Spring Bath Remodeling Report: Divide and Conquer

Personalized his-and-hers spaces in the master bath deliver on function, style and performance for multiple users.

by Tracy Hegg

While not unheard of, it’s admittedly a rare occurrence when a home’s square footage, as well as a client’s budget, is large enough to accommodate multiple master bathrooms in a residence. Designing within those parameters can be a resolution for meeting the demands of partners who have contrasting style preferences as well as needs, some of which can be in conflict with each other.

Such was the case for Tom Reineberg, who recently renovated a home with his/her master bathrooms for a husband and wife with vastly different desires and tastes. Her bathroom featured a contemporary design style with a floating vanity, tiled/mirrored walls and brass accents. His space was much more masculine and also included a large steam shower.

“It comes down to what our clients ask for and what they need,” says the architect with InSite Builders & Remodeling, in Bethesda, MD. “We try to accommodate their wishes in a meaningful way that is tasteful and aesthetically pleasing, while also making sure it functions. For this couple, that meant each having their own bathroom. That’s an anomaly, but for them, it would have been too difficult to design one bathroom.”

Lisa Cross and Gemma Jackson transformed this master bathroom to include porcelain countertops on the his/her vanities and luxury vinyl plank flooring that resembles wood. — Photo: Peter Lyons Photography

More commonly, Reineberg – like most designers – finds there is a limitation on space, thereby requiring that a single master bathroom be utilized by multiple people. While achieving a solution that accommodates everyone can be challenging, many designers indicate the mission is actually quite enjoyable.

“I love to brainstorm with clients to find the best solutions for their needs and the space,” says Maria Alaverdyan, owner of Maria Alaverdyan Interior Design, in Toluca Lake, CA.

Shannon Kadwell, CMKBD with Anthony Wilder Design/Build, in Cabin John, MD, agrees. “My favorite part of design, especially if it’s a difficult project, is when clients tell us how much they love using the space we’ve created for them,” she says. “We spend so much time understanding their routines, so it’s special when they reach out to us and tell us how much their new bathroom has improved their lives and how we have addressed their needs.”

Caitlin Meskill and Lisa Cross both mention the joy of providing solutions for a space that is such an essential and influential bookend of a client’s day.

“The best part is creating a space that is a serene sanctuary where people start and end their day,” says Meskill, NCIDQ, of Wolstenholme Associates, in Doylestown, PA.

Cross, owner/interior designer with C&C Designs in Campbell, CA, notes, “We love designing master bathrooms, as they are often the first space our clients enjoy when they wake up in the morning, and the last space they go to unwind at the end of a busy day.”

“Well-thought-out design can make such a difference in how one starts their day getting dressed and ends their day relaxing,” adds her business partner Gemma Jackson, owner/interior designer with C&C Designs. “Some of our favorite elements to incorporate include heated tile floors, soaking tubs and steam showers.”

GETTING PERSONAL

Jenifer Houlroyd loves to create spaces for clients that inspire them, such as in this master bathroom, where his and her vanities as well as his and her showerheads accomplish that goal. — Photos: Avery Nicole Photography

Designing a successful master bathroom is especially rewarding, in part, because of its need to fulfill such private and individual needs in a space that more than one person uses…oftentimes simultaneously.

“Bathrooms are such personal spaces,” says Jodi Fleming, founder/principal designer, Jodi Fleming Design, in Newport Beach, CA. “Couples do cook together in a kitchen, but bathrooms are different…they are much more personal.”

Reineberg agrees, adding, “There are a lot of emotional ideas and feelings when it comes to designing any space, but a lot of times the bathroom is more personal, so it’s important to give each client what they want…and what they see as being important.”

To sort out who needs what and where, designers ask questions…a lot of them, some of which can undoubtedly get rather personal. However, they stress that it’s important to ask even the tough questions because true success is dependent on knowing the answers and being able to design accordingly.

For example, Jenifer Houlroyd, NCIDQ, asks questions related to a desire or need for separate water closets, preferences towards baths or showers and if her clients shave in the shower or at the vanity.

“We ask a lot of questions and we get really personal about how a client uses the bathroom,” says the design director for Etch Design Group in Austin, TX.

Reineberg broaches the subject of multiple showerheads and showering together, which he admits can be a bit uncomfortable for some.

“Sometimes people may be embarrassed by some of the questions – such as those related to showering together – while others are an open book,” he says. “But, we ask questions to find out reasons, which helps us know how to design a space for a particular purpose.”

Fleming requests that clients fill out a questionnaire, even before any official meetings take place.

“We take a lot of time to learn about our clients and their daily lives,” says the designer. “The questionnaire gives us a lot of information about how they use their bathrooms. Some like to linger while others prefer to get in and out quickly. We also use the information to help us design the layout and cabinetry as well as select materials so we end up with a final product that is specific to each client’s needs.” 

HIS AND HERS

While there are not necessarily any hard-and-fast rules about which gender prefers which features, designers indicate there are some generalities. For example, male clients are often focused on technology and the shower.

Kadwell finds her male clients are generally fairly accepting of whatever fits within the space. However, when they do make requests, they often are technology related.

“They love tech-savvy products such as toilets with bidets, warming seats, lights and automatic seat lifts,” she says. “They also ask for fogless mirrors in the shower because they eliminate an extra step.”

Houlroyd’s male clients also enjoy high-tech toilets and Alaverdyan’s often ask for steam showers as well as heated floors and towel warmers. Fleming’s male clients seem to appreciate steam showers, too, as well as outlets in cabinetry so they can manscape without making a mess.

For Meskill and John Wolstenholme, AIA with Wolstenholme Associates, more countertop space and body sprays in the shower are frequent requests, while Cross and Jackson’s male clients are often focused on the quality and installation heights of plumbing fixtures.

Many of John Wolstenholme and Caitlin Meskill’s clients ask for more countertop space, which was accomplished in this bathroom created with McGinn Construction by incorporating double vanities. — Photo: Juan Vidal Photography

“Men often request a showerhead with nice water pressure that is installed at a comfortable height for them to stand beneath,” Jackson relates. Figuring out proper installation heights of not only showerheads, but also mirrors and bath accessories, that meet everyone’s needs is important for any bath that has multiple users, she adds. “Although aesthetics are important, men also think about the longevity and maintenance of the plumbing fixtures they select.”

The list of female requests does include some overlap. For Kadwell, extra countertop space for either gender can keep couples happy, especially if they have differing levels of tidiness.

For Meskill and Wolstenholme, both genders equally appreciate radiant heat, natural light – a majority of their projects have a window in the shower – and large showers. Other designers also reference a focus on the shower, albeit with varying amenities and features when compared to men.

John Wolstenholme, working with Framing Subcontractors, was able to enlarge the footprint of this master bathroom by taking a bit of space from a nearby closet, which gave him the ability to create a generously sized shower with multiple showerheads.
— Photo: Juan Vidal Photography

For example, Kadwell and Meskill indicate that women often want a low shelf for shaving, as well as a niche for storing shampoos, conditioners, soaps, etc.

“Built-in niches offer a compact way of storing products and they eliminate the need to buy accessories,” says Meskill.

For Kadwell, shelves are often about 18″ off the floor and are just large enough for a razor and a can of shaving cream. She also usually includes an adjustable showerhead on a bar or hook so clients can easily clean pets and kids, as well as the shower itself.

If a tub is included in the space, several designers indicate that it’s usually at the request of the female client.

“For her, a tub is a big request,” says Fleming. “Female clients also often want a small table nearby so they can light some candles.”

“Most ladies want a tub, especially a soaking tub,” adds Reineberg. “They tend to view the bathroom as a place that’s an oasis, whereas men typically see the bathroom as a more functional space where they get in, get the job done and get out.”

Alaverdyan’s female clients often want to add statement lighting above a soaking tub. 

For women, storage – especially highly organized storage – soars to the top of nearly every wish list. 

“One of the most common requests from women is more storage,” says Jackson. “We are always thinking about it when we design a bathroom, whether it’s drawer space for small items like makeup, or medicine cabinets hidden behind mirrors, or linen closets for tall, vertical storage. We also love incorporating outlets in drawers or pullouts integrated within the vanity for hot tools.”

“If we can fit a double vanity into the space, it’s always nice to have,” adds Cross. “We’ll also select a countertop that is durable, which is important when it comes to using makeup and hot tools. Porcelain and quartz are always great choices.”

Houlroyd often fields requests for easy access storage that is hidden behind doors or inside drawers for makeup, serums and other products. So does Alaverdyan, who recently completed a master bathroom that includes storage for skin care products in a niche near the sink. She also sees requests for hampers for clothes, storage for hair tools and dividers in drawers for makeup and toiletries.

“Women tend to do more in the bathroom, such as their hair and makeup,” adds Kadwell. “I’ve also had women want jewelry cabinets in the bathroom. All of that requires storage.”

Kadwell encourages her clients to also consider storage in the water closet, such as a recessed cabinet in a wall near the toilet where they can keep toilet paper, the unsightly toilet brush and feminine products.

“It’s nice to be able to keep those items out of sight, yet readily available,” she explains, adding that organization, in general, can go a long way towards finding additional space for other desired design elements.

Another storage consideration she encourages is the inclusion of hooks for robes and towels.

“In a lot of our designs, we’re bringing in more natural light with windows,” she says. “We’re also including large showers with a lot of glass, so we’ve lost a lot of wall locations for hanging robes and towels.”

Fleming views storage as important, too. Often, vanity space will include drawers that are tall enough for lotions and hair sprays, with outlets for appliances. Some clients also want a place to sit and drink a glass of wine as they apply their makeup.

“It’s important that drawers are properly sized,” she says. “A lot of 6″ drawers aren’t necessarily helpful, so it’s important to think about what products a client uses. When you consider the clients’ habits and how they use the space, you will always come out a winner. It all comes down to listening to your clients’ needs. Our job is to help them and lead them. Bottom line…if we listen to them, the project will be successful.”

Regardless of gender, Reineberg stresses the importance of maintaining an open floor plan, “so two users can move around without bumping into each other. A compartmentalized toilet area is also a nice functional feature that allows two people to use the bathroom with some privacy.”

To accommodate her clients’ significant height differences, Shannon Kadwell positioned the showerheads and controls comfortably for each, using a tile design that balances the aesthetic. — Photo: Morgan Howarth

ENCOURAGING COMPROMISE

It’s great when the stars align and everyone gets everything they want. However, rarely is that reality, especially if space is limited. Oftentimes, designing a master bath requires compromise, and admittedly, sometimes design professionals find themselves as much counselor as design expert.

“There needs to be give and take to counterbalance each side,” says Meskill. “For example, if someone definitely needs double vanities and linen storage, maybe they can do without the clawfoot tub.”

Wolstenholme likes to turn compromise into opportunity. 

“I don’t like to use the word compromise,” he says. “When clients have varying tastes, sometimes it becomes an opportunity. Design is often the result of a challenge, such as varying tastes. But the end product can be something that’s a little bit different than either client wanted initially. When the space is finished, it can be a complete surprise.”

When clients are having difficulties coming together, Wolstenholme encourages them to think about what they’ve seen and liked.

“Maybe it’s a family member or friend’s home, or even a place where they’ve stayed,” he says. “When a couple isn’t on the same page, considering things they’ve seen and liked can serve as a starting point to get us headed in the right direction.”

Bathrooms can be small spaces and every inch of space counts, especially when there are multiple users in a master bathroom, adds Cross. 

“When there is simply not enough space to meet the client’s requests, we usually look at priorities, of what is most important to them, and let that lead the design,” she says. “We don’t always have room for a separate tub and shower, so we might design a tub-shower combination. Wall-hung toilets are also a great way to save space and give the illusion of a larger room when space is tight.”

Fleming encourages prioritizing, as well.

To accommodate future use by two people, this bath by Tom Reineberg includes his/her sinks and vanities and a nicely sized shower as well as a walk-in closet. — Photo: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

“It isn’t typical to have no budget or no space restraints,” she says, “so it’s about making a list and prioritizing what’s important.”

“I love creating spaces for clients that inspire them,” adds Houlroyd. “However, trying to incorporate everything into the space can be challenging, especially if it’s a small footprint, so I show them options to incorporate as much as possible and give ‘even’ benefits to each partner.”

Alaverdyan lets the space, as well as the character of the home, guide the outcome.

“When there isn’t enough room for everything, I encourage clients to stay committed to what is best for the space,” she says. ▪

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