February 2009 Issue
Get away from it all without leaving home by reinventing your utilitarian bath space as a relaxing spa.
If a spa retreat is a million miles from reality, don’t despair. Consider transforming that run-of-the-mill bath into the relaxing space you crave. Sure, it will take a bit of work — most of us don’t have bathrooms fit for a luxe honeymoon suite — but it doesn’t have to be a cold, damp space, either.
“Whether you realize it or not, you do spend a lot of time there,” points out Frank Eck, who enlisted Dave Fox Remodeling to renovate his ’60s-era bathroom in Upper Arlington, a northwest suburb of Columbus. The design had not been updated since Eck inherited the home from his parents, and the bathroom, he says, was purely functional: get in, get clean, get out.
Times are different now. The bathroom, once utilitarian, is now a leisure space for modern home-owners who want a spa escape at home. People want roomy showers with interesting, patterned tiles. They want storage that accommodates their bevy of bathroom appliances and products. They want mood lighting, hotel towels and vanities that look like furniture. They’ll even pay extra for televisions installed behind vanity mirrors, says George Kern, sales manager at Swan Freedom, a bath, closet and hardware supplier in Columbus. “Everyone is working hard and they like to be around the family at home, but it’s nice to have a place where they can shut the door and relax for a while without being interrupted,” Kern says.
There’s no guarantee that a spa bathroom design comes with a babysitter or “off button” from life stress, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for those investing in minor upgrades such as new accessories and a paint job, or major bathroom overhauls, like Eck.
Here, we visit three Ohio homes with baths reminiscent of resort-like retreats, and talk to their designers, who share ways to steal the look.
“You want a bathroom that is comfortable enough that you feel like you could spend some time there,” says Courtney Burnett, interior design department manager at Dave Fox Remodeling in Columbus. Together with designer Ali McCance, she reworked Eck’s his-and-hers bathroom to accomplish this goal. That meant knocking out the his-and-hers walls to create open space.
“He wanted the feeling of a grand spa, but he didn’t want it to feel obnoxiously large,” Burnett adds. The room needed a defined entry point (the separate doors were scrapped) and architectural detail to give the room depth. Inspired by the only other curved element in the house — the ceiling above the main staircase leading up from the foyer — Burnett designed a barreled entrance with double doors for the bathroom.
What remained was a blank canvas, but what to do with a shower and tub that chopped up the existing space? Every element in Eck’s existing bathroom was encased by walls: toilet room, shower room, dressing rooms. By combining these spaces into one area, creating what Burnett calls a “wet zone,” the rest of the space could remain open.
The wet zone has glass walls and no door. Then come the luxury shower elements: multiple body sprays, a rain shower head and a tub with a double-size granite tub deck that doubles as a shower bench. Within the space is a portrait-sized section of 24-by-24-inch chocolate porcelain tile cast to look like leather. This “wall art” is bordered with craftsman-glazed mosaics in blues and gold. The rest of the neutral shower surfaces pay tribute to the “art.”
“We didn’t want to crowd the space with other detailed tile, so we found a warm marble to use everywhere else,” Burnett explains.
The bathroom is positioned at the front of the house and receives plenty of sunlight from two windows. Eck didn’t want to sacrifice natural light, so a vanity was constructed by building a knee wall between the two windows. That supports a chestnut-stained, double-sided vanity.
Cream-colored, woven flat-fold roman shades dress the windows. “Windows are often overlooked in a bathroom,” Burnett says. “A simple, light fabric will go a long way.”
A 1980s bathroom was treated to an update when Robin Brechbuhler of Brechbuhler Interior Design in North Canton redesigned the space to accommodate the homeowner’s desire for a European-inspired retreat. Instructions to “update and upgrade everything” sent Brechbuhler to the drawing board to come up with ways to reconfigure the space and usher in more natural light.
The floors required attention: They were half carpet, half tile. Brechbuhler replaced the existing tile with a neutral porcelain, laid in a diagonal pattern. “If everything is lined up square and perpendicular, the space is not as exciting to look at,” she explains.
Varying the tile size on the floor and backsplash adds dimension. Meanwhile, covering the vanity wall with solid mirror, and extending that to the tub area, visually increases the size of the bathroom and reflects light from the solo small window.
“That window in the toilet-shower compartment has to provide light for the entire bath,” Brechbuhler says, explaining why she also chose a clear glass shower door. “With mottled glass, you can’t see beautiful tile designs from outside the shower,” she adds.
In the tub area, a series of four cylindrical candlesticks punctuate the foot of the tub. Crown molding adds richness to the space, making it feel like other living areas in the home. “The room is more relaxing and pleasant to be in,” Brechbuhler says.
A new addition to a 1920s Tudor-style home in Springfield provided space for a master suite and spa bathroom. Designer Vicki Waker, president of Cabinet Creations in Kettering, created a true getaway for a public official and his busy family. The key, she says, is to set the mood by paying attention to sensory detail.
The idea of being “away” at home appealed to the busy homeowners, who sought a functional retreat. They also wanted a seamless transition from the addition to the rest of the home.
Waker focused on maintaining architectural integrity by introducing rich cherry custom cabinets that arch over inset mirrors for a built-in look you might find in a historic library. A jetted tub is set into a slab of Rosa Verona marble — another timeless material —and a tile backsplash that ties together the tub and shower areas features limestone and decorative tile: a band unifying separate bathing spaces.
“When you go into the shower, it’s almost like you are in a cathedral,” Waker says, referring to a corridor that leads to a shower room with an “umbrella” mosaic-tiled ceiling.
A sophisticated chandelier is the primary light source; task lighting within the 15-foot vanity area provides focused light. As for storage, fully extendable, slow-closing drawer glides and outlets hidden in cabinetry allow the couple to stow away appliances.
“Special sections are being made in drawers for tall cans of hairspray,” Waker says. “People are looking at their specific needs, trying to maximize their space.”