More and more, people are going to the bathroom to relax and even luxuriate after a day in the rush-rush world, say home remodelers and designers. Homeowners are upgrading the rooms -- outfitting them with everything from soaking tubs to heated floors -- to make themselves comfortable. But peace and quiet aren't the only motivating factors. An upgraded bathroom helps sell a home and can be a good investment.
We polled several award-winning remodeling experts around the country for their recommendations about what's on the rise. If you're mulling a remodel, here is a baker's dozen of trends to consider, both for yourself and for the market.
Large, airy showers: Showers are big, literally. In small bathrooms, homeowners are tearing out the tub to expand the shower. Not only is the stall getting larger, it's getting more airy, with much more glass. "We're going to hinged doors and heavier glass, instead of the sliding glass," says Barb Friedman, president of Oswego Design & Remodeling in Lake Oswego, Ore. Friedman calls opening up the shower "a huge, huge trend. ... People want luxury in their bathrooms. They want to feel like they're going into a spa." Some homeowners are even taking out partial shower walls, or all shower walls entirely, and making the entire tiled bathroom a shower -- a European approach that requires correct drainage, says Ed Miller, president and owner of E. Miller and Associates in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.
Noisy Jacuzzis replaced by soaking tubs: The tub is far from dead, however; it's just changing. "The more forward-thinking clients I work with have done the Jacuzzi" and now they often want a quiet, serene experience of a soaking tub, says Richard Landon, of Richard Landon Design in Bellevue, Wash. These jetless tubs are often deep, insulated tubs like those from Victoria + Albert. Notably missing: the huge amount of decking that typically surrounded many tubs installed in nicer homes in the '80s and '90s that "you could literally kill yourself trying to get in and out of," Friedman says.
Let the light in: "The master bathrooms, they're becoming sanctuaries," says Jerry Kuther, director of custom home sales for award-winning Sun Forest Construction, a company in Bend, Ore., that builds custom homes and developments and also does remodels. People want master bathrooms to be brighter and more sun-filled than before, say Kuther and others. That means adding windows and even skylights to a bathroom. "We took one of our bedrooms in our little cottage house and turned it into a master bath" with several south-facing windows, says Kuther.
Steam bath: "The big thing in bathrooms is steam," says Landon. "People are discovering how wonderful it is to come home at the end of the day and de-stress." Landon favors a steam-room system by Steamist ($1,500-$5,000) that a homeowner can switch on in the garage upon arriving home (the steam room takes 10-15 minutes to heat up). The bathroom usually has to be reconfigured to include the following, says Landon:
- a sloping ceiling to drain condensation;
- a seat;
- a floor drain;
- tile or marble on all surfaces; and
- a vapor-tight door (the steam room must be completely enclosed and insulated on all sides).
The big blow: What bathroom couldn't use better ventilation to clear off mirrors ASAP and extend the life of the finishes? Jeff King of San Francisco's Jeff King & Co. recommends a remote fan -- with a motor elsewhere, such as the attic -- because it "is about 10 times as powerful" as an old-school fan and costs only about $50 more. "They're also extremely quiet" if installed properly, King says. Also on the market are fans with humidity sensors that switch on automatically.
Walling off the loo: One of the biggest trends Miller sees in both new construction and higher-quality remodels is "privatization of the toilet." In other words, giving the master bath's toilet its own private room, or at least a privacy wall. Also, "relocating (the toilet) where it makes sense, and where it's inconspicuous" and doesn't render the whole bathroom useless, says Miller. "People think it's impractical to move things," Miller says, but with PVC pipes it can be done fairly easily for a couple hundred bucks.
Bathroom as entertainment zone: OK, so it's not exactly a sports bar. But more folks are requesting creature comforts such as small coolers and flat-screen TVs. David Mueller, co-owner of Mueller Remodeling in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, says he's seen flat screens that sit behind a mirror, where you don't see them until they're turned on. He explains that people like their tubs, but "you get a little bored just sitting in there."
Smarter storage: "Additional storage is a big need in bathroom remodeling," says Friedman. "But it has to make sense. Big, deep drawers don't work in bathrooms. Those work in kitchens, for pots and pans. You need small drawers, with dividers." Several experts say vertical storage is really catching on, because it works well, while saving space. "We do a lot of the towers, where you have drawers that start at countertop height and go up, because it puts all the stuff where it's easy to get to," says Friedman. Likewise, a recent award-winning bathroom remodel by Miller featured a 6-by-6-by-30-inch cube: The user flips the cube open and "it's all at your disposal," he says. Flip the door closed and the toiletries disappear.
On a related note, King says his clients really enjoy the pre-manufactured medicine cabinets or vanity cabinets that have an outlet inside for an electric toothbrush, shaver or curling iron. These remove the items from out in the open and give the bathroom a much less cluttered look. "It's the simple things" that can add up to a pleasant bathroom experience, King says.
Dueling vanities: Increasingly, homeowners are asking for his-and-hers sinks and vanities, even in small bathrooms, designers report. Two vanities allow for each person to have his or her own space and storage, and for each area to have a different aesthetic. Sinks continue to become more stylish, too: Homeowners are interested in "vessel sinks" that rise up from a base, or faucets that protrude directly from a wall, or sinks that have their own legs or stand.
Grab bars: Once found only in nursing homes, grab bars are hand bars bolted to walls in showers and above tubs to help keep people from falling. They're appearing in many bathrooms now. A big reason is that baby boomers are graying and looking for a surer grip. But younger people are accepting them, too, because the bars no longer look so institutional. "They make grab bars nowadays that look like jewelry," says Bill Feinberg, the owner of Allied Kitchen & Bath, a remodeler based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a regular remodeling columnist for the Palm Beach Post. "The No. 1 room in the house where accidents happen? The bathroom," Feinberg says. "I just remodeled a friend's house, my best friend's house," he says, and he insisted on installing a bench in the shower and grab bars. The couple told him, "'We don't need that; we don't want it to look like a handicapped bathroom,'" he recalls. After he installed them, however, Feinberg recalls their reaction: "'Wow, that's great. And it doesn't look like a grab bar.'"
Bring on the heat: Sandy Hayes, a kitchen and bath designer in Portland, Ore., often adds radiant electric heating to clients' floors. It's a comfort thing, Hayes says. "People complain about cold tiles all the time." Companies such as Nuheat sell a mesh that is placed under the tiles when they're set, and then is connected to a thermostat on the wall. "It's not thousands of dollars. A bathroom could be just hundreds," says Hayes.
Designer Landon sometimes incorporates electronic heat-mat systems such as Step Warmfloor under the walls and floors of the new, open showers so that they warm up faster. It's safe, and uses little energy, he says.
Good tiles: Lame linoleum and glazed tiles are so yesteryear. But you don't have to bust the bank on imported marble to enliven your floor or walls. "A thing that's very popular in there, instead of the traditional glazed tile, is porcelain tile, or stone tile," says Mueller. "It actually has more warmth to it. ... You don't feel like you're going into the guy's locker room to take a shower." Glass tile is also gaining in popularity.
A caveat here: Especially if you think you might be selling your home in the next several years, designer Hayes recommends sticking with more natural tones in things such as glass tiles -- cool greens, light browns, clear glass colors. In short, Hayes recommends that "things that are glued down" be less flashy. Then, strike a bolder note with "things that are not permanent, such as towels, bowls, even things like paint."
On-demand water heaters and other green products: With so much interest today in luxury and indulgence -- heated floors, soaking tubs -- it could be easy to lose sight of the larger trend in home remodeling: sustainability and green ethics. There are several ways to make your improvements more energy-wise: If you do put in a heated floor, make sure it's attached to a timer, advises King, whose company focuses on green practices. Also, check out the latest low-flow toilets by companies such as Toto and Kohler that have two buttons: One releases much less water, when very little is needed. "Another thing that's become more popular is these on-demand water systems," says Natalie Howe, of Natalie Howe Design in Austin, Texas. The unit heats water almost instantaneously, eliminating the need for a water heater, which is very inefficient because it always has to keep water hot and ready, Howe explains.
For more information about remodeling your bathroom, including ordering a free workbook, visit the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
And Just a Few More Tips for Final Luxury Touches
Opulent bathtubs, creative shower enclosures, the marvelous lighting, and designer fixtures can bag a expansive disagreement in any bathroom. But to really bring a sense of luxury into your bathroom, don't forget the runt things. Heated towel rails can really do you feel pampered - there's nothing like stepping into a warm, soft towel after a nice long soak. Bathrooms can gather wintry in the winter months, so add a designer radiator that matches your decor. To really pamper yourself, spend a small extra for the softest, fluffiest towels you can come by, in a color that complements your bathroom.