Custom Comforts

A sense of calm is one of those elusive concepts: An escape from the digital demands and life challenges that weigh heavily on us on a daily basis.

Achieving that sense of calm through the design of a space means different things to different people. However, one thing most agree on is the space in question is often the bath, and that the space needs to be a comfortable retreat.

"Everyone is looking for complete comfort; we are all such comfort junkies!" stresses Elina Katsioula-Beall, CKD, principal designer, DeWitt Designer Kitchens in Pasadena, CA. "I consider comfort by handling the space proportionally to human needs, by using amenities combined in a way that will relieve pressure, and by dressing the bathroom with a product mix that makes the outcome feel easy, beautiful and calm."

"Clients want a cohesive design that incorporates their wants and personal style," reports Kate Menta, interior designer, Hometech Renovations in Fort Washington, PA. "That's really what they're aiming for - a place that incorporates all of their bells and whistles."

A Modern Approach

There is a decided move away from traditional styling to a more contemporary look in the bath. Modern lines, sharp edges and simple detailing are all at home in this transitional look.

"While people lean more toward traditional undertones with their projects, we are seeing more of a modern, contemporary streak come through," confirms Menta. However, she stresses that there is not really one style in particular that is favored over another.

"What we're seeing is more a mixture of styles," she explains. "People like that Asian flair with a traditional twist."

"The decoration of bathrooms has passed through myriad fashions ranging from classical and eclectic to minimalist and practical," reports Katsioula-Beall. "As our lifestyles become more busy and stressful, the design style of ‘home spa' is now in full bloom, transforming bathrooms into spaces of relaxation - places where we can wash off our stress and decompress, or start the day fresh."

Menta confirms that people want a spa feeling, but believes they don't want the real simple, clean lines - "they want something a little more soft combined with it," she notes.


The green movement has spurred a return to nature in design, with "natural materials that evoke a feeling of peace and quiet, such as honed and acid washed stones, pebble rocks or simple mosaics, and woods such as bamboo and bird's eye maple," says Katsioula-Beall. "Materials such as glass tile, reclaimed woods and ‘found' objects are having an impact in current bathroom design, in the sense that they offer some green, are fun to have in our lives, and make us all feel good about ourselves," reports Katsioula-Beall.

"We're seeing a lot of people leaning toward more natural tile," confirms Menta. She notes that many of her clients are embracing slate. "When people open themselves up to it, they find there are many color choices - from the lightest of the light to the darkest of the dark."

Bill Milholland, executive v.p. Case Design/Remodeling in Falls Church, VA, also confirms the continued interest in natural stone. "If clients are not choosing natural stone, they are definitely leaning toward a tile that has some interest, whether there's a texture to it or it's a porcelain or ceramic tile that is modeled to look like stone," he says.

He reports that the majority of current designs are a fairly simple palette of earth tones and more neutral, natural stone colors.

"Where you see people introduce color is with glass mosaics," he remarks. "The color is nice and soft because it's semi-transparent. It's a nice way to introduce some blues or greens or even reds."

"Colors are becoming lighter, with gentle accents of colored glass tile," confirms Katsioula-Beall. "Light blues and soft turquoise tones, sage greens and all mellow colors evoking water promise to be timeless."

"Glass tile is still popular because people feel that it's a very luxurious kind of material, and people want to feel that they have a luxurious bathroom," adds Menta.

But using nature-inspired products doesn't necessarily translate into using environmentally friendly products on a regular basis - at least just yet.

"Everybody keeps saying the green trend is coming, but it hasn't come yet," stresses Milholland. He notes that clients will pick the sustainable product, "but there are very, very few options like that. Most of the water-saver plumbing and fixtures are mandated rather than selected due to code requirements."

"Most clients want to do ‘something green' to feel good about themselves," adds Katsioula-Beall.

"I know some clients are very interested in green products, but not all of them," adds Menta. However, she reports that some of the green products are not where they need to be regarding performance. "Some showerheads, for example, are just not strong enough for what people are used to, and that's a big drawback."

She believes that, once green products are able to mimic the products consumers are using, there will be more interest in them. Green products are still more expensive, she adds, which is an issue with clients.

Water Works

The concern about water conservation is a significant departure from the trend of just a few years ago, where custom showers were designed with multiple showerheads and body sprays. While designers are still seeing requests for over-the-top showers, they are waning in favor of more practical shower spaces.

"Today's showers often have a combination of rain showerheads and handhelds," comments Menta, though she notes that body sprays are on the fence. "Either clients want them, or they don't," she offers. Alcoves and shower benches are also key to current shower design.

Designers are mixed when it comes to the idea of foregoing the tub for the shower, however.

"Back in the day, everybody wanted this gigantic tub and acres of deck space around it and a big shower and double sinks and all of the rest," notes Milholland. That idea eventually changes to the need for a big shower and a smaller tub for occasional use, he adds. "Now we're seeing that nobody ever has time to lie around in a tub, so it's just not as important."

"Maintaining health through daily skin detoxification is a sign of our times," reports Katsioula-Beall, "so often clients will forego the traditional tub and opt for a spacious shower/steam-room."

"Curbless showers are also gaining in popularity, not only for their accessibility, but for their clean aesthetic," adds Adrienne Dorig Leland, owner, Dorig Designs in Eau Claire, WI.

"Everybody wants frameless shower enclosures to add to the open feeling and enhance the contemporary look of the space," continues Milholland.

But Menta notes that clients are showing increased interest in freestanding tubs, especially air tubs. "People have really had an attraction [to them], especially since the newer designs have come out. You can do it more in a transitional setting - it doesn't have to be completely traditional."

Air tubs are a great feature to have, she continues, "especially if you want that more spa-oriented tub environment, because you can do bath crystals and everything with the air tub," states Menta.

Storage and Style

The customized comfort of a space is not only reliant on the luxuries that pamper the body, but also ease the mind. Clutter is a key stressor, and clever storage creates a calmer space.

Dorig Leland often begins by incorporating pocket doors in the bath to save floor space. "These rooms are typically small, so it's important to make the room feel spacious without sacrificing storage," she offers.

And when it comes to creating cabinetry, custom-looking styles that have innovative design features to maximize storage are the way to go, says Menta. "You need to use creative ways to design the cabinetry, instead of using the old standard cabinets," she notes.

"We use a standard kit of parts to make something look more custom, without the custom price tag," reports Milholland. "Cabinets now come in 3" increments in width, and there are multiple offerings in base and wall cabinets as well. So, there are fairly standard cabinet sizes that you can configure to make them look custom when they're really not."

Something that Milholland is seeing a lot more of is a sink base that features doors up high with a drawer below. "You no longer have the false drawer front on top, and it makes better use of the space," he offers. "And, it gives people a wide drawer for added storage."

With regard to vanity design, styles are simple and straightforward, with little ornamentation and clean lines. The colors are the same.

"If the vanity is stained, it's a darker stain," offers Milholland.

"You won't see natural woods or medium tones."

"Stains for vanities are definitely more in the brown tones, such as truffle or espresso," confirms Menta. "We're not seeing that reddish-toned cherry anymore."

She also notes the use of painted finishes at the other end of the spectrum. "We're also doing a lot of cream-colored finishes, usually with a mocha glaze to highlight moldings and other areas on the cabinet," she reports.
Menta believes this trend "allows you to play a lot more with color. I'm not married into going into reds or oranges."

In truth, "there's no rule of thumb anymore," Menta stresses. "Everything is so ala carte that things become blended together - kind of like a melting pot."