Comfort Suite

by WOHe

Comfort Suite

Designers are mixing and matching products to create
personalized baths that are all about comfort.

By John Filippelli

Just as every good craftsman values his tools, so do bath designers
and remodelers. But, their tools do not look like a common hammer
or screwdriver; rather, they come in the shape of decorative grab
bars, double showerheads, heated towel racks, etched glass shower
doors and fogless mirrors.

Whether functional or decorative, these products offer a wealth
of design solutions for a designer’s palette. And, when it comes to
today’s bathrooms, designers are finding themselves mixing and
matching that palette with an artistry once seen only in museums
mixing styles, textures and product lines to create unique and
personalized designs for clients that are all about comfort.

As Reid Sellgren, v.p., owner of Woodbury, MN-based ClearMirror
explains: “[More and more] you are seeing an eclectic variety of
products. It is wide open, and to mix and match is the trend.”

“[We are seeing] projects cross the line and become more
transitional,” notes Diana Melichar, president of Lake Forest,
IL-based Geudtner & Melichar Architects.

But, whether clients choose a large, high-tech shower system, a
spa tub or heated towel rack, designers agree that the desire for a
custom environment that offers peace and tranquility tops clients’
wish lists. It will come as little surprise, then, that some of the
hottest trends in bath remodeling products focus on luxury,
comfort, convenience, efficiency and ease of cleaning.

Then and now
“A year ago, we were seeing a lot of cultured marble being
specified. Now we are seeing both granite and Corian going into the
showers,” says Gerald Nickolaus, president of Eugene, OR-based
McKenzie Kitchen and Bath.

“Solid surface countertops have been extremely popular,” offers
Rod Blight, v.p. of Farmington Hills, MI-based Woodland Kitchen
& Bath Gallery.

“Aesthetically, we are seeing a lot of tile being used in the
shower. Tumbled stone, granite tile and marble tile have been
extremely popular as well,” Nickolaus adds.

He continues, “In fact, we just picked up a 1/4″ slab granite
material that is going into showers for both new constructions and
remodels. People like it because it has the slab granite look
without the weight or high cost of labor that’s involved with
installing a full 3/4″-thick slab of granite. The 1/4″-thick
material is less labor intensive and not as heavy.”

The mix-and-match theme carries over into surfacing as well, he
notes, stating, “We see a lot of products mixed for instance, we
are seeing Corian and tile blended together, or Corian with granite
or granite and tile. It is more of a color coordination and
aesthetic concept.”

And, while consumers are also choosing higher-end faucetry with
ceramic-disc cartridges as opposed to rubber o-rings (because of
added durability), their taste in finishes is also changing,
according to Blight.

“We haven’t done a brass faucet in about three years,” he

“People aren’t going for your basic chrome or brass anymore,”
Erica Entner, senior designer for McKenna’s Kitchen and Bath, based
in Rochester, NY, agrees.

Blight cites a significant increase in the selection of finishes
available as a big reason for this trend.

“Manufacturers have added bronze nickel finishes and antique
chrome and nickel finishes. Overall, the trend is leaning toward
brushed finishes for ease-of-maintenance considerations,” he

“I think the coordination of colors and finishes is coming
around more,” Entner suggests.

For John Lang, president of Lang’s Kitchen & Bath in
Mercerville, NJ, recent trends have not affected vanity styles.

“Furniture-like cabinetry is still as much at the forefront as
it was two years ago. Full-custom vanities from cabinet companies
are popular because we can add functional drawers for storage

Blight agrees, “Furniture-appearing cabinetry with a
free-standing appearance has definitely gained in
Michael Berman, principal of Los Angeles, CA-based Michael Berman
Limited agrees: “I would say separate vanity areas are really
popular right now.”

According to Sellgren, another “comfort trend” is gaining
momentum, as well. “It seems that heat is the recurring theme here.
We are seeing more and more of the heated fogless mirrors, heated
towel racks and heated flooring,” he offers.
Blight concurs: “There has definitely been a big call for heated
flooring tiles in the bath recently.”

A big selling point for this product, according to Peter Schor,
president of The Institute of Bathroom Product Knowledge and
Dynamic Results, Inc., based in Wilsonville, OR, is the minimizing
effect of the chill clients receive when stepping out of the shower
and onto the tile floor.

And, while it may sound simplistic, there is another trend that
stands out, Melichar says. “The thing [today] is that people want a
toilet that can flush and have it not back up. People will do
anything for a toilet that flushes properly,” she explains.

“Function of toilet fixtures is very important to clients.
People still have concerns about the gallon and a half flush,”
Blight offers.

To meet this demand, pressure-assisted flushing toilets have
become increasingly popular, Schor reports.
Shower strength

Whether it be oversized showers with multiple body sprays,
ceiling showerheads or steam units, high-tech shower systems are
growing in prominence, according to Lang.

“People just don’t have time to sit in the bathtub anymore. If
they want luxury, it’s going to come from the shower,” believes

Sellgren concurs: “The change is that people want to speed up
[their time in the bath]. That’s why I like to call [the shower] a
vertical whirlpool.”

To that end, “We’ve seen a lot of body sprays and high-tech
shower systems with multiple heads,” says Entner.
“Of course,” Nickolaus says, “double showerheads are a must in any
master bath shower situation.”

Berman agrees, “I have been doing a lot of showers with
double-showerheads. And fixture-wise, rain domes are very much [in

Entner adds, “We do a lot of the large eight- or 12-inch
diameter rain showerheads as well.”
For Blight, separate shower and tub enclosures have been the name
of the game.

“We have been doing quite a lot of separate tub and shower
units, as well as large walk-in showers. They are usually a minimum
of four by six feet. We’ve also been doing a lot of seats in the
showers,” he remarks.

Showers with plenty of high-end amenities are also all the rage
among many consumers, with the latest upscale shower systems
offering such options as waterproof wireless remote controls,
telephone systems, thermostatic water temperature control valves
and an integrated foot massage system for added convenience and

And, from a fashion standpoint, “Etched glass shower doors have
really been hot,” Lang notes.

Nickolaus, however, sees function as key to the growing
popularity of showers in recent years. “People really like the ease
of maintenance you find in the shower,” he says, adding that large
walk-in showers with no door are very popular, as are sunken

Tub time
Although showers are becoming more popular, it does not necessarily
spell the end for tubs, Entner says. Not only do some consumers
like the luxurious effect of a long soak, but, “functionally, a lot
of people are looking for some type of whirlpool or air-jetted
tub,” he reports. “A majority of the time, people are looking for
function rather than aesthetics in their bath remodel. Yes, they
want it to look good, but [strictly basing a decision on
aesthetics] can be limiting.”

Therefore, according to Entner, clients’ interest in air-jetted
tubs has increased. “The reason is sanitary, because there are no
pipes to collect water. Also, installation is easier because,
instead of having separate circuits for the heater and the motor,
it is just one circuit,” she says.

“Thermo-massage air jet tubs are in!” Schor enthusiastically
agrees, adding that consumers need only to add nutrient-rich
essential oils and herbals to create a serene and comforting

Blight notes, “[People like air baths] because they inject fresh
air into the water as opposed to a water jet system.”

Safety concerns
Most designers would agree
that, while beauty is important, safety is mandatory. And nowhere
is this more important than in the bathroom. Understandably, baby
boomers and seniors are most concerned about this issue, however
more and more consumers are planning ahead, looking for bath
products that will provide a safe environment as they age.

Fear of slipping is a main concern. “Getting proper flooring
tile that will not be too slippery when they go in and out of the
shower area is very important to my clients,” Blight explains.

Entner says: “We always recommend a matte finish over a gloss
finish especially for seniors.”
Grab bars, too, are gaining in popularity because they can be used
to help avoid slipping.

Nickolaus offers: “We are seeing people think about grab bars
more. It seems to be more of a consideration for people when they
reach 70 or 80 years old.”

“People who are perceiving that they will stay in their homes
until they are seniors are looking ahead and putting in safety
products [such as grab bars],” Blight explains.

Melichar finds a similar trend occurring with her business. “I
find that baby boomers are the ones that seem concerned about
slipping,” she describes.

To address these safety concerns without sacrificing aesthetics,
grab bars have seen some major improvements, Lang notes.
“Grab bars are definitely more decorative today. There are new grab
bars that are 1″-thick that clients really like much more than the
1-1/2″ model,” he adds.

Another safety concern is electrical devices, Blight believes.
“GFI protection is very important,” he notes.
Sellgren concurs, “Safety is paramount [and] clients need to ensure
that devices are UL-listed.”

Ultimately for Sellgren, bath product trends come down to what
helps create an environment that’s safe, functional and relaxing.
“Overall, the trend is toward the bath as an all-over comfort
suite,” he concludes.

And, for designers, finding and using the right product will go
a long way toward accomplishing this goal. KBDN

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