Back to Basics

Designers looking to “wow” their clients by recommending the latest gadgets for their bath remodel may actually be better off going back to basics. That’s the sentiment shared by designers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, who note that consumers’ desire to retreat from the daily grind has led to a client more interested in Zen than Wii.

“Theme-wise, bathrooms are all over the map,” notes Sarah Michalowski, CKD, for Minneapolis, MN-based Sawhill Kitchens & Design. “However, one uniting factor seems to be [establishing] a natural, soothing environment that can be created in any style.”

Nancy Henry, kitchen designer and interior designer for Glenview, IL-based DDK Kitchen Design Group agrees: “I think the consumer who has come home from a long day in the working environment wants to be surrounded by products that are beautiful, products that help them relax. ”

“The bath needs to be that place of renewal, regeneration and retreat,” adds Jeani Lee, CKD, CBD, CAPS, of Ames, IA-based Kitchen, Bath & Home. “The right pieces, colors, textures and lighting can help to create an environment that gives you those feelings.”

Living in an era of uncertainty is inspiring people to re-evaluate and simplify their lives and their homes, according to Lynn Monson, CKD, CBD, ASID, CID and owner of

Monson Interior Design and DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen in St. Louis Park, MN. “As a result, we get back to the basics by recognizing and embracing what is personally important and letting the rest of it go,” he states.

Streamlined designs appear to aid in the decluttering of the mind and spirit, today’s kitchen and bath designers contend.

Doryn Wallach, principal of Doryn Wallach Kitchen and Bath in Greenwich, CT and New York, NY believes: “My clients want a space that is practical, but also fresh and clean-lined, so it doesn’t look like their grandparents’ home.”

Henry notes that she sees a lot of clients who lean toward transitional designs. “Many of our clients desire a clean, simple design – one they feel they will not tire of.”

Natural Progression

Today’s consumers are less concerned about having the ‘marble look’ that was once expected in the master bathroom, according to Dennis Duffy, principal of Duffy Design Group in Boston, MA. Instead, they are gravitating toward styles that are more in keeping with the architecture of the rest of the home, and are drawn to more neutral, soothing colors.

One of the keys to capturing an earthy, natural palette is through the use of materials that offer a feeling of natural warmth, says Henry. For that reason, clients want natural products, especially natural stone tops, stone flooring, and stone tub and shower surrounds, she comments.

“We are using more solid and fine-grained stone in natural colors,” Monson reports. “We often contrast this in at least one area, such as in a mosaic tile border or floor pattern.”

“Rich, warm woods, in contemporary and traditional designs, are also dominant in baths,” adds Henry. “Paints and glazes are popular for those who want a lighter fare.”

Shiny finishes are also giving way to matte finishes, such as honed granite countertops, according to Monson. Seamless materials are popular, he adds, such as with thin-slab granite tub surrounds and shower surrounds.”

Gregory Thomas, AIA for Austin, TX-based CG&S Design-Build adds: “We are doing more quartz countertops and tub decks because they are impervious to stains and there are so many appealing color options.”

While the use of natural materials is a significant trend, Duffy adds that man-made materials are popular because they stain less and are more user friendly. He recently used glass stone in a master bath project. “Any of the eco-resins are great, such as glass stone, IceStone or Paperstone,” he offers.

Going Green

As the green trend has grown in general, the desire for eco-friendly products has gained ground. Water conservation, one of the most urgent of the green principles, has spurred the creation and acceptance of a range of products for the bath, such as low-flow lavatory faucets and showerheads and dual-flush toilets.

“Products with flow restrictions are increasingly popular in showers, tubs and faucets,” notes Duffy. “I have seen an increase in the use of urinals and dual-flush toilets in the master bath because they are more water conscious.”

“Dual-flush toilets are popular, and they make sense,” stresses

Michalowski. “People have been using them in Europe for a long time.”

“We are seeing innovative ways of making these products perform better so that the ‘luxury’ look and experience they have is not lost,” stresses Monson.

Due to code regulations and people’s conscience and awareness, “I see eco-friendly products becoming increasingly more mainstream in the future,” states Michalowski.

Technological Advances

Of course, this focus on natural elements and environmental consciousness doesn’t mean that clients are ignoring technology. After all, what is comfort without convenience?

“Technology is and has been on a roll,” says Henry. “Many of our clients want to keep up with that and have those products accessible in the bath areas as well. The more convenient our environments, the easier it is to keep oneself abreast and save time while doing so.”

For Thomas’ clients, technology is all about convenience.

“We are seeing more TVs mounted in the bathroom and behind mirrors,” he notes.

Michalowski offers: “In order to maintain that retreat feeling in the bathroom, some clients have requested space for a built-in radio, or to have speakers built-in for the home sound system.”

She adds that chromatherapy soaker systems and sound-integrated vibroacoustic tubs are of particular interest to clients, assuming their budget and space allow for these.

Technology is also being used for more practical purposes, such as heating and lighting the space.

Radiant heating in the flooring and toe kick are popular options.

“Here in Minnesota, in-floor heating is always a consideration and quite popular, as are heated towel bars,” notes Michalowski.

Wallach likes towel warming systems, but doesn’t like the potential for burns from exposed racks.

“I found a solution to warming towels without having an exposed rack, which has the potential to be dangerously hot,” she remarks. “I created a heated towel drawer concealed in the storage cabinets directly across from the shower.

The cabinets even have separate pull-out drawers for whites, colors and dry cleaning.”

Lighting is an essential part of a bath’s function, and many different types, including pendants over vanities, decorative sconces and other accent lighting, are used to create different moods and light specific tasks.

“I often lean toward overlighting the bathroom with recessed cans and dimmers, so that when that very bright light is needed for grooming, it is available,” notes Michalowski. “However, when a relaxing lower level of light is desired, it can still be achieved.”

Henry believes that, in the not so distant future, LED lighting is going to change all lighting environments.

Monson notes that, when it comes to creating the optimum bath design to accommodate changing technology, “We try to design in such a way that things can be added later. As we see the economy improve, we expect to see [even more] demand for luxury items, especially since costs for these amenities have been coming down.”

Super Soakers

Bubble and soaker tubs, as well as multi-use shower systems that are adjustable for every member of the family, have all seen their popularity increase in the master bath, designers note.

“These types of items are very popular for the Zen-type consumer,” reports Henry.

Wallach notes that people are seeking out the champagne bubbles instead of the hard massage jets. “Deeper, Japanese-inspired soaking tubs have also become a hot trend because they look cool, save space and cover the whole body,” Wallach acknowledges.

Michalowski sees this as an example of changing client needs. “Most people are too short to hold themselves up in these huge tubs, not to mention the waste of water and energy that goes into running them. The smaller tubs allow you to immerse the whole body and soak, without slipping down,” she says.

Monson has also noticed a division among men and women with regard to their bathing preferences.

“Women seem to be the primary users of whirlpools, and they like the air jets, the aromatherapy and the chromatherapy,” he says. “Men generally prefer showers and like steam baths.”

He notes that double sinks and large master showers are among the top requests from clients. “Whirlpools are also coming back as clients age and see their therapeutic value. Meanwhile, curbless showers, open showers, fold-down shower seats and grab bars are Universal Design options that are more often considered” as the baby boomers grow older.

“Large double showers and steam showers are still number one for bath renovations,” says Wallach. “The idea of leaving behind a hectic day by melting the stress away in a steam bath is very powerful.”

Making it Fit

While everyone loves the idea of a huge master bath, this isn’t always possible. In a tighter economy, many consumers are remodeling within the existing footprint, rather than expanding, and empty nesters are often downsizing to smaller, amenity-laden spaces. That puts storage space at a premium.

“We’ve had to be creative in carving out storage in unique locations, so it’s great to see more options coming to market,” says Monson.

Thomas agrees: “We are trying to integrate baths with dressing areas these days, building cabinetry and dressers for storage.”

Clients want to use every nook and cranny available, concurs

Michalowski, “and they expect us to find space that doesn’t even exist!”

From a style standpoint, ‘simpler is better’ seems to be the trend. As Duffy notes, “Design style is client driven, but I am seeing much less of the highly wrought-carved vanities and ornate fixtures. The master bath is much simpler now, with cleaner lines to complement contemporary or traditional designs.”

And everyone wants more storage space. Michalowski notes that this is especially true for young couples in cozy apartments and empty nesters who have downsized, “but I’ve also found that larger homes are often poorly designed with respect to optimizing storage. Clients want a non-cluttered look, and that starts with storing everything away in a clean, organized fashion.”

Hot Hardware

While function is essential, aesthetics are equally important, and decorative hardware offers a great way to polish off the look of the bath and create a more streamlined appearance overall.

Wallach notes that antique pewter is a very popular hardware finish, adding that the finish is often chosen to match custom faucetry.

“Brushed nickel is still popular for its matte finish, but we like to show more stainless steel and polished chrome, depending on the bathroom style,” adds Monson. “The burnished bronzes, gunmetals and matte blacks are more ‘on trend.’”

Michalowski reports that hardware finishes are still typically staying within the brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze and black trends. “Often, they coordinate with the faucets, but contrast the cabinetry and other surfaces to add interest.”

“I am also seeing a lot more oil-rubbed bronze in the past couple of years, but the most popular choice is still polished nickel,” Wallach adds. “However, I have been able to show clients how bronze can be a great complement to polished nickel if used correctly.”

Of course, even with decorative hardware, function matters. As Wallach notes, “For clients who are concerned with aging in place, a larger pull is often used rather than a knob. The contrasting finish of hardware also helps those with declining vision to better separate objects.”