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The Perfect Bath

Easy ways to bring flair to your bathroom

Bathing and good hygiene came into vogue in the 19th century when the bathroom became a separate room. Over the past century this small utilitarian space has evolved from the privy into a mini-spa devoted to the renewal of mental and spiritual wellbeing. With that goal in mind, bathroom design has attained the same importance as any other room in the home.

Two new books showcase the best trends in contemporary bathroom design. 50+ Great Bathrooms by Architects, edited by Aisha Hasanovic, is a collection of stunning photographs of bathrooms by some of the world's leading designers. The book's unique ideas can be used for inspiration in the renovation of bathrooms, adding an ensuite or designing a new home, according to Hasanovic.

From tiny powder rooms to the ultra-luxurious spa, this book shows how to add originality and style to your own home.

50+ Great Bathrooms by Architects shows that while today's bathroom still serves its original purpose with bathtubs, showers, sinks and mirrors, the ambience can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways. Each photo is accompanied by a personal quote from the architect.

Another must-have design book that can open your mind to new and creative ideas is Ultimate Bathroom Design, published by the teNeues Publishing Company. Featuring the best of international design, the book claims that the influences of Scandinavian and Japanese cultures have changed attitudes toward bathrooms. In these cultures, the bathroom is regarded as "a natural part of everyday life in which mental and spiritual well-being are as important as hygiene," according to the book. "This has given rise to the widely held view that the bathroom is a place not only to wash oneself but also to relax and enjoy a sense of well-being."

Much of new bathroom design defies categorization due to a much wider range of design elements, but some key concepts remain pertinent.

Minimalist bathrooms feature light and space. These designs emphasize the use of clear lines and forms and transparent materials. Steel, cement and glass are the materials favored, and there are few furnishings.

Maximalism entails the exact opposite. It emphasizes color and embellishment. Orange and red from the 1970s is often seen along with rich 18th and 19th century gold and purple ornamentation.

Exotic design borrows from the styles of African and Arabic cultures, including materials like hand-crafted wood, stone, fabric, bamboo and clay objects.The classic bathroom is decorated with marble and ceramic with the usual sink, tub/shower and toilet area. The rooms are usually rectangular in shape.

When selecting bathroom materials, no matter what style you prefer, keep in mind that they must be highly resistant to everything with which they come in contact. Cement, metal and glass are all highly functional materials. Marble is elegant and adds character while being strong and water resistant. Ceramic is also suited to the bathroom. In many designer bathrooms, incorporating 1.5 x 1.5 cm glass or ceramic tiles creates a more dramatic effect.

One way to warm up the coldness of bathroom materials is to add wooden furnishings. Tropical woods like bolondo and wenge are water resistant due to their high oil content. Cherry, oak, beech and cedar can also be used if they are treated with certain products.

Ultimate Bathroom Design stresses that wall colors and surface areas are the first step in determining style. General principles can be followed, such as a lack of space can be offset by the right color because colors respond differently to natural light. Lighter colors will make a bathroom look larger, while darker colors can be used to make a more spacious room feel intimate. Cool colors are relaxing, while warm and intense colors--although invigorating--may not be suitable for a room designed to be a retreat. In addition, the neutral whites, beiges and pastels have a clean and hygienic look to them. They are also preferable when the focus is on the furnishings and fixtures. Of course, all rules are made to be broken, and color palettes need to be designed with the owner's taste and personality in mind.

The kind of light in the room needs to be carefully considered. Natural light is best. It will not distort the colors in the room and makes personal grooming easier. Avoid curtains or blinds and opaque windows. Instead, use transparent glass and lightweight fabrics. After sundown, the use of recessed
overhead halogen lights creates a warm light similar to daylight. Hanging lights and bare bulbs can create a safety hazard.

Plan this room carefully before doing any work. Bathrooms, like kitchens, are difficult to change after the plumbing is installed. Assess the placement of the entrance, location of drain pipes, use of light and amount of ventilation. Consider how much storage space is required and how much sink space would be optimal.

Utilize the space to its fullest advantage. Since multiple people may have access to it, separate the areas so more than one person can use it at the same time. The sink, shower/bath and toilet can be separated by doors, half-walls, full walls or by clearly differentiating the areas.

The array of bathroom furnishings and fixtures on the market today is astounding. When choosing fittings, remember that the sink, bathtub, shower, toilet and furnishings must work well together.

Bathtubs are now available in avant-garde designs, classic styles and modern adaptations to traditional shapes with feet. Most are made of acrylic or meta-acrylic because the material allows for resistance, thermal retention and a broad range of designs. Customized tubs are available in wood or cement.

A luxurious shower is a great staple for smaller bathrooms. A shower unit consists of small panels made of stainless steel, meta-acrylate, wood or glass.

The unit can be attached with armatures with two or more shower heads that can provide a water massage. Showers can also be outfitted to transition into steam showers for the ultimate in relaxation.

When selecting toilets, sinks and bidets, if desired, the bidet and toilet should be from the same product line because of their position in the room. The sink may be a totally different style of fixture. All fixtures must be in proportion to the room.

Have some fun with the accessories. Use your own decorating flair with soap dispensers, bowls, toothbrush holders, toilet paper holders and shelving. Try a decorative bath towel heater.

While these principles outline the basics of designing your bathroom, the photos in Ultimate Bathroom Design offer a mind-boggling array of possibilities that showcase the best use of these principles and concepts.

Easy Ways to Update and Personalize Your Own Bathroom Space

  • A family antique can be upgraded with a vanity bowl sink and complementary faucets.
  • Potted plants or flowers can add warmth and color.
  • Family photos, pictures and fine art are no longer relegated to the rest of the house. Decorate the walls with some of your favorites and add shelves to showcase accessories.
  • Instead of a linen closet, use an armoire for storage in larger bathrooms. If you have the space, it can house a television and music system.
  • Use lush, sumptuous towels to give the room a luxurious feel.
  • A magazine stand is the best way to store reading material.
  • Install a music system into the shower.
  • Towel warmers come in different styles, including portable, wall or floor mounted, spiral and circular.
  • If you have the space, add a chaise lounge for reading and relaxing. Smaller sitting chairs can add coziness to the room.
  • Aromatherapy and music therapy quickly create a spa atmosphere.
  • Mirrors can be added for accent or to create a sense of openness.
  • Updating your showerhead can give the sensation of waterfall-like pressure, a downpour of relaxing raindrops or a pulsating water massage.
  • If money is no object, the LCD bathroom TV has a heated screen for condensation free viewing, built-in water resistant speakers and a 90-degree wide angle screen.
If you are in the planning stages of your new bathroom, use these books and tips to stir the imagination and let your fantasies run wild. Worry about the expense later, when you can practically hone the look and feel of your creation.

Do you want the room to be feminine, masculine, androgynous or retro? Are you partial to the mysteries of the East and more exotic styles? Perhaps 19th century romanticism stirs your soul. Simple Zen-like styles appeal to harried moderns, but perhaps cozy or luxurious settings serve you best.

Decide which style makes you feel relaxed and at home. Once you have chosen the right style for you, you will be able to pick the right colors, materials, fixtures and fittings that express your own personal taste.

Glass Tile in the Kitchen and Throughout the Home

One of the most contemporary and exciting ways to change the look of a bathroom or kitchen is to incorporate glass tile into the design. This ancient material, coupled with new technologies, comes in shapes with exotic colors, textures and shapes and can create patterns that are both durable and practical. From interior designers to architects and homeowners, glass is fast becoming the material of choice for innovative home design.

Colorful glass tiles refract light, making the hues magical and evocative. Glass can also alter the perception of space and can transform a dreary, gloomy interior into a fascinating world of luminous transparent, translucent or opaque colors.

A recent book on the subject, Glass Tile Inspirations for Kitchens and Baths by Patricia McMillan and Katharine Kaye McMillan, PhD, explains the characteristics of this material and the wide range of decorating options it affords the homeowner. From city chic kitchens and baths to old world style, the book features rooms with colorful graphics, beautiful borders, shower stalls, floors, accent walls and backsplashes. Almost anywhere, glass tile can provide a unique and timeless statement.

The authors recommend incorporating glass tile to the list of possible materials for walls, countertops and floors. Its durability matches wood, laminate, ceramic tile and natural stone.

"Of all these, only glass refracts light, bending and shaping it in a glorious dance that brings life to rooms," write the authors. "The already wide, ever-expanding range of glass tile colors, finishes, textures, patterns, sizes and shapes offer limitless design possibilities. Clearly, the challenge is choice."

Because glass interacts with light, there is a sense of movement within the room, changing with the hour of the day and the season. Master colorists are modern alchemists. They must blend science and art, combining the objective knowledge of glass making with their own creative twist. The authors cite
Bisazza, a maker of Aventurina, a glittering semiprecious stone by-product of the original 17th century manufacturing process. Companies continually experiment with color, which changes depending on the quality of the glass. Better glass generates more brilliant tile.

Methods that are centuries old are still employed in the process of making and adding color to clear glass. Cast glass contains some toxic metallic oxides, and there is a movement to find alternative sources. The advantage of colored cast glass is that the color cannot delaminate or fade. Enameled glass, defined as hand painting on the back of glass produces a handcrafted quality. Cutting one of these tiles can mar the enameling and the hand-painted color needs to be protected from moisture and the acids found in grouts. Fused glass is super heated layers of pieces of glass that are molecularly bonded. This results in color that is integral and will not fade or deteriorate.

The finish on tile can greatly alter its appearance. It can produce any number of effects that can stand alone or be combined. According to the book's authors, the special finishes applicable to glass tile include:

  • Crackle--a cracked paint look that has an antique quality to it
  • Frosted finish--has the appearance of a chilled goblet
  • Gloss--a satiny finish
  • Gold flecking--flecks of gold reflect brilliant bits of light across the surface
  • Iridescence--creates an appearance of liquidity and changes color as light moves across the tile
  • Iridescent crackle--iridescence combined with cracks
  • Luster--a high-sheen molten satin look
  • Matte--non-shiny and casual
  • Opaque--gently aged look of beach glass
  • Shimmer--shimmer and translucence creating a light-dancing effect
Texture in glass design is both decorative and practical. It can have a handmade quality, the uniformity of thin ribs or any number of variations. For greater privacy, a textured wall tile can diffuse light. Texture can add friction glass stair treads for safety. This type is often used in commercial spaces.

Making patterns with glass tiles is only limited by the creativity of the designer. Many glass tile makers envision tile replacing wallpaper for a dimensional effect not possible with paper. New tile shapes are also emerging, leaving behind the traditional square and rectangular formats.

The book recognizes glass tile as the "chameleon of materials." It looks at the work of top designers and the many interpretations that can be made with this material. Glass tile can adapt to any time or place in the home and to any imagination.

Published: January 28, 2007
Issue: Winter 2007