Lavish loo makers in Norfolk: The Remarkable Toilet Company
PUBLISHED: 14:07 21 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:29 21 September 2017
Archant Norfolk 2017
An unusual collection inspired a far from bog-standard business
Mark Guest grew up in a council house with just an outside toilet. Today he and his partner Kelly Allnutt (childhood bathroom inside, but avocado-coloured) have a collection of beautiful flower-painted Victorian loos, live in a home with seven (plumbed-in) toilets, and run a business creating and selling quirky lavs around the world.
The unusual family business began with Mark’s toilet collection.
“I began collecting old toilets about 15 years ago,” he said. “I was interested in ornate and decorative things and saw these beautiful old toilets.”
He was working as a management consultant but his real passion was in restoring old houses and as he visited auctions to source items, he developed a new appreciation of the humble toilet.
Today his collection sits alongside examples of the brand new loos they have inspired.
There are Victorian porcelain pans, festooned with foliage and flowers, and given names such as ‘deluge;’ there are art deco designs, and modernist models from the 1930s; there are also antique sinks and basins, ornate brass flush pulls and toilet roll holders and serpent-shaped taps. The collection became the inspiration for a new range of replica bathroom furnishings, and a new business for Mark and Kelly, called The Remarkable Toilet Company.
The 21st century replicas are of some of the loveliest lavs. There are also toilets and cisterns gleaming in matching metallics plus a collection of new loos made in Mexico and painted with pictures of vibrant lilies climbing up the pedestals, pans, seats and cisterns, or desert scenes including cacti and birds beneath a baking sun. Inside the house are more replicas, lurking in cabinets, chairs and chests. A toilet is concealed beneath a Gothic-style wooden throne, and within a military-style mahogany ‘thunderbox,’ part of a made-to-measure range created by expert woodworkers.
For the past couple of years Mark and Kelly, who have children aged five and two, have been perfecting the reproduction of their toilets so that they will fit modern plumbing and withstand 21st century cleaning fluids and methods. They had to find kilns big enough to fire entire toilet pans, source dyes and glazes which retain their colour at high temperatures and develop manufacturing methods which would not shatter the toilets. “There’s a lot of science in it,” said Mark. Kelly, who used to run her own public relations business, said: “It’s like being on The Apprentice every day!” Five-year-old Oskar is also helping spread the word about the new business, telling classmates at the local school that his dad is a toilet cleaner.
The toilets of the Remarkable Toilet Company are becoming talking points in homes and businesses across the country and as far afield as continental Europe, Iceland and New Zealand. “It’s affordable luxury,” said Mark. “People send us pictures of their toilets after they’ve been installed!”
A restaurant in Southend has put in seven of their golden toilets and the most popular designs so far are the Victorian Floral (Mark’s favourite) and the Metropolis (Kelly’s favourite.)
Kelly said that it was Queen Victoria who popularised the idea of having a toilet in a private room, and thousands followed her lead to the loo. Toilets were installed in homes not just around the country, but across the globe. “When I started collecting you used to be able to find Victorian toilets and cisterns in skips,” said Mark. Today antique toilets are more likely to be fetching good prices in auctions.
Prices for their own replica toilets, from bog standard to lavatory lavish, range from £250 to £2,800.
The Remarkable Toilet Company, Wood Dalling Hall, near Reepham, and online at www.beautifultoilets.com
Showroom is open by appointment.
Hall flush with history
Mark and Kelly, rent Wood Dalling Hall, near Reepham. They fell in love with the history and architecture of the house, which dates back to 1582. In the 20th century it was used as a Muslim retreat and then a pub and restaurant before being converted back into a private home. The couple love attending local auctions and regularly loan out some of their finds, furniture and furnishings for television and film sets.
Loos to choose in Norfolk
Norwich Castle has four-berth Norman toilets tucked within its thick outer walls, and helpfully sited so that doing one’s business did not need to interrupt any other business, and waste matter was conveniently expelled to ditches below.
Holkham Hall. Communal toilets were still the height of sophistication when Holkham Hall was built seven centuries later. It had double toilets installed just off the main dining hall.
The Wee House, Sheringham, is a beautiful sea-front bed and breakfast, convenient for the beach and town, converted from the town’s former public conveniences.
A disused 98-year-old urinal in Norwich is a listed building. The oldest prefabricated concrete urinal in the UK stands on St Crispin’s Road, now part of the inner ring road.
At Weybourne Station, near Sheringham, the reconstructed and restored Edwardian toilets won an award from the National Railway Association.