In today’s bath, comfort is king.
And that comfort can come not just in the way of physical comfort, but emotional and sensory as well.
“There are always consumers looking for comforting designs,” observes Gail Drury, CMKBD and president of Drury Design Kitchen & Bath Studio in Glen Ellyn, IL. “This desire is driven by today’s hectic lifestyles and the search for a little bit of respite from the everyday chaos.”
Of course, comfort and wellness mean different things to different people, and that concept is not lost on kitchen and bath designers.
Mary Nolte, Allied ASID and principal of Mary Nolte Design in East Northport, NY stresses: “I’ve found that the most critical key to developing a sense of wellness for my clients’ baths is to listen very carefully to them in order to get to know the clients as individuals.”
“It’s essential to learn what my clients’ definition of wellness is and what brings a sense of well-being to them,” she continues. “It is equally key, if not more so, to discover what disturbs my clients and their sense of well-being.
Keeping it Simple
The simplest way to achieve a soothing environment is…well, pretty simple, reports Drury. The use of soothing colors and clean, uncluttered design elements plays a significant role.
“The proper flow of colors in all elements in a room and throughout a house creates a sense of well-being in itself,” Nolte reports. “Generally, people feel more comfortable with softer, neutral, medium-tone colors.”
“While not technically neutrals, greens and other colors can be used in neutral colored rooms,” she adds.
Common color requests in the bath, according to Nolte, include dark rich browns on walls. Greens and blues remain popular, as do lighter shades of red.
Leslie Lomont-Relayson of New Orleans, LA-based Cabinets by Design adds: “I’m being asked to incorporate basic, neutral colors for cabinets and stone. Color might be added through tile or just in the accessories.”
She also notes that she has been receiving requests for simple and clean materials when creating her designs. “I think life has become hectic for most of us, and a clean, simple, uncluttered look in neutral colors does provide some sense of calm at the end of the day,” she comments.
“These spaces tend to be of simpler design,” stresses Drury, “and, as a result, they are more contemporary in feel. ‘Less is more’ definitely fits here.”
According to Drury, making a space look calm and uncluttered is one thing; making it highly functional is another.
“I believe we need to recognize when we are building a Hummer versus a Prius,” comments David Linzer, CKD, CAPS, CGP for Coral Springs, FL-based Designs by David L. “Downsizing and using materials and equipment that address energy consumption, safety and convenience while satisfying aesthetics is the future. Americans face new problems, and while bells and whistles were always the icing on the cake, we need to look at design, space and options through new glasses.”
“Bells and whistles just clutter things up and are not applicable to this type of design,” adds Drury. If the client insists on bells and whistles in this type of space, she offers, it will typically mean multiple showerheads or steam showers. “The bells and whistles are in the function of the space more than the design,” she continues.
David Schneider, owner, ASID of Schneider Kennedy Design in Wildwood, MO, notes that the desire for an environment that promotes wellness dictates the call for luxury items, whether it be a therapy tub or a built-in coffee center. But he quickly adds that there has been a noticeable shift in the amount of luxury items a consumer is willing to include.
“Three years ago, people would include almost anything as long as it was not ridiculous. Today, they ask themselves whether they really need certain items and whether they feel they will get enough benefits from them to justify the cost,” he states.
“The main request I’m getting is to offer possibilities,” Schneider continues. “In general, after clients learn about the range of choices that we can incorporate into a new bathroom, it’s the budgets that dictate the choices.”
“But, people will spend the extra money for the features that help them accomplish a feeling of wellness,” stresses Drury.
Of course, each client is different with regard to what the needs are, stresses Nolte. “Some are happy to have all of the bells and whistles, while others feel overwhelmed with too much stuff,’ she says.
To promote calm, technology definitely comes into play.
“The new digital shower systems, as well as some whirlpool tubs, have chromatherapy, lighting systems and stereo systems incorporated into them,” explains Drury.
Kitchen and bath designers note that there has been a resurgence in interest in freestanding tubs for soaking. Air tubs are also gaining significant ground as people become more aware of them. They add to the overall sense of a spa environment.
Drury believes that one of the reasons air baths are popular is because they tend to be quieter, which also equates to being “more soothing and gentle. These can also be done freestanding and do not need to be built into a tub deck, which is definitely more spa like,” she says.
Designers are definitely finding that their clients want a huge shower and want to eliminate the tub, or they want the best of both worlds and look for both.
Clients will also forego the traditional bathtub and opt instead for a spacious shower/steamroom. Maintaining health through daily skin detoxification is a sign of our times.
“The three main things that clients try to incorporate into the final build are luxury tubs, multiple head shower systems and heated floors,” comments Schneider.
Heated floors are one of the top extras that designers are putting in their master bath designers, along with towel warmers. The warmth of both give that extra element of comfort, they note.
To that end, Schneider describes a recent master bath that he designed. “This space offered a lot of warmth. The bathroom colors were warm and many items were included in the build out to assure warmth, including heated floors, as well as an inline heater on the jetted tub and a bidet seat that automatically heated the water before cleansing the user. We also made sure that we maintained good light through the window, which warmed the entire environment naturally all day long,” he describes.
In addition to the growing interest in bidets, designers are often sneaking in an element of Universal Design that provides added comfort, all without the homeowner being aware of the change. Comfort-height toilets are ADA compliant, and yet are more comfortable for the average adult, according to industry players. They are just the right height for adults.
Lighting, of course, is also a major consideration, according to Nolte. Adjustable and varied lighting create a sense of well-being and set the mood.
Lomont-Relayson agrees, noting that different lighting sources, particularly when used with dimmers, provide versatility and control in the master bath.
Of course, many clients now define wellness through green-based products, not only for their personal environment, but for the environment at large. However, the interest in green products is growing at a slow pace.
According to Linzer, one key for “green designers” to sell these ideas is to offer solutions that improve indoor air quality. “Cabinets made with formaldehyde-free plywood particle board and finished inside and out with low-VOC finishes” are a great place to start.
Due to the nature of the bath, particular attention should be paid to moisture and mold. Moisture with nowhere to go just sits atop any nearby surface, blackening areas and gathering into crevices and making the air unhealthy.
As a result, ventilation fans are becoming much more critical to the overall function of the room, and health of those who use it. Today’s bath vent fans are designed to operate at almost imperceptible sound levels, and many provide moisture sensors or 24-hour continuous options.
Water issues are also a major issue for the bath, with regard to both environmental concerns and personal health.
While multiple spray heads and body sprays might promote the feeling of luxury and relaxation, the amount of water used is an issue that has come to the forefront in recent times. Manufacturers are now focused on retooling their showerheads and other water features to meet WaterSense standards and provide low-flow capabilities.
However, convincing skeptical homeowners that they will get the same sensory experience has been challenging. While many want to do the right thing when it comes to water usage, they don’t want to compromise on the shower experience. Showering today is not solely about getting clean, and fittings suppliers understand that.
Instant hot water is also a benefit that piques the interest of many people reworking their bath spaces. Incorporating the right thermostatic equipment to provide instant hot water means no more waiting around for the cold water to heat up, and no more dollars wasted down the drain.
Several showerheads introduced to the market the past few years also provide filtration, an added bonus for homeowners. Since chemicals added to the water can permeate the skin while showering, wellness in the shower is becoming a concern to many. The smell of chlorine and other unwanted chemicals are controlled by these fittings, and consumers are taking notice of these products.
“I believe the aging Baby Boomer market, which represents 40% of our population, will require expertise in understanding life’s problems,” remarks Linzer. “Therefore, educating those clients about eco-friendly issues will impact decisions.”
“In time, the benefits of eco-friendly and air quality will become more apparent and in greater demand in the mainstream,” believes Nolte.
For Linzer, one project jumps out as an ideal example of creating wellness.
“I recently remodeled a bathroom for a wife whose husband had developed dementia at the early age of 60,” he says. There were several design elements incorporated into the space that helped with the challenges the couple faced.
Linzer used specific colors because the client’s color perception was a contributing factor toward his cognitive problems. For example, the floor of the stall shower had to be lighter in color so that the client didn’t feel like he was falling into a dark hole.
“The somewhat darker walls also gave him more security,” he notes. “Also, a non-reflective surface on the countertop was achieved by using honed quartz. This eliminated glare from the lighting.”
Low-voltage lighting was also incorporated under the toe kick for evening access comfort. “Addressing the needs of modern Americans should not be pigeon-holed into one or two categories,” asserts Linzer. “Our business has become family, gender and age specific, and I think the resourceful designer who really thinks outside of the box will surpass the competition for all of the knowledge he or she possesses about creating wellness.”
Whether it is utilizing green materials, finding additional accessibility for aging clients or simply creating a spa-like retreat from the outside world, kitchen and bath professionals are finding that the options for creating wellness in the master bath are as varied and numerous as clients themselves.
Lomont-Relayson concludes: “Ultimately, when a bath functions just the way the client hopes it will, then that makes their life easier and less stressful. And that, to me, is a sense of wellness.”