Larger baths with nature-inspired themes feed
the sense of comfort consumers crave.
By John Filippelli
If you were to ask today’s designers about the state of bath
remodeling, their answer would most likely be: “Let nature take its
course.” Well, as long as nature gets a little help from modern
technology, that is.
Nature-inspired designs remain high on consumers’ wish lists, and
they’re increasingly requesting master bathrooms that incorporate
natural stone, warm woods and a sense of soft, earthy beauty.
However, they still want all the modern-day conveniences, such as
high-tech shower systems and air-jet baths.
As clients’ desire for more luxurious comforts
increases, so does the size of bath remodel projects.
“Remodels are definitely getting larger,” says
Connie Schey, CKD, of Insignia Kitchen and Bath, based in
“They want the master suite,” notes Shylo Preston,
kitchen and bath designer for Dallas, TX-based The Great
Bill Wrape, designer for Distinctive Kitchens and
Baths in Little Rock, AR, sees the notion of the master suite being
taken even further. “People are turning their bathroom and closet
into a combination bath and dressing room situation. [Because of
this], the baths are bigger than they were five years ago, with
more space and a more open layout,” he describes.
But designers agree that despite the size of the
bath, client motivation is the same: They want spaces that feed the
sense of comfort and well being that they crave.
Additionally, Preston sees bath designs “beginning
to take on a global design feel. For instance, designs that once
would have been considered contemporary are now melding into
traditional designs. We are starting to see traditional designs
with natural stones and marbles maybe even with a vessel bowl that
wouldn’t have been considered in the past.”
“There seems to be a greater move toward
contemporary clean lines than a year ago,” adds Wrape.
According to Rhonda Knoche, CKD, CBD, designer/consultant for
Portland, OR-based Neil Kelly Designers/Remodelers, it’s not only
contemporary and traditional design themes that are melding
“We’ve been seeing a lot more of a furniture
application, similar to what we would see in other cabinetry, such
as in the kitchen. When there’s less cabinetry, we tend to see a
console style, with legs, which is often supplemented with a
Wrape agrees: “People seem to be interested in the
contemporary furniture, free-standing look, or a ‘floating’ look
where [the cabinetry] is attached to the wall.”
According to Knoche, the details are key. “Today,
there’s more individuality as far as finding a unique mirror or
light fixture as opposed to a standard light fixture.”
But, if aesthetics are driving design, then
function is the fuel that makes it go, according to Kevin Briggs,
CKD, CR of Columbus, OH-based Ellis Kitchen and Bath Studio. “As
far as function goes, they are looking for environmentally sound
[products] and environmental savings wherever possible. They are
looking for ease of maintenance and durability,” he says.
Ray Brown, residential designer and president/owner
of Austin, TX-based Ray Brown Associates, cites a 170-sq.-ft.
master bath (and part of an environmentally sensitive luxury home)
he recently completed as an example of this. “[For our project], we
chose simple, high-end materials in colors and textures that would
match the surrounding natural environment,” he explains.
Lynnda Colby, interior designer, and president of
Colby Design, based in Austin, TX, worked on the project with
Brown. “We wanted to emphasize the natural surroundings of the home
and couple them with cutting-edge fixtures. Therefore, function and
beauty are brought together to create the ultimate bathing
experience,” she says.
As clients search for their perfect bath retreat, they are
increasingly looking at natural materials to enhance that
environment, says Knoche. “The most common request we get is for
natural stone whether it’s tile or countertop material,” she
Preston agrees: “Natural stone continues to be
really hot especially travertine.”
She adds that the reason for this is consumers
don’t want to be bothered with the maintenance concerns of the past
but may not be ready for a contemporary design yet. Therefore, she
suggests that materials such as travertine offer a happy
“We’re not seeing as much marble because it tends
to be polished and have slick surfaces which make it dangerous,”
Wrape disagrees: “Marble is still very popular. We
probably do as much marble as anything.”
“Tumbled stone and marble do require a little more
maintenance,” says Briggs.
Knoche interjects, “Tumbled stone with a less
glossy polished appearance is very popular among consumers right
Schey adds that, “People are starting to go back to
tile rather than marble or stone because of staining concerns.”
“Tile really plays a big part from one design to
the next (see related story, Page 44). Contemporary tiles can be
sleek and simple, whereas in tradition styles, you get into the jet
rails or special borders and corners to enhance the design,” Briggs
When it comes to creating the ultimate master bathroom, the
importance of the shower cannot be underestimated, according to
Knoche, who states, “The new upscale luxury item is definitely the
Briggs agrees: “I think the biggest trend is having
larger, walk-in showers. We’re even seeing showers without doors
attached to them so that clients can walk in.”
Schey sees a simple reason for this trend. “People
are putting more money into their showers than their tubs [because]
with today’s hectic lifestyles, they just want to get in and
Briggs concurs with this assessment: “Considering
the pace of life today, the shower has grown in popularity.”
Knoche also notes that popular accoutrements found in showers are
adjustable sprays and high-quality faucets with massage
“Two showerheads and even body jets are also of
great interest to people,” adds Briggs.
Whirlpools still remain popular, of course, but
some designers believe there’s a slight downturn in the amount of
tubs being installed in bath remodel projects.
“People tend to use [whirlpools] when they are
first installed, but as the novelty wears off, they use them less
and less,” Briggs suggests.
Knoche agrees: “People want larger showers today as
opposed to the token three-foot shower or the big tub.” She adds,
“[Ultimately, what people are saying is], ‘At the bare minimum,
give me a 3″x5” shower with two showerheads and a two-person
Colby and Brown’s master bath features a
his-and-hers shower highlighting a hot new shower trend that
follows the overall trend toward baths with both his and her spaces
(see related story, Page 78).
Colby notes that this project really spotlighted
the importance of the shower as a design element. “The privacy of
the master bath allowed not only the use of the glass partition and
the open-ended shower, but also gave us the opportunity to provide
an atrium door off the shower.”
Brown adds, “The door opens onto a deck with an old
oak tree growing through the center, and provides a gorgeous view
of [a nearby lake] from the bath.”
Colby continues, “Natural light from the skylight
shines on deck-mounted glass sinks, while light from the shower
atrium door gleams through the matching curved shower wall. The
resulting prisms of light reflect on the slate walls, where
wall-mounted faucets are installed above a cantilevered vanity with
a glass top that throws light back.”
According to Preston, with all the upscale amenities available
today, getting all the luxury extras they want may sometimes tax
consumers’ budgets. “They want their showerhead to do everything,
or they want their tub to have chroma therapy, massage jets,
pillows and heated backrests. There’s almost a sense of
She continues, “The mid-range clients are
requesting [these items] and they’re sometimes ruled out due to
budgetary considerations. But I’m finding that people are willing
to make concessions such as choosing less expensive cabinetry, or
making concessions with their tile to get more fun things.”
Knoche agrees. “Dollar amount is more of an issue
for people today [than in the past]. Therefore, they’re willing to
give up the separate tub and shower for a more luxurious shower.
With floor warmers, we’re seeing tile on the floor and seeing that
heated as a nice compromise.”
But, while many amenities are making their way into
the mid-range bath, she notes that certain items, such as steam
showers and separate bidets, tend to remain almost exclusively the
purview of the high-end client.
When it comes to popular finishes, brushed nickel, brushed chrome
and oil-rubbed bronze are all gaining ground, several designers
Schey offers: “We’re seeing a lot of projects that
feature brushed chrome. It’s moving more toward a rustic, ornate
“The aged look, like the oil-rubbed bronze, seems
to be catching on,” Wrape suggests.
But, he adds, “In the contemporary, it’s still chrome or shiny
nickel. We’re not seeing chrome in the traditional bath.”
Schey also points out that in terms of color, cream
and blue are gaining in popularity.
“Clients want any type of blue from light blue to
Cobalt,” she points out.
Schey also notes that, for vessel applications,
black glass is hot. “It’s available in different colors not just
the clear glass. It also comes in bronze and blue and a pinkish
Colby agrees that color is key, “The color palette
we chose [with our last project] began with earth tones for the
transparent, bronze glass sinks. The clean lines and natural color
of the stainless steel faucets blend with the African Rustic Gold
slate of the walls, flooring and tub surround. The texture of the
natural slate, with its veins of greens, rust and golden tones,
provides perfect contrast to the smooth lines of the faucets and
And, it’s this sense of warmth that completes the
perfect sanctuary for clients, Knoche believes.
“Many people are rolling back and retreating. They
still go out, but they want to build their own haven,” Schey
“Rather than put money in stocks, clients are
putting money into their homes so they can enjoy it,” she