Baths Get Personal

Baths Get Personal

Elegant 'super showers' are now taking center stage as consumers seek to upgrade their baths to fit their lives.


Indeed, today's market offers a wide range of bathroom products that can help someone rediscover his or her individual voice. From cabinets and fixtures to countertops and tile, these products allow consumers the opportunity to create a restful, luxurious and beautiful room that also reflects a personal sense of self.

It's no surprise, then, that today's consumers are spending more money to obtain the luxury and comfort they believe they deserve in the bath particularly in the master bath. That's the word from designers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News. The same idea, they say, holds true for powder rooms, which have increasingly become a place to put products in particular, vanities and vessel sinks that have enough visual punch to wow the guests who use them.

As for main baths geared toward accommodating both parents and children, the fixtures, surfacing materials, vanities and finishes may take on a more functional feel. They provide easy care while still reflecting individual style.


In the last several years, the bath especially the master bath has been redesigned to be a refuge from the stresses of increasingly hectic lifestyles. However, the definition and the look of that refuge is constantly evolving.

For instance, even just a few years ago, jetted whirlpool tubs were the product when it came to rest and relaxation at day's end. Indeed, whirlpools have been a sort of status symbol over the years, representing a certain level of luxury consumers wanted to attain in their baths especially in the master bath.

However, jetted whirlpools and their cousins, the deep soaking tubs are taking a far less prominent role in the bath today, designers agree. Showers are now taking center stage, as people have far less time to soak in a tub, whirlpool or not.

"What I'm finding in the last year and a half is that showers are more of a focus. It used to be that bathrooms were built around whirlpools. Now they are built around showers. They are taking up more square footage in the bath," confirms Lisa Davenport, ASID, who co-owns Glastonbury, CT-based Lisa Davenport's Home Gallery with business partner Ed Richman.

Richard Hendrick, CKD with Custom Kitchens, Inc. in Richmond, VA, agrees. "A really nice shower seems to be the hottest thing," he says. "Showers with all of the bells and whistles seem to be the centerpiece."

Some designers are even seeing consumers removing their existing whirlpool tubs. "I find in existing homes when people are remodeling, they are sometimes eliminating them," notes Joan Eisenberg, CMKBD, ASID of JME Consulting, Inc. in Baltimore, MD. "Other times, they keep them to maintain the home's resale value, but don't upgrade them."

"More and more consumers are going away from tubs completely," adds Steven Haas, who co-owns Rockville Centre, NY-based Architectural Kitchens and Baths with business partner Marino Ceko. "And they are going toward showers in the master bath, as long as there is a tub somewhere in the house."

However, while consumers are paying more attention to their own shower experience, it does not mean that whirlpools and soaking tubs are obsolete. In fact, Haas reports that he still sees "a steady flow of whirlpools.... Clients still want the option of using them."

DeWitt Beall, principal of DeWitt Designer Kitchens in Studio City, CA, adds that full-blown master suites in his market would have both, and the shower would include steam.

Additionally, some designers are seeing an increase in air-massaging baths. "Nothing relaxes and rejuvenates the body and spirit better than massaging waters and air," says Scott Tennant of the Cliffwood, NJ-based Acryline USA, which makes air system massaging baths. "They are extraordinarily valuable [for] your health.... Because injected, or channeled, air immediately diffuses into bubbles once it enters a bath, it provides a systemic method for massaging the body with thousands of tiny bubbles."

To create a truly luxury experience, the company even offers optional extras like heated head, neck and back rests, and chromatherapy. "Light increases the sensual experience of the bath, adding and enhancing the overall sense of well being enjoyed by users," Tennant adds.

However, while many consumers enjoy the benefits and the luxury of whirlpool, air-massage and soaking tubs, they are increasingly turning to custom showers because they allow them to indulge themselves for the few minutes they have in the morning before they start their day or before bed at night. Thus, they are putting more effort into creating large, walk-in showers that feature rain showerheads, multiple showerheads and body sprays, thermostatic valves, adjustable-height handsprays and steam.

To that end, Eisenberg says she's "doing bigger showers with multiple showerheads, body sprays and handshowers on slide bars."

"I will frequently do a shower large enough for two people, with separate controls and showerheads and sometimes separate entrances for each person," notes Alan Asarnow, CMKBD, CR of Ulrich, Inc. in Franklin Lakes, NJ.

"Showers have so many bells and whistles now body sprays, shower systems and rain showerheads, which are really hot now," says Davenport. "We are designing them around clients' requests and needs, as the design is more about the amenities they want."

"They are not looking for a pre-built shower," stresses Bruno Pasqualucci, CKD and executive v.p. of the Stamford, CT-based Mohawk Kitchens. "They want it customized, so I'm seeing more custom doors, more tile that's tumbled and half walls something that's offers more of a spa feel."

Indeed, frameless glass enclosures, either clear or textured for interest and privacy, are hot, say designers. The glass, they report, lends a more open feel to the bath. Inside the shower designers are seeing a lot of tile, mostly in natural stones that are tumbled or textured.

"There's a huge movement toward natural stone tile and away from glazed tile," notes Haas.

"I'm seeing a lot of natural stone, and I'm mixing stone with glass tile," reports Davenport.

"We do mainly tile, ceramic or marble or another natural stone that has some texture, in earth tones," adds Hendrick.

Amenities such as seats and shelves are now common in a large, custom shower. "Seats and at least one built-in, recessed niche to house shampoos and soaps are a given," concurs Eisenberg.

In some cases, windows and skylights are being built into showers. Additionally, Peter Ross Salerno, CKD, CBD and president/owner of Peter Salerno, Inc. in Wyckoff, NJ, sees heated, built-in shower seats as becoming popular among his clients.


In terms of other bath fixtures, style mixed with a practical sense of what works with their lifestyles are guiding consumers' fixture preferences today.

For instance, sink choices now offer consumers the chance to make a statement in the powder room. The most popular sinks for powder rooms seem to be vessel sinks in glass, stone or metal.

"I also see a good number of pedestal sinks in powder rooms, where storage isn't as important," adds Hendrick.

In master baths, sinks need to offer easy care as well as be able to complete the look of the vanity. Hence, undermounted porcelain sinks are the hot pick. And, in family baths, integrated sinks in solid surface are popular choices due to their easy care.

"We're also oversizing the sinks," reports Salerno. " We're currently installing 21" to 24" or larger sinks."

In terms of toilets, designers note that many comfort-height styles are making headway.

"Almost all of my clients want the comfort-height toilets, no matter what age they are," says Haas.

"I'm also seeing a trend toward skirted toilets, which is easier to keep clean," says Asarnow.

"I'm solving space issues in smaller baths with an in-wall tank," adds Carlene Anderson, CKD and owner of Carlene Anderson Kitchen Design Inc. in Oakland, CA.

However, designers note that many toilets still have issues when it comes to flushing capability, given the 1.6 GPM restriction. Many plan to educate their clients as to which ones, in their estimation and experience, flush better, with several of those surveyed citing TOTO as their pick.

But no matter what brand or type of toilet is specified, designers are seeing the trend toward concealing the toilet still going strong. "You're seeing them behind opaque or glass block knee walls in smaller baths, and in completely separate rooms in larger baths," says Pasqualucci.

As for bidets, these designers agree that, on the whole, they are receiving little or no requests for them. Most requests for bidets seem to come from those clients who have traveled to Europe extensively, or from those doing ultra-high-end master baths.


Another area that has taken center stage is the vanity, agree designers. Most often master bath vanities are custom-made, and either feature plenty of specific storage options or stand alone, providing some storage while other matching cabinetry offers more specialized storage options.

"I'm seeing a combination of storage, which really depends on the needs of the client," observes Asarnow.

"There's more custom storage for hair dryers and grooming products. I'm using tambour door units to hide shallow shelves," notes Eisenberg. She adds that she is getting more requests for a dressing table area in the master bath.

"We're creating more drawers to hold accessories. Depending on what the client's needs are, we are sometimes using two to three large drawers or four smaller drawers," notes Salerno.

"I do a lot of creative storage," explains Anderson. "For instance, in the 6" or 12" between the wall and sink, I will often install a pull-out for cosmetics and accessories that's similar to a pull-out found in a kitchen.

Or I will put a 1'-deep cabinet garage on a counter with a retractable or roll-up door to house hair dryers, water piks, etc., where they stay hidden and plugged in, ready for use."

Storage and function are also taking on 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 vessel sinks and glass being the materials of choice to add visual punch to what tends to be a much smaller space.

Additionally, designers say that, in the master bath, his-and-her vanities whether together or separate have now become the norm. In fact, completely separate vanities are better, believes Eisenberg, "if you can do it in the space."

Some see the his-and-hers concept going even one step farther. "Completely separate vanities are really trendy now, and sometimes they are in completely separate bathrooms, each with their own toilets and bidets, etc." reports Davenport.

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 the bath a warmer, more decorative feel. This look is most often seen in traditional-style, Arts-and-Crafts-style or Old-World-style baths, but is also popping up more in retro-, transitional- and contemporary-style baths, say designers.

"I see it in contemporary baths," offers Pasqualucci. "I've done a couple of baths where I raised the vanity off the floor and applied tapered legs. This creates a more open style."

And, in his market, Beall sees more Neo-Deco-style vanities that interpret the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s through the eyes of the 21st century.

More often than not, designers are also applying glazed or neutral painted finishes over a variety of different warm wood species ranging from the more standard cherry and maple to the more exotic woods such as English sycamore and Brazilian rosewood, depending on the market.

Designers are even noting a shift toward a higher countertop height that is most times 33", or even 36", depending on the height and needs of a particular client.


Topping those higher vanities most frequently are natural stones, such as granite, and engineered stone, say designers.

"We're doing a lot of granite, and also doing onyx on counters lit from below," remarks Beall.

"Many of my clients are choosing engineered stone for more contemporary baths because of the range of more vibrant colors that work better with the contemporary style," Pasqualucci indicates.

As for surfacing materials in other areas of the bath, natural stone tiles in marble or limestone, and other stone-look tiles also reign supreme with some nods going to engineered stone such as DuPont Zodiaq; composite materials such as Silestone by Cosentino and Caesarstone; solid surfacing; cultured marble; hardwood for floors, and sealed wood for counters, depending on the market, the bath and the designer.

"Overall, I've been seeing a lot of natural material for flooring and wall applications," adds Salerno. "We're doing a lot of tile in master baths, and now we're going to honed natural stones marble and slate floors. We're also doing onyx floors, countertops and shower floors."


As for finishes, the consensus among designers is that brushed nickel is currently the most popular choice. Consumers want it on faucets, fittings and bath accessories in order to give the bath a more uniform look.

"I'm seeing more brushed nickel.... I can't remember the last time I did anything polished," notes Pasqualucci.

"There's a lot less polished," agrees Salerno, who sees brushed brass making inroads.

Hendrick, too, sees more of a range of finishes "I see some brass, a little chrome, and a lot of brushed nickel. Brushed stainless is also quite popular," he counters.

"For faucets, we're doing a lot of brushed nickel, polished nickel and stainless steel," concludes Beall. KBDN