Technology has made life easier in the kitchen with products that can cook food faster, keep produce fresher longer and turn on a faucet without ever twisting a handle. The same thought process is changing the way consumers live in their bathrooms as well. No more cold floors. No more damp towels. No more manually flushing toilets or turning on faucets. Technology is making it easier than ever before to turn the room once viewed as purely a functional space into a delightful haven in which users can enjoy everything from stock market updates to water massage therapy to warm floors, heated towels and myriad other luxuries.
This month, Kitchen & Bath Design News spotlights projects from bath designers who are incorporating technology into their clients’ master baths.
Designer: Marie Lail Blackburn, CMKBD, CID; MLB Design Group; Seattle, WA
Design goal: Zen and spa-like were two terms Blackburn focused on when creating this space. “People really need downtime, relaxation and rejuvenation,” she says.
Technology elements: Much of the technology included in this space is invisible. “The whole thing about technology is to make it look like it isn’t there,” she says.
For example, the steam shower is detectable only because of the steam head. Advanced technology also allowed the designer to add a washer and dryer, the latter of which is a non-venting, condensing unit that does not require outside ventilation. She also included motion sensors and a sound system with hidden speakers. “I design motion sensor lighting controls into nearly every bathroom,” she says. “This technology is perfect for kids and teenagers who may not remember to turn lights off, and it works really well in powder and guest baths when users may not know where light switches are located. I also love motion sensor lights so folks can find their way through a room at night without getting blinded – and fully awakened – by bright lights.”
Technology benefits: “Technology makes things more convenient, easier and simpler to use,” she says. “For example, with a thermostatic valve, you don’t have to adjust the temperature…it just comes on at the temperature you like. And, I love air baths because they are so therapeutic, offering heated backs, head rests and pillows for comfort therapy and relaxation.”
Technology also gives Blackburn the ability to create ‘quiet’ environments. “There isn’t much glare or shiny surfaces,” she says. “In these types of environments, we’re careful that things aren’t too bright. That’s one reason why I like to float cabinets above floors and use undercabinet, low-voltage lighting that’s on a motion sensor. One of the joys of my career is to work with people to create a spa-like environment in their master baths. We can do that with a combination of technology to make things intuitive and easy to use, and we can also do that with materials that are low maintenance.”
Trending technology: In addition to technology such as heated flooring and products such as air baths, heated towel bars and steam showers, Blackburn also sees high-tech materials, such as thinner porcelain tiles in larger sizes, gaining in popularity.
“The technology available now is remarkable,” she says. “We’re able to create some pretty interesting, seamless vertical surfaces with materials that are easier to maintain and are less than 1/8" thick. With this new material, we have a whole new world available to us.”
Designer: Lynn M. Masiello, CBD, CKD; LM Designs; Verona, NJ
Design goal: This client’s apartment, built in 1974, was nicely renovated, except for the bathrooms. She wanted to increase the value of her home by bringing her master bath up to date, making it more aesthetically pleasing and adding more storage in the process, which was accomplished by recessing the medicine cabinet to gain an additional 12" of storage space.
Technology elements: Some technology incorporated into bathrooms today is not visible, which was the case for this client. She included a three-way diverter valve that directs water to the handshower, the showerhead or to the tub spout. “This allows all three water sources to be used individually, yet they are all controlled by a single thermostatic valve,” she explains. “The thermostatic valve protects the bather from extreme changes in water temperature… a wonderful solution for people who live in multi-unit dwellings.”
The designer also included an electric radiant-heated floor, which solves dual problems. “Ventilation could only be achieved via the window,” she says. “But the challenge was the poor quality of heat in the room during colder months. By adding radiant heat to the floor, my client can now open the window without compromising the temperature of the room. Radiant heat doesn’t raise the temperature of a room like forced air or a radiator will, but when your feet are warm, your body is warm.” Electric heated towel bars also enhance comfort by keeping towels warm in the winter and dry in the summer.
Technology benefits: “I find that, for my aging-in-place clients, technology improves the bath environment by enabling more comfort and safety,” she says. “Grab bars provide greater independence and mobility, and brighter lights give them greater visibility as well as a mood lift.”
“Brighter lighting is another significant factor, giving them greater visibility as well as a mood-lift,” she continues. “And once again, thermostatic valves provide controlled water temperature, preventing dangerous fluctuations of hot and cold while electric radiant-heated floors allow me to design bathroom layouts that are uncluttered by radiators, baseboards or air vents.”
Trending technology: Recessed medicine cabinets that have integral light fixtures and outlets have become popular requests, as has tile grout with stain and mold resistance built right in, she notes. Other trending products include thermostatic valves, electric radiant heat floors – rather than hydronic, which is more reliant on water pressure – and decorative grab bars, especially for aging-in-place clients.
Designer: Adel Visser, CKD, CBD, CID; All About Kitchens & More!; Sacramento, CA
Design goal: This couple wanted a modern master bath with Zen-like accents and an Asian flair. “They wanted a space that was peaceful, serene and comfortable,” says Visser. “But they’re also ‘techy’ people, and they wanted the latest and greatest in a lot of different ways. They were willing to splurge in areas they felt were important.”
Technology elements: One splurge was dual Kohler DTV custom shower controls, which offer the ability to create a spa-like environment in the home by controlling everything from temperature and spray intensity to the angle of water delivery via a menu-based navigation system. “They each wanted their own control,” says Visser, “so we included two of them, each customized to his and her own desired shower experience.”
Visser also included a Toto Neorest toilet that offers hands-free flushing and bidet features, both of which were important to her client for health-related concerns. Hydronic radiant heated floors and power strips concealed within the vanities enhance comfort and streamline the room’s design. Coved corners in the shower and where sinks meet vanity tops eliminate a place for ‘crud’ to
In one guest bath, Visser included a faucet equipped with an LED light that changes color based on the water temperature, therefore improving safety, especially for young visitors. The vanity countertop is also backlit with LED lights.
Technology benefits: “For this couple, they wanted ‘techy’ products, in part because they’re fun,” says Visser. “But technology in the master bath can also be a benefit for health and safety, such as what can be provided by the Toto toilet and LED-lit faucet.”
Trending technology: “I see steam showers as trending,” she says, “as well as electronic shower controls so people can program their own environments. Music in the high-end market is definitely being celebrated, as are TVs in mirrors. These will definitely increase, especially as the economy picks up and people have more money to spend.
“I also see technology that allows programming of products in a way that people use them, such as Lutron’s lighting system, where you can program roomscapes based on moods or tasks, becoming more popular. In general, any technology that eases our lives and improves health and general well being will increase in value.”
Photos: Gordon Lazzarone, Lazzarone Photography
Designer: Denise Quade, CMKBD, Denise Quade Design, Madison, WI
Design theme: The old space was in desperate need of a makeover, to which Quade responded, turning it into a spacious, luxurious haven for two. As a surgeon, the client works long, stressful hours and he wanted an organized place to relax, with a generous amount of light. His wife had an extensive wish list as well, which included, in part, a steam shower, a whirlpool, a two-sided fireplace and a separate room for the toilet and bidet..
Technology elements:A large steam shower was selected that features the Kohler Environment, including two curved benches, multiple body sprays, a personal shower and an ambient rain showerhead “to ease the pain of long days,” Quade says. A heated stone floor matches the shower tile while a towel radiator “keeps things comfy when leaving the shower and allows for warm towels for drying off,” says Quade. “The towel bar, if programmed properly, can raise the temperature of the bathroom by up to 10 degrees. You can also program it to come on within a certain time period. It’s all about comfort!”
Technology also extends into the adjoining closet area, which features heated floors and a coffee bar with refrigeration.
Technology benefits: “Technology in master baths is becoming more important,” says Quade. “Big TVs are working their way into a lot of rooms, including the bathroom. People want to be cozy and comfortable, in a spa-like environment."
Steam showers are becoming more prevalent, and lighting is increasing in importance, according to Quade’s clients. “Lighting is a big deal,” she says. “Sometimes we light up toe kicks, which adds ambiance and a soft glow to the space. The availability of recessed lighting in both warm and cool color tones makes that easier, and much of it is programmable in a variety of color ranges,” she notes.
Products such as warming drawers are also being used to heat towels, adding a greater sense of luxury to the master bath space.