Perfectly formed

Flawlessly married marble, steel and timber elements came together to create the 2020 HIA Australian Bathroom of the Year.

Photo courtesy Rodrigo Vargas


Ian Bushnell

The design principles of the 2020 HIA Australian Bathroom of the Year may have been simple but the execution was anything but.

The perfectly balanced aesthetics make it a great space to be in, according to Paul Kerr from Canberra firm Preferred Builders, but he had to grapple with the practicalities of implementing the design’s key feature.

Heeding the clients’ request for as little grouting as possible, Vanessa Hawes, interior designer at Paul Tilse Architects, selected rarely used large format ‘Marmi Statuario’ porcelain panels to be custom fitted to three of the bathroom’s walls.

The three-metre panels had to be cut onsite using templates to fit around the window, and recess over the bath, while ensuring their marble pattern matched seamlessly along the walls. The job required specialised cutting tools and the use of a frame with suckers to transport the panels into the bathroom, an undertaking that took three men on either side to get one sheet in. 

With the panels only 6mm thick, it proved a perilous journey because three didn’t make it.

Imported from Italy by Artedomus in Sydney and supplied by Rivoland in Canberra, the panels don’t come cheaply either and some expensive porcelain was lost in the process. There were also three different types of wall sheet ‘vein’ pattern, for example, type A, B or C, which had to be set out to allow a matching vein sequence from sheet to sheet. This proved difficult in allowing for errors in cutting and allowances for waste.

‘That was the main difficulty but the outcome was pretty amazing,’ Paul Kerr says. ‘We knew how special it was going to be and that’s why we persisted.’

basin Photo: Rodrigo Vargas
bath Photo: Rodrigo Vargas

The bathroom, an ensuite to the master bedroom, reflects the same design elements of the rest of the project, a heritage renovation and extension in Forrest, one of Canberra’s oldest and most exclusive inner-south suburbs. Known as the Furneaux House, the property’s main claim to fame in the region is that the previous owner was former Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey

This stunning project aimed for a balance of old and new, masculine and feminine, with a mix of complementary materials, including black steel, American White Oak, porcelain and stone. 

According to the architects, the idea for the ensuite, which is located in the heritage part of the home, was to emphasise the traditional touches of steel-framed and fluted glass doors, steel frame mirror trims and a timber veneer consistent with all the steel window elements and joinery in the rest of the home. The ensuite also examined the reveal and conceal concept where the toilet was hidden behind the fluted glass door but the shower had clear steel framed glass so the large format Statuario panelling can be seen immediately upon entry.

Vanessa and the clients selected plain grey coloured panels for the floor to provide contrast to the busy walls. 

‘They gave the bathroom that French/New York industrial type feel, very luxurious but pared back and down to earth at the same time,’ she says.

For the vanity feature wall she chose Inax Japanese pillowed mosaic tiles, applied on a 45 degree angle to create a quilted pattern. ’It is really beautiful and extends all the way back into the toilet wall. I like that juxtaposition between the really intricate and tactile mosaic combined with the patterning of the Statuario.’ 

Vanessa adds the fluted glass offers a feminine touch to balance the use of steel, while the timber adds warmth to make the space more inviting.

It is Manhattan style and glamour balanced with earthy tones.

Vanessa reveals the clients also wanted to pack as much as they could into the 10-square metre space – including a separate shower, bath and toilet – but still retain a sense of spaciousness. 

boty Photo: Rodrigo Vargas
boty Photo courtesy Preferred Builders

A skylight ensures that it is also bright and airy, and in-floor heating provides a high comfort level, imperative in Canberra’s chilly winters.

Paul says the bathroom was measured from the beginning so every element perfectly aligned with the large format panels: ‘All the fittings and fixtures work together, they’re not just thrown anywhere,’ he says. ‘They work with the pattern precisely to the millimetre, and the way we set out the panels.’ 

The spring-pivot, steel-framed doors, from ADS Design in Melbourne were hung off the walls – an arduous, time-consuming process that took almost a day just to fit one of them.

The custom-made double vanity with porcelain panel benchtops comes with a hand-crafted recess mirror cabinet featuring a black steel frame to match the doors.

Joiner David Braithwaite of Braithwaite Innovative Joinery is responsible for that, welding the steel himself to create a seamless metal frame with concealed timber handles inserted. He also crafted the timber recess in the wall above the bathtub, which is set in the Statuario porcelain panelling to match the vanity and the walls.

David, who also created the matching joinery throughout the rest of the house, calls the ensuite a work of art, praising Vanessa’s design choices and Paul’s building skills that brought out the best in him.

‘We just try to go that extra step to make it something special, something different to what the average joinery shop will produce,’ he says. ‘Any time you get to work with Paul and Vanessa, you always know you are going to do a special project.’

boty Photo courtesy Preferred Builders
shower Photo: Rodrigo Vargas

Vanessa says that David’s work is subtle yet crucial to the overall effect. ‘With every detail of the joinery, even though you can’t see it you can feel it, so it became part of the environment of daily use, just as important as what you see,’ she says.

The clients of the Furneaux House also wanted tapware that was not too modern-looking so Vanessa chose Charcoal Bronze Astra Walker pieces with a lovely warm patina that looked like they already had been there for a while.

The judges’ comments were glowing: ‘With beautiful detailed joinery inlays, this project had a clear and concise explanation of the client brief. The bathroom has amazing visual balance and harmony, with the right choice of materials and tones. From the handles on the vanity unit to the open skylight, this design includes amazing fixtures and fittings. Perfect bathroom design’.

And perfect collaboration meant perfect execution, and an award-winning outcome, for the teams at Preferred Builders, Paul Tilse Architects and Braithwaite Innovative Joinery.  

full bathroom

Furneaux House at a glance

Builder: Preferred Builders

Architect: Paul Tilse Architects

Joinery: Braithwaite Innovative Joinery

Award: 2020 HIA Australian Bathroom of the Year

Partner: Caroma

Location: Canberra


  • Walls: Artedomus Marmi Statuario porcelain wall panels, supplied by Rivoland; Inax Madoka mosaic tiles 
  • Flooring: Artedomus Aster Mercury porcelain panels from the Maximum collection
  • Cabinetry: Briggs American Oak timber veneer; Blum soft-close hardware 
  • Shower: spring-pivot, steel-framed doors and glazing from ADS Design 
  • Tapware: Astra Walker Icon ‘charcoal bronze’ tapware
  • Basin: Villaroy & Boch
  • Kaldewei ‘Conoduo’ bath
  • Lighting: LED strip lighting on bath recess
  • Toilet: Caroma ‘Urbane’ toilet suite. 

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