The Master Bath Matures

Busier and nosier lives are driving homeowners to retreat to their master bathrooms. They expect their bathrooms to offer them a peaceful haven from the commotions of work, children and traffic. Homeowners want their master bathrooms to provide a Zen feeling in a spa setting.

“The master bath is the room homeowners spend time in getting ready in the morning and winding down at night before bed. They want total comfort and refuge from the trials and tribulations of the day,” says Tom Trzcinski, CMKBD, owner and head designer of Kitchen and Bath Concepts in Pittsburgh.

To meet this demand, designers are including colors, materials and products that help create a spa setting. “The whole concept of spa and Zen feelings get translated into colors, textures and light,” says Luis Jauregui, AIA, president of Jauregui Architecture, Construction and Interiors in Austin, Texas. “There are a lot of soft pastels, greens, aquas and a lot of natural materials; and off-white stones, wood cabinetry with natural wood stains combined with some of the soft green colors,” Jauregui says.

Opening up the space

Lighting is important in any room, whether it’s natural or artificial. This is especially the case in master bathrooms where people are putting on makeup or shaving in front of mirrors. “We’re using low-voltage spotlights in the ceilings over the sinks, and sconce lights so the light is directed at their face. The spotlights are meant to be dimmed in the evening for a mood effect,” says John Sofio, president of Built Inc. in Los Angeles.

One way to get natural lighting in the master bath is to create an adjacent courtyard. Jauregui designs courtyards for two reasons: creating a connection between the master bath and the outdoors; and, bringing in natural lighting. “A side yard with a 7-ft. wall and planting materials that vary in height provides a wall of green. This allows you to include large windows in the master bath and maintain privacy,” Jauregui adds.

Sofio also opens up his designs to the outdoors. “There are two ways that we do this. One house we designed had one wall of all glass. The way to deal with privacy is to use electric glass. When a homeowner presses a button, the glass frosts out and when the button is pressed again, the glass goes clear,” Sofio explains. “Another way to expand the bathroom outdoors is to include transom windows between the bathroom and hallway. The hallway becomes the dress area which gives you a transformation between bathroom, dressing and bedroom. Clerestory windows above the sightline allow for light to flow between the two spaces.”

The importance of keeping the style of the bathroom consistent with the rest of the house depends on whom you ask. Some designers feel the bathroom shouldn’t look differently from the rest of the house, while others find that because the bathroom is a retreat, it is possible to give it its own style. “We understand that if it’s not open to the rest of the house, you’re going through the master bedroom to get there; so as a homeowner goes from the master bedroom to the master bathroom, you can make a transition there,” Trzcinski says.

Bruce Bierman, president of Bruce Bierman Design in New York, follows a different theory. “Definitely a home’s style affects the style of the bathroom. Design should be harmonious and consistent in color, materials and overall design theory. It shouldn’t feel like two different people designed it,” he says.

Creating themes in a master bathroom is possible because bathrooms are more private areas of a house, “It’s OK to move into a separate statement. It’s important to note those changes are being made in the master bath. The master bedroom must have some tie into it,” Jauregui says.

Adding creature comforts

As homeowners continue to travel more and experience professional spas on vacations, there will continue to be a demand for luxury products in the master bathroom. “People are trying to find that spa setting in their house as opposed to having to go to the spa; to have a retreat in their own home especially in the master bedroom,” Sofio says.

Homeowners can increase their comfort level with every new product and technology that enters the market. Radiant heat offers homeowners a more comfortable experience as they move from carpeted areas to hardwood floors. Towel warmers and drawers give homeowners ultimate comfort by drying off with warm towels after a shower or bath.

Steam showers also can add to the spa setting. “It’s a way of hydrating and an opportunity to bring the aromatherapy experience home. Even chromatherapy can be implemented in the master bath. It’s a way of experimenting with color without committing to it,” says Lynn Schrage, retail marketing manager for the Kohler Store in Chicago, a division of Kohler Co.

LCD screens add ultimate convenience in the bathroom as people are always on the go. “The LCD screens many times are recessed behind mirrors such as a two-way mirror. That way, homeowners can watch the news when they are getting ready for work and at night before going to bed,” says Linda Eberle, CKD, CBD, designer for Dream Kitchens in Madison, Wis.

Homeowners are turning away from expensive, elaborate tubs and putting more money into larger shower systems, our experts say. With less time for soaking in a tub, homeowners want the efficiency of a shower. Manufacturers are meeting this demand by bringing body sprays, rain showerheads, hand-held showerheads and shower tiles to the market. “Today the shower is beginning to rival the tub as the main focal point because of the practical features available for showers,” Jauregui says.

Tubs, however, continue to be installed in bathrooms even though the focus is switching to showers. “In many instances the master tub is a decorative and visual item more than a functional one, but it’s definitely a very important element of the master bath. It can go from a simple statement, contemporary and clean, to something extremely elaborate with columns and arches,” Jauregui says.

Maintain functionality

The key to designing a truly functional master bathroom starts with finding out what works and doesn’t work in a client’s existing setting. “We need to find out what the key elements are in their minds — what they don’t like about their master baths. Then we need to take away all the negatives and make it a total positive room design,” Trzcinski says.

Another important factor in a master bath is figuring out who uses the space and how. “If there are two people sharing the bathroom, are they sharing it at the same time?” Bierman asks.

Traffic flow is important to keep in mind as well. “If clients will be using the sink at the same time, you’ll want two sinks with space around the sink, or sinks away from each other. Some designers push it with double vanities in a small space. Accommodation is key,” Eberle says.