We catch up with Rhian Clarke of Rhian Clarke Homes for some designer insights. We uncover specialist tips to deliver serviceable stylish designs and discover how Rhian builds her beloved moodboards.
Q1. How would you define your signature style?
Less is more, but with a twist. Creating something different can come from playing with the composition of tiles or tactile texture for intrigue. For example, with the FAP Roma wall tile, I used a Coem Concrete Striped 3D tile in the shower with the Revolution knurled brassware.
I also love mid-century and Victorian styles, products that are in the Classic collection of Bagnodesign speak to me. And the ribbed Society shower screen is of another time, I can’t wait to use it in another project, I last used it as a panel behind the bath to create a separate dressing area – it was so glamorous. Sometimes properties don’t necessarily suit this historical style, so it’s about mixing old and new to incorporate certain characteristics.
Q2. What bathroom project sums up your signature style?
The project I mentioned that used the Society panel actually incorporated all my favourite things: it has ribbed glass, a monochrome colour scheme, herringbone tiles, Matt Black sanitaryware and brassware. Also, it’s super serviceable – we added the concealed dressing area as it was requested by the client. Clever special planning also made the bathroom look bigger. I know that house will sell instantly on the back of that bathroom. You just walk in and think ‘I want to live here!’
Q3. Who are your clients?
20% of my clients ask for outdoor renovations – so it is great to see the expanding offering of Outdoor Living from Sanipex. The remaining 80% of my clients are carrying out a full home renovation, which is one of the reasons why I love Sanipex Gallery. I can specify for every bathroom, outdoor space, tile area and even use slab tiles to create kitchen islands and dining tables.
Also, not all my clients are homeowners. Even people who are renting are renovating and investing money into their home, as a lot of properties are 10-15 years old and need upgrading. There’s typically a lot of dark wood, terracotta tones which are wanting to be replaced with something different and unique, Sanipex offers that.
Q4. What questions do you ensure to ask your clients?
You’ve got to understand your client. Do they use the bath? How tall is the person using the bath? Are they 6ft and need an 1800mm or, if they are petite, do they prefer a smaller 1600mm bath length? I always get my clients to try out the baths in the Sheikh Zayed Road showroom, a bath is so personal you have to know it’s comfy, where you head rests, the angle that you’ll lie at. I’ve gotten in so many myself and they really are comfortable my favourite is probably the Urban Matt Grey.
To make sure the bathroom is as serviceable as possible I also need to know if my clients are left-handed or right-handed. It helps me plan for their natural reach when turning on baths and showers or when reaching to the toothbrush holder.
Q5. How do you approach a colour scheme?
When bringing together a colour scheme I ensure to create a cohesive vibe throughout the home. I look at the tones used in the master bedroom and the kitchen, which I think are personal spaces, and take it from there.
Clients tend prefer cool or warm, grey or beige. Neutrals are generally preferred but people are more adventurous with their powder room. They want a powder room to look ‘designed’ as it’s an impression space for visitors. It’s also easier to make a difference in a smaller space because it doesn’t add as much to the budget compared with creating a ‘wow’ master bathroom. However, people are more likely to invest in a master bathroom as it is used first thing in the morning and last thing at night, having a relaxing space you love will pick you up in the morning or calm you before a nights sleep.
Overall, the most common request would be for a calm and luxurious solution with a ‘hotel chic’ appeal. Matt Black is often asked for as I do specify it a lot – it adds a great contrast. Matt Black also works well with grey-veined marble effect tiles which are an eternal staple of luxury.
Q6. What trends are you seeing evolve in the market?
Definitely alternative brassware finishes – I get a lot of requests for Matt Black brassware. Bagnodesign was the first to bring Matt Black to the market and now the newer Zanzibar finish is a modern tone of brass that you can’t find anywhere else. I think my clients like Zanzibar as a choice for a warm finish, it also adds a refined decadence as opposed to the grandiose of PVD Gold.
Terrazzo is the big thing in tiles now – I tried to get a client on board and use terrazzo in their project two years ago, but it was too out of the box at the time for them. Now it’s more mainstream clients are feeling more confident to incorporate terrazzo tiles throughout the home.
Q7. How do you approach ‘Value & Engineering’ to stay within budget for your clients?
Even clients that say ‘there is no budget’ do have a budget, often they’re worried they’ll give the wrong answer or assume a designer will max out the budget, but this isn’t the case.
Often key choices that bump up the price are three things; alternative finishes, freestanding baths and tiles. For example, if someone really wants Matt Black on a tighter budget for a full home renovation, we can use it in the powder room. As there isn’t much brassware in in a powder room you can easily have the alternative finish in your home at a minimal extra cost – and it looks impressive with a perfectly coordinating flush plate and bottle trap.
For a master suite, insetting a bath encased with great tiles can be an alternative to a freestanding stone bath. In some instances a bath can be chosen more for aesthetic reasons or to fill a large space, in this instance we can create a striking extra-large wetroom shower as an alternative that won’t affect useability.
However, in any space, the easiest way to see a price difference would be seen by changing tiles – especially with a neutral floor tile. With such a large offering in the Sanipex Gallery we can always find an alternative without compromising on quality or aesthetic appeal.
The best way to carry out V&E is when presenting a moodboard to a client, where we can switch things in and out and look at which alternative is best suitable in relation to the full scheme.
Q8. We often see you building moodboards in the showroom, can you share your process with us?
By the time I’m building a moodboard I’ll have my scale floorplans in hand and be looking at proportions of products. I’ll know what size bath I need to fit the dedicated space, I’ll know what size basin will work well and if my clients prefer round or square.
I always come in totally open minded, with no pictures in my head, and let inspiration strike. The displays in the Sanipex Gallery and Bagnodesign showrooms offer so much inspiration and change so often that there is always something new to inspire me.
For me, a moodboard is like an onion, it’s all about layers. I start by finding the tiles that create the right look and feel for the room. Then it’s onto sanitaryware, and once I’ve chosen the shape of the basin I’ll look at taps – I always make sure I pair round with round and square with square. I’ll also compare which brassware finishes work best with the chosen tile. Then finally the furniture finish will tie the moodboard together and create the finished feel.
Sometimes I can be 50/50 between two of the components I’m choosing – such as an accent tile colour or brassware finish – I’ll keep both as options throughout the selection process to see what works best in the overall scheme. I might also keep them as options to show the client and ask their preference – I always find it so helpful to bring the client into the showroom to present the moodboard as not everyone can visualise in their minds eye, so it’s great to let clients get a literal feel for the items chosen. I’ll invite them to lay in the bath, test how the lever on the mixer opens and feel the tile to check if they like the polished, matt or grip finish. The selection has got to feel right for the client as well as looking great.
Q9. What is a common design flaw that you wish people would avoid?
Niches in the wrong places, or that don’t line up with the tiles! If you have a 25x75cm tile, the niche should be 25cm high and slot seamlessly in the wall. The edges should also line up with grout lines. I only plan in niches once the tiles have been chosen.
Q10. Finally, can you tell us something about yourself that would surprise people?
I used to be an accountant! I am all about the numbers, which lends itself well to preparing scale floorplan layouts and elevations. I’m told one of my strengths is space planning. Things have to be in proportion, and they have to be perfectly functional. Often functionality can be about distances and how harmoniously items work together in a space. I am first and foremost orientated by space and layout, the aesthetic comes next. But I do love building moodboards, I’ll be back in the Sanipex Gallery for my next project before you know it.