January 12, 2006
Borrowing from decor themes throughout the house, baths continue the ascent from bland, necessary rooms to stylish, relaxing comfort zones.
The influence of furnishings, amenities and collectibles will be felt this year and beyond in bath makeovers and renovations.
Clearly, baths have transcended strictly utilitarian functions. Interior designer Robert Schoeller says the overall direction for upscale baths "is to make more of a room out of it rather than just a bath."
Diana Schragi of the Kohler Design Center says consumers "give as much thought and budget to the bath as any room in the home." Kohler research shows homeowners spend as much as seven years of the average lifespan to scrub, relax and soak in the bathroom.
To kick off this design transition, many stodgy counters are replaced with cabinet-like woodwork. If room allows, it’s not unusual for Schoeller to haul in dressing tables or collections of Staffordshire china or figurines to lend a homey air to the bath.
More adventurous designers plop stand-alone basins of tinted glass, hand-wrought brass, ceramics, crystal or fine hardwood atop counter surfaces sized to match the scale of the basin. The cost of dramatic designer basins can easily top $1,000.
Imaginative spigots, often crafted from sand-cast metals, jut from walls or mirrors to stylishly cascade water to the bowl. Schragi has seen a shift from standard-height vanities to variable height to accommodate the differing needs of men and women. Users gain privacy when vanities or counters are separated into his-and-her zones.
The standard tub, once a dominant feature, is now upstaged by large, two-person walk-in showers or megatubs spouting spa effects. A single head shower is passe; multiple chrome, copper or brass heads above and below the occupant soothe as much as cleanse. Shower tiles, or fixtures crafted to fit within a 4-inch-by-4-inch space of a ceramic tile, are in vogue.
Schragi says homeowners are mixing the look of handles, faucets and other fixtures to express their personality. "We used to match furnishings in rooms, but that’s no longer the benchmark for sophisticated bath design," she says. Brushed chrome works well adjacent to polished metals.
Even the toilet is in for an upgrade. The devices can be hidden behind a small bookcase or wall with hanging art. "The toilet shouldn’t be the first thing you see, and I dislike rooms that look like you put a toilet in a telephone booth or a small cubicle," Schoeller says.
There is added emphasis on bold colors and wall treatments in the bath. Wall papers with splashy designs are excellent additions to bath decor because "it takes your mind off the equipment (i.e., toilet) and makes the room more interesting," Schoeller says.
Furnishings resurface in lighting. Gone are typical garish lights including track lights. The shift is towards other forms of indirect lighting often adjusted on rheostats. More owners are installing wall fixtures with silk shades for a warm, finished look. Don’t forget stereo systems and flat-screen TVs. Both are standard in today’s high-end bath.
But the upgrades and improvements come at a price. Schoeller says "people don’t bat an eye at routinely spending $30,000" on bath upgrades.