good idea to ensure all of the other metal hardware in the room matches.
Nowadays, most bathroom hardware (from shower screen hinges to towel rails and drawer pulls) is available in such a wide range of colours and finishes, that there’s really no longer any excuse for clashing chrome with brushed brass.
To ensure the tapware you select fits right into your existing bathroom, be sure to get physical samples and study them in situ. Test them against the wall tiles, the floor tiles, the vanity, the benchtop and maybe even your towel set if you’re a stickler for absolutely everything looking good together.
All in all, when updating a bathroom on a budget, swapping outdated tapware for something more contemporary is exactly the kind of simple but effective update that can make a marked difference to the way a room looks and feels. “It might be enough for you to feel like you’ve made big changes without sacrificing all the walls and floors,” says Shelley.
Our top 5 bathroom tapware picks
Colour sample pack, ABI Interiors
Samples are a designer’s best friend – and they can be yours too. This comprehensive colour pack from ABI Interiors showcases the brand’s extensive colour and finishes range and includes 10 samples including brushed nickel, brass and copper.
Home Beautiful Dream Kitchens, Bathrooms & Laundries Vol 2
Start your bathroom makeover with a vision and be rewarded with a space that’s harmonious, stylish and calming. Home Beautiful’s special Dream Kitchens, Bathrooms & Laundries edition features 132 pages of design inspiration and floorplans to pore over.
‘Milani’ extended basin mixer in brushed brass
If you’re looking for an elegant and stylish mixer your can pretty much swap out yourself with minimal fuss or effort, then the ‘Milani’ mixer is for you. It’s sleek, modern and minimal – just the kind of qualities you want in bathroom tapware. This extended style is tall, which makes it perfect for a vessel sink. For an undermount sink, you may be better off with the standard ‘Milani’ basin mixer.
‘Elysian’ minimal wall-mounted tap set in brushed gunmetal
If you’re an interior design aficionado, then you’ll understand the allure of a sleek, well-designed tap set. The ‘Elysian’ range is the perfect all-rounder, whether you plan to create a classic bathroom or something more contemporary.
‘Cross Assembly’ taps and spout set in brushed copper
For the maximalist who wants to make a statement, you can’t go past this ‘Cross Assembly’ set in brushed copper. Pair it with duck-egg blue feature tiling or natural stone for a sophisticated, one-of-a-kind look.