Stephanie Brick is a designer at Nicely Done Kitchens & Baths in Springfield, Va.
Bathrooms were once the quintessence of utility and raw function in a house. Now, though, a well-designed master bathroom is revered as luxurious and, at times, even palatial with marble and exotic stones adorning every wall and floor surface.
In today’s household, the bathroom strives to emulate the look, feel and experience of a personal spa, embodying tranquility and serenity in every aspect of the design. Double shower heads, body sprayers, chroma- and aromatherapy shower enclosures — the list of ways to incorporate splendor and extravagance into even small spaces is endless.
There are important inherent elements that need to be recognized in bathroom redesigns, no matter what the scale or desired level of opulence. One of the most frustrating elements of a poorly designed bathroom is poor scale: Having 2-foot-wide drawers or open shelving in your base cabinets leaves you with terribly inefficient options for small items typically stored in a bathroom, like Q-tips, cotton balls, toothpaste, floss, etc. An architect can help work out the balance you need for a wide, open feel to the space with efficient and small-scale storage solutions to suit your needs.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to eliminate all clutter — keep those countertops clear. My favorite trick for achieving this is multi-purposing kitchen storage solutions. The best of the bunch? Add a tilt-out to the false front on your vanity cabinet. This utilizes the dead space immediately in front of your vanity sink and is the perfect size for tubes of toothpaste and other small-scale bathroom items that often end up on the counter, leading to clutter and mess. There are many other options as well: Solid wood drawer dividers for make-up (you can throw away those plastic $1 bins Pinterest inspired), spice racks drawer inserts for nail polish and narrow pull-outs for hair care products are other popular options.
Transitioning from the dark ages of pure function, we are nearing the opposite end of the spectrum with pure form: The freestanding bathtub, an artistic focal point of many upscale bathroom designs, is rarely used more than once or twice a year. But you would be hard pressed to find a magazine spread that does not showcase one. So consider how important a bathtub is in your master bathroom: Do you actually use it? (For bathing, that is — overflow storage for laundry or cleaning products does not count.) Even the American Institute of Architects data shows that homeowners have strong preferences for walk-in showers without bathtubs.
Meeting with an architect is important to discuss the overall value of features as they relate to the rest of your home. For instance, you do want at least one bathtub in your house for resale purposes — but that can be a tub/shower combination in the hall bathroom if a large, frameless shower would better suit your purposes and lifestyle in the master.
With built-in Bluetooth speaker bathtubs, toilets with glowing night lights and heated seats and mirrors with seamlessly incorporated TVs, technology has had a tremendous influence on bathrooms of today. Popular trends are complete tear-outs and rebuilds (trust us, that 1970s tile is not coming back anytime soon — nor is the mauve bathtub) to give a clean, calming feel to large and small bathrooms alike. But working with your designer to determine the tempo of your space is important — maybe you would rather have an energetic space that wakes you up in the morning than a cool and calm space to center you after a long day.
I recommend incorporating a few primary features in every new bathroom design. “Adult-height” vanities and “comfort-height” toilets are obvious must-haves if you are lacking them now. But even medicine cabinets are small fixtures that have transformed drastically over the years: No longer wooden sideshows next to your vanity, they have developed into beautifully framed focal points that act as secret compartments for your small storage.
It may be challenging to envision your 40-square-foot bathroom as a mini spa getaway, but there are countless opportunities for luxury and integration. Your designer will be able to talk you through the many (and ever lengthening list of) options available based on your lifestyle, wants and needs.