Dream Makeovers

Many kitchen and bath designers have clients who travel to exotic locales – and stay in the poshest accommodations during those trips. These world travelers love what they see and experience abroad, and often return wanting to recreate that same feeling in their own homes. It is left to the designers commissioned with these assignments to create that “other world” that is only a room away.

“Clients want their homes to feel like the beautiful spas and hotels they have visited,” explains Andrea Pompei, kitchen and bath designer for Silver Spring, MD-based Innovative Kitchens & Baths. “People today are choosing to remain closer to home, but still want to experience those benefits.”

The view of the bath as a place to escape to is prevalent, according to Nicholas M. Ricci, owner/president of Professional Services in Ozone Park, NY. “In general, the bathroom is a place to relax and unwind from the stresses of the day,” he asserts.

Mark Audino, v.p. of Audino Construction in Austin, TX, adds, “We’re seeing a lot of requests for home spa-type bathrooms with more interest in comfort than size.”

To that end, Robin Denker, principal and designer for Kitchens By Design Gallerie in Westlake Village, CA, notes: “Whether or not the bathroom is small or large, relaxation elements include a deep soaking tub or a larger shower with a seat and a steam sauna. It’s a place to have a couple of fragrant candles burning or a lock on the door with a ‘do not disturb’ sign.”

“We’re seeing custom walk-in showers with body sprays, rain heads and bench seats,” Ricci adds.

Multiple body spray shower systems and warm air hydromassage tubs are prevalent in these spaces, agrees Audino, as well as furniture-grade cabinetry with open shelving and glass vessel sinks.

Denker typically gives the cabinetry in her bath projects a wider base and frosted panels to mimic a furniture look.

Audino notes that many clients are opting for more contemporary designs than in the past. “Like a lot of things, design trends go in cycles,” Audino explains. “We’re coming out of the Tuscan look, and we’re now seeing more minimal, clean design.”

Denker agrees: “My baths are often transitional with updated finishes – mixing contemporary handles, mirrors with furniture-style frames and undermount sinks.”

Ricci also sees a lot of stone top-mounted sinks and stone countertops, paired with custom-made vanities and wall-mounted faucets.

Many designers are installing aromatherapy and chromatherapy features as well. Other distinctive applications include custom low-voltage lighting recessed in walls, ceilings and even under vanities to light up the floor.

Denker used lighting in an unusual way in one of her projects. “I always try to incorporate sinks that are unique,” she comments. “In one project, I used iridescent undermount sinks and placed low-voltage lighting beneath each sink. These are on a room sensor, so when a person walks in at night, the light will turn on and act like a night light.”

Wet and Wild

Of course, relaxation in the bath is often associated with water, which is the basis of any good design.

Kathy Simoneaux, owner/designer for Baton Rouge, LA-based Acadian House Kitchen & Bath Studio, states: “People are pretty sure about what they want in a shower system. They either want a rainhead over them, maybe with some body sprays, or a showerhead that slides up and down.”

Pompei also acknowledges the demand for luxury shower systems. “I believe the reason for this is that people don’t have time to sit in a whirlpool for hours,” she stresses.

The water wish list is often the main concern for the client, and the reason for adding space or maximizing existing space.

“We’ll see a shower or tub hook up to an adjoining closet, because that’s where the water accessibility is to another room,” notes Denker. “If I’m able to back it up and use those extra two feet, then the client can have this great-looking, big shower.”

“I’m definitely seeing a trend toward borrowing space to enlarge the bath – especially if it’s a master bath in an older home,” continues Denker. “I’ll collaborate with the clients to see what their vision is and make sure I meet their expectations. The key is to find a middle ground where the design isn’t compromised.”

One of Ricci’s recent projects – a 1,200-sq.-ft. apartment renovation in Manhattan – reflected this trend. The master bath was enlarged to accommodate the stand-up shower, which was originally a closet. The original bathroom was approximately four feet too short to accomplish the desired goals, so he took four feet from the master bedroom.

“The finished bath features hand-carved stone sinks, goose-neck faucets, an exquisite stand-up shower complete with body sprays, a hand-held spray, a rain head and a standard showerhead,” he reports. “We also custom fabricated the wall and floor tile.”

The European whirlpool tub was also a challenge, because it had to fit in without a typical frame to drop it into, he adds.

Material Palette

One of the easiest ways to differentiate a bath is by selecting unique materials.

“The most popular materials for floors and walls in today’s bathrooms are 12"x12" granite or marble tiles, along with counters fabricated from granite or marble slabs,” Ricci says.

Audino agrees: “We’re seeing a large demand for marble and also CaesarStone countertops.”

With regard to flooring, Audino notes a trend toward large, natural stone materials with minimal grout joints. “And, tub surround materials typically include natural materials and glass mosaic tiles,” he offers.

“Clients still tend to select granite, whether it’s polished or honed,” states Denker. “I try to infuse the countertops with a unique edge. While it costs a bit more, it is worth the look.” She also likes to use mirrors with a sandblasted edge detail.

Denker continues: “My clients want their spaces to feel like a spa, so I will incorporate materials such as stone and glass.”

In keeping with the natural stone looks, as well as the spa aesthetic, tones tend to be neutral, in light and medium shades.

“Light color baths – especially with splashes of glass tile – really reflect the lighting in the room, [and] give it the appearance of being bigger because of the brightness,” Ricci remarks.

Medium hues of beige, taupe, tan and gray also work well for this type of design.

Pompei sees a lot of these earth tones and neutral palettes being mixed with a pop of color. Most common, she states, are blues and greens that remind clients of the water.

“I’m seeing calls for ‘spa’ colors, such as ocean aquas and blues, which can be implemented with accessories like tissue and soap holders as well as with glass candle holders,” Denker affirms.

One project that Denker completed for newborn twins reflects this trend.

“I wanted to design a bathroom that both sexes could use comfortably. I also wanted it to be hip, yet still have a timeless design,” she explains.

The cabinetry, floor and tile surround was done in white, while the tub surround tiles were large-scale rectangular white tiles.

“I interspersed two rows of the same white tile, but with a white-on-white squiggle pattern,” she reports. “On each side of this tile, I added two rows of a glass and stone mosaic in a soothing aqua green to create a seaside effect.

The overall design proved that just a little sparkle goes a long way!”

Safe and Sound

Another important consideration when creating a bath is the use of accessible design options.

Denker notes: “I like to challenge conventional design – to incorporate ease of use for convenience and to better reach items. Most ‘Baby Boomers’ don’t want to bend and reach into the back of a cabinet.”

She also likes to add a roll-out shelf with high sides to a bottom of a cabinet to store tall shampoo bottles.

Simoneaux notes that many people are electing for seating in the shower. “Of course, it depends on the client. Some want a seat on the back side of the shower, while others want something that will fold up,” she comments.

Denker also tries to incorporate longer grab bars, such as 36", at a 45-degree angle, and place them a tad lower. “If you’ve slipped and are on your knees, you can reach that grab bar to pull yourself up,” she explains. “It’s not there to prevent a fall when you’re standing, but rather to help you when you need to get up.”

Simoneaux offers: “Grab bars don’t have to be institutional looking. We can go into the colors and different finishes that match with what’s going on in the bath – whether it be a bronze finish or a red or green color scheme.”

“It’s important to remember that people don’t have to be physically challenged to incorporate universal elements in the bath,” Denker stresses. “It’s really a matter of convenience and, if you properly design it into the plan, then it doesn’t look unusual.”

Storage Solutions

In keeping with the idea of accessible design, storage remains a key component of bath design.

“I’ve designed open cubby-style storage that is dry walled and used to store folded towels,” comments Denker. I also use deep, wide drawers for linens instead of a tall linen cabinet.”

“Clients love a walk-in closet,” adds Ricci. “They want storage for towels, washcloths, soap, etc.”

“I’ve even incorporated a counter cabinet with pocket doors to house a coffee maker,” says Denker.

Other options include recessed medicine cabinets with flushed out custom mirror surroundings to give a full-mirrored look over sinks.

Pompei concludes: “People want to feel organized [and] want a place for everything.”

Smooth Finish

In keeping with the cleaner, more contemporary look of today’s baths, Ricci is noticing a move toward simpler hardware designs with modern finishes.

“We’re seeing sleek handles and pulls, with the most popular finishes being nickel, platinum, stainless and polished chrome,” he comments. “In fact, all trim – such as pulls, hinges, towel bars, robe hooks and shower door hinges and handles – usually match exactly with the finishes of the faucets, shower bodies, heads, sprays, tub spouts, hand-held sprays and hooks,” he says.

Denker also selects satin nickel and polished nickel, but stresses that the finishes do not need to match those found on the cabinet hardware.

“With the single biggest design trend being contemporary, we’re selecting more brushed and polished nickel, along with an occasional chrome finish,” notes Audino.

“Overall, I am noticing more of a transitional look these days,” concurs Pompei. “Certainly, no one wants a dated space.”

Tech Savvy

In today’s baths, designers are also incorporating a lot of technology, which is designed to keep clients connected – literally – to the outside world.

“Technology is getting less expensive, which allows homeowners to incorporate items that were once considered extravagant,” observes Denker. “For instance, for the bath I will often suggest an undercounter refrigerator or heated floors. I also use 17"-19" LCD televisions fairly often.”

Pompei often asks her clients if they want Internet or cable run in the bath, and will also “try to find an area where we can create a coffee/breakfast bar.” 

Ricci says that he is also getting requests for flat-screen televisions and heated floors.

“In my opinion, five years from now, high-end bathrooms will include these items as second nature,” he predicts.