Suite Inspirations

As business travel and media coverage attract a growing number of people to visit exotic destinations around the world, U.S. designers are increasingly being asked to recreate rooms to reflect these exotic locales – and include all the luxury hotel-style amenities.

This appears to be especially true of the master suite, which has become a refuge for homeowners. "It's their own suite, and I'm referring to the presidential suite in the best hotels," comments Peter Ross Salerno, CMKBD and owner of Peter Salerno, Inc., in Wyckoff, NJ.

"People are now doing what the Astors and the Vanderbilts used to do years ago – travel the world, pick up things for the home along the way, and bring them back," he observes.

In fact, this trend has opened up a whole new world of design – and profit – possibilities for kitchen and bath designers. After all, if they're going to design an opulent master bath, why not coordinate a whole master suite incorporating the same exotic theme?

The client benefits from design continuity and the designer's overall skills with such key aspects as great, well-organized storage and a spa-like, luxury escape vibe. And designers can expand into new venues that add profits – and opens up new work without having to find new clients.

However, while kitchen and bath designers certainly possess the knowledge and skills to handle master suites, to be truly successful, they also need to be keyed into the trends, which are somewhat broader than those found in the master bath alone.

For instance, influences for master suite designs are increasingly coming from the Far East and Old Europe – areas known for their opulent design.

Gavriella Fiedler, president, Interior Dimensions, Inc. of in Harrisburg, PA, notes that she is currently working with a couple who favor designs that are very ornate. "What they were showing me was very Tuscan, very Mediterranean," she says, "so I designed the suite so that, when you go into the bath from the bedroom, you go through these two arches with wrought iron gates as if you're stepping out onto a Mediterranean terrace."

Fiedler notes that she likes to use materials in an unusual way, and the wrought iron in the master suite is one example of that. "You wouldn't normally think of using it in an interior, but it's one way to separate the two rooms yet still keep the space open."

The interest in luxurious amenities is just one element that kitchen and bath designers can use to extend out from the master bathroom into the bedroom and other areas of what now encompasses a master suite.

Many people, when designing or renovating a master bedroom area, have a long wish list, and designers need to look at how to fulfill those lists in total, not just in the bath.

"It used to be that when you talked about a master suite, there was a bed and a luxurious bath," comments Salerno. "Now, it's a luxurious complex, some that are from 1,000 to 1,500 sq. ft. They include a sitting room with a fireplace, a bedroom with a fireplace, and a bath with a tub and a fireplace behind it."

"A lot of the homes that I do are renovations of older homes, where the standards for a master bath used to be so different. Some of them are the size of a closet with one sink and a toilet. Now, people are willing to spend money on increasing the size and overall feel of the space," comments Fiedler, who sees this as an opportunity for kitchen and bath designers to generate greater profits by doing these larger, full master suite jobs.

But while clients understand the overall feeling they want from the space, putting the whole thing together is quite another story. "Something that I hear often is 'I know what I like, I just don't know how to put it together.' And I say that's great, because it's why people like me have a job," stresses Fiedler.

The first thing that many designers question is what the client wants, and the amount of space with which to work. Often they end up stealing space from other rooms to add sitting areas and centrally located closets or dressing rooms.

People are very willing to combine other rooms to create a larger, more luxurious master suite, "especially if you're working with an older couple whose kids have already left the house," explains Fielder. "The trend is, 'This is my turn, my time, my space.'"

"We've done two renovations recently where we took over another room to create the dressing area/closet combination, as well as the bath," notes Charles S. Cook, AIA and principal of Myefski Cook Architects Inc. in Glencoe, IL. The people most willing to give up an extra bedroom for the added master suite space are those on the verge of becoming empty nesters, he agrees. "They maintain a couple of bedrooms for when the kids come home, but they're willing to lose a bedroom for the master suite."

Mastering the Bath

When working in the master bath, it's essential to stay in tune with clients' innermost desires. "There are lots of choices, and there are people who have needs they don't even realize they have," Salerno explains.

This provides great chances to upsell projects while making clients happier with the end result.

He notes that he is working with a couple now that requested a platform tub. And when he explained that, by replacing that tub with a soaking tub, he would have enough room to include a make-up vanity next to the woman's vanity, she was thrilled.

"She loved the idea and said it was something that she always wanted," Salerno reports.

Even if the bathroom isn't big, by moving things around, a designer can create an element that makes the room more luxurious, he points out.

The separate make-up vanity is a standard request in today's master suites, with separate vanity areas also common and separate sinks a must.

Salerno notes that, when there's space, clients are even requesting his-and-hers baths within the suite. "Forget about sharing a sink," he comments. "Many people don't even want to share a bath."

However, Jim Meloy, CKD, president of Kitchen & Bath Concepts in Roswell, GA, reports not having too many requests for separate baths, or even separate vanities. "Typically, I think couples are doing more together today," he comments. "They're both into their own professional lives, and they're usually getting together and getting ready at the same time, so that bath is their common ground."

While the vanity area might be shared, his-and-hers toilets are relatively common, according to Cook. And Erica Westeroth, CKD and partner of XTC Designs, Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, notes that while in the past a toilet and separate bidet were common, clients are now looking for bidet-type seats for the toilet to save valuable floor space.

Water closets, or at least a separate, private area for the toilet behind opaque glass, are also on the rise, as master suites increasingly adopt a more open floorplan.

In keeping with the openness of the design, many of today's showers don't have doors. "We're seeing a lot of walk-in showers with multiple showerheads," reports Drury.

Many people prefer a nice, big shower to a tub, agrees Fiedler, and people seem to prefer them doorless. "It provides ease of going in and out, and you don't have to worry about cleaning the glass," she explains.

However, Drury cautions all of her clients to design the shower so that a door can be added, "because I have had some people who feel they can't keep it as warm as they would like because there's no door."

Steam showers seem to be replacing the whirlpool tub in popularity, as master baths become more efficient and tailored to the needs of the individuals using them. "We tell our clients to put in the things that they're going to use," stresses Cook. "If they've had a whirlpool tub in the past and never used it, then they shouldn't put it in.

While he notes that many people used to install whirlpools for resale value, he now recommends not wasting the space if it won't be used. "But everybody uses the shower, so having a nice-sized shower is critical, and upgrading to a steam shower is a good investment for many customers," Cook remarks.

It is recommended that showers have a bench so users can sit comfortably, and, to that end, a heated bench, as well as heated floors, add value – and luxury appeal. These are also items clients are usually willing spend more to get.

For designers creating a master suite with an open floorplan, Westeroth notes the importance of proper ventilation. "In open floorplan designs, you have a spill over in humidity, since you don't have a door," explains Westeroth. "So you might need more powerful ventilation, or two vents where you might previously only have had one."

Of course, many master bath designs still include a separate, large tub. Rather than whirlpool tubs, however, many are soaking tubs, or air tubs with chromatherapy or aromatherapy, designers note.

Other, newer amenities in the bath include saunas, which are often installed next to the steam shower, and remote control window shades for privacy.

"If the master suite is on the first floor, the tub may be surrounded by a picture window to take in the views," Salerno reports. "However, who wants to stand up on the tub deck to open and close the shades? With these shades, you hit the remote control, and all of the shades come down."

Also a must for customers nowadays – and a place where kitchen and bath dealers can add to their bottom lines – are electronics, which are rapidly gaining ground in the master suite. Full stereo systems with piped-in music are a regular feature, and televisions – often more than one – are a must.

"Our customers are very well informed," notes Meloy, "and with televisions today, you can put them in the bath and flip the screen with a remote control," so it can be seen from a number of angles around the room.

The development of the plasma television has given designers more options, according to Cook. He reports that a suite he is working on features a 42" plasma television that pops out of the ceiling, keeping it out of the way when it's not in use.

Most of the designers queried are also regularly installing televisions behind a mirror. The mirror acts as a mirror when the television is turned off, but a television when it is turned on, they report.

Besides catering to the regular cleansing routines that are a function of the bath, Drury notes that she also incorporates a small dressing area in the baths she designs.

"We include at least one armoire piece that has storage for underwear, lingerie, t-shirts," she explains. "This way, you don't have to run into a closet or into a bedroom to find what you need."

Drury adds that her firm has expanded on this, incorporating entire closets within the bath. "When this is done, it's usually in the form of beautiful furniture that look like armoire units," she offers.

Dressing Up

While people once clamored for master bedrooms with walk-in closets, today's master suites often go one step farther, incorporating built-in closets and dressing rooms.

Many master suite dressing rooms are designed to look like upscale department stores, with rich cabinetry, triple mirrors and other amenities suited to individual tastes.

"Nowadays, clients are willing to spend more money on built-in closet organizers," stresses Jiun Ho, principal of Jiun Ho, Inc. in San Francisco, CA. "It's like walking into a high-end boutique, where everything is nicely displayed and is easy to access."

"The dressing area often constitutes an island, as well as an area with a bench where you'll be able to sit to put on your shoes, your socks and your pants, a place to get dressed or lay your clothes out or have someone lay them out for you," details Salerno. There should also be a place to put out costume jewelry that doesn't need to be locked away, a place for shoes and a place for purses.

"We have designed his-and-hers walk-in closets, and those can be connected by a central dressing area," comments Cook. "Then, we've also done designs where the closet is not just a closet, but, rather, a whole dressing area itself."

Clients who are regular travelers are also requesting a packing area. "Our clients travel all the time, and they need a spot where they can lay their suitcase and pack it up and go," explains Meloy. Included in this area is a bar that will pull out and can be used to hang clothes.

"People prefer dressing rooms to walk-in closets if there's space," stresses Westeroth.

"People want to have a real Hollywood-style dressing room, where you have maybe a chaise or something similar inside of it," she reports. "It's also a great place to have a minibar area, where you'll have a small refrigerator for juice, or a small coffee maker."

These 'breakfast bar' areas – which are an add-on dream for kitchen and bath designers – are becoming more popular and include more amenities than ever before. They are being incorporated into other areas of the master suite, as well.

"We've seen the breakfast bar include a refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker and sink," comments Cook. "People have coffee, cream and yogurt in their refrigerators."

"People are also using the refrigerator as a minibar," comments Salerno. "A beverage center can be used to house beer or wine or soft drinks. In addition, we've installed icemakers for those who want to have a drink."

"Having a breakfast bar adds to the idea of the master suite becoming more of its own little retreat," he continues. "And, the more self-contained it is, the better for some people."

Have a Seat

Breakfast bars are most often best suited for the sitting area of the master suite, designers say. A key element in the current design of the master suite, the sitting area can be incorporated into the main bedroom or located in a separate area, and is a great area for add-on cabinetry in rich finishes.

"People do like a defined space for the sitting area," states Cook. Rather than have one big room for the bedroom, people are looking for bedrooms that are fairly comfortable in scale for the furniture that needs to be in there, he explains. "Then, ideally they want an alcove or a separate space that's open to the bedroom, an area that provides flow, but is a little more articulated as a space that is a sitting/reading area – a peaceful spot with a fireplace or a nice view of the yard."

The inclusion of a sitting area in the master suite depends on two things, according to Salerno. "The first is the size of the house," he stresses. "However, it also has to do with the clients' lifestyle. If these people are used to going to only the best five-star hotels and living that lifestyle, when they come home, they want to be able to recreate the same thing. A lot of times, that's what drives the design of the sitting room."

In addition to a fireplace, the sitting room often constitutes a television, bar, coffee station, wine refrigerator and icemaker, notes Salerno. "I've done suites where we put upper cabinets in the sitting room that have glass doors, so the homeowners can display martini or wine glasses, as well as collectibles such as Fabergé eggs," he reports.

Add-on Areas

As if all of these elements weren't enough, clients are asking for additional functional forms within the master suite.

Exercise rooms are among some of the more popular amenities being included in master suites, providing more profit opportunities for kitchen and bath designers.

After all, "Why have the exercise room in the basement if you can have it right off of your master bath?" queries Salerno. "You come out of your gym and go into your sauna, your steam shower or regular shower, or go into the hot tub or whirlpool bath. It's all right there."

Gyms located within this domain are often equipped with a television, music and breakfast bar.

Laundry areas, whether mini or full-size, are also a popular addition to the master suite, and yet another profit opportunity.

"People definitely like having their laundry in the same area as the master bedroom," comments Fiedler.

"Having a washer/dryer in the master suite is fairly common," concurs Cook. "While there may be a full-sized laundry room elsewhere in the house, having their own stackable unit is convenienent. They don't want to be lugging all of their laundry up and down the stairs."

Suite Services

One of the ideas that kitchen and bath designers are split on is the concept of providing decorating services in addition to their design expertise. Many clients interested in creating a master suite are looking for designers who will take on the whole job, including the choosing of wall coverings, window treatments and even linens.

While some designers see the decorating details as part of going the extra mile – not to mention a great avenue for generating additional profits – others view it as an uncomfortably step out of their realm of expertise.

"We don't do decorating, but we do provide a complete design service," comments Drury, who strongly believes that "clients need to go to a professional who does that all of the time."

Others are more comfortable embracing this. For instance, "We are a complete service design firm, so we specify everything that goes into the home, including the linen, towels, china and silverware," reports Ho. "We have clients who will call us from Asia and ask us to shop for a bath towel for them in New York City."

Certainly, for every designer venturing into the realm of master suites, there are lucrative jobs to be won. Understanding the elements that comprise each segment of creating and selling the master suite is the first key to success.