Your essential kitchen and bathroom upgrade guide

When it comes to home upgrades that add value and wow factor, kitchens and bathrooms remain the two rooms we typically want to update. An underperforming bathroom or kitchen can be a real bugbear. With so much choice out there in design styles and a huge range of prices too, it’s important to get it right.

In part four of our Switch it Up series, we talk to three experts who explain how to plan and design these essential rooms, as well as the trends to look out for.

Achieving bathroom bliss

A big airy space with room for a bath, big shower and double vanity is the dream. However, says Susan McGowan, creative director with Ashen and Cloud, the real essentials are a WC, wash-hand basin and a shower. If you can fit a bath, it’s a luxury, so the trick is to plan your refit properly and dress with great accessories afterwards.

“Even children transition to showers at a young age,” McGowan reasons. “Where space is at a premium, in almost all cases I would recommend having a luxury large shower.” 

When you’re planning, think about the whole room, she says. “Bathroom design should be holistic, with sanitaryware complementing tiles, lighting, mirrors and accessories. Try to avoid purchasing items in isolation ­­– even if there is a bargain – without having considered the space as a whole.”

Your old bathroom will need to be stripped out and new items ready in time for trades to start work. “Plumbers and electricians will want to know where you want everything almost immediately upon arrival,” McGowan reminds. “Lead times on products can also delay trades and ultimately cost you money, so it’s good advice to get on top of this task bright and early,” she says. 

As there are significant regulations regarding bathroom electrics, it’s important to plan with your electrician early on, and they can help you to ensure that fixtures are IP rated.

“A bathroom needs to be brightly lit for task purposes and cleaning, so it’s a good idea to use a combination of downlights and /or ceiling lights. If it’s your master suite, it’s worth going a little extra on the lighting for that hotel luxury feel,” McGowan says.

Getting kitchen confident

From this year’s top cabinet style to the type of worktop to select, flooring, appliances and lighting, a new kitchen is an incredibly exciting process, especially if your renovation has been in the planning for a while.

Designer Lynne Baillie says that it’s important to think about what you really want out of the space – and your budget.

“For a basic kitchen you are looking at a minimum of €10,000, excluding appliances,” she states. “A healthier budget for a great quality kitchen at today’s standard will cost €20,000 – €30,000. Budget is important as it will help your designer know what they can and can’t put into your design.”

Form and function are the two key elements in a great kitchen. “Function is the most important consideration and this begins with your choice of appliances,” says Susan McGowan. “Layout, workflow and adjacencies will flow from here.”

Everyone has different requirements, but right now, there some things we all seem to love.

“Not every space can fit in a large island, which everyone wants,” Baillie points out. “If you can’t fit it in, then let your designer guide you as to what’s best for the space.”

Getting your light will help this room perform throughout the day. “Aim to design an environment that incorporates a combination of task lighting, ambient lighting and mood lighting,” McGowan advises. “A combination of wall lights, pendant lights, recessed and cabinet lighting can all be used.”

There are items you can scrimp on – stone-effect worktops rather than the real thing, for example – and others you can’t leave out. Maximising the number of wide drawers you can fit in is essential, Baillie reveals – they are storage godsends.

When it comes to the form, distilling your design style is one of the most fun parts of the job. “Before you get lost in the world of Instagram and Pinterest, be true to what your own style is,” Baillie says. “The kitchens that stand out for me are the ones that are unique and individual, not the ones that have been reproduced from Instagram.” To narrow down what you love from all those Instagram images, “try to recognise patterns in your choice of saved items,” McGowan advises.

Trends to look out for

Ciara Elliott, editorial director of House and Home Magazine, says that trends come and go, but good, simple designs will never go out of fashion. Tactile, natural materials such as wood and marble are evergreen.

“I think a well-designed kitchen and bathroom will always stand the test of time. In the main, they are heading towards more natural finishes, with materials such as wood, marble and stone replacing lacquers and veneers on all surfaces. Long gone is the trend for a mono-look kitchen, as kitchen designers have taken to mixing up materials, colours and high and low looks.

“In fact, we are seeing a really lovely merging now – in both spaces – of vintage, contemporary and industrial styles. Burnished metals, such as bronze, vintage copper and brass and hot rolled steel bring an industrial look to contemporary schemes,” she says.

Broken-plan rather than open-plan kitchens are in, as there is a return to separate larders, pantries and utility spaces, which offer flexibility.

“Breakfast cabinets, pantries, larders and modular cabinets can be a way to update your kitchen look without having to re-do the whole thing,” Elliott advises. “People also still love the understated quality and warmth of a handmade, hand-painted, framed kitchen, and the colour of this season is sage green. While everyone is still very hot on pared-back Scandinavian good looks, there’s a new 1970s laidback feel entering the fray, with darker woodwork, floors and furniture all coming through now.

“It doesn’t take much to add some look-at-me style to your kitchen with a splashback in a hot punchy colour or material,” she says.

About Switch it Up

Switch it Up is a new 12-part series for those who might be considering switching mortgage provider to make savings on their monthly repayments. It is a follow-up to the award-winning Story of Home series, which explored the idea of home through the eyes of creative people who found their dream place to live.

Now, Switch it Up, which like Story of Home is supported by Ulster Bank, looks at helpful information on home improvements as well as renovators’ home tours. Plus, we’ve got helpful answers to your mortgage switching queries: from the incentives to how long it will take (not long!) and what’s involved in making a mortgage switch, read our Everything you need to know about switching your mortgage guide at

Perhaps now more than ever, we want our homes to suit the way we live and work, and being able to explore the potential in our homes offers us flexibility. This series is designed to unlock the ways in which we might Switch it Up in our homes as our wants and needs change.

Switching your mortgage could free up funds to help you make these changes. “At Ulster Bank, we want to be a part of the journey you take in making your home the best it can be,” says Sean Kellaghan, mobile mortgage manager at Ulster Bank.

“We want to make the mortgage switching process as simple and as hassle free as you do,” he adds. Kellaghan understands the stress that can come with making a switch, and he offers reassurance.

“We are here to help you, and the process is a lot shorter and a lot more straightforward than you might think. Get in touch today and we can talk you through the options and process.”

For more information, visit

Ulster Bank Ireland DAC is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland

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