Simply Beautiful Baths

Studies show that people are living in their homes longer, and as such, they seem to be more interested in making their home a haven of beauty and simplicity. Indeed, the recession not only changed many homeowners’ financial situation, but in many cases, their values as well; and the growing interest in home, comfort and a simpler lifestyle has had a major impact on the home design arena, especially in the master bath.

“The master bath has become a living space where people spend a lot more time,” says Tanya Woods, AKBD, CAPS, co-owner of Xstyles bath+more in Bloomfield Hills, MI. “They consider it a retreat, and they want it to resemble a spa. When people come home from work, they can’t wait to get into their bathrooms.”

But while escape is a key theme in the master bath, many consumers are foregoing the “just for show” bells and whistles and increasingly looking for a bath that is simple, uncluttered and restful, with functional and comfort-based amenities as the “new luxury.” This trend seems to hold true regardless of the bath’s size.

Darren Henault of Darren Henault Interiors in New York, NY notes, “I think people want a much simpler, less high-tech experience.” He sees interest in body jets, sprays and steam showers waning in the traditional and transitional bathrooms he designs. “Prior to 2008, people were doing such over-the-top stuff in their homes. It actually became more complicated. Now there’s a different idea of luxury. It isn’t so much about bells and whistles…it’s easier, less conspicuous consumption. It’s more about how the master bath looks and feels.”

Time and energy concerns are also impacting bath design, according to Heather Moe, Design Moe Kitchen & Bath in Escondido, CA. She explains, “Every client I have is ripping out the big [whirlpool] tubs and getting rid of them. Two years ago I was replacing them with sculptural tubs, but now they don’t want any tub at all. They don’t have the time [for a long bath], and they’re watching water and energy usage. They see it as frivolous, and they’d rather save the space for a bench, window seat or larger shower.”

Cindy Tervola, Tervola Designs Kitchen & Bath Studio in Maui, HI, sees the same trend occurring in Hawaii. “If space is limited, people tend to take out the tub and enlarge the shower,” she says.

Following are several more trends these designers have identified in recent master bath remodeling projects.

Tanya Woods AKBD, CAPS

Xstyles bath+more Bloomfield Hills, MI

Larger Master Bath Spaces – “My clients are no longer content with a small bathroom,” says Woods. “They want their master bath to be larger and more luxurious.”

To that effort, Woods often steals space from wherever possible, such as adjacent bedrooms, closets or even portions of hallways. “A lot of times I’m gutting an adjacent space as well as the master bath,” she says.

Larger, Amenity-Laden Showers – Along with the desire for a larger room, clients are also requesting larger showers, oftentimes at the expense of the tub. “That gives us more room for a big shower,” she notes, adding that she tries to grab space for at least a 4'x4' or 4'x6' shower, and larger if possible. “I’ll try to eke out extra inches, then take down walls and open it up with glass to give the illusion that the space is even bigger.”

She says some clients request double showers, and most everyone asks for multiple shower heads – including a rainhead and personal, handheld shower – and body sprays. Steam showers are also on the rise.

Typically Woods will incorporate a bench in the shower, fulfilling aging-in-place needs as well as comfort.

Economical Luxury – Bathrooms are product-driven spaces, Woods notes…the more you add, the more expensive they become. However, she indicates that many manufacturers – in particular those with plumbing fixtures and porcelain tiles – have done a lot in recent years to offer value-priced products that still meet design trends.

“It’s an exciting time,” she says. “Years ago, it was a struggle to create something luxurious because the price was too high. But now I see products all across the board that deliver luxury at affordable prices. Clients don’t have to go with the most expensive product to remain on-trend and have a beautiful space. There are a lot of options that look terrific.”

Specialized Storage – “I talk a lot with clients about creating a spot for everything,” she says, from a hair care station – complete with electrified drawers with safety switches for hair dryers, flat irons, etc. – to medicine cabinets with outlets for toothbrushes and electric shavers.

Linen towers, cubbies for towels and cosmetic drawers are also popular when space allows. “There’s definitely a trend toward keeping products off the counter and stored,” she stresses.

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Cindy Tervola

Tervola Designs Kitchen & Bath Studio Maui, HI

Floating Cabinets – “They visually open up the room,” says Tervola, “and they lend themselves to the contemporary/modern styles that we’re seeing now. Old World/traditional styles aren’t completely out, but they’ve been around for a long time and I think people get tired of seeing the same thing.”

Tervola also indicates she is influenced by European design when it comes to cabinetry. As such, she sees clients requesting more flat- panel doors – which are also more conducive to Hawaii’s environment – with exotic veneers and horizontal grains. “We have ‘Maui dirt’ here,” she says of the soil that is iron rich and reddish in color with a tendency to stain. “We get the trade winds so people open their windows and that dirt blows through. A flat-panel door is easier to keep clean compared to one with mouldings and corbels.”

Cabinetry without handles is also making a comeback, which supports the clean lines and simple look her clients are requesting. Curved sink fronts are also currently fashionable with the popularity of contemporary/modern styles.

Large, Open Showers – Doorless and curbless showers are becoming more popular, especially with Baby Boomers who want to age in place. “There will be a greater need for ADA designs,” she notes.

As such, Tervola also adds backing for shower grab bars, regardless of whether or not they are immediately installed. “It makes it much easier to install them down the road,” she says.

Porcelain Tile – “There are some wonderful porcelain tiles out now,” she says. “Manufacturers are introducing designs that look like wood and stone, with the ease of maintenance of porcelain. Plus, installation is less [expensive]. I am working on a project right now where the porcelain is in plank form, which is a popular choice.”

Tervola also sees her clients wanting to change up the look by laying tiles vertically rather than horizontally, and by mixing them with glass or stone.

Island Look – “In Maui, we get a lot of part-time residents,” she says. “Whatever is happening on the mainland, they bring it here and want to give it a Hawaiian flair.”

For many clients, that means a casual look with mahogany or white cabinetry. “White cabinets never go out of style here, no matter what’s going on trend wise,” she says. “Plantation-style, white painted doors…that’s what Hawaii is all about. Although I recently completed a French kitchen, people still want the island look. They want it to look like it belongs here.”

Trending Products – Rainhead and ceiling-mount showerheads; handheld showers; vessel sinks; framed mirrors.

Darren Henault

Darren Henault Interiors New York, NY

Fully Tiled, Fully Stoned Spaces – During the recession, many of Henault’s clients embellished their master baths with tile or stone inside the ‘wet’ area only, or maybe half-way or three-quarters of the way up a wall.

“Now we’re back to fully tiled, fully stoned master bathrooms,” he says, noting that trend includes ceilings as well as floors and all four walls of the typically transitional and traditional homes he designs.

Tile and stone are also back to being accented with detail pieces, such as mouldings, baseboards and door casings. “People quit using these details to save money,” he says. “But now they are back to using them. They’re interested in fully designed, fully articulated walls. They want their bathrooms to feel like finished rooms.”

That goes a long way toward improving resale value, he notes. “They’re cost conscious,” he says. ‘They want to know that money is coming back to them someday when they sell the house. People will spend money as long as they’re getting value for that money.”

Price-Conscious Luxury – “Even though the economy is getting better, people are still being conscious about price,” he says, “even when they’re asking for super lux.”

That means he no longer shows his clients $300-per-square-foot tile, unless they request it. “I need to stay in the $100-per-square-foot tile range, but there are some amazing products out there [in that price range],” he says. ‘We’re going back to lush, but instead of lush at $300, it’s lush at $100.”

Neutral Luxury – “I don’t see bold, bright bathrooms,” he says. “As much as people want to put their own mark on a space, in New York, in the city, people are very aware they won’t live there forever, especially if they’re in an apartment.”

That means Henault’s clients are trending toward neutral colors. “They’re doing beautiful, rich things,” he says. “If they’re doing mosaics, I’m not seeing big, bold Italian mosaic. Instead, I’m seeing subtle, neutral tones…rich patterns, but quiet. People are looking for more muted luxury. They want something that is universally acceptable, but with their own twist.”

Henault believes that trend is being driven by the universalization or mass marketization of design through companies such as Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. “Everybody wants a certain kind of neutral, beautiful look,” he says, “but I have to make it unique.”

Combination of Color and Texture – Henault’s specialty is designing with texture. As such, he sees a lot of clients combine tile and honed marble. “I don’t see all-marble bathrooms anymore,” he says. “I see a combination of tile and honed marble, combining elements to make a space super rich in terms of texture, but not visually jarring.”

Trending Products – High-end lighting.


Heather Moe

Design Moe Kitchen & Bath Escondido, CA

Simplified Showers – For a while, many of the showers Moe designed included a lot of extras, such as body sprays, rainheads, etc. “But now I’m getting more people who just want two showerheads…one standard, the other handheld,” she says. “I see that change occurring as part of the simplification that has happened with the recession. I think people want a calmer, simpler life.”

Walk-in/Zero-Threshold showers – These address several trends Moe sees happening in her area. Walk-in showers – those without a door – are very attractive from both cleaning and maintenance perspectives. “People envision them as being easier to take care of,” she indicates. “It’s one less wall to squeegee and one less door to fix.”

However, she cautions her clients that they can be cold, since they don’t have a door. As such, Moe encourages in-floor or ceiling heat as well as a design that allows the addition of a door at a later date, if desired.

The desire to age in place is also influencing interest in both walk-in and zero-threshold showers. Before the recession, “everyone was still changing houses, moving up all the time,” she explains of her clients in their late 40s and early 50s. “With the change in economic circumstances, people are realizing they probably won’t flip their house two or three times before they retire. This is the first time I’m hearing about the desire to age in place from people in this age group.”

Clean Design Aesthetic – Even with traditional styles, Moe is fielding more requests for less. “My clients seem to want less decoration,” she says. “They want a very clean design aesthetic.”

For Moe, that means fewer patterns, particularly when using mosaics. “A couple of years ago I was doing a lot of mosaic borders with a lot of elaborate tile work,” she recalls. “Now I’m simplifying it. I’m still doing traditional styles, but they are much less decorated. Instead of a basket weave pattern with a double border that is carried throughout the toilet room and shower, I might do field tile and change its direction. It’s a much simpler design, with fewer patterns.”

Trending Products – Large format tiles (especially 12"x24" tiles that provide new tile patterns); cool, clear colors, especially whites/grays; color added later in soft goods accessories such as towels.