Relax and rejuvenate
By Allen Norwood
Posted: Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011
Wendi and Brian Brown of SouthPark wanted their remodeled bathroom to have the feel of a spa, a retreat, with soothing colors and perhaps a luxury feature or two.
The practical goal was to remove a garden tub and expand the shower. We'd lived here six years and never used the tub, Wendi Brown says. It was time for it to go. But the aesthetic goal was to create a space that was both calming and classically stylish.
The choices the couple made for their home off Quail Hollow Road, experts say, reflect the evolution of bathroom design. Owners want to create places to retreat and to recharge, often with looks borrowed from luxury hotels and resort spas.
Some trends are easy to identify. Garden tubs with wide tile decks are giving way to stand-alone tubs or, as at the Browns' house, disappearing altogether. Tiny showers are growing while, at the same time, the huge, walk-through showers with a dozen heads are shrinking a bit. (And even being closed off with shower curtains because those locker-room size showers are a bit drafty.)
On fixtures, brushed finishes are being replaced by classic polished nickel. Tile is more subdued, with owners turning from trendy bling to classic marble and limestone. Instead of square tiles, owners are more likely to choose rectangular tiles in all sizes.
The Browns remodeled their kitchen in 2010. When they tackled the master bath in 2011, they turned to designer Emily Bourgeois and contractor Andrew Roby. My husband and I looked at pictures and flipped through magazines, Wendi Brown says. We shopped around at showrooms... Then we called Emily.
One of the things I wanted was to have it feel like a spa... I wanted it to feel very soothing and relaxing. Once we saw the tile, I knew that's the one we wanted, she says. The tile was crucial, because it covers the shower and the walls.
They chose a tile from Renaissance Tile on South Boulevard, a vein-cut limestone tile called Silver Thorn, and had it installed vertically for a contemporary look. Alyssa Coates, showroom manager at Renaissance, says the favorite tiles these days are rectangular instead of square. Rectangles give a more linear look. She calls the shape planking and the Browns' tile mini-planking.
Vein-cutting is hugely popular because it best displays the streaks and natural variations in the stone, like the grain in fine hardwood.
Coates says the linear look is inspired by popular resorts and high-end hotels. Some customers even tell her they want to create the look of a favorite vacation suite. The Browns didn't set out to recreate a specific bathroom they'd seen somewhere, Wendi Brown says, but they had a vision of one that would be uniquely their own. Bourgeois helped them refine that vision.
Bourgeois says the goal was to create a space that would be quiet and well-edited. In other words, spa-like.
Vessel sinks of porcelain rest on concrete vanity tops. The tan concrete countertop complements the color of the handcrafted concrete Peacock Paver tiles on the floor. Using similar materials on the countertop and the floor keeps them from competing with each other, Bourgeois says, and enhances the serene feeling.
Concrete is also practical, Wendi Brown says, and adds to the sleek, unadorned look she was after.
Bourgeois says the inset wall of cabinetry adds to the edited feel of the room. There is lots of storage, but because the cabinets are inset, they don't protrude into the room. Visually, they don't break up the smooth plane of the wall.
The new shower is about 4 feet by 5 feet. Plumbing fixtures are polished nickel, and there's a large fixed shower head and a hand-held shower head.
Bourgeois' window design is unique and striking. The window was expanded during renovation. In the new layout, the vanities sit in front of the window. The window glass is frosted and a mirror hangs in front of the window.
The arrangement is unusual, but Bourgeois said the Browns agreed to give it a try. The window arrangement was a success. There's a lot of sunlight, it really fills the room, Wendi Brown says, which makes the new bathroom even more appealing. The floor is heated, a splurge the Browns have already come to appreciate. It's really nice... and it'll be even nicer in the middle of the winter.
Take the first step
What colors, materials and features help make your bathroom a soothing retreat? Design experts say the answers aren't about a particular style (its not contemporary vs. traditional), but there are some elements that are key. Architect Don Duffy says it's crucial that the bathroom, like the kitchen, function properly. Start there. If two people will be using the bathroom at the same time each morning, the room has to accommodate them. If it doesn't, they'll be frustrated and that's certainly not calming and soothing.
Early on, decide whether you'll share the countertop or require two vanities.
If you want a retreat, he says, eliminate all those little frustrations and distractions. That can mean a bench in the shower, or a vanity height that's a bit higher or lower than normal.
Duffy says he's creating more bathrooms without tubs, like the Browns', or with stand-alone tubs. Stand-alone tubs are smaller, which makes the room feels larger. Modern tub designs are what he calls omni-directional, which means you can sit comfortably at each end. Many homeowners simply prefer the sculptural look of stand-alone tubs.
With a stand-alone tub, you dont have to lean across a garden tub to reach blinds or window coverings. And window treatments are critically important in the bathroom. They have to provide privacy, and they have to open to let in the light. And you've got to be able to reach them, Duffy says.
Most showers are 4 by 4 feet, he says, or perhaps 4 by 6. That's larger than they would have been decades ago, but smaller than some of the gargantuan show house designs of a few years ago.
You'll appreciate at least two shower heads, he says, a fixed head and a hand-held. The person who really appreciates the hand-held is the person who has to clean the shower.
Tile and stone choice is critical because those materials cover so much of a bathroom's wall and floor surface. Alyssa Coates, showroom manager at Renaissance Tile, says square tiles are giving way to more rectangular looks. Popular sizes include 12 by 24 inches and 16 by 24 inches. Marble is popular, of course, for a classic look that never goes out of style. So is vein-cut limestone like the Browns.
Glass tile is more subdued than it was a few years ago, says Coates. There are fewer jewel tones and fewer bright mosaics inlaid like rugs on bathroom floors. Why? The unadorned floor is quiet, more spa-like.
Like Duffy, she says the freestanding tub is replacing the garden tub. That's all we're selling... It's more tranquil.
She also agrees that homeowners are choosing two shower heads, one fixed rain can and one hand-held shower spray. Owners aren't adding lots of the body sprays that were so popular, but they are choosing thermostatic shower controls.
Designer Jane Schwab of Circa Interiors says neutral colors in softer tones are less jarring to the eye. They let you ease into the day. Consider combinations of warm neutrals: beige, tan, cream.
Schwab likes hardwood floors. They're warm and friendly, and with today's finishes they stand up to the moisture in bathrooms. Consider a rug, perhaps an Oushak or Oriental rug, over the hardwood.
One thing I love to do is put curtains in the bathroom, she says. You can do it in layers. Use sheers, for a feeling of luxury, and then a heavier fabric for privacy. Cotton and linen are always good choices, and you can even get away with silk in an adult bathroom where splashing won't be a problem. Wood adds warmth, and fabric softens the look of a bathroom.
If you must have blinds, consider wooden venetian blinds. That's a softer product than plantation shutters, she says.
Proper lighting is critical, especially in a bathroom. You'll appreciate overhead cans, sconces beside the mirrors, maybe even a chandelier. Use dimmers, too. You'll want bright light for putting on makeup, but subdued light when relaxing in the tub.
Every woman will appreciate a bench in the shower, she says. And treat yourself, as the Browns did with the heated floor. Heated floors and towel bars might seem extravagant, but they add to the sense of escape youll enjoy every single day.