Sizing Things Up

When it comes to master bath remodeling, comfort is certainly king, but many kitchen and bath designers are now finding that they must keep their “eyes on the size,” as well.

In fact, according to kitchen and bath design professionals interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, luxurious amenities are still vital, but clients now appear equally concerned with maximizing every inch of their master bath.

So, whether a master suite features a giant steam room and plasma LCD screen or a smaller shower and tub combination with more space-conscious amenities such as towel and floor warmers, the goal remains the same: The optimum impact of style, comfort, convenience – and, most of all, expression – but doing so in whatever space is available.

Indeed, many of today’s luxury master bath remodels don’t necessarily involve expanding the space, according to Tom Trzcinski, CMKBD, of Pittsburgh, PA-based Kitchen & Bath Concepts.

He explains, “People who have smaller spaces still want the luxury. We have been putting very expensive bathrooms into very modest homes.” Part of the reason for this, he believes, is that consumers are increasingly “realizing the importance of the bathroom, and how it sets the tone for their day.” For that reason, they’re willing to invest in a luxury bathroom, even in a less-than-luxury-sized house.

But while smaller luxury spaces may be a growing trend, this can still prove to be a challenge for bath designers accustomed to working with larger spaces. Gioi Tran, designer and principal for San Francisco, CA-based Applegate Tran Interiors, explains: “I always try to accommodate their requests [to pack as many amenities into the space as possible], but it’s a struggle, because clients always want a tub and a shower.”

Bill Wrape, designer for Distinctive Kitchens and Baths in Little Rock, AR, agrees that he’s definitely seeing more clients trying to cram all the little luxuries into limited spaces, and that they want those amenities regardless of the size of their bath.

“Popular amenities right now include fixed and adjustable showerheads, corner seats, slab glass doors and walls for showers,” he notes. Conversely, Tran cites combinations of hand-held body sprays and separate rain showers as popular among his clients.

Warmth appears to be a hot buzzword among most of the designers surveyed, with items such as radiant floor heating and thermostatic valves growing in prominence. Additionally, products that evoke a feeling of warmth, such as natural materials (particularly stone and glass), also remain popular.

Almost paradoxically (from an aesthetic standpoint), these items are increasingly being combined with the latest in technology, such as Internet/Data ports, televisions and piped in music, to create the best of comfort and convenience.

But, Wrape warns, in order for baths to completely satisfy today’s demanding clients, the space must also simultaneously offer ease of care, reliability in plumbing fixtures, storage options and safety in and around the shower.

To that end, Trzcinski cites the minimalistic, Zen look as becoming more prominent, especially in master baths. “The Japanese-based design is very soothing [and works well] because the idea is to be comfortable. It enables people to get into this refuge and center themselves to face the day,” he says.

For independent designer Patricia Gaylor of Little Falls, NJ-based Patricia Gaylor Interior Design, it is the hotel “spa” look that is driving these trends.

“Each customer is unique, but each and every customer is interested in comfort,” she says.

Taking this idea further, clients are even devoting rooms specifically for massages, so that a masseuse can simply arrive at the home and the massage table is already set up, Trzcinski notes.

While this may seem extreme, Lynnda Colby, owner and president of Austin, TX-based Colby Design, offers a different outlook: “As designers, our main concern should be whether we are creating the ultimate bathing experience for the client. Is the person getting beauty, flexibility and function in the space?”

Gaylor concludes: “In the end, high quality, enduring materials, good use of space, good lighting and a lot of patience is the formula for a great bathroom remodel.”

Spacious Delights
While smaller spaces may be getting luxury makeovers, those who have extra space are certainly willing to use it. In fact, according to Victoria Carrique, v.p./design for New York, NY-based Bruce Bierman Design, Inc., consumers will often opt to sacrifice space from other parts of the home to create the retreat they want. She explains: “Bath designs are moving toward being integrated with the master bedroom suite. If the two rooms merge, this enables a larger, multi-functional space for an entire family to occupy.”

Tran agrees that bigger is definitely better when it comes to bath remodeling, noting, “We are always borrowing space from the bedroom next door, or the closet or the hallway [to accommodate more bells and whistles].” “Size is still a factor, especially when it comes to offering separate spaces for his-and-hers vanities, as well as water closets,” notes Colby.

Luxury showers, too, require plenty of space, according to Schey, who points out that, “Today, everybody wants a large shower – big showers are definitely ‘in.’ ”

And while some won’t part with their tub to get it, others are more flexible. “Our clients usually skip the bath, with the assumption that a children’s or guest whirlpool bath somewhere in the house is an acceptable alternative, [and opt for] the two-person shower with steam,” says Diana Melichar, architect/interior designer and owner of Lake Forest, IL-based Geudtner & Melichar Architects.

Schey sees this happening as well, though some clients are unwilling to forego any amenity. She cites a recent project of a guest bathroom: “It’s unique because it has a tub/shower combination and a steam room off to the side.” “There are a lot of open showers [in master suites today],” adds Trzcinski, “and we are finding that a lot of our showers are being frosted on the bottom and sunbursting to clear. So, you have your modesty panel and your frosting down low, but you still have visual sight on the upper part of the glass [for a spacious feeling].”

Hot Stuff
Whether it be thermostatic valves or radiant floor heating, the trick to creating a comfortable master bath requires all things hot, says Melichar.

“Clients want hot water, so they can stay cozy and warm, and they want to step onto a heated floor when they are done,” she says.

She continues: “The steam equipment is always a challenge, though. [It is difficult to determine] whether to locate it remotely or close by.”

“We are also seeing a lot of requests for radiant heat flooring,” adds Gaylor.

“Floor heating is growing in popularity because it is not that expensive to put in, it is comfortable and the energy cost isn’t bad,” says Schey.

“They also want hot and cold on separate valves,” Tran points out.

Melichar concludes: “[These customers] probably lived with poor shower conditions for quite some time. If they are making their dream bathrooms a reality, they want control over how their shower works.”

Natural Beauty
Natural materials are still very popular in master bath projects, says Melichar.

“We are seeing stone counter-tops, tiles and flooring, as well as glass tiles of varying sizes,” she explains. She continues: “Our clients are enjoying a mix of materials, sizes, shapes, colors and textures by combining slabs and tiles.”

Colby agrees: “We are seeing natural materials engaging glass, metal and ceramics. As designers, we continue to offer these in new and inventive ways, whether it is creating a ledge stone wall over a master tub with candles, or a chandelier over a chaise lounge for seating.”

“Consumers are definitely clamoring for natural materials such as granite, tumbled and natural stone floors and showers, and glass tiles,” stresses Wrape. According to Schey, material selection is yet another way for clients to personalize their master bath. “We are doing a lot of stone, but I see the regular granite being phased out and people selecting more exotic stones, such as rare stones that look like marble,” she says.

Wrape’s explanation for this trend is simple: “Consumers see pictures in magazines and they love the warm looks that come from the natural materials. [They also love to personalize their spaces] which is one reason why glass tiles are so popular in contemporary baths. It helps create that one-of-a-kind look.”

Playing Techno
According to Carrique, creative uses of space are only effective if clients feel they have enough amenities to simplify their lives, and that means technology.

She explains: “Size and technology are the driving forces in bathroom remodels. Clients want larger, luxury bathrooms with all of the amenities of their living rooms. For example, we often install plasma LCDs and Internet/Data ports, along with multi-jet Jacuzzi tubs and rain showers with body sprays.”

“Most clients are requesting flat-screen televisions – and those are really hard to place!” says Melichar. “Typically, it is the husband that wants it more than the wife.”

Colby, however, notes that it is the client’s age that may be the determining factor in consumer interest in technology.

“Technology is definitely an important factor for young professionals. Many times they want televisions concealed behind mirrored vanities or fireplaces incorporated into automated systems while sharing a Jacuzzi multi-head shower system with rainheads, body sprays and hand-held showers,” she says.

Trzcinski concurs: “Since people are getting busier in their lives, they need to have these elements installed in their bathrooms for convenience – whether it be televisions, radios, or speakers in the shower to hear the news. They want to be able to see the TV from each area. This is especially true with financial investor-types.”

“I have done televisions behind the vanity mirror where the TV pops up in the corner,” says Schey. “People want televisions in their bathrooms so they can check the stocks and watch the news when they are getting ready for work.”

Colby points out that this also has aesthetic benefits: “Technology today is such a compatible blend with the newer, cleaner look of master baths. The advantage is a newer look that reflects the fashion industry and our lifestyle.”

Color Coded
Color is another integral part in creating a spacious atmosphere in master baths, Carrique points out. “Our clients are requesting lighter colors, which again, make the room feel larger,” she offers.

But she does quickly add that a drawback to lighter colors is that they are not as stain-resistant as darker colors – another key concern among consumers.

“Color can impact the aura of a space, and yet can be the most economical change for a homeowner at a later date,” Colby offers. “By keeping the cabinetry, plumbing selections and tile in a neutral palette, the designer and homeowner can control the overall impact with the whisk of a paint brush and new accessories. I think this is a ‘win-win’ situation for clients who don’t want to be committed to the same look over the next 10 years or more.”

Melichar agrees: ‘”We’ve seen a real turn around in color in the last few years. It used to be that once a color was chosen, the entire bath would go in that color direction. Now I’m finding that we are interspersing color as an accent more often.”

Wrape interjects: “I am seeing more naturals and stains, which is a change from the common painted finish. For instance, chrome is coming back in fixtures. We are also seeing light maple and cherry cabinets, as well as dark and light natural materials, such as travertine.” Schey notes that color selec-tions will be greatly impacted depending on whether a design is contemporary or traditional.

“Contemporary designs are going very dark, while the traditional are going very pale with light blues, greens and pinks,” she describes.

“People are definitely not afraid of color,” says Trzcinski, “but when doing the stones, they are choosing neutrals and using powerful colors for the walls, accessories and artwork.”

Cool Water
Tran notes that color played an integral part in his recent “Forest Knolls” master bath project. “The clients wanted a contemporary setting with sculpted elements. They wanted clean lines mixed with textures and the Pacific Rim influence, as they both came from Hawaii,” he explains. Therefore, Tran chose cool, blue tones to create the spa-like effect that the clients wanted.

“When I think of a spa, I think cool colors. The stone has a light sense of blue to it, and we used a white with a tint of blue on the walls. In addition, we used an accent of midnight blue at the end of the wall, which tricks the eye and makes it recede,” he says.

Complementing the cool tones, Tran notes, is vertical cherry wood cabinetry and a slightly honed and textured stone.

But, beyond the aesthetics, there were other design challenges he needed to overcome as well, such as the long and narrow dimensions of the space. “Since the ceiling was low, we wanted to emphasize the horizontal lines of the space. Therefore, we tricked the eye by focusing on the horizontal lines,” he explains.

Tran adds that this approach was carried through every detail in the project, including the grout.

“Instead of having a brick pattern where it would look staggered, we have it straight. Everything in this design has the horizontal lines, including the hardware and artwork,” he says.

He continues: “There is a nice juxtaposition of very clean lines with natural textured materials.” The slate flooring enhances the desired effect, as well.

“The bathroom is interesting because you have these clean, geometric lines mixed with the earthiness of natural materials,” he notes.

Adding to the artful, sculptured overall effect of the space, the cabinetry was installed to create a “floating” effect.

“The cabinetry is actually 12" off the floor to make it a sculptural element. It doesn’t look like cabinetry,” he explains.

“Additionally, there is no shower door, and that creates openness,” he notes. “There is a partition of glass that divides the space [without the need of a door].”

He concludes: “When you talk about a tight space, you want to create spaciousness, so it is important to not have anything attached to the flooring or spinning to the ceiling. The idea is to not just use materials for their beauty, but to use lines to create dynamics and spaciousness.”

Dark Light
For Wrape, a recent master bath project he worked on shared similar challenges.

“We needed to take a dark, cramped master bath and transform it into a light, open design with a walk-in shower, breakfast bar, water filtration system, beverage refrigerator, separate vanities and private water closet,” he describes.

The master bath also needed to flow from the master bedroom, which was not part of the original design, he adds.

“The main challenge was to create the open shower in a room with 10-foot-high ceilings, while installing a Kohler ‘Waterhaven’ on a wall that did not go to the ceiling. The idea was to allow the client to see [his] flat-screen television while taking a shower, and also enter the shower from either the left or right side.” To accommodate this – and allow enough natural light into the space – Wrape moved the master bath window up and ran opaque glass along the length of the shower to maintain privacy and keep the area outside of the shower dry.

“Since the client did not want a bathtub, it left room for the shower, with enough room for two people and corner seating,” he adds.

Capping off the design are heated floors, which the clients also enjoyed, Wrape notes.

Design Upgrades
According to Gaylor, two of her more recent remodel projects reflect the adage “out with the old and in with the new.”

“In the first project, the existing bathroom was extremely outdated and cramped, and serviced the needs of the entire family,” she says.

In particular, the clients requested that the space include a roomy shower, double sinks, cherry cabinets and ample storage – all while creating a vintage farmhouse look.

To accomplish this, Gaylor annexed a “quirky little niche” in a rear bedroom, which created the space needed for the shower.

She continues: “In this bathroom, every inch of usable space was considered. I even diminished the depth of a linen closet in the main hall to gain much needed space inside the shower.”

For added detail, Gaylor selected nickel-finished hardware and fittings, and then added a storage seat and clerestory window to achieve the authentic farmhouse look. Capping off the look was beadboard wainscoting and cherry cabinets, along with limestone countertops and flooring in a matte finish, which created an aged patina aesthetic, she notes.

The second project – which she dubs a “McMansion” – boasted many bathrooms with ample space for the clients. But, there were considerable design drawbacks involved, she adds.

“The master bath, although very large, had very poor quality cabinets, flooring and fixtures that had been installed when it was originally built,” she says. To remedy this, Gaylor “upgraded the shower with lots of features, including a rain shower from the ceiling, lots of body sprays, hand-held shower and a fogless shaving mirror.”

She concludes: “[It worked out well] because it was simply a matter of changing out the old for the new, and upgrading what was already in place.”

Space Saver
Of course, with such importance placed on the ever-evolving sizes of master baths, the issue of storage is paramount.

“We try to plan for all of the required storage,” reports Melichar, who says that her firm has used a fair number of furniture pieces to house towels, for instance, and to create a less institutional look.

“Clients generally want large storage areas for whatever they need, with less cabinetry and more natural stone for surfaces,” says Trzcinski.

“Large bathrooms better utilize storage,” adds Carrique. “For example, we see a lot of hampers within the vanities.”

But, she does warn that in these instances, designers would be wise to provide proper ventilation to prevent moisture from damaging items being stored there.

Other storage solutions include ample drawer space, linen storage, cabinets on countertops, and high-tech medicine cabinets, says Wrape.

He continues: “The space of the usual master bath requires some very creative storage ideas to make the client happy.”

Carrique concurs: “Storage space is so popular because people are spending more time in their baths and consider it a spa retreat.”

Trzcinski adds: “The bottom line is that, in the high-end marketplace, you have to be light on your feet and have to be able to listen to your client. You also need to do the research necessary and come up with solutions to solve their problems.”

Universal Appeal
Most of the designers interviewed also agree that clients – especially Baby Boomers – are becoming increasingly open-minded to the prospect of Universal Design elements in their master suites.

Wrape explains: “As Baby Boomers continue to age and live longer, we are going to be challenged as designers to make showers and tubs safe and attractive, and bathrooms accessible for all situations.”

Trzcinski agrees: “A lot of designs are incorporating Universal Design elements, so it becomes commonplace to do it. In fact, I think we will continue to see more Universal Design elements, and you may even see manufacturers roll in one-piece units.”

He adds: “For instance, we are doing more curbless showers, for two reasons: It is easier to get in and out, and it also aids in the ADA-compliance for wheelchairs.”

Schey concurs: “A lot of people are asking for the curbless and doorless showers because they are low maintenance.”

Melichar disagrees, however: “I have only done one shower that was both curbless and doorless. It costs quite a bit of money to create the trench drain to accommodate the water overflow.”

“It’s rather like insurance,” she adds. “They would prefer to take the risk not to install it, with the reason being that when they require changes, they will remodel again.”

Colby adds that grab bars are receiving a lot of attention from consumers who are 35 years old or older. Wrape adds: “We are designing more and more with grab bars and [increasingly] doing showers that are at the level of the floor because the client is concerned about the future.”

Trzcinski further notes: “We are seeing grab bars placed ergonomically on angles, adjusted to the heights of the client.”

Should clients not be ready for Universal Design elements in their master bath, Schey has a solution. “I like to put a backing behind the wall. Then if they need a grab bar in the future, it is always there. I also make the doors extra-wide so a wheelchair can be accommodated in the future,” she points out.

She concludes with this perspective: “The customers select what they want, so in a way, they design the space and, [as the designer, I put it together to make it function. If they love it and are happy, then it is the perfect design.”

Eliminating the ‘Slippery Slope’ Key to Creating the Ideal Bath Retreat

BY Matthew Bodoff and Bill Kennedy

Bathrooms today are more than just functional rooms for bathing and grooming. In fact, homeowners of all ages view the bath as a place to escape from the stresses of everyday life.

Once people are past a certain point in their life, however, bath spaces can turn into a source of anxiety rather than a means of escape.

An aging U.S. population, coupled with a desire by most Americans to “age in place,” is expected to create a strong and growing demand for home improvements that meet the needs of the elderly and physically challenged.

Despite its perceived stress-reducing benefits, the bathroom is actually the most dangerous room in the house. According to a Harvard University study, an average of more than 400 people a day are admitted to emergency rooms due to falls in the bathroom. Many of these cases involve people over the age of 65. To address this safety concern, bathroom remodeling professionals, architects, contractors and fixture manufacturers are developing and implementing a wide range of product and design improvements that combine safety and comfort with style and functionality.

To best serve consumers, designers must be knowledgeable about safety needs and aesthetic concerns. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the most common bathroom design-related concerns of the elderly and their caregivers are knob-type faucets, poor illumination, projected edges, cold surfaces and obstructed entrance and exit from the tub and shower.Additional concerns include inaccessible storage, difficulty maintaining balance and the inability to reach controls from outside the tub and shower.

Universal Designs
In order to address growing safety concerns, the AARP has developed extensive bathroom design suggestions. These designs not only appeal to the elderly and disabled, but also to the broader market. The installation and construction of ADA-standard (Americans with Disabilities Act) bathrooms is an important trend that’s rapidly gaining in momentum. Mainstream homes and businesses are favoring the “open-space” feeling that comes only from a bathroom embracing universally safe design.

In terms of bathroom material selection, cast polymer composites are an option that should certainly be considered. These materials include cultured marble, cultured granite, cultured onyx and solid surface products that can be used for shower receptors, bathtubs, enclosure sets, whirlpool baths, vanities, countertops, lavatories and other applications.

By using cultured and solid surface products, designers, remodelers and builders can easily and fashionably incorporate the following three elements of AARP’s universal bathroom design:

  • Bathtubs with a built-in transfer bench. This simple design can help anyone who is having difficulty getting into or out of a bathtub. The key feature is a wide shelf to safely sit on before getting into the tub.
  • Fold-down or fixed shower seats. Many elderly people prefer to sit while showering. This seat is a good accessory for people who tire easily or who cannot stand while showering.
  • Walk-in/roll-in shower. These showers provide a gentle, easily crossed threshold. A wheelchair can be rolled in, or a person can walk into the shower without having to step over a high tub wall, but the water remains in the shower area.

For persons in wheelchairs, the bathroom presents a number of challenges based on how fixtures are designed. Traditional pedestal basins or vanities with cabinet storage under the sink can be almost impossible to use. However, traditional vanity design does not have to be abandoned altogether. A space underneath the sink can be provided, allowing a wheelchair to roll in comfortably. Cabinet storage can also be placed on either side of the sink opening.

The key is to make sure the sink is placed in a location that allows the person to have easy access to outlets, a medicine cabinet and towel racks, all without having to roll back out from the sink area.

Roll-in shower stalls, as noted earlier, are also a must for universal homes. These easily accessible showers can still be attractive and functional if some simple rules are followed. According to the ADA, a 3'x4'6" stall should provide enough access for most wheelchairs.

Essential features of the roll-in shower should include a grab handle bar, a non-slip floor, easy-to-operate faucets and reachable storage space for items such as shampoo and soap.

Do the Research
In order to begin designing new or remodeled bathrooms to suit the needs of handicapped or elderly persons, there are a number of excellent sources for information on applicable codes, AARP recommended guidelines and material performance standards and specifications.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities can be accessed online at Another group has taken the ADA guidelines a step further, assembling practical solutions for homes that will accommodate disabled persons. Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has created the manual “Accessible Home Design: Architectural Solutions for the Wheelchair User,” available at

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) helps ensure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of industry by diligently managing the only recognized system for consensus-based national standards. For example, Standard ANSI/ICPA SS-1-2001, developed by the International Cast Polymer Alliance (ICPA) of the American Composites Manufacturers Association, establishes a common set of performance criteria for solid surface materials. The ICPA also endorses a third-party certification program to assure consumers of the performance of solid surface materials they select and use. Products that meet the requirements may be labeled to indicate the product passes the standard and meets the proposed HUD Use of Materials. For information on ANSI/ICPA SS-1-2001, the third-party certification program, performance criteria, applications and master specifications of cast polymer composite products, visit the ICPA Web site at

Meeting Customer Needs
According to an AARP study, 50 percent of those responding said they would be interested in speaking with someone about how to plan their bathrooms for their lifestyle changes. However, 28 percent of elderly respondents surveyed also said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about finding reliable remodelers to help modify their homes.

Architects, designers, remodelers and manufacturers must prepare for demands resulting from the changing age of the American population, as well as the ways in which safety concerns will influence bathroom remodeling over the coming years. Changes in designs to meet the specific needs and concerns of people remodeling for accessibility will be key to success in this expanding market.

ADA standards must be followed when constructing truly safe fixtures. For a full listing of these ADA design standards, visit the ADAAG Web site or contact the AARP at 800-424-3410. For assistance in locating cast polymer composites manufacturers and other resources, check out the ICPA’s Web site at and click on “Find a Source.”

Matthew Bodoff, CCT-I/CP, is a technical sales representative with SP Systems North America. He can be reached at 401-595-6881 or at Bill Kennedy, CCT-CP, is a v.p. at Gruber Systems, Inc. He can be reached at (661) 257-4060 or