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6 cloakroom DIY dilemmas and how to solve them

Read time:

11th January 2024

From clever compact storage to choice of sink, we tackle the most common decorating issues when updating or adding a stylish cloakroom

It may be the smallest room in the house – and one that’s considered merely functional – but that doesn’t mean your downstairs loo can’t make a big impact. We show you how to make the most of this compact room, both with nifty space-saving ideas and a spot of creativity.

1 How do I make my cloakroom look bigger?

There are some clever tricks you can use to create the illusion of space. Good lighting will help, and dark tones on the walls will help them recede, making the whole room look bigger.

‘Floating’ furniture such as a wall-hung toilet and basin leaves the floor clear, creating a sense of space. For storage, look for open metal, rattan or glass shelving that will have a lighter, airier look, while shelf-like vanity units on hairpin legs rather than boxy floor-standing basin and storage units will also create a feeling of flow.

Including reflective materials such as gloss tiles, shiny metallics and a good-sized vintage mirror will reflect light around the room and add to the sense of space, so don’t be afraid to bring a touch of sparkle.


  • Skinflint is a treasure trove of vintage industrial lighting – but always check pieces are bathroom-safe
  • Browse Vinterior for interesting vintage mirrors and small wall-shelving and cabinet options
  • Smithers of Stamford has a range of bathroom furniture made from reclaimed boat wood Watts Photography Watts Photography

2 What sort of sink should I choose?

In a cloakroom, the basin is mostly just for handwashing, so look for a suitably small-scale option. A wall-hung sink frees up floor space and creates an area underneath to stash a handy storage basket. The exposed pipework of some wall-hung designs can work well for a vintage or industrial look, or for hidden plumbing go for a classic pedestal.

Curved edges will always create the feeling of space, so beautiful bowl-style basins and sinuous sinks will add that sense of flow. In a long, narrow cloakroom, a skinny trough-style wall-hung sink can keep things neat and has a cool, contemporary vibe too. For a unique look, repurpose a reclaimed find, such as a small, galvanised tin planter or antique copper pot.

With so few accessories in a cloakroom, the right taps can have a big impact here, whether you go for reclaimed industrial-style or something sleek and contemporary.


  • The Way We Live London creates beautiful ceramic basins in a range of colours and patterns
  • For basins in elegant shapes which can also be hand-painted in any eggshell finish colour, look for the Elements range at Waters Baths
  • To source antique sinks, try Stiffkey Bathrooms, or for vintage pieces to upcycle into basins browse reclamation sites such as Wells Reclamation and check the garden sections for interesting options
Lucie Beck/Coco Features
Lucie Beck/Coco Features

3 Do I have to use tiles?

Most cloakrooms don’t have a shower or bath, which means waterproofing (and therefore tiling) isn’t such an issue. Going tile-free can also make the room feel more spacious as the result is a seamless look across the walls and floor. Or you could opt for a small area of tiling like a splashback instead. This is a cost-effective way to use a handful of special tiles, perhaps some reclaimed finds or beautiful (but pricey) handmade tiles.

If you’d prefer no tiles at all, look at other options. Consider a stone splashback, an acrylic panel in a cool colour for a contemporary look, tongue-and-groove panels for a rustic feel, or a mirrored splashback.

For a seamless look, use waterproof paint or wallpaper on the entire wall. Just ensure your vanity unit or sink has sealant around it where it meets the wall to prevent water seepage.


  • Source handmade tiles at Maitland & Poate inspired by vintage and reclaimed designs, and suitable for bathrooms
  • West One Bathrooms has wet-system waterproof wallpaper in striking patterns, with a fully waterproof membrane that could even be used in a shower cubicle. Behang Fabriek stocks a range of waterproof wallpapers designed to be used as splashbacks


4 What are the best storage options in this compact space?

If you need storage in your cloakroom, a vanity unit provides an integrated option, and if you choose a compact design it doesn’t have to take up too much space. An open console with shelves and slender legs, in wood or metal, looks lighter in a smaller space than a solid chunky piece, and the shelves are handy for stashing towels and small baskets for toiletries. If you source your own reclaimed wood or a vintage piece to upcycle as a vanity, you can then choose a size and style that works for your space.

The walls also offer plenty of storage potential. Look for small shelf units in interesting finishes or vintage cabinets. In a narrow cloakroom, installing wall-to-wall shelving at one end, possibly in the unused wall space above the toilet, can be used to store bathroom supplies or even for displaying treasures or a mini library.


  • Vincent & Barn is a good place to find interesting industrial-style wall storage, while Scaramanga has an eclectic selection of rustic vintage wall cabinets and shelving, many sourced from India
  • For handmade wooden vanity units using reclaimed wood, try RawFurnitureUK
  • Visit Design Vintage for vintage iron school hooks

5 How do I add personality?

The cloakroom is a functional space but that’s no reason not to have fun with it. It’s the ideal place for introducing pieces with personality, from a small antique chandelier to a vintage railway sign.

The beauty of a small space is that you can splash out on some wow-factor accessories and materials that you couldn’t afford for a larger room, such as designer wallpaper. You’ll probably only need one roll, and a bold print will really stand out in a cloakroom with very little else to distract. And you can risk being a bit more daring: chequerboard floor tiles look great with a vibrant botanical wallpaper print, for example, or throw in a colour combo you might not consider using elsewhere in the house, such as olive green with a splash of zingy orange.

Guests love to find an unexpected feature in the downstairs loo too. So this could be the place to curate a unique collection, anything from unusual curiosities to a nostalgia wall of family photos.


  • Graham & Brown stocks a beautiful range of waterproof wallpapers, from subtle textured effects to botanical patterns, or try Mind the Gap for wow-factor prints
  • For high-impact vintage lighting, visit Fritz Fryer
  • The Hoarde is a brilliant source of unique vintage pieces that will make your cloakroom a talking point Curran Curran

6 I haven’t got an existing cloakroom – where can I add one?

Creating a downstairs loo adds value to your home and you don’t typically need planning permission unless you live in a listed property or are planning an extension.

But where to put it? The cavity under the stairs is a popular choice, or a pantry or hall cupboard conversion. If you have a separate utility room, consider if it would be more useful if redesigned as a dual utility/cloakroom. Or is there a corner of your kitchen that could be sectioned off with a stud wall?

Whichever option you choose, make sure you check the location provides enough space to comply with the latest regulations. You can’t just squeeze a toilet in, as you are required to include a basin for handwashing, for example. And consider practical issues such as accessibility and the location of the waste pipe, as extra plumbing work will push the budget up considerably.


  • For cloakroom-sized sinks and toilets, try the traditional and contemporary designs from Big Bathroom Shop
  • Salvage yards, such as Authentic Reclamation, are a great source of reclaimed sanitaryware, including compact and corner basins
  • Ted Todd has reclaimed wood suitable for floors or wall cladding, or find a range of recycled wood for cloakroom construction at your nearest Community Wood Recycling store

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