Forget stall showers, small spaces and tiny tiles. Today’s bathrooms are becoming travel destinations.
The whole idea of a “spa bath” means different things to different people, say interior designers, contractors and architects. It might mean an in-home sauna for one, a full-room zero-entry shower for another, or a minimalist, easy-to-clean space for yet another.
But no matter the details or finishes, the feeling of the room remains the same: an oasis of calm.
“Bathrooms and kitchens used to be service kinds of spaces,” said Chris Fein, founder of Forward Design and Architecture in Prairie Village. “Now they want them to reach a higher level of use, and it’s different for every person. We had one where the bathtub was more of a hot tub and the shower had eight body sprays and an overhead shower: She wanted lots and lots of water.
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“Some people want to have a lot of devices to make it a spa bath, but everything is going to have its place and have a calming nature,” he added.
It’s a trend that has been around for the last several years and shows no sign of stopping, said Karen Mills, owner of Interiors by Design. The company is based in Olathe but has created rooms as far away as Istanbul, she said.
The cost depends on the changes, she said. Is the client staying in the room’s footprint and not moving around electric and plumbing? It could start at $15,000. Knocking down walls, adding electronics and using expensive tiles and finishings raise the cost.
Most of the bathrooms are very personal, Mills said. One has a chandelier hanging over the tub. She likes using a mix of textures and a variety of new flooring, including tiles that look like wood.
It’s all about open spaces and bringing in natural light, while still maintaining that private feeling.
“I did one concept home with a remote-control shade that closes automatically when you walk in,” she said.
Mills’ own bathroom includes a rain showerhead that makes her feel like she’s back on vacation in St. John.
John A. Petrie, former president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, said many people are taking out the tub all together and putting in a large walk-in shower. Often these showers have multiple showerheads (to allow for different water temps at the same time), seating and larger tiles, which means less grout for easier cleaning.
Not all “spa” baths mean a complete renovation and turning a bedroom into a shower, he said. It’s often a redesign with updated finishes that allows for more of a retreat feel.
“Someone might call and say they want a ‘spa bath,’ but then you have to go and talk to the client and find out what that means,” said Petrie, who runs a remodeling business in Pennsylvania.
Petrie’s own bathroom goes against the trend.
“My wife takes a bath every single day,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter if I tell her I’m the expert and we’re not putting in a bathtub because it’s against the trend. She’s going in there for an hour with a glass of wine and a book, every single night.”
Not everyone says spa is the way to go. Rob Riseman is the marketing director for Bath Planet, a national chain of remodeling operations. He said they remodel about three bathrooms a week locally, and spa requests are only a small part of that.
Mostly he sees requests for natural materials such as rock, and minimalistic lines, particularly for the younger generation. Riseman says he uses a lot of acrylic materials that are simple to clean and have fewer long-term maintenance issues.
Across the board, designers said homeowners are changing their showers to make them more accessible; no tripping getting in and out of the tub.
“People are getting away from tubs, and the threshold to the shower lowers as the age of the client goes up,” Riseman said. “We’ve done thresholds of 6 inches to 21/2 to a no-threshold, so if they have a wheelchair, they can go straight in.”
But for designers whose clients have big dreams, there aren’t many limits beyond the size of the room. Bruce Wendlandt, the principal architect of Wendlandt & Stallbaumer Architects in Overland Park, loves the variety — and sometimes the quirky nature — of bathroom remodel requests.
He has put in radiant heated floors, a tub with a seating area for conversation and a shower with a glass wall overlooking a lake. One of his favorite challenges involved creating a contemporary iron and glass window to cover more mundane skylights, with pieces that snapped in and out of place for cleaning.
And some requests? It’s easier not to ask.
“I had one couple, she looked me straight in the face and said, ‘This is my husband and I love him but I’m not using the same toilet as him’,” Wendlandt said. “So we created separate stool/bidet closets, and that’s life.”