OPINION
Bog standard

It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. Pennie Varvarides went on a toilet tour to assess the quality of lighting in the UK’s public conveniences

Toilets are not really something people give much thought to, but they are the rooms that everybody visits regularly. These often ignored spaces have the power to alter a visitor’s perception of a property.

If you are having dinner in a swanky hotel and excuse yourself to visit the loo, you’ll want them to be clean and welcoming. We’ve all been in dark and dingy toilets. We’ve all walked in and counted down the seconds until we get out.

Sometimes toilets are so bad you walk straight out and wait until later. But why are people subjected to such monstrosities when a successful solution really isn’t hard to find?

Lux magazine set out to find what makes good and bad toilet lighting. We found out what’s important and what should be avoided. We did the legwork so you don’t have to.

Getting top marks

What does it take to get onto that Best Bogs list rather than land in the Losing Loos?

Topping the best of the best is Sketch in Mayfair, London. The upstairs toilets, designed by Mehbs Yaqub Designs, reflect the creative atmosphere of the venue. The scheme was created about nine years ago at a time when RGBs were still in their development stages. Instead, Mehbs Yaqub used vertical fluorescents behind Perspex panels and vintage glass to form arty, colourful WCs.

Sitting outside the beautiful toilets, Yaqub says: ‘T5s get really hot and the guys didn’t put the air-con in as I asked, so I cut gaps into the doors to let air travel freely. I left the edges of the glass ridged so the light would create an interesting effect as it bounced off.’

There are four vertical T5s behind each panel, which was bronzed with an image etched into it, allowing light to pierce through. Glass is used as a cubical divider and is lit so people cannot see each other through the wall. Each divider has an embedded spider web design made of highlighted crystals. When a person puts their hand up against it, the person on the other side sees the silhouette, almost as though the spider is home.

Winning WC - Sketch in Mayfair, London


Yaqub explains that lighting around the mirrors and walls was designed with skin tone in mind. ‘Look, look in the mirror. The lighting is flattering. The colours are working with your skin. You look good.’

Birmingham’s Bullring is a bright and welcoming space, so the toilets, designed by Doug Brennan, a dpa partner at the time, had to reflect that. dpa’s Nick Hoggett says: ‘There are lines of light working with the basins and internal patterns created by light.

‘There are these striking images that have been well lit, welcoming people into the loos.’

dpa used long-life high-efficiency lamps when working on the project and played with light and reflections to ensure visitors always look their best and enjoy their stay.

The Lux toilet tour took us to all sorts of places, including Buckingham Palace – where you’re not allowed to use the loos. There are, however, toilets in a tent outside that the public (and the staff) can use. They are not exciting toilet schemes, but they are bright and friendly. Wall-mounted uplights are fitted above the basins and fluorescent tubes on top of cubicle divides. No nasty glare, no uncomfortable shadows.

How not to do it

The Odeon in Haymarket, London wins the crown for worst of the worst this month – a scheme deserving of the crown if ever there was one.

After a somewhat creepy mission to the depths of a very dark cinema basement, you find some incredibly poorly lit toilets. There is a single downlight in the middle of a long corridor, and the scheme makes you feel like you’ve landed in a horror movie – maybe that’s what they were going for.

It is essential to keep in mind the general ambience of the rest of the building without going too far, but this is a line that many seem unwilling to cross. For example, Byron in London is a cute, bubbly little burger bar with multicoloured walls and bright lights – until you head for the toilets.

As you descend into the toilets the bright lights and colour of upstairs become a distant memory. The tiny toilet is painted black and two downlights drown your face in shadow.

Lighting at the Croydon Park Hotel is a great example of how not to do it, with a fitting embedded in every ceiling panel. The ever-piercing glare creates a tacky-toilet feel as punters try to shield their eyes.

Other no-nos include downlights over cubicles, especially unevenly spaced. If one cubicle is bathed in darkness and another is incredibly light, you’ve done something wrong. Very, very wrong.

WINNING ADVICE

● Toilets must look and feel clean, so the fittings should do the same.
● Lighting at the mirror and the basins is really important, not just downlights casting shadows. If you can get a downlight really close to the mirror and have light refl ecting o the basins, it can be incredibly flattering – but this is a hard trick to get right.
● Cubicles don’t need one downlight, you can be more creative.
● Avoid over-lighting.

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