6 trends in luxury bathrooms

They may be scaling down in other areas, but custom-home clients aren’t skimping on bathroom amenities. Many master baths resemble sumptuous, spa-like retreats. Here are six trends in bathroom design.

November 16, 2011

Custom-home buyers view the master bath as a retreat and fit it out accordingly. Often they’ll incorporate ideas from luxury hotels in countries they’ve visited, such as door-less showers and mirrors with integrated TVs. 

“Whether it’s a big bathroom or a small bathroom, clients are putting in details they might have seen in a spa, such as frosted glass, chunky glass, clean lines, and floating vanities,” says Phil Kean, an architect and builder based in Winter Park, Fla.

Melissa Messmer, a chief designer with SR3 Design in Beverly Hills, Calif., says homeowners are sparing no expense when it comes to finish materials and technology. The finishes include natural stones such as marble, granite, cut glass, onyx, and other semi-precious stones. TVs have also become part of the experience, whether they’re in the vanity mirror, over the tub, or in the water closet. Often music is piped in to enhance relaxation.

While some clients are scaling down the size of the master bath, they’re not skimping on the details, says Mary Jo Peterson, a kitchen and bath designer based in Brookfield, Conn. Digital controls allow homeowners to preprogram water flow and temperature, music, and color-therapy lighting for the shower or tub, and they still enjoy pampering themselves with body sprays and ceiling-mounted, rain-shower heads.

The following projects illustrate six design trends that are making a splash in the bath.

1. The Personal Spa

There’s seemingly no end to the upscale appointments homeowners choose for the bath — everything from massage tables, barber chairs, and saunas to toilets with built-in bidets, lighting, and music. Heated floors and towel racks are a must in cold climates.

In the photo above, a wall made of rough, raw stone above the vanity and along one wall of the wet room unifies the two connected spaces. Instead of a whirlpool tub, the homeowners opted for a large walk-in shower. Lighting is zoned on separate dimmers for convenience and energy conservation. The custom trough sink and wall-mounted faucets heighten the commercial-spa ambience. (Design by Victoria Shaw, Binns Kitchen + Bath Design, Pickering, Ontario, Canada; Photo: Tim McClean Photography.)

The photo above illustrates an 800-square-foot, resort-style master bath that opens onto a covered lanai facing a lake. Features include a separate spa tub, walk-in shower, and countertops at different heights to accommodate each spouse. (Design by Phil Kean Designs, Winter Park, Fla.; Photo: Harvey Smith Photography.)


2. Nature’s Way

Natural materials are durable and therefore practical for wet-room use, but they also make a strong design statement. Woods such as teak and ipe can be used indoors and out. The powder room shown at right has slate walls, herringbone wood-grain porcelain tile floors, a black granite vessel sink, two thick bamboo cantilevered counter surfaces, and cherry cabinets. This combination of materials provides great visual impact and stands up to heavy use by family and guests. (Design by Holly Rickert and Julia Kleyman, Ulrich Inc., Ridgewood, N.J.; Photo: Peter Rymwid Architectural Photographer.)


3. No Boundaries

Views are as important in the master bath as they are elsewhere in the home. In custom homes where privacy is not an issue, clients sometimes opt to remove the shower door, as in the photo above.

“There might be a wall separating the wet area from the rest of the bath,” says Peterson. “And there are many opportunities to do a no-threshold shower. If you use a trench-style drain, you only have to float the floor in one direction.” (Design by Phil Kean Designs, Winter Park, Fla.; Photo: Harvey Smith Photography.)


4. Everything is Illuminated

In bathrooms, it’s important to have both overhead and wall lighting, particularly at the vanity areas, “because if you have just one or the other you’re creating shadows, especially in places where people are putting on their makeup or shaving,” says Messmer. Wall sconces or pendants can be used to fill in wherever overhead lights create shadows. “You’re starting to see more pendant lights in the bath,” she says.

LEDs are also making inroads. Manufacturers are putting them in the back of vanity mirrors to eliminate shadows and glare altogether, says Peterson.

To facilitate nocturnal visits, there are wall and floor tiles with LED lighting, as well as toilets with built-in lighting. (Design by Cameo Homes, North Salt Lake, Utah; Photo: Cameo Homes Inc./Marion Rockwood Interior Design.)


5. The Tub Stands Alone

Freestanding tubs are making a comeback. Modern updates of the old clawfoot tub may be carved out of stone, crystal, or even solid glass, and feature rounded, rectangular, and angled shapes. Like sculptures, they often take center stage in the room.

In the photo above, a freestanding tub with an in-line heater sits in a drained fiberglass pan filled with river rocks. The wood-textured, porcelain-tile floor follows the gentle curve of the tub and rock path. (Design by Holly Rickert and Julia Kleyman, Ulrich Inc., Ridgewood, N.J.; Photo: Peter Rymwid Architectural Photographer.)


6. Old-World Furniture and Fittings

Vanities designed to look like pieces of furniture — and conversely, old pieces of furniture that are converted into vanities — give a more unique flavor to a bathroom than stock cabinets.

“Fittings are no longer finished in your typical polished chrome,” Messmer says. “We’re seeing a return to the warmer golden hues of nickel; unfinished, hand-polished brass; bronze; and copper. These add an old-world feel.” (Design by Landry Design Group, Los Angeles; Photo: Erhard Pfeiffer Photography.)

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