There was a time when an ocean home bath was little more than a place to wash off the sand, sea salt and sunscreen after a hot day at the beach. But an exciting new wave of contemporary design is transforming coastal home baths and rivaling those in five-star hotels, resorts and spas.
The once humble bath is now more luxurious and indulgent than ever before, designed with cutting-edge tubs, showers, vanities, faucets and accessories in richer materials and more segmented spaces – each devoted to specific functions.
“There are almost three separate sections to a modern bathroom,” says Stephan Jaklitsch, principal of Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects in New York City. “First, there’s the vanity, as though part of a larger room; then the water closet that’s more private and separated; and finally, the bath and shower area – ideally with a grand, sweeping water view.”
On the horizon for 2016 are walls of slatted teak; soaking tubs carved from stone, fashioned from poured concrete or even clad in Japanese cedar; and rooms decorated with glossy, oversized subway tiles – 12 by 24 inches in size – creating a bath with the look of a white lacquered cube.
This trend towards luxury is driven by an economy that’s rebounding with increased vigor. Americans are traveling more, seeking relief and relaxation at luxury resorts and sumptuous spas at home and in destinations like Asia and Scandinavia. And when they like what they experience, they don’t hesitate to bring it back home.
“The trends start in hotels and are then adopted in single-family homes,” says San Francisco-based architect Scott Lee, principal of SB Architects.
SIZE (AND SPACE) MATTERS
The master bath may have grown to rival the master bedroom in size, but space is still at a premium, so door placement is a prime consideration.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we almost exclusively use pocket doors,” says Raleigh, N.C., architect Matt Griffith of in situ studio. “Spaces get tight and we like to eliminate door swings – it’s kind of common sense now in contemporary design.”
Close that door and the vanity is the first encounter. Here, designers are moving away from classical influences and stepping up to the modern ideal, but they still need space for necessities.
“It’s better to design the room so the owner can walk in and find his-and-her, full-height medicine doors with eight shelves for products,” says New York City designer Campion Platt, whose work is well known in The Hamptons.
“We’re putting stuff in different places and relieving the elevations, so the concept is a slab top with a vanity to hide the pipes, plus the sink, plus the shelves. It’s more a designed space than a functional box.”
Jamie Herzlinger, an interior designer based in New York City and Scottsdale, Ariz., predicts a shift away from the heavy industrial look of baths in favor of a more organic, natural wood aesthetic.
And she’s got a new take on the vanity. “A beautiful teak vanity with a four-inch-thick marble top is a winning look. Wood and marble together are very sexy, elegant and timeless.”
Herzlinger’s preferred fixtures for vanities are sourced from a variety of upscale manufacturers, especially those that work hard to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s trending next.
“At Waterworks, Peter Salick spends a lot of time in the market with designers, and when a manufacturer seeks to spend time with us on the battlefield, we get much more of what we want,” Herzlinger says. “Their pieces are just beautiful, and they function – and I’m a big proponent of beauty that functions.”
Waterworks is top of mind with many designers, but others are favored too. Herzlinger cites THG’s cloisonné faucets from Paris and Kohler’s Kallista collection, while Scott Lee likes Dornbracht, a German firm he calls the Mercedes Benz of faucets.
“They’re super clean and super simple, tailored and understated,” he says. “It feels right and high quality – like closing the door on a Mercedes.”
Gold is also reappearing. “Absolutely,” says David Meitus, owner of Studium in New York City. “Sherle Wagner has come back into the fold. Their luxury bath accessories are like swans, very elaborate things with semiprecious stones.”
Designer Barry Dixon, based in Warrenton, Va., prefers the slimmed-down look for baths. “In plumbing, the simpler the better,” he says. “Nothing too flashy or fancy. I’m loving the new R.W. Atlas series from Waterworks.”
ON THE SURFACE
Stone is the floor covering of choice for most designers. “We like to use Ann Sacks – it’s high-end and people are looking for really interesting stone like Calacatta,” says Campion Platt.
Barry Dixon favors both large and small floor treatments. “Either huge book-matched stone slabs for floors and walls or mosaic glass or stone sheathing for all of the bath’s surfaces,” he advises.
Other designers see bathroom walls as a wide-open canvas and a place to express themselves, whether in leather, ceramics, stone or wood.
“Leather tiles mixed in with wood are fantastic,” says Jamie Herzlinger. “People weren’t sure how to work with them last year, but 2016 will be about things we haven’t used and how to make them work well together.”
Herzlinger also likes slatted wood walls with sandblasted glass and ceramic tiles. “It’s not industrial, but a touch organic when paired with white marble,” she says. “Then you could tone it down with a gray ceramic.”
Even aluminum is making its debut on bathroom walls this year, courtesy of Studium’s eye-catching art panels, hand painted on aluminum and treated with resin to make them water repellent and durable.
Studium owner David Meitus says the panels can be customized for design, color and dimensions – up to a maximum panel size of 5 by 10 feet.
“Some of the panels include mineral material, which create sparkling textured areas, and resin can also be applied smoothly or with intentional designs or bubbles,” Meitus adds.
AN OPEN-AND-SHUT CASE
The humble WC is also undergoing a design revolution. TOTO is the hands-down favorite toilet brand for most designers, but there are other options in porcelain as well – and some are very advanced.
“With Neorest toilets, when you walk in, the toilet seat actually heats itself up,” says Jamie Herzlinger. “It can also function as a bidet, with an option to flush itself.”
Other designs are moving towards more advanced water conservation. “I’m seeing a lot more wall-mounted toilets that are a gallon-and-a-half capacity,” says Campion Platt. “Kohler is looking at a gallon, and we may even go waterless in a couple of years.”
Washbasins, too, are evolving thanks to a new, thin and lightweight technology from the upscale Swiss brand Laufen Bathrooms. Five years in the making, the new offering is called SaphirKeramik.
“It’s one- to two-millimeters thick and a lot stronger with much less weight,” says Javier Korneluk, Laufen’s managing director. “We’re adding texture at half the weight. Eventually we’ll use it in everything: tubs, sinks and toilets.”
INSIDE AND OUT
The prime real estate in today’s ocean home bath is now reserved for tubs and showers – ideally with access to panoramic water views – and a well-designed bath can have a positive impact on a home’s sale value.
“A lot of homes I sell have outdoor showers,” says Irene Turner, of Irene Turner Real Estate Sonoma Style in northern California. “Or there’s a hot tub outside and a steam shower inside. Personally, I like the Mr. Steam brand.”
Elsewhere, the trend is towards both soaking tubs and showers – indoors and out – but nature remains the inspiration and theme. “Incorporate natural materials to make it feel more organic,” advises New York City designer Purvi Padia, who also designs residences in The Hamptons.
“If you don’t have an outdoor shower, use a sliding door of teak wood and bring in elements like shells imprinted in tiles, just like the high-end resorts.”
In some coastal homes, the soaking tub is moving out of the bath altogether and into the master bedroom, often in front of a breathtaking ocean vista.
The idea is that after an afternoon jam-packed with physical activity, hikers, bikers and runners can hit the outdoor shower to clean up, then head inside for a long, relaxing soak with a book and a glass of Champagne.
“The shower is the place to get clean, but the soaking tub is the place to relax with a beautiful water view,” says SB Architects’ Scott Lee.
DESIGNERS AND BATH BRANDS
Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects
in situ studio
Image Credits: Photo credit: Don Riddle.