KBDN

Beyond the Basics

Technological innovations are upping the ante in the bath, adding comfort and beauty to a once basic space.

authors Kim Berndtson | February 4, 2016

The basic premise behind the bathroom hasn’t changed in the decades since plumbing made its way indoors. It’s still a place where necessary daily functions occur. But thankfully, technological innovations since then have revolutionized the space, forever changing the way homeowners and designers regard the bath.

Advancements such as heated floors, toilets that flush themselves and showers with touch controls and integrated lighting, sound systems and more are just some of the innovations that have transformed the bathroom from purely functional into a space where those day-to-day activities become relaxing and rejuvenating.

This month, KBDN asked several designers to discuss their favorite technological innovations and how those advancements have changed the baths they design for their clients.

JUDY KLEIN
JK DESIGN • WILMETTE, IL
What technology trends/products are you incorporating most frequently into the baths you design? “Our clients love steam showers and custom showers with rainheads, body sprays, handhelds, etc. We recently completed a bath with a custom his/her steam shower with aromatherapy and chromatherapy, all controlled with a digital thermostatic valve they can program to match their mood. It knows exactly what each person wants… relaxing or invigorating.
“We’re also getting a lot of calls for heated floors. They are super, super popular right now. They don’t add that much to the cost of the project, and they are vetted so people feel comfortable putting them in. And, for people living in cold climates, stepping onto a warm floor is very nice. When your feet are warm, it resonates throughout your entire body.”

What is driving the technology movement into the bath? “People live hectic, stressful lives. They are looking for ways to unwind and de-stress. Technology can help them do that with products such as heated floors, heated towel bars and great showers.
“Many of my clients also enjoy health benefits of both steam units and chromatherapy/aromatherapy. One client installed a steam bath in the home after enjoying it at a hotel. It ended up helping their kids when they were sick with colds. I’ve found that people are often inspired when they go on vacation and stay at beautiful hotels with a lot of amenities. When they come home, they want to feel like they are getting away within their own home. The master bath has become a sanctuary and people seem willing to put more resources towards it.”

How does technology change the way your clients use their baths? “Technology is making the bathroom feel more like another room in the house. It’s not just a place to get ready; now it’s a place to relax. There are so many technological advancements they can take advantage of to make the space comfortable, as well as beautiful and luxurious.”

What is your favorite technology product to include in a bath? “There are so many, it’s hard to pick just one! I guess I’d say a luxury shower with digital controls and aromatherapy/chromatherapy. With aromatherapy you can use different scented oils to clear sinuses, soften skin…all sorts of benefits. And here in Chicago, we have little daylight in the winter, so chromatherapy can offer nice benefits as well. While it isn’t inexpensive, it is a good investment.”

JIM DEEN, PRESIDENT
KITCHEN KRAFT • COLUMBUS, OH
What technology trends/products are you incorporating most frequently into the baths you design? “Even though it’s been around for a while, heated flooring with a programmable thermostat is more popular than ever. Someone can program it to kick on at 6:30 a.m., and by the time they get up at 7 a.m., it’s nice and toasty. Then they can program it to turn off automatically once they’re out the door. There are also products available now that can continue that heat into the shower floor as well as onto a bench and even up the walls. Our clients like it because a lot of builders here try to squeeze in as much square footage as they can with a new house. Often, that extra space will be above a garage for a master suite because it’s cheap real estate. But even if you insulate the floor, it’s still above an unheated garage and that room will always be 10 to 12 degrees colder.

“Some of our clients are also taking technology to another level by including their baths in their home automation system, operating everything from the heated floors to speakers, televisions and blinds. You can program the system to ‘scenes’ that can be controlled by a tablet or smart phone. For example, you can program a morning scene to automatically switch on the lights, kick on the heated floor, open the blinds and turn on the radio or television – which can be embedded behind a medicine cabinet mirror – to your favorite station or channel. You can get ready for work, then leave and have everything turn off automatically, all without touching anything. It can get pretty advanced.

“Upgraded steam units incorporate chromatherapy, aromatherapy and music while tubs feature heated backrests and water heaters to maintain a certain water temperature. Some clients are also asking for technologically advanced toilets that include bidets and heated seats with more advanced units also featuring a foot warmer, automatic flushing and opening/closing, built-in speakers, a nightlight and docking station.”

What is driving the technology movement into the bath? “Technology itself is a driving force. It’s in front of us all the time. People use their smart phones and apps to control anything and everything, including toilets, thermostats, door locks, etc. There is also more exposure to technology through TV shows such as [those seen on] HGTV.”

How does technology change the way your clients use their baths? “Technology creates a luxurious bath environment. While many of these technological innovations aren’t inexpensive, people want luxury and, if they can afford it, they will include it.”

What is your favorite technology product to include in a bath? “I like to include music. It is very mood altering. When you first wake up and are half asleep, you can play something to get you going, or at the end of a long day, calming music can move you to a tranquil place. Lighting also plays into that, and one inexpensive product I like to include is dimming switches. For only a few dollars, you can create a calm and peaceful environment with the lights dimmed, or they can be fully on in the morning to help wake you up.”

STUART HARLE, AKBD; ALLIED MEMBER ASID
CARRIAGE HOUSE DESIGN • TULSA, OK
What technology trends/products are you incorporating most frequently into the baths you design? “We are seeing a trend away from whirlpool bathtubs. To compensate for that, we see clients decking out their showers with raincans, wall jets, etc. When they do keep a tub, we often specify those made of materials such as volcanic limestone that retain heat better so they can soak longer. We also do a lot of heated floors and heated benches in the shower as well as steam showers, which include grout with new technological innovations including antimicrobial properties to resist bacterial growth. They also have greater elasticity built into them for movement, which has become important to us because we live in the earthquake capital right now.
“We are also seeing innovations in ventilation. At a bare minimum, we include a recessed can light in the shower with a fan attached to it. It looks like any other light in the house, but it has a built-in fan. You can flip it on manually when you take a shower, or it can sense the humidity level and turn on and off automatically. It removes the humidity at the source so you don’t have any more fogged mirrors.”

What is driving the technology movement into the bath? “Much of the technology we’re seeing is for products related to conservation…especially water. One major technological innovation in that area is the toilet, which now uses much less water to efficiently and effectively empty the bowl. Showerheads are also being designed to transform water droplets to make them larger so when they hit your body, they have a bigger impact. They use less water, but you still get rinsed off.
“As it relates to energy conservation, LED lighting is becoming more standard. Bulbs are also more affordable, their color is warmer and the selection of fixtures is larger.
“Public exposure seems to be driving technology as well. People are simply seeing a lot more. They watch shows on HGTV, or they have a personal experience during a vacation such as a cruise. They come home and they want to incorporate those products into their new bath.”

How does technology change the way your clients use their baths? “With the changes being made in the area of water conservation, people can now take longer showers because they are using less water.”

What is your favorite technology product to include in a bath? “I like to incorporate heated floors as well as heated benches in the shower. I haven’t always been a fan of heated floors, but a house we rented while on vacation had them in the bathroom. When we redid our own bath, my wife insisted we put them in, and now I love them!”

JESSE MEDINA, AKBD
CRESS KITCHEN & BATH • DENVER, CO
What technology trends/products are you incorporating most frequently into the baths you design? “LEDS are changing lighting by allowing us to use a lot of accent lighting, like toe-kick lighting, countertop back lighting, rope lighting, night lighting, etc. Because LEDs are lower voltage, we can reuse an existing circuit without overloading it to get more light into the space.

“Digital shower valves also allow us to design visually cleaner installations, which is especially nice in showers with multiple functions, such as a fixed showerhead, rain showerhead, body sprays and a handheld. Each function has a push-button feature instead of a large manual valve that can visually congest the shower. The valve can also be turned on remotely and it remembers the settings from the previous day so you don’t need to readjust it.  
“Another product that has surfaced for us is the smart mirror that can hide a TV. Heated floors and towel bars are also popular, and we really like the new waterproofing shower systems that are a vast improvement over the concrete systems as far as drainage.”

What is driving the technology movement into the bath? “I think marketing done by manufacturers is driving technology. So is television [such as HGTV]. A lot of clients I work with also mention features they experience when staying at hotels.”

How does technology change the way your clients use their baths? “If you rewind 50 years, a bath was just a place to get in and get out. Now, the bath is evolving into a relaxing space where, for example, after a stressful day at work you can get out of a shower and step onto a warm floor rather than a cold tile one. The bath has become a therapeutic, relaxing, spa-like place.”

What is your favorite technology product to include in a bath? “It all depends on the budget, but I like the improved shower features such as edge trims, heated flooring and waterproofing systems. Those are all go-tos for me.” 

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