Showered in Luxury
Just as the kitchen transformed from a utilitarian room into an extravagant entertainment space, the bathroom is undergoing a similar change, from water closet to home spa — and the evolution often begins with the shower stall.
The trick to creating a spa-like bathroom is to open up the lines of sight says Sean Ruck, a spokesman for the National Kitchen & Bath Association in Hackettstown, N.J. "What it means for showers is glass enclosures. Taking that to the next level, you have seamless construction."
Or, the enclosure could disappear entirely, says Cassandra Coombe of Associates3, a design firm in Denver. "The enclosure is sort of going away. It's either an all-glass enclosure or an open shell with an open drain and a glass wall."
For those wedded to a more traditional style, Foremost International in Canada now frames its glass shower doors in oak. This gives the shower an earthy feel and the potential to match the latest bathroom decorating trends like stone soaking tubs, glass sinks and slate floors.
"The frame is solid oak, and it is treated with linseed oil," says Rick Borg, a product development specialist with Foremost. "It's the whole spa look that people are suddenly getting into."
The inside of the shower is changing, too. Showerheads, for example, have become increasingly sophisticated and technical. Single-function showerheads are still popular, especially in larger sizes that create a rain effect. You can also find multi-function showerheads that offer a variety of sprays, including massage and mist settings.
Showerhead design isn't the only thing evolving — location is, too. Instead of a showerhead poking out of the wall at an angle above the tub, many are now being installed right in the ceiling. This is especially effective with rain showerheads, giving the user the feeling that they're being drenched by a spring shower.
Or you can skip the old-fashioned showerhead and opt for high-end technology. How about Kohler's WaterTile panel, four shower tiles installed flush to the ceiling? Or their modular WaterTiles, which can be placed wherever you'd like, from ceiling to walls, in singles or groups, to give you exactly the shower experience you crave.
If you enjoy therapeutic massage, consider a spa system with built-in body jets to soothe aching muscles. Look into after-market upgrades like those at showerpanelstore.com or install a system like Jacuzzi's Vectra Body Spray system, which is pre-assembled for easy installation.
Another new favorite? Steam showers. Upgrade your existing bath with a steam panel like the Full Body Shower Panel from Wasauna or opt for a built-in steam room like the Ameristeam by Brilliant Showers.
Increasingly, showers are being built with the environment in mind, meaning extra showerheads need not translate into wasted water (not to mention a daunting water bill). "We encourage clients to select water-savvy bath fixtures," says Coombe, whose firm specializes in eco-friendly construction. "Newer showerheads tend to use a lot less water than older ones. You can easily find out the gallons-per-minute, or cycles-per-minute, before you buy them."
One showerhead, made by Bricor, achieves a 1-gallon-per-minute rate by pumping water droplets with air before they leave the fixture. "You feel the water, but you don't have it running off your body so much," says Tim VanderWall with InterArchitectural Products in Lakewood, Colo. "It's very green."
In addition to changing the stall and showerhead, you can also add spa-style upgrades. "You now have showers using chromatherapy, or light therapy," says Ruck. "It's been around for hundreds of years, [and is] the visual answer to aromatherapy." In a chromatherapy shower, lamps emit different colors. As the water passes through the light, it changes the color of the water and, the theory goes, affects your mood.
For true convenience, go for a digital control system like Kohler's DTV II. From the wall panel outside the shower, you control water temperature and pressure, light levels and steam. It even allows you to plug in your iPod and play it through Kohler's SoundTile Speakers. Michael Wandschneider, senior product manager for Performance Showering at Kohler, says that with the touch of a button, the DTV II "brings four media together — water, sound, light and steam — to provide a perfectly tailored and choreographed showering experience."
One thing to keep in mind when designing the shower is how to protect the bathroom against moisture. "Moisture is always an issue," says Coombe, affecting both the longevity of the surfaces and the quality of the showering experience.
Most vanities, countertops and medicine chests are made to withstand a bathroom's high-moisture environment. However, if you convert an antique vanity or use a material that is susceptible to water, seal it with a moisture barrier like polyurethane. Choose rugs and curtains that can be frequently laundered to prevent mold and mildew build-up. Also make sure your walls are supported by concrete backer-board and coated with mold-free paint.
To keep the floor from getting slick, use textured tiles. Any size will work, but the smaller they are, the better grab they will have. Small stone mosaic tiles like limestone or travertine add texture and durability, Coombe says, making the bathroom both safe and beautiful.