You know you're somewhere special if it has a great bathroom. Here's some practical tips on getting bums on seats with our guide to creating the perfect water closet
Nothing hurts a chef's pride more than show-stopping lavs.
"The food's OK but you should see the loos," is hardly a dream review. But who cares about the prima donnas in the kitchen?
It's bums on seats you want, and if cool loos gets them in, so be it.
Neil Hogan, Creative Director of SHH Design, whose portfolio ranges from McDonald's to Umu, says the toilets can be "the highlight of a project".
He believes good facilities are more than a basic requirement.
"They're part of the experience.
You're leaving your friends at the table and going for a break, a journey. More often than not, it's down a second grade corridor where the temperature suddenly drops, the floor's lino, and you're dodging waiters scraping plates and the chefs having a fag."
Toilet facilities will be part of the architect's core brief – given that there are guidelines governing compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act. They should also be part of the budget. Rebecca Roberts of J2 Design, the folk behind the interior at Theo Randall at the InterContinental, explains why.
"Loos are usually the most value-engineered part of a fit out. It's where a designer tries to make savings, but remember, nothing makes you feel more like you're somewhere special than a great bathroom."
The budget should fall in line with the rest of the venue cost, so if you're a five-star hotel you should have five-star facilities, and so on.
LIGHTING Make-up wearers of both genders know the value of good lighting. A theatrical dressing mirror is best for make-up, but a good ceiling down-light, illuminating the centre of the basin will suffice.
Says Tim Mutton, Director of design agency Blacksheep, "There's no need to get any closer to the mirror unless you're drunk, in which case you probably shouldn't be applying make up."
In general the trend is towards a low ambient light level. Lights in taps are a current favourite.
If your dining room is relaxed and romantic, the loos should be too.
SPACE If it's practical/affordable for you to devote a generous space to the toilets, then do so. Rooms (unisex or otherwise) that accommodate a basin and loo are a luxurious high-end touch. An area for perfume, make-up and chatting is even better.
Even the smallest of smallest rooms in the house can be transformed with clever lighting.
VENTILATION Often, says Hogan at SHH, toilets are at the back of a unit, just like the kitchen. The resulting twoway exchange of smells will need dealing with.
A mechanical engineer can sort that out, with cooling and filtering air conditioning. "If they're not clean and not vented, they will smell." It's for this reason that urinal rooms work well, with all urinals in one well-ventilated space.
HOUSEKEEPING Don't forget the housekeeping issues; have a cleaning rota and keep the room well stocked with fragrant products, a nice clean bin and freshly laundered hand towels (or a working hand-drier – the more economical route).
Will it be cleaned regularly (be honest now)?
If not, how will it look? Fashionable embedded pebble and resin floors are dirt traps. Choose smooth, wipe-down surfaces over shag pile and flock paper. Polished finishes are another no-no for floors, as they are slippery when wet.
"Will it stain with wee on it? That's the acid test," advises Hogan.
SECURITY ISSUES Security is an important consideration, particularly where where booze is high on the agenda. You can get everything made of stainless steel and bolted down but this is more expensive than it looks and can evoke a prison-like feel.
But it does avoid the – apparently very common – problem of broken porcelain. "People go for a pee and hold a bottle of beer in their mouth, while they hold their ‘apparatus'," says Mutton.
"It drops, breaks the urinal and floods the loos."
Mutton at Blacksheep has worked on clubs and bars where drugs have been an issue. "Some clients believe if customers want to take drugs, they'll find a way. Other clients will want to slant surfaces or texture them in some way. Some even smear on Vaseline, which is a bit much." Cubicles shouldn't be large enough for lines of people.
Fit doors with snib locks that can be opened from the outside in the event of people getting locked in. If you're really worried, you can always copy the American way and include a man-sized gap between door and floor. This is what Mutton calls the ‘Elvis Rule'. "If you had to drag a 20 stone person who's had a cardiac arrest under the cubicle door, you'd be glad of it."
TRENDS Looks matter. Gimmicky, themed toilets look dated in restaurants but are still a good talking point in bars and clubs. Look to the residential market for trends: Boudoir style is fading, while a minimalist Japanese style is in (heavy blocks of stone, clean lines, wood and simple flowers).
Antique mirrors on a feature wall are still going strong (see Suka at the Sanderson). There's also an growng interest in technology such as sensor taps and lights and automatic doors and flushes.
SIGNAGE Make it obvious. Quirky signs may be semiamusing but can be confusing. Unisex loos are increasingly acceptable but make it clear; people can get very embarrassed about having to ask.
blacksheepweb.com, 020 7253 6393 shh.co.uk, 020 8600 4171 j2design.net, 020 7407 3032