In the bathrooms and suites we are designing today, the showers
are expanding in size, options and importance. When space allows,
we plan for a separate tub and shower, but when it’s less generous,
many of our clients opt to eliminate the tub and use the available
space to grow the shower. In my office, customers and even some
production-builder clients are planning showers that approximate
the 5’x8′ space that once housed the entire bathroom. It seems a
good time to look at the changes in the shapes and details of
Before we look at actual configurations, it helps to recognize some
of our less traditional sources of inspiration. European designs
are anything but a 5’x8′ bath with a 30″x60″ tub sometimes smaller,
sometimes larger and often with unusual shower set-ups, frequently
with a flush or no-threshold entries. Other vacation destinations,
particularly warm climates and other cultures, can be a great
source of inspiration. On a recent trip to Bali, I saw showers that
were outside, or at least open for the top 18″ or so to allow for
light and ventilation.
Better hotels, with both public and private in-room baths, are
also great sources for design ideas. In fact, at a recent kitchen
and bath show, I was talking with a veteran designer who pointed
out that, while he attends the show for the education, people and
product updates, he often gets his best bath and shower ideas in
There are several lifestyle trends that are both influences on
our design and sources of ideas for our new showers. As we move
through the age boom and appreciation of universal design
increases, our showers are becoming larger, incorporating seats and
handsprays, as well as beautiful grab bars that enhance the design.
Thresholds and doors are often eliminated.
As a response to the trend of more open social spaces in the
home, the bath is becoming a more private sanctuary, with the
shower as the ultimate comfort and luxury for its owner.
We all have a healthy respect
for the problems that can occur when water is not properly managed
and contained. Because of this, some designers and many builders
will stick to the “tried-and-true” traditional box in this case,
the traditionally shaped shower and threshold. However, the
evolution and sprawl of the bath suite, and particularly the
shower, offers us the opportunity for design that is literally
outside this box. Following are a couple configurations for showers
that have worked for us, as well as some thoughts and cautions on
shower design to help ensure a happy marriage of imagination and
The serpentine shower design (see Figure 1) allows for an open
entry with no threshold and no door. It is beautiful to see and,
when done correctly, friendly to those of us who use mobility aids.
The ideal minimum size for this shower is large 78″x78″ as this
allows for minimum widths of 36″ for any passage spaces. It
includes a waterproofed wet area that helps contain the splash from
the shower, and it doubles as a drying-off area. When possible, the
wall opposite the shower head can be extended (12″) to create a
built-in bench that can be used in the shower, as well as to sit on
while drying off. If this is not possible, fold-down or
free-standing seats may work best.
This shower also includes controls that are off-set for easy and
dry access at the entry to the shower, and a handspray located in
that same area or the spot most appropriate for the user.
Three-quarter-inch plywood before the wall board provides support
for the custom locations for grab bars. The lengths of the shower
wall and the parallel wall at the entry can be adjusted as desired
to ease entry by cutting down on turning.
In addition to the center-shower drain, a trough-style drain
that separates the shower from the remaining wet area can be used
to collect any water that escapes the shower (see Figure 2). The
bottom of the trough slopes to a standard 2″ drain. We have the
best luck custom-fabricating the trough and the covering grate, as
we have not found a good solution in prefabricated products.
The trough and other flush, no-threshold showers require team
work with the architect and builder/remodeler early in the design
process. As in any shower, the floor is pitched slightly toward the
drain. One of our builders provides for the needed floor pitch by
recessing the shower area using 2″x8″ joints in the recess and
2″x10″s in the rest of the space. Another uses a similar downsizing
with floor trusses. In a remodeling project on concrete with no
opportunity for recess, the new bathroom floor can be built up at
the entry requiring a door that does not swing into the space to
allow for the recess. Mud-set tile is sloped up at the entry,
leveling off in the main part of the room. A “speed bump” at the
shower threshold can begin the pitch to the drain.
Another design that works well
for us in more generous master baths is the double-entry or
walk-through shower (see Figure 3). This design reinforces the
separation of spaces when two people share the bathroom,
particularly when the space allows for this shower at one end of
the tub. Although the size can be adjusted, when designed 84″x48″,
this shower can include a variety of combinations of showerheads,
hand-held sprays and body sprays. An extension of the tub deck
serves as a bench, an optional glass or other partition might
further contain water, and, again, this shower works well with a
These configurations just touch on the endless possibilities in
custom shower design. Today, there are prefabricated shower bases
in many sizes as big as 60″x60″, and with flush or no threshold.
Innovations in products such as the steel frames for benches or
shelves and the ready-made, cement-board niches for tiled walls
take some of the guesswork out of the installation. Unique shower
shapes are showing up in prototypes and standard products at K/BIS,
indications that manufacturers are looking to respond to this trend
toward the larger and more luxurious shower.
I’ve always liked the distinction between art as lovely to look
at and design as the marriage of that beauty with function. With
all of this to choose from, it’s up to us as designers to make that