Traditional Roots, Modern Sensibilities

When it comes to baths, today's hottest buzzword seems to be transitional. That's according to kitchen and bath dealers and designers and architects recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Indeed, today's consumers seem to be most interested in bathrooms that combine traditional and contemporary elements for a look that maintains its Old World appeal, without being cluttered or "overdesigned."

"The most popular style among my clients is transitional," concurs Michael McCloskey, a licensed, registered architect and owner of Michael McCloskey Design Group in Marblehead, MA. "It's rooted in the traditional with traditional woodwork, but also with fixtures and equipment that lend a more modern flair… It really gives my clients the chance to set their baths apart from baths from previous generations and eras."

"I also see the today's baths heading toward more transitional styling," agrees Terri Darmenio, a kitchen and bath designer with Alure Home Improvement in East Meadow, NY. She cites as an example baths featuring natural, beige-like tones and warm, wood cabinetry with a door style such as Shaker that has sleeker lines, yet a low-key, contemporary flair.


Traditional styling has long been popular for high-end baths because consumers tend to equate luxury and comfort with the ornamentation traditional styling offers.

However, from these traditional roots, many of these baths are now taking on a somewhat more scaled-down approach for a look that's still very traditional, just a bit cleaner and more streamlined.

"I'm doing much more traditional. My clients want more detailing, more trim, the framed mirrors, the soffits adorned with corbels and columns on either side, with granite everywhere. Since many of my clients have already raised their children and are finished with college obligations, they want to pull out all the stops," notes Michael Graziano, CKD, CBD, CR and owner of Aladdin Remodelers, Inc. in Massapequa Park, NY.

"A lot of my clients in the ultra high end want the luxurious look and feel of the furniture they chose for their traditional-style homes translated into the bath," offers Julie Howes, kitchen division manager for Cherry Hill, NJ-based Strober Building Supply. She manages all four of Strober's showrooms located in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"Many of my clients want the warmth, comfort, coziness and elegance that a traditional bath can give, with all of the pattern, fabrics, upholstered pieces and furniture styling that go along with it," adds Sally Ann Sullivan, CKD and owner/president of Showcase Kitchens and Baths, Inc. in Tulsa, OK.

But while consumers still favor such traditional hallmarks as darker, richer wood tones with some ornamentation (perhaps corbels and turnings) for a furniture-style look for their cabinetry, the overall design is still very much influenced by the clean lines and uncluttered feeling of contemporary style, design professionals agree.

For instance, Sullivan also sees a more minimalistic style emerging among her clients, who are choosing some of the same luxe elements found in traditional-style baths and giving them cleaner lines and slightly less pattern to make them work in the transitional realm.

"While traditional styling is very strong among my clients, there is some Asian influence gaining ground," adds Howes.

Consumers, as a whole, are also expressing a need to create a peaceful oasis to which they can retreat after a long, chaotic day. Thus, given the need for a no-stress, uncluttered retreat most often reflected in contemporary looks - and the notion of traditional aesthetics offering a luxe, elegant feel most often desired - these two schools of stylistic thought are melding together into a warm, transitional, hybrid look with which most consumers feel comfortable. This is especially true when consumers may want to express their contemporary tastes, but stay true to the traditional-style architecture of their homes.

"In my area there are a lot of traditional-style homes, and they don't want to get away from that architectural feel. So I put a lot of classic materials and elements into contemporary settings that flow with the rest of the homes," reports Carla Nitz-Gamper, CKD, CBD, CR and interior designer. She runs her own firm in Atlanta, GA called Elementé Design & Remodeling.

To that end, she uses a lot of limestone, glass tile inlays, polished or brushed nickel faucets and hardware, and a lot of cabinetry in dark woods such as quarter-sawn oak and dark rift-cut oak with medium to dark finishes in chocolate and coffee bean hues.

"We have a variety of architectural styles in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. So there's a tendency to incorporate elements of traditional and contemporary, for a transitional look. I especially see it in Craftsman- and Bungalow-style homes here, and it works really well," relates Jennifer B. Pippin, owner of and designer with Pippin Home Designs, Inc. in Cornelius, NC.

"I'm seeing more transitional style, as well. People are moving away from traditional walnut and oak to darker cherries and other darker woods," adds Dennis E. Yates, AIA and founding principal of Yates-Chreitzberg-Hughes Architects, PA in Concord, NC.


Residential baths are also being influenced by the style showcased in top-of-the-line hotels and resorts, with clients requesting style ideas gleaned from the luxe accommodations they frequent.

According to McCloskey, hotel bath design is definitely influencing his clients' tastes. "For me, I see it as a huge influence. The idea of connecting the bedroom to the bath, letting them be somewhat open to each other via glass or half walls, is making its way from European and American contemporary hotels where this is already happening to the master baths of my clients. They are seeing this and requesting it more. It makes the whole room feel larger," he elaborates.

McCloskey further notes that his clients want fewer built-in cabinets and more furniture-style storage pieces that are free-standing, based what they are seeing in these hotels and resorts.

Gerard Ciccarello, owner of Covenant Kitchens in Westbrook, CT has a different take on how hotels and resort bath style is influencing residential bath design: "Most often those ideas relate to the shower, and the type of enclosure."

The showers in the high-end hotels and resorts tend to influence those found in master baths, in particular, Ciccarello continues. "For instance, people see the 3/8"- or 1/2"-thick glass doors that swing in and out in the showers, they see the rainfall showerheads and multi-jet shower systems, and they want it all in their master bath showers."


Indeed, there continues to be a trend toward large, walk-in, super showers sans doors or with clear, frameless glass enclosures. A great deal have lower or no thresholds, feature natural stone tile or slab granite with recesses or wire baskets for toiletries, and offer myriad shower features, such as multiple showerheads, rain showerheads, hand-held sprays and thermostatic valves.

Many even have steam units, heated, built-in shower benches and floors, and their own on-demand water heaters located in close proximity to the bath.

"I'm installing a lot of on-demand hot water heaters that provide a continuous supply of hot water to the master bath shower that don't require a storage tank, or a second water heater within 30' or less of that shower," reports Pippin.

"I'm doing a lot of heated tiles, heating elements that run into the shower floor and seat," adds Ciccarello.

More often than not, while a shower/tub combination seems standard in most hall, kids' and guest baths, the shower is taking center stage in the master bath, as more consumers are finding that they have less time to lounge in whirlpool tubs.

Indeed, with their on-the-go schedules, consumers like the idea of having a shower they can hop in and out of in a hurry, say designers. They add that consumers also like the idea of relaxing in their newly "souped-up" showers; plus, they facilitate the idea of aging in place.

"I'm doing a lot of curbless, doorless showers that lend themselves to that idea. We're also putting in very attractive grab bars that read more like decorative arm rests, yet are sturdy enough for use as grab bars. Then we make sure the floor is a non-slip surface," offers Sullivan.

However, while in some cases large showers are even replacing tubs in master baths - as long as there is a tub located somewhere in the home for resale - design professionals do report that when there's room, they are installing a separate tub and shower.

"I'm replacing a lot of older tubs with larger showers. I'm only adding in a whirlpool tub if space allows," concurs Graziano.

"I'm seeing larger showers and fewer tubs. If there is a tub, it overlooks a see-through fireplace that links back to the master bedroom," adds Pippin.

The tubs getting the most play are air-massage or deep, soaking tubs because they appeal to consumers' need for pampering while offering lower maintenance, they note. But the traditional jetted whirlpool tub is still holding some ground.

"I'm still doing a lot of jetted whirlpool tubs, along with some air-massage tubs," notes Darmenio.

"And I'm seeing more people enjoying more sophisticated whirlpools tubs, ones with aromatherapy and chromatherapy," Yates chimes in.


The bells and whistles don't just stop at the shower door, or the tub deck, either. Design professionals report that they continue to see the trend toward making the master bath, in particular, part of a larger master suite, infusing it with many products normally seen elsewhere in the home.

For example, like many fellow design professionals today, Sullivan is installing refreshment bars in the master bath that can feature simply an undercounter refrigerator, but could also feature a microwave. She's also installing warming drawers instead of heated towel warmers.

Howes is also seeing small, undercounter dishwashers.

TVs are also big, says Nitz-Gamper, as are closets large enough to house big islands.

Graziano sees more saunas going into the master bath. In fact, he's done three in the past few months, he reveals. He's also noticing that skylights are still hot among his clients, while Pippin sees a movement toward more transom-type of windows.

Yates is also receiving more requests for windows that provide more natural light in the bath, and that frame views landscaped specifically for the master bath to overlook.

To that end, Nitz-Gamper installs French doors that open up into a garden area whenever space allows.

Pippin is going one step farther by extending the master bath into the outdoors by installing a garden shower area. "They generally have some Asian flavor, with some teak and some colorful, lace-up canvas panels that can be taken out or changed as desired or needed," she explains. "I either leave them completely open to the air, or enclose them in their own porch area with a skylight."

Pippin is further noticing the migration of the laundry center to the master bath/master suite area from the kitchen. And she's seeing hot tubs moved out onto the decks off the master suite.


Another area that's taken center stage is the vanity, agree design professionals. Storage and function have greater meaning for vanities that inhabit family baths. In contrast, in powder rooms, where storage is not as much of a factor as design impact is, vanities showcase more unique looks, with antique furniture pieces, vessel sinks and wall-mount faucets being the materials of choice. They add visual punch to what tends to be a much smaller space.

Additionally, design professionals say that in the master bath, his-and-her vanities - whether together or separate - have now become the norm. In fact, vanities are extrapolated into his-and-hers baths with their own sinks, faucets and countertop height geared for the user. Make-up areas usually complete the "hers" vanities, and many times each area has its own adjacent closet area.

In terms of style for vanities, cabinetry and other storage pieces, the furniture look, which is marked by fluted columns, feet, legs and other moldings, is hot because it gives a bath a warmer, more decorative feel. While that's generally a hallmark of traditional style, when paired with darker finishes and a sleeker door style and ornamentation, it blends seamlessly into today's transitional style, design professionals agree.

Topping those vanities most frequently are natural stones, such as granite and marble, say design professionals.

As for surfacing materials in other areas of the bath, natural stone tiles in marble or limestone, slab granite or marble and other stone-look tiles also reign supreme. Design professionals are also seeing glass tile making headway as accent tile.

"I'm seeing more luxury tile - marble, tumbled stone, ceramic and glass tiles," indicates Howes.

In terms of other fixtures, toilets are still getting their own separate areas in master baths, but, depending on the bath size, they are either simply tucked behind knee walls, or given their own rooms with windows and sometimes their own sinks.

"They are also receiving the linen closets and bidets in some cases," says Pippin.

For faucets, fittings and hardware, design professionals agree that brushed or polished nickel and oil-rubbed bronze are the current hot picks.