Full Steam Ahead

During uncertain times, a sense of peace and control becomes essential. And this desire to manage one’s environment and replace chaos with serenity is having a huge impact on home design, particularly in the master bath.

As the one place in the home that’s designed specifically as a private retreat, today’s master baths must give homeowners a sense of peace, a place to rejuvenate and a sense of regaining control over their stressful lives.

Jeani Lee, CKD, CBD, CAPS, with Ames, IA-based Kitchen, Bath & More, explains: “We all have entirely too much stress and uncertainty in our lives today, and as designers, we owe it to our clients to create environments tailored to their renewal, relaxation, regeneration and safety. All of the details in a master bath are what make these spaces comfortable and supportive to [our] lives, and [when we do it right, we] also help to make their lives less stressed, disorganized and anxious.”

For this reason, there is a noticeable emphasis on healthy products in the bath, as well as design solutions that address homeowners’ physical and emotional well-being. This can be seen in products that promote hydrotherapy, mood-enhancing lighting, noise control features, improved air quality, personalized temperature settings, tactile surfaces and soothing extras like chromatherapy and piped in music capabilities.

Indeed, master baths that engage all of the senses while promoting greater health and well-being resonate on all levels with clients, Lee explains.

The sustainable trend is also impacting bath design, both because it ties into the soothing, nature-inspired environments consumers want, and because of the growing interest in energy and water conservation.

According to Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, president and senior designer for Carlsbad, CA-based Hamilton-Gray Design, “We are using more sustainable products as well as products that are extremely efficient in their use, such as [products that] track electric consumption, water consumption and the cost of the use of the amenity or fixture.”

Sandee Daye, CMKBD, senior designer and manager for Howard’s Kitchen Studio in Loveland, OH, also believes that energy conservation is a growing trend in the bath. “In the future, I believe we will see more faucetry and lighting that is triggered by motion to help conserve energy,” she predicts.

Style Trends

While the desire for a stress-free bath environment remains universal, style trends are far more disparate. And, because the bath is such a personal space, designers say that prevailing style trends are usually less of a deciding factor than what consumers are comfortable with.

As Hamilton-Gray notes: “Contemporary has made a comeback, but I have never seen a traditionally minded client [switch to] contemporary, as it does not suit their taste or comfort level.”

When designing a contemporary master bath space, she notes that she often uses engineered stone in solid colors or simulating limestone, and marble in slab form with oversized simple edges.

She adds: “Traditional remodels also use natural slab materials, such as limestone, sandstone and soapstone, typically with honed finishes and decorative edge treatments. Rarely is polished granite used nowadays.”

Vanities for contemporary designs tend to be sleek and streamlined, Hamilton-Gray notes, adding, “They are also frequently wall mounted.”

She adds: “The option of pedestal basins is always attractive for styling, but [we typically only go this route] after discussing in detail with the client that storage will be eliminated, and then a vanity style supported with storage is usually planned.”

Vanities and stand-alone decorative storage pieces with furniture styling remain a trend for traditional baths, though the details are more scaled down compared to years past, with cleaner lines and less ornate detailing. Instead, the focus is on rich textures, warm woods and a sense of comfort, she notes.

But Daye believes detailing is still in demand for those who love traditional styling. She explains: “My traditional baths are incorporating layered moldings, legs and door styles that have a lot of detail with finishes that are glazed.”

For those whose style preferences favor a middle of the road approach, there’s always transitional styling. As Hamilton-Gray notes: “Transitional is always the safe way to go and works well when there is no style identified for the project.”

Traci James, co-owner of Company D in Kansas City, MO, agrees: “We’re definitely seeing a lot of transitional design themes as these don’t dictate a ‘theme’ and therefore give you more flexibility.”

Of course, part of creating that comfortable environment also means taking into consideration key safety features. For that reason, more master baths are addressing aging-in-place concern and Universal Design issues, with
lever handles on faucets, decorative grab bars and thermostatic valves in the shower, non-slip flooring, accessible storage and tubs and showers that are designed to facilitate easy access and egress for users of all sizes and abilities, designers report.

Shower Power

For many clients, bath remodels are not only a chance to update, but an opportunity to give the bath a significant overhaul. This is occurring, Hamilton-Gray observes, mainly with shower systems.

She explains: “I’m noticing that master baths and some remodeled secondary baths are not incorporating a tub, but rather are incorporating an elaborate and sizeable shower instead. I think the idea of eliminating the tub stems from the fact that once interviewed [by the designer about how they use their bath], the clients realize how much they prefer to use their budget to ‘deck out’ the shower.”

Tying into the desire for greater control over the bath environment, Hamilton-Gray notes that: “It’s also not uncommon to install multiple showerheads including rain showers with a steam unit.”

Interestingly, she says that there is a noticeable gender gap in client preferences for shower heads. “Women don’t seem to prefer the overhead rain shower-type heads. We are finding that we have to install different controls for the male to operate the overhead shower,” she says.

Daye also sees rain showers and body sprays as “highly requested” and notes that “handheld sprays are ‘a must have.’”

She adds: “Clients want showers to be as large as possible and to incorporate materials that are visually relaxing and themed toward nature.”

Calming Influence

But while “power showers” continue to be a hot commodity, that’s not to say there isn’t still interest in jetted tubs, soaking tubs and outdoor whirlpools, says Hamilton-Gray. Older consumers have a comfort level with tubs, and the hydrotherapy benefits are also a plus for aging Baby Boomers. Plus, a tub offers a soaking experience that can’t be replicated by even the most elaborate “super shower.”

When choosing tubs, homeowners want options that will contribute to the sanctuary feeling, she notes, stating: “If used indoors, there is an interest in air jets, and in hydrotherapy [benefits] and [chromatherapy].”

James agrees: “We’re also seeing large bathtubs with chromatherapy and surround sound systems. There is an advanced audio technology that creates an invisible surround sound system enabling the bather’s favorite music to follow him or her into the water. It uses acoustic transducers sending sound waves through the bathtub’s shell, turning the tub into one giant speaker. This, coupled with chromatherapy, is the most fabulous bathing experience you can imagine.”

James is also seeing bathtubs with air jet systems such as Mass Air or Activ Air. Specifically, she notes that Mass Air propels air in the water via injectors located on the bottom of the tub and Activ Air propels air in the water via micro-jets located on the interior contour of the tub and backrest.

She explains: “We’re using more soaking tubs, but we’re still using air and water in our whirlpool. We look at the lumbar support and what type of hydrotherapy the client desires, such as soaking or massage or a combination of both. We also discuss chromatherapy and the benefits of hydrotherapy: the sensory experience of sound, sight and scent.”

Daye adds: “I really feel that clients are looking at the bath more as a mini vacation. With this economy, things are generally more stressful at work and it’s nice to come home to a space that feels like a spa or a relaxing outdoor area. It is very true that running water relaxes the mind.”

Desired Finish

Of course, a dynamic bath remodel also needs the right finishing touches – and that often means finishes that add warmth or sparkle to the space.

James explains: “Gold and brass finishes are making a comeback, but we believe this is a time when anything goes.”

Lee says that brushed nickel is still very popular, but adds: “I’m also seeing darker finishes coming back, such as aged copper, distressed pewter and distressed bronze.”

“Faucet finishes have backed off the oil-rubbed bronze finishes,” Daye says. “Instead, satin nickel and polished nickel are the most requested choices, with chrome making a bit of a comeback.”

Hamilton-Gray offers: “Faucetry is styled by project and typically [we see] a single-control, minimalistic faucet used in contemporary baths in chrome and brushed nickel finishes. In a traditional remodel, the three-hole faucets provide more of a design statement and a lot of oil-rubbed bronze and similar warm finishes are popular.”

However, she notes that mixing and matching of plumbing and hardware finishes is still acceptable. “Mixing it up is more interesting in traditional, however keeping it consistent in contemporary works better,” she states.

Lee agrees: “We do not always match all the finishes in the room. In fact, a recent remodel we designed featured an antique copper knob and pull on the vanity because we wanted these to blend in with the mahogany cabinetry of the room. We finished it off by using a combination of nickel and antique copper accessories.”