Comfort Suite

Comfort Suite

Designers are mixing and matching products to create personalized baths that are all about comfort.

By John Filippelli

Whether functional or decorative, these products offer a wealth of design solutions for a designer's palette. And, when it comes to today's bathrooms, designers are finding themselves mixing and matching that palette with an artistry once seen only in museums mixing styles, textures and product lines to create unique and personalized designs for clients that are all about comfort.

As Reid Sellgren, v.p., owner of Woodbury, MN-based ClearMirror explains: "[More and more] you are seeing an eclectic variety of products. It is wide open, and to mix and match is the trend."

"[We are seeing] projects cross the line and become more transitional," notes Diana Melichar, president of Lake Forest, IL-based Geudtner & Melichar Architects.

But, whether clients choose a large, high-tech shower system, a spa tub or heated towel rack, designers agree that the desire for a custom environment that offers peace and tranquility tops clients' wish lists. It will come as little surprise, then, that some of the hottest trends in bath remodeling products focus on luxury, comfort, convenience, efficiency and ease of cleaning.

Then and now
"A year ago, we were seeing a lot of cultured marble being specified. Now we are seeing both granite and Corian going into the showers," says Gerald Nickolaus, president of Eugene, OR-based McKenzie Kitchen and Bath.

"Solid surface countertops have been extremely popular," offers Rod Blight, v.p. of Farmington Hills, MI-based Woodland Kitchen & Bath Gallery.

"Aesthetically, we are seeing a lot of tile being used in the shower. Tumbled stone, granite tile and marble tile have been extremely popular as well," Nickolaus adds.

He continues, "In fact, we just picked up a 1/4" slab granite material that is going into showers for both new constructions and remodels. People like it because it has the slab granite look without the weight or high cost of labor that's involved with installing a full 3/4"-thick slab of granite. The 1/4"-thick material is less labor intensive and not as heavy."

The mix-and-match theme carries over into surfacing as well, he notes, stating, "We see a lot of products mixed for instance, we are seeing Corian and tile blended together, or Corian with granite or granite and tile. It is more of a color coordination and aesthetic concept."

And, while consumers are also choosing higher-end faucetry with ceramic-disc cartridges as opposed to rubber o-rings (because of added durability), their taste in finishes is also changing, according to Blight.

"We haven't done a brass faucet in about three years," he notes.

"People aren't going for your basic chrome or brass anymore," Erica Entner, senior designer for McKenna's Kitchen and Bath, based in Rochester, NY, agrees.

Blight cites a significant increase in the selection of finishes available as a big reason for this trend.

"Manufacturers have added bronze nickel finishes and antique chrome and nickel finishes. Overall, the trend is leaning toward brushed finishes for ease-of-maintenance considerations," he explains.

"I think the coordination of colors and finishes is coming around more," Entner suggests.

For John Lang, president of Lang's Kitchen & Bath in Mercerville, NJ, recent trends have not affected vanity styles.

"Furniture-like cabinetry is still as much at the forefront as it was two years ago. Full-custom vanities from cabinet companies are popular because we can add functional drawers for storage concerns."

Blight agrees, "Furniture-appearing cabinetry with a free-standing appearance has definitely gained in popularity."
Michael Berman, principal of Los Angeles, CA-based Michael Berman Limited agrees: "I would say separate vanity areas are really popular right now."

According to Sellgren, another "comfort trend" is gaining momentum, as well. "It seems that heat is the recurring theme here. We are seeing more and more of the heated fogless mirrors, heated towel racks and heated flooring," he offers.
Blight concurs: "There has definitely been a big call for heated flooring tiles in the bath recently."

A big selling point for this product, according to Peter Schor, president of The Institute of Bathroom Product Knowledge and Dynamic Results, Inc., based in Wilsonville, OR, is the minimizing effect of the chill clients receive when stepping out of the shower and onto the tile floor.

And, while it may sound simplistic, there is another trend that stands out, Melichar says. "The thing [today] is that people want a toilet that can flush and have it not back up. People will do anything for a toilet that flushes properly," she explains.

"Function of toilet fixtures is very important to clients. People still have concerns about the gallon and a half flush," Blight offers.

To meet this demand, pressure-assisted flushing toilets have become increasingly popular, Schor reports.
Shower strength

Whether it be oversized showers with multiple body sprays, ceiling showerheads or steam units, high-tech shower systems are growing in prominence, according to Lang.

"People just don't have time to sit in the bathtub anymore. If they want luxury, it's going to come from the shower," believes Melichar.

Sellgren concurs: "The change is that people want to speed up [their time in the bath]. That's why I like to call [the shower] a vertical whirlpool."

To that end, "We've seen a lot of body sprays and high-tech shower systems with multiple heads," says Entner.
"Of course," Nickolaus says, "double showerheads are a must in any master bath shower situation."

Berman agrees, "I have been doing a lot of showers with double-showerheads. And fixture-wise, rain domes are very much [in style]."

Entner adds, "We do a lot of the large eight- or 12-inch diameter rain showerheads as well."
For Blight, separate shower and tub enclosures have been the name of the game.

"We have been doing quite a lot of separate tub and shower units, as well as large walk-in showers. They are usually a minimum of four by six feet. We've also been doing a lot of seats in the showers," he remarks.

Showers with plenty of high-end amenities are also all the rage among many consumers, with the latest upscale shower systems offering such options as waterproof wireless remote controls, telephone systems, thermostatic water temperature control valves and an integrated foot massage system for added convenience and comfort.

And, from a fashion standpoint, "Etched glass shower doors have really been hot," Lang notes.

Nickolaus, however, sees function as key to the growing popularity of showers in recent years. "People really like the ease of maintenance you find in the shower," he says, adding that large walk-in showers with no door are very popular, as are sunken tubs.

Tub time
Although showers are becoming more popular, it does not necessarily spell the end for tubs, Entner says. Not only do some consumers like the luxurious effect of a long soak, but, "functionally, a lot of people are looking for some type of whirlpool or air-jetted tub," he reports. "A majority of the time, people are looking for function rather than aesthetics in their bath remodel. Yes, they want it to look good, but [strictly basing a decision on aesthetics] can be limiting."

Therefore, according to Entner, clients' interest in air-jetted tubs has increased. "The reason is sanitary, because there are no pipes to collect water. Also, installation is easier because, instead of having separate circuits for the heater and the motor, it is just one circuit," she says.

"Thermo-massage air jet tubs are in!" Schor enthusiastically agrees, adding that consumers need only to add nutrient-rich essential oils and herbals to create a serene and comforting setting.

Blight notes, "[People like air baths] because they inject fresh air into the water as opposed to a water jet system."

Safety concerns
Most designers would agree that, while beauty is important, safety is mandatory. And nowhere is this more important than in the bathroom. Understandably, baby boomers and seniors are most concerned about this issue, however more and more consumers are planning ahead, looking for bath products that will provide a safe environment as they age.

Fear of slipping is a main concern. "Getting proper flooring tile that will not be too slippery when they go in and out of the shower area is very important to my clients," Blight explains.

Entner says: "We always recommend a matte finish over a gloss finish especially for seniors."
Grab bars, too, are gaining in popularity because they can be used to help avoid slipping.

Nickolaus offers: "We are seeing people think about grab bars more. It seems to be more of a consideration for people when they reach 70 or 80 years old."

"People who are perceiving that they will stay in their homes until they are seniors are looking ahead and putting in safety products [such as grab bars]," Blight explains.

Melichar finds a similar trend occurring with her business. "I find that baby boomers are the ones that seem concerned about slipping," she describes.

To address these safety concerns without sacrificing aesthetics, grab bars have seen some major improvements, Lang notes.
"Grab bars are definitely more decorative today. There are new grab bars that are 1"-thick that clients really like much more than the 1-1/2" model," he adds.

Another safety concern is electrical devices, Blight believes. "GFI protection is very important," he notes.
Sellgren concurs, "Safety is paramount [and] clients need to ensure that devices are UL-listed."

Ultimately for Sellgren, bath product trends come down to what helps create an environment that's safe, functional and relaxing. "Overall, the trend is toward the bath as an all-over comfort suite," he concludes.

And, for designers, finding and using the right product will go a long way toward accomplishing this goal. KBDN

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