Providing smart solutions for kitchens, laundries and bathrooms is just one aspect of this evolving renovations company, writes Jessica Deotto. Published in HOUSING – November 2014.
[column width=”six” place=”first” ]For Melbourne-based company Smarter Bathrooms, bathrooms are really just the beginning. Using its detailed knowledge of the building industry to deliver unique services to clients, this business is all about delivering ‘smarter’ everything – a goal that continues to drive its founders forward. ‘I studied structural engineering and construction management at university,’ explains Alex Heaton, Smarter Bathrooms’ building manager. ‘After working for large building companies and doing some small developments I set up Smarter Bathrooms with Andrew Crawshaw 10 years ago.’
Now leaders in renovations, Smarter Bathrooms offers clients anything from a bathroom renovation to a full interior design service for kitchens, bathrooms and laundries, all with a dedicated team behind it. ‘Andrew is as passionate about customer service and design as I am about building excellence and creating a great team,’ Alex says.
Alex credits a big part of Smarter Bathrooms’ success to its business structure and its proactive approach to learning. ‘Looking after our staff and contractors is incredibly important to us,’ he says. ‘We do a lot of technical trade-specific and supplier-based training as well as customer service training.’
As well as the right training, loving the work itself also makes a big difference to performance, Alex says, who enjoys the complexity of working on renovations. ‘They’re interesting to build, and every room has its challenges to overcome.’
‘Being acknowledged by your peers is the real reward, as they know how much effort goes into every project’
To help the business and its staff stay ahead, Alex credits HIA for providing industry knowledge, and regularly takes advantage of the resources available to Smarter Bathrooms as members. ‘We use the Workplace Health and Safety department to help us with “tool box” meetings, where the guys can discuss any areas they are concerned with or feel they need more training in,’ he says. ‘It provides a great open forum.’
Owing to the company’s designer smarts and business prowess, Smarter Bathrooms has also been no stranger to the HIA awards. ‘Being acknowledged by your peers is the real reward, as they know how much effort goes into every project,’ Alex says.
A perfect example of this was the ensuite/laundry ensemble that took out Victoria’s 2013 regional HIA Bathroom of the Year award.
Sitting in a one-bedroom apartment in an old, architecturally designed building, this bathroom ‘lacked sparkle’. From its poorly positioned doorway to the laundry trough sitting awkwardly at the end of the room, the space needed an overhaul and a complete redesign.
‘The brief was very challenging from a build point of view as we were trying to create a light, open space, and at the same time fit in a large shower, toilet, basin, shaver cabinet, full laundry and hot water unit,’ Alex says.
Having such limited room to work with, Alex applauds Smarter Bathrooms’ senior designer, Susan Cleveland for her clever space-saving approach, which included concealing items such as the toilet cistern and tap bodies in the walls, using recessed shaver cabinets, and incorporating a floating vanity. ‘This all created an illusion of space, but also meant that the set-out needed to be incredibly accurate,’ Alex explains.
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Another major technical aspect of the design was the curved mosaic wall, originally covered in veneer. ‘I wanted to retain that architectural element as a nod to the history of the apartment,’ Susan explains.
Peeling back the veneer wasn’t an easy feat though, nor was reconstructing it to match its new design. ‘The wall had to be constructed like an airplane wing out of marine ply. It was incredibly important to get a uniform curve,’ Alex says. ‘Mosaics are also difficult to lay evenly. Our tiler picks out mosaics at the edges of the sheet then refits them by hand. This is a painstaking process, but worth it, as it guarantees that you don’t see the outline of the individual sheets.’
‘Standing amongst the tiling is magical,’ Susan adds. ‘Our tiler, Jamie [Fenton] is a genius!’
To meet the client’s request of an all-white bathroom, Susan says clean surfaces were chosen as there was no natural light source in the space. However, pops of subtle colour and texture were still incorporated to provide an element of surprise, from the Calacatta marble benchtop to the fusion of the curved wall of green, blue and pearlescent white Bisazza tiles. The effect was quite unique with the impression of cascading water shimmering its way down the wall. ‘The feeling of the white backdrop with the waterfall effect in front of you in the shower is quite breathtaking,’ Susan says.
All other elements of the bathroom were kept minimal, and to address the issue of the laundry without overwhelming the space, Susan chose a European-style design whereby everything laundry, and the hot water service, was hidden behind sleek white doors.
The HIA judges described the end result as ‘stunning’, ‘elegant’ and ‘inviting’, and praised the project for its first-class workmanship. ‘It was challenging … [but] by keeping the solution simple, visual and well-spaced, with function as a high priority, it worked well,’ Susan says.
‘It was a great experience to see the project evolve as all the small details came together to produce a really sharp finish,’ Alex adds. ‘Ultimately it’s the client’s happiness that rounds out a project, and they were thrilled.’
Selecting the right materials is obviously an important stage of the build process, and Alex definitely has his favourites. ‘Natural stone and marble tiles and slabs are great to work with,’ he says. ‘The preparation work has to be 100 per cent, but the feeling of quality you get at the end gives everyone a real buzz.’
‘Ultimately it’s the client’s happiness that rounds out a project’
Building isn’t Alex’s only forte; he is currently working on automating the entire business. ‘We are implementing a new CRM and management system that will reduce duplication and speed up processes,’ he says. ‘We hope this will make Smarter Bathrooms a more productive and rewarding place to work, as well as producing better results for our clients.’
As Smarter Bathrooms continues to power through, its future is certainly looking bright. ‘Personally, I want Smarter Bathrooms to retain its feeling of a small business, where Andrew and I know all of our staff and contractors well, and they all feel valued and part of a growing team.’
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A designer’s edge
Providing quality design for its clients is important to Melbourne based renovation company Smarter Bathrooms. But what is ‘on-trend’ at the moment?
For the company’s senior designer Susan Cleveland there is no shortage of unique designs coming through. ‘I’m designing moody, earthy bathrooms with greys and tiles that reflect natural stone,’ she says. ‘Equally I have been working on glamourous bathrooms with glitter, rich plum colours, and navy.
‘Personality seems to finally be taking a big step out, and people are being braver with their statements.’
But how do you create a truly enchanting bathroom every time? ‘For me, it’s the care and detail in all the fittings, and that the space feels balanced,’ Susan says.
‘A great functional bathroom should provide space to move, and have surfaces that are comfortable to touch … and that means tiles, while providing a non-slip surface, should also feel great underfoot.
‘Good lighting is also important,’ she explains. ‘And the abundance of wonderful pendant lights now available is providing new inspiration and twists to old favourites.’