Home & Garden

A Beautiful Bathroom: The Sum of its Parts


Several simple elements make all the difference when refreshing our most-used room. Learn from the experts about the most essential components in your new bathroom.

Homeowners have a wide array of choices for bathroom renovations, from colors and flooring to cabinetry and safety features. In this bath, designed by The Kitchen Master, Naperville, the vanity has deeper drawers for easier access, and unused vertical space on either side provide space for towels and other essentials. An inset shelving unit next to the window adds even more storage. “Clever use of wall cavities provides space for beautiful open niches with shelving,” says Kitchen Master president Ted Kawczynski.

Homeowners have a wide array of choices for bathroom renovations, from colors and flooring to cabinetry and safety features. In this bath, designed by The Kitchen Master, Naperville, the vanity has deeper drawers for easier access, and unused vertical space on either side provide space for towels and other essentials. An inset shelving unit next to the window adds even more storage. “Clever use of wall cavities provides space for beautiful open niches with shelving,” says Kitchen Master president Ted Kawczynski.

The bathroom presents a bit of a challenge when it comes to renovation.

Think about it. In all of the other rooms of the house, we can immediately identify one or two starting points for a makeover: furniture in a family room, window treatments in a bedroom, cabinets in a kitchen. In these spaces, we’re able to focus separately on individual elements and then blend them, to achieve the overall look and feel we want.

Now, consider the bathroom. Nobody says, “What if we went with a sectional shower?” Or, “Let’s try a Colonial look for the seating.”

We tend to view this most-used room in our homes in toto, rather than seeing the separate components that come together to create and identify the space. This is probably one of the reasons homeowners are sometimes uncertain of, or intimidated by, the idea of a bathroom renovation.

While choice is typically a good thing, the homeowner looking for some direction can become lost in a marketplace blurred with new products, innovations, materials, technology and myriad other considerations for a bath renovation.

Consulting with design and construction experts can help to bring these elements into clearer focus.

Brighten Your World

Color is where many of us begin, and we do so by heading to the local DIY store and bringing home a fistful of paint samples. Most of us have discovered that it’s not so simple. The size of the space, the overall effect on your mood and the lighting source all need to be considered.

“Darker tones give a space a smaller feel, and lighter tones make it seem larger,” says Brandie McCoy, CKD, a designer at Insignia Kitchen & Bath, Barrington. “And color does influence our moods. Reds and colors on that end of the spectrum tend to excite, and blues and greens are more calming.”

Also, lighting can dramatically change a color’s appearance. “Incandescent lighting can make colors seem warmer, while fluorescent light can add a blue cast to your room,” McCoy says. “Always take your color selections home and live with them for 24 hours, before making a decision.” Even natural light will have different effects, depending on directional exposure and time of day.
Of course, much like fashion and car styles, color trends change from year to year.

“This year, people were a lot braver with colors,” says McCoy. “I saw bolder tones, a lot of jewel tones. The Pantone color index is used throughout the design world, and each year, Pantone chooses a color of the year. For 2013, it’s emerald green.”

Just a few years ago, bathrooms were predominantly done in neutral tones, with names like sand and eggshell. “If color was brought in, it tended to be something subdued from nature – sea foam greens, soft pinks, browns and tans,” McCoy says. “Now, people are more confident in their choices. I think it’s because with the housing market, people aren’t as worried about renovating with an eye toward resale. They’re staying put, so they’re choosing colors they like, to create the spaces they want to live in.”

McCoy just completed a bathroom renovation that demonstrates this trend.

“The owners chose a powder blue vanity and white tile, and we painted the walls a royal blue, and brought in accent tiles of royal blue and jewel tones,” she explains. “Five years ago, that powder blue vanity would have been the extent of the color. The walls would have been white or something neutral. And any color tile would have been a narrow strip tucked away in a little niche. Here, we did a big, broad band. The result is a vibrant, beautiful space.”

Metallic paint is also popular. “I just did a bathroom with a domed ceiling, and we did a solid color, placed crinkled tissue paper on it and topped it all with a metallic paint,” McCoy says. “Metallics are being used on the trim of cabinet doors or on the insets, or if it’s a large enough room, maybe an accent wall or ceiling detail. You can use gold leaf, as well.”

What influences color trends? “Often, we look to fashion for the start of a trend, and then, it moves into interior design,” McCoy says.

Another theory is more profound. “A few years ago, I attended a Benjamin Moore conference on colors through the decades,” McCoy says. “That research indicated that color choices reflected the state of the economy. In a down economy, the trend is toward more neutral colors. In an up economy, brighter colors are used. What’s happening now reminded me of it. As a designer, I’m excited to know that people are using more color in their bathrooms. It’s encouraging to see that things are on an upswing.”

McCoy advises close collaboration with a designer when choosing colors. “Even with training, it’s daunting to mix colors,” she says. “The bathroom I just finished incorporates four shades of blue, and it was very challenging. It took several tries to achieve just the right balance.”

Paint is a good place to start. “It’s the easiest way to move into brighter colors, because it’s the easiest to change,” says McCoy.

A Place for Everything

Cabinetry can have a major impact on a bathroom design, and there are styles to fit every taste and decor.

“Recent trends in bathroom cabinetry have changed the age-old idea that all that’s needed is a sink cabinet, with a couple of drawers and a place to store the toilet paper,” says Ted Kawczynski, president of The Kitchen Master, 600 Industrial Dr., Naperville. Kawczynski founded his full-service design and remodeling firm 37 years ago. Specializing in kitchens, baths, home offices, laundry rooms and other built-in units throughout the home, the company sees a project through from design to installation, with a full staff of master designers and craftsmen.

“Traditionally styled bath cabinets have evolved into pieces of fine furniture,” he continues. “A wide range of woods is being used, along with a variety of glazes and stains to bring out different characteristics. Furniture details like decorative legs, columns, bowed fronts, accent moldings and different levels of distressing can be customized to create a beautiful focal point.”

Often, homeowners choose to continue the look of furnishings and designs elsewhere in the home, while creating a relaxing, spa-like atmosphere in the bathroom.

Veneers are making a comeback, but these are not your parents’ laminates. “Exotic wood veneers being used include mahogany, and wenge and anigre, two fairly new trends in woods that come from Africa,” says Kawczynski. Textured metal and creative pattern veneers are also available.

Wall-hung cabinets are extremely popular and offer a variety of benefits. “A floating, wall-hung sink vanity adds drama to a room while increasing its visual space,” Kawczynski says. “While it’s often used in more contemporary, sleek designs, they can also have furniture detail, with decorative legs added. People often hide LED lighting underneath, both for mood and night light.”

Drain pipes are still hidden inside the floating cabinet, or possibly underneath, and while it may appear that storage space is lost, it’s only an illusion. “This evolved from European cabinetry, and drawers are placed right under the vanity and notched out to fit around the pipes,” says Kawczynski. “Hanging vanities can actually allow a homeowner to take better advantage of that often unused space.”

Bathroom storage overall is changing, floor to ceiling, and wall to wall. Forget hiding everything behind doors; open shelving is the new style. Also, cabinet makers are designing pieces that fit into the odd open spaces bathrooms offer. “Tall storage cabinets, tucked away in less-used areas, provide great storage for larger items,” says Kawczynski. “Clever use of wall cavities provides space for beautiful open niches with shelving for everything from cosmetics to towels. Numerous cabinet storage dividers are available for toilet paper, towels and cleaning supplies. Basically, wherever you have space inside a wall, you can use it for storage.”

One item that’s back – and better than ever – is the medicine cabinet. “People have been opting for framed, flat mirrors over the medicine cabinet for several years,” says Kawczynski. “Today’s versions are changing that.”

One well-known brand is Robern, which has elevated the lowly medicine cabinet – now “mirrored storage,” if you please – to a trendy design statement.

“Deeper mirrored cabinets can be surface mounted, rather than inset, which helps to make them more practical and desirable,” says Kawczynski. “Style ranges from traditional to contemporary, and rather than behind the mirror, storage can be hidden in almost invisible mirrored side panels next to it.”

They’re far more than mere shelves for your razor and toothbrush. “They can be built with interior outlets, chargers, makeup mirrors and even refrigeration for medicines,” Kawczynski says. “Wall mirrors and mirrored cabinet doors can be made steam-proof, and can even conceal ultra-thin TV screens. You can put on your makeup or comb your hair without missing the morning talk shows or the latest stock reports.”

The Future is Now

Nowadays, the phrase “planning for the future” often applies to accessibility in the home.

“We have many requests for bathroom designs for ‘aging in place’ – that is, incorporating elements that will allow owners to remain in their homes as they age,” says Alan Zielinski, CKD, president of Better Kitchens, Niles, and immediate past president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Although the immediate image that comes to mind may be of industrial-looking grab bars and plastic seats in tubs, today’s bathroom designs incorporate these elements in far more refined and stylish ways.

“We tie the aesthetics with the functionality, and design the space for disabilities as yet unknown,” says Zielinski.

In a report on aging-in-place design, the American Society of Interior Designers lists specific areas to address, among them flooring, accessibility and lighting.

“Many types of nonslip surfaces for bathroom flooring are available, but with an upscale look,” Zielinski says. “Cork is popular, as are teak and bamboo. Unglazed ceramic tiles provide better traction than glazed, as do smaller tiles versus the larger travertine or slate, and there are several textured styles that offer better footing. Radiant-heat flooring eliminates the need for rugs that can slip.”

Many owners are foregoing tubs and opting for large, multifunctional showers. “We’re making the bathroom barrier-free, eliminating any lips or raised surfaces,” Zielinski says. “The Roman shower is open, with no doors at all. An enclosed shower seems more desirable, because it holds in warmth. But someone may need to shower in a chair, so you don’t want a door or concrete lip.”

Built-in benches in the shower are very popular. “It offers a place to sit, which ladies especially like for personal grooming,” Zielinski says. “We may include a handheld shower head here, too, on a sliding bar, so that you can bathe sitting down.”

Built-in niches inside the shower are very stylish, and they also eliminate any need for bending. “Drains don’t need to be in the center of the floor, either,” says Zielinski. “They can be installed on the edge, along a wall, which doesn’t affect the look at all. Again, this is a popular trend in bathroom design, but it adds an element of safety for the future.”

Even grab bars are aesthetically appealing. “Styles are now available that look appropriate within a design,” says Zielinski. “Moen, Kohler and many plumbing suppliers have designer lines of grab bars, different styles with different finishes to match your other fixtures. We can identify key areas and install various lengths at appropriate angles, and they’re just part of the overall design. It’s possible to set up the blocking during a build or renovation to install the bars later, if not now.”

Raising counter heights is also a growing trend that accommodates aging in place. “Bathroom counters are being raised to standard kitchen height because it’s more comfortable, no matter your age or ability,” Zielinski says.

Other 21st century innovations are convenient now and safer later, such as fans with automatic humidity control. “People don’t need to remember to turn them on or off,” says Zielinski. “When needed, they come on, so no worry about steam or condensation.”

Another innovation is thermostatic valves on water pipes, initially a childproofing measure that’s making its way into adult-only homes. “You set the water temperature, and the valves balance the temperature to avoid accidental scalding, like when a faucet is turned on somewhere else in the house,” Zielinski explains.

Medicine cabinets and mirrors have outlets built in, to keep electrical cords off the vanity and out of the way. LED lighting is a safe and economical choice, if kept on for safety at night. Installation of motion sensors for lighting is another growing trend. “There are models that detect the amount of light and don’t come on if they’re not needed,” Zielinski says.

Those thinking about a bathroom renovation should consider some of these options. “People in their fifties are doing these things, because they’re planning on staying where they are, to live out their retirement years,” says Zielinski.

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