The Wellness Factor

While trophy bathrooms were all the rage not so very long ago, today it's all about getting back to basics. The buzzword for the day is "wellness," as consumers increasingly look for feel-good spaces to nourish both body and soul.

Nancy Moon, owner of Colorado Springs, CO-based Beckony Kitchens & Baths, explains: "Today, especially in America, people are busy, hectic and stressed. When they get home, they want a place of relaxation'a place to let go'and the bathroom is the ideal location."

This trend is not exclusive to the U.S. At this month's ISH, International Trade Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, one of the hottest attractions was the showcasing of the winners of the Messe Frankfurt's recent design competition whose theme was "Outlook: Shaping Water."

Responding designers conceived what the ideal relationship between man, room and water might look like in the future.

Although the three winning designs'titled "Blue Hour," "Ambient Water" and "Circ," respectively'differed in style and approach, they all focused on the theme of wellness, according to Roger Coleman of the London, England-based Helen Hamlyn Research Center, Royal College of Art. Coleman, who served as a jury panel member for the Messe Frankfurt competition. He explains: "[The goal] is for people to feel good about themselves and their relationship with the natural world."

French designer matali crasset, who also served as a jury panel member, adds: "Today, we want to breathe freely, even in our private bathroom. In the private sector, in family life for example, I like the idea of an open room with direct access to the nursery, where all I have to do when I want to take a bath is draw a curtain, immediately creating an intimate ambience."

Here in the U.S., Carol J. Weissman Kurth, AIA of Bedford, NY-based The Office of Carol J. Kurth, AIA, architect, p.c. offers a similar view. "People want a more luxurious experience at home, one that responds to their experience on vacation. Some people are into yoga or Feng Shui and are requesting that we integrate that into [the bath as well]." She notes that clients are also responding to radiant floor heating, whirlpool spas and mood lighting with dimmers'in short, products that nurture both body and soul.

Moon adds: "High-end products like deluxe toilets, fancy showers and special tubs contribute to the feeling of luxurious relaxation. Gentle lighting and upscale surfaces exude a similar attribute."

Mark Palmer, president of Savannah, GA-and Jacksonville, FL-based Atlantic Coast Kitchen & Bath offers: "We are also seeing body sprays, floor heating and towel warmers, as well as installed music systems and more televisions being incorporated into these projects."

The designers interviewed agree: A Zen-inspired master bath featuring natural materials, or a suite infused with high-tech gadgetry such as LCD-screen TVs and stereo systems, can have a major impact on the client' sense of happiness and well-being.

Coleman adds: "For the future, we must [view] hygiene as a given and start to focus on comfort, warmth, luxury, indulgence and all of the other messages that alternative approaches can give us. A particular feature must be a new approach to materials and cultural and historical references."

Following are some bath remodeling projects that spotlight this growing trend toward wellness as a key design component.

Hotel Home

While it's nice to have "all of the comforts of home," Carol J. Weissman Kurth wanted to ensure that a recent bath remodel project she designed had all that plus all of the amenities of a luxurious hotel.

"The concept was to create what we call a 'hotel at home,'" she recalls. "We really wanted to create a soothing retreat from which to end and begin the day."

To accomplish this, Kurth'along with fellow project design team members Michael Lent, Christine Schwab and Jenna Burger'incorporated a mix of high-end technology, materials and product lines, including an LCD-screen TV, Bottochino Fiorotto light tile, Barbara Barry sinks from Kallista and "Tara" fittings from Dornbracht.

"There is an uncluttered, Zen-like atmosphere that gives the room a floating feeling," she says.

She continues: "In terms of materials, we chose a soothing palette that is almost monochromatic in nature, with the dark wood accenting the monochromatic accents of the home."

Complementing the look is custom cabinetry created by The Carol Kurth Collection, made of wenge wood and featuring a dark, chocolate espresso color.

There were challenges facing Kurth and the design team when they began, she notes. "The room itself had an existing skylight, and one of the challenges was how to treat it so that it didn't look like a hole in the ceiling. We created a liner that had a recessed reveal but features the dark wood of the cabinetry. It also softens the effect of blazing sunlight coming through the skylight," she explains.

Kurth integrated a Japanese-style aesthetic into the space by using a Sogee screen that is found behind the windows. "The screen allows the client to bring light in but mask out the outside," she adds.

Safety was also an issue, she relates, noting that the client had concerns about mold growing on the heavily tiled walls. "[To minimize the client's concerns] we did a staggered design that included a clean border around the room and added detailing to give the space a more complete look," she explains.

Other products used to create the serene atmosphere included a Purist Suite tub from Kohler Co., radiant floor heating, recessed ceiling luminaries from Bega and dark patina, timmeren sconces from Holly Hunt.

Kurth also points out that function and flow were equally as important to the success of the space. To that end, many of the storage options were concealed throughout the space, she says.

"A lot of the cabinetry conceals medicine cabinets, which help reduce clutter. Many of those cabinets open up at the base of the sink, where towels hang on the rail, and they pull out and open as drawers. The one on the left opens for cubby storage and the one on the right has a little trash bin in it," she explains.

In fact, Kurth believes that this remodel is indicative of the styles that clients are pining for today, and will continue to desire for some time to come. "We are seeing clients going toward a more metropolitan look or a minimalist and modern look, such as this project. But, on the other hand, people still request things that are more of a shingle, country style," she says.

Kurth concludes: "I think we will see more people using technology in their day-to-day lives, which may make things more complicated from a design perspective. The idea is to interpret each person's own sensibilities."

Small Packages

When Keith Steier was asked to make the most of a smallish master bath, it served as a reminder as to one of the key trends in wellness-oriented bath remodels.

Steier, who serves as owner of Manhattan, NY-based Knockout Renovation Services, Inc., explains: "One of the trends is a simple look, so people are using wall-mounted sinks, pedestal sinks and vessel sinks as opposed to vanities with cabinets."

He continues: "This [7'x7'] bathroom had a bathtub, but initially was [somewhat] small. In fact, it was your typical 1980s-style, white bathroom with very little floor space and a vanity sink and tub."

To remedy this, Steier gained additional space from an adjacent closet. He expanded the space enough that he was able to create a walk-in shower space that is enclosed with two half walls. "The half walls have built-in recesses for shampoo and soap. Adjacent to that is a copper bowl sink that is set into a cherry wood counter," he explains.

"Furthermore, the counter is actually suspended between the stone tiles that surround the bathroom."

For a more natural feel, Steier selected Dal-Tile tumbled stone with a sand color. "The bathroom is actually floor to ceiling tumbled stone," he says. "Tumbled stone is not very techy and offers a more down-to-earth feeling."

Yet another key element for a "feel good" bath is lighting, says Steier, who selected lighting from Murray Feiss for the project. He explains: "Having dimmers on the light is definitely important, because you can set the lighting to not shock you when you walk in, and you can set different moods."

He adds: "People are going more for higher-end products versus cheap imitations because they think more about long-term wear and tear on the products."

He concludes: "[The bottom line is] that people are using the bathroom as a retreat these days, because it is a great place to recharge your batteries and relax."

Mountain High

For Nancy Moon, creating a Colorado mountain-style spa atmosphere is a popular request. This particular project, however, offered unique challenges.

Moon explains: "The bathroom, upon first glance, was a crowded, dated nightmare. A tub occupied more than half of the room, stretching out from the corner. The rest of the room was shallow, inefficient countertop space supported by old, unpleasing cabinetry."

She continues: "The shower, tub and toilet'while functional'were basic, boring and bland, and there was no flow in the room. Basically, the toilet, shower, tub, cabinets and closet were unhappily combined in a low-ceilinged cage."

To remedy this, Moon vaulted the ceiling. "This created a much more open and light feeling, which was emphasized by a skylight," she remarks.

It was at this point that Moon radically altered the design. "By creating a clear path from the entryway'past the closet, shower, cabinetry and tub to the elevated, hidden toilet'we freed up the space, which gave it a relaxed feeling. We also designed 'his and hers' sink areas to differentiate the areas for more organized storage."

Moon then selected soft, two-tone Jay Rambo cabinetry that featured lighter knotty alder on the upper cabinets and deeper knotty alder on the lowers, creating a sense of subtle sophistication.

To upgrade the design, Moon also chose a steam/mist shower with a bench for relaxation, "his and hers" showerheads, an oversized rainshower, and a hand-held shower mist; a Toto toilet/bidet with a heated seat, and a bubble tub by BainUltra, which offered the ability to use aromatherapy, oil or scented bath products.

"Finally, we relied on neutral, classic colors and a variety of textures to infuse the room with a mountain resort feeling," she adds. "Specifically, the textures included limestone tile from Colorado Finest Stone and Ceramic, granite surfaces, glass tile accents, oil-rubbed bronze faucets and fixtures, as well as the previously mentioned knotty alder cabinetry. To finish, we chose a bronze chandelier to perfect the romantic, cozy, mountain getaway atmosphere."

She continues: "The clients' desire for a retreat dictated many of the product choices and offered an opportunity for the clients to relax and enjoy the bathing experience."

She concludes: "The largest trend in today's bathrooms is to combine as many high-end products in a space as possible no matter the size, such as we did here, bringing the shower, tub, and toilet into a rather tight space."

Glass Effects

Remodeling this bathroom for his young client, Mark Palmer was initially challenged by the cramped space and poorly designed layout.

He explains: "This project had a closed-in shower, and the client wanted to open it up and make the shower bigger. So, we used a lot of glass, which creates a more open feel."

Palmer also removed the previous tub and installed a whirlpool in the space. "We under-mounted the tub with a marble top surrounding the tub. This offers greater ease of access and offers a nice look," he says.

To complement the open, relaxed feeling, he selected natural materials: "It is a Mediterranean-style bath. There is a lot of marble and natural materials, such as travertine flooring."

Although the use of glass is a dominant feature in the space, he also wanted to keep the relaxed vibe. The solution was to mix materials. "There is custom woodwork around the mirrors, which gives off is a real warm look. There is rain glass on the shower, and we built custom paneling around the mirrors to complement the space."

Dynasty cabinetry and granite for the countertop also add warmth to this master bath.

Rounding out the product lineup are such comfort amenities as a whirlpool from MTI Whirlpools, radiant flooring, a showerhead with body sprays from Kohler Co. and a towel warmer.

He notes: "The whole idea was to make it a more livable space, where you could almost live in the bathroom."

In this project, as in many of his current bath projects, Palmer sees a growing trend toward designs that promote a sense of well being. He explains, "A lot of businesspeople consider the bathroom like a think tank: it is place to unwind or charge your batteries. Therefore, a lot of different materials are being seen [to inspire them]. Even ceramics and porcelain tiles are getting popular."

Since nature is the ultimate soothing experience, he says it's no surrpise that so many people want natural materials and glass to create a sense of openness. Of course creative designs that personalize the space also make it the perfect escape: "You can do a lot with the colors of ceramics, for instance, as well as with neat designs in the tile."

He continues: "More and more you are seeing styles [that inspire and soothe], such as round columns for a Grecian look, for example. We are finding that, when it comes to aesthetics, clients want something that is more eye-pleasing and relaxing."

He continues: "Warm cherry cabinetry and white in the bathroom are also popular. There is so much more to offer with the fixtures and off-white and stone sinks. It just makes it a nice place to be."

Natural Remedy

Needing to convert a family's main bathroom into a space suitable for everyday use as well as the occasional house guest, Julie Williams, CKD, CBD and owner of Novato, CA-based Julie Williams Design, chose a solution that was, well, natural.

She explains: "We all lead very busy lives, surrounded with fast-paced technology. This, coupled with global conditions and events, has caused us to seek a serene atmosphere and retreat in our homes. Therefore, I think natural materials, simple design, open spaces, a soothing color palette and the celebration of water [enables designers to] create a personal spa environment for clients."

She continues: "{With this project], we were seeking something with a Zen/Asian style'open, and simple'using natural materials."

The nature theme also ties in with regard to tying together the inside and outside of the home: She points out, "For us, geographic location usually dictates the use of the space, as these are usually second homes either at the Coast or in the mountain areas. This also may determine the material selection."

However, while aesthetics are important, she adds, "I always consider the safety aspect when selecting materials and planning safe access to tubs and showers. For instance, I will suggest decorative grab bars for all showers for all ages," she notes.

In terms of general bath trends, Williams has seen a bigger call for floor warming systems, steam showers, air tubs, multiple shower sprays and more attention to details like tile and colors. Design trends vary by style, she notes, adding, "Traditional design usually means materials with more details, such as furniture-style pieces and symmetry. Contemporary design usually calls for materials that are sleek, with clean lines, open uncluttered design, sometimes bold color and materials used in unexpected ways."

But regardless of whether they prefer traditional or contemporary, clients want baths that reflect who they are. She relates: "It really depends on the project and the desired outcome and needs. I do not have a problem mixing materials, finishes and products if it serves the design and the clients' needs."

For this project, Williams used slate for the floor and shower, as well as a 3"-thick slab on the vanity.

"Cherry wood with a pecan stain was used for the custom piece and made to resemble a table," she reports. "A clear glass Le Bijou vessel sink with a Grohe faucet is reminiscent of an Asian bamboo fountain, while the antique Chinese mirror frame brings a splash of color and an artistic element to soften and balance the space."

A Toto toilet and custom glass enclosure finish out the space.

Williams believes this bath is a good example of how the wellness trend seems to be flourishing. She concludes, "Through the use of naturalistic materials and an open and uncluttered design, we were able to create this wonderful, peaceful space for the client." KBDN


Survey Shows Consumers Seeking Bath with 'Getaway' Appeal

Waco, TX-The year 2005 will be one of "luxury" in bathroom remodeling, according to a survey conducted by a leading remodeling franchiser.

In the latest in a series of surveys into trends in bathroom and kitchen remodeling, DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide reported last month that consumers will continue to seek a true "getaway" with respect to bathroom remodels. Furthermore, said DreamMaker president and owner Doug Dwyer, "consumers will find room in their budgets to trade-up on at least one luxury feature in the typical remodeling project, even if it means downgrading somewhere else."

DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide said it surveyed its approximately 190 independently owned and operated franchises, which average some 20,000 jobs each year.

The company identified universal design as a key bath and kitchen trend, Dwyer said.

"Educated customers are remodeling with safety and flexibility in mind," he observed. "Universal design is the perfect answer to suit an aging population, as well as guard against the number of common accidents that occur in baths and kitchens every day, regardless of the homeowner's age."

Among the key bath design and product trends identified by the company were the following:

  • Creating enlarged spaces by borrowing from adjacent closets or small bedrooms.
  • The creation of a "spa-like" atmosphere.
  • The conversions of tubs to showers with seats.
  • A move toward luxury showers featuring body jets and double shower heads.
  • Quieter ventilation fans.
  • Grab bars for safety.
  • Solid surface countertops.
  • Maple cabinets with natural, light or painted finishes.
  • Granite tile floors.
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