Saturday, September 27, 2003

Bathe your bathroom in style

Air tubs, step-in showers and romantic lights among the trends

By Elizabeth Betts Hickman
The (Nashville) Tennessean

Design trends come and go, but with the emphasis on individuality and the mass-marketing of faucets and bath fittings at places such as Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn these days, what's in style?

We asked the National Kitchen and Bath Association, a trade group; Andrew Schor, director of showrooms for Apex bathroom supply firm; Kathy Gray, kitchen and bathroom designer; and Miles Steenbergen, supervisor of design services at a Home Depot Expo Design Center, about what they're seeing.

New breed of bathtub

"With a lot of my clients, we're not putting tubs in now," says Gray. "People are saying, 'Well, if we're not using the tub, let's incorporate that space into a nice shower.' "

If you have a large bathroom, consider adding a small table and a rug in the center to warm the space.

More dark woods are going into bathrooms, in keeping with the Old World look that's still popular.

Tile-wise, look for more molded tiles with patterns to be used as accents.

Glass is big. The National Kitchen & Bath Association says glass tiles, which can be expensive but lend a clean, sophisticated look, are increasing in popularity. If you're on a tight budget but want the look, use glass tiles in a limited area. Also, the NKBA reports that glass sinks, countertops and glass blocks are being used to distinguish the bathroom.

Framed mirrors often look more updated than wall-to-wall mirrors.

Kohler major maker bathroom fixtures and fittings
American Standard, major maker of bathroom fixtures and fittings
National Kitchen and Bath Association
Gray says that although the standard bathtub might be waning in popularity, the new breed of "air" tubs, so-called because they push tiny jets of air up from the bottom of the tub, are big.

In fact, says Schor, the air tubs by Canadian-based Bain Ultra are best sellers for Apex Supply Co., headquartered in Atlanta.

Because the tiny holes just blow air, not water, the effect is like bathing in champagne, with lots of little bubbles that stimulate circulation without pounding away at one spot.

Ascent of the shower

For those who want a shower only, the choices have perhaps never been better. There are multiple body jets, multiple shower heads and designs that incorporate benches.

"Now that the baby boomers are starting to get older, we're realizing that a step-in shower is a lot more inviting," says Steenbergen.

Fixtures and fittings

Reconsider the old choice of either silvery (chrome) or gold-toned (brass) metals. Brushed finishes have captured a large chunk of the marketplace.

"The nickels and the pewters are still strong," says Steenbergen, "and copper is really coming on."

Copper and darkened, oil-rubbed bronze fixtures are seen primarily at the upper end of the market, but they play into the Old World look that's been popular for several years.

And instead of keeping everything the same throughout a house, "each of the rooms is viewed as a separate entity," he says.

That means that just because a brushed nickel finish is in the master bath, people might choose something more dramatic, such as oil-rubbed bronze, for the guests' powder room.

As for shower fixtures, "we're selling more rain heads than hand-helds," says Schor.

Rain heads are the oversized shower heads that drip a broad stream of water down and look as if they'd be at home in a vintage setting.

Hand-held showerheads are quite popular, however, because they're handy for everything from cleaning children coming in from the pool to giving the dog a bath.

New looks with vessels

Vessel sinks, the basins that sit on top of a counter, are still hot, but they're also changing.

"Before, it was very modern," says Steenbergen, who adds that consumers are looking at the same style but making it more traditional with their faucet sets and countertops.

"I see people wanting that romantic, black-and-white movie feel," says Gray.

That means that sconces, wall-mounted light fixtures, are back in the bath in a big way, especially with elegant pleated shades. And dark woods and furnishings are going a little smoother and more sophisticated, rather than rough and aged. Think dressing tables, framed mirrors and softness.

It's "more romantic" and conjures a luxurious hotel look, says Gray.

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