Bathrooms are the second-class citizens of design.

Our lounge rooms and kitchens are borderline public artworks or gallery spaces, carefully curated and presented. But bathrooms are hidden behind closed doors, the contents of their cupboards locked beneath mirrors and sinks, the shameful, shameful toilet even relegated to a tiny room of its own. It's completely unfair.

But some pioneering souls think differently about their washrooms. Instead of being a functional space where unspeakable acts of cleanliness occur, they treat the humble bathroom as an opportunity for artistic expression. Even the smallest bit of thought makes a difference – for instance, artist Sarah Kelk recently collaborated with Thankyou on a label design for their new Botanical Earl Grey and Clary Sage handwash; a neat meeting of utility, social enterprise and (sweet-smelling) creativity.

With a little forethought, your bathroom can be the most inviting place in the house.

Activate their attraction
"Bathrooms can be sexy spaces," says Monique Woodward, founding director of Melbourne’s WOWOWA Architecture and Interiors. "I think that people take them too seriously in general. You're definitely going to use the bathroom in the morning, so why not start the day more positively?"

There's a tension between the public and the private at the heart of most bathroom design. Of course there’s times we'd prefer not to be on show. But if we were honest, most bathrooms are shared spaces.

"A lot of people don't necessarily close the door all the time," says Woodward. "If you're brushing your teeth or looking in the mirror or whatever, you don't necessarily always have the door shut. I think there's a nice tension between thinking about how you actually use a bathroom in a way that's real."

Keep an open mind
Jesse Linardi of DKO Architects is one of those people who doesn't shut the door. In fact, he doesn't even have one. When he and his wife Saeda designed their dream home on a Collingwood backstreet, they made the bold choice of integrating the en suite into the bedroom.

"Some people aren't comfortable with having a conversation while someone's going to the toilet,” he says. “But let's be frank – yeah. We're married. We do." It's this brutal honesty about how Jesse and Saeda were actually going to use their bathroom that allowed them to create something unique. Using oak joinery and a marble benchtop, the space is a warm, soft contrast to the building's linear black exterior, flowing into the shared bedroom space.

"We do a lot of stuff together, so having the bathroom in the bedroom, as opposed to a separate en suite was actually a no-brainer for us," says Jesse. "This might sound a bit weird, but if Saeda's in the shower or whatever, we're still part of the same environment. I didn't want a segregated environment. We're married, so we're happy to have that kind of engagement in that space as part of our bedroom space."

Personality is paramount
For WOWOWA's celebrated Modernist Wonderland project in Balwyn North, Woodward followed a similar principle of letting her client's personality design the perfect bathroom. "In this instance, the clients were Greek, and they loved to celebrate their heritage and family," she says. " So their bathroom has to be big because all the cousins come around and it becomes a sort of a party space as well as a bathroom. I think it's just a general level of optimism – not taking life too seriously is a sort of motto of this particular family."

To reflect that joie de vivre in the bathroom, Woodward used a sunny colour palette. The green of the shower and joinery compliments the blue terrazzo and contrasts with the pink paint on the ceiling. "I guess there's a bit of cheekiness with colours on the ceilings,” she says. “It's much easier to get a client to commit to painting the ceiling a crazy colour than committing to a really outlandish tile. You can say, ‘Well, you know, you can always repaint it’."

Let the light in
Another way to spark joy in your bathroom is to let in as much light as possible. The sense of openness in Linardi's bathroom is accentuated by its fronting onto the bedroom, as well as backing onto a glass wall through which light falls. "[The bathroom] sits up at the end of the little light court that runs through the building," says Jesse. "As you walk up and down the stairs, you can actually see directly into the bathrooms. We were prepared to take risks [in order] to have the bathroom sitting up against a glass wall."

Woodward agrees entirely with the as-much-light-as-possible principle. But you don't have to have the bathroom open to the rest of the house to achieve it. "I love light-filled bathrooms, that's really important," she says. "Skylights are often a pretty cheap and easy way to get a lot of light in."

Out of sight vs. in the open
When it comes to storage there are differing schools of thought. For the Linardis, having everything out of sight was important. "Because it's quite a compact environment, we try to hide everything," says Jesse. "We only have select pieces we decorate that actually mean something. So we've artwork in [the bathroom] but we have all the consumption stuff behind the mirror.”

Woodward, though, is in the let-it-all-hang-out camp. "I have a super long, thin bathroom, which I really love, and all my stuff is just out because I can't be bothered putting away," she says. "And I'm fine with that. I think it's about prioritising what's important in your life."

Be yourself
Here’s the key point from both architects: a successful bathroom is a bathroom that suits the personality of its owners. Yes, it's got to be a functional space, but it's also an echo of the humans who use it. "It has to function, fundamentally, but that's a given," says Jesse. "We wanted that bathroom to be a reflection on the way that we actually wanted to live."

Woodward suggests having a conversation with a professional to translate your personality into design. "Everyone’s so different,” she says. “But if you hire someone because you trust them and like their work, and then they'll do something awesome for you."

Woodward has one last philosophical approach to bathrooms – that they’re the first room people renovate when they move into a new house. So you might as well take a risk. "[They usually] have a pretty short life,” she says. “So I feel, do whatever you want. You be you.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Thankyou.