Nice but Not Drop-Dead Bathrooms Emerge: How the Less is More Mantra Takes Hold

Not everyone wants a humongous master bathroom that rivals those at the choicest hotels and resorts—once the trend. The design elements that go into those can add up exponentially—as high as $60,000 for a high-end bathroom, according to the latest “Cost vs. Value” survey from Remodeling magazine.


Affordable Bathroom Ideas | Sharon McCormick, Allied ASID, Allied AIA of Hartford, Conn.

Sharon McCormick, Allied ASID, Allied AIA of Hartford, Conn.

What do some of the swanker projects entail? According to the Remodeling survey, the results typically expand an existing 35-square-foot bathroom to 100 square feet within an existing home’s footprint, relocate fixtures, include a 42-by-42-inch ceramic-tiled shower with frameless glass enclosure, a soaker tub with high-end faucets, stone countertop with twin sinks, two mirrored medicine cabinets with lighting, compartmentalized toilet commode, humidistat-controlled exhaust fan, larger matching ceramic tiles laid diagonally on the floor, general and spot lighting, cabinetry, HVAC system, and electric in-floor heating. And then there are those that go far beyond with small wine coolers, coffee bars, TVs in medicine cabinet fronts, hot and cold sections within the medicine cabinets, and heated toilet seats.


But who really spends so much time in their bathroom that they need all this? Fewer adults, it seems, which has led to a trend for a more pared down space that’s still welcoming and aesthetically pleasing but hardly mimics a spa retreat, says Hartford, Conn.-based designer Sharon McCormick, Allied ASID, Allied AIA. Such a bathroom with any of the twelve following features will still help sway future buyers:


Photo courtesy of Gordon Beall.

Shower. A nice sized bathroom would be able to accommodate a 42″ by 36″ shower with rain head installed on the ceiling and sliding bar for a hand shower unit. Fewer homeowners want the once popular sprays and jets that could make the space feel almost like a car wash. The shower might also include some type of bench, possibly a flip-down style or built-in seat covered in granite or marble, fog-free mirror for a man to shave, tiled walls and floor but without a border of the once trendy glass tiles, maybe a steam unit for health, and a grab bar for safety or at least extra blocking behind the shower wall so one could be added.

Photo courtesy of Olson Photographic.

Tub. If no other bathroom in the house includes a tub, a remodel could provide a separate unit or a combination shower-tub, still important for resale even if not often used. In choosing the tub, McCormick suggests one that’s at least 20″ deep for soaking and a minimum of 60″ long. For those who enjoy longer baths. She suggests adding a rack with places to hold a book, glass of wine, and neck pillow.

Photo courtesy of Brian Urso.

Countertop and sink. If there’s room in the bathroom and also in the budget, McCormick finds that most homeowners still want twin sinks, though sometimes they need to be in separate vanities if a window divides the wall where they’re to be placed. For more modern tastes, she favors a square or rectangular shape; for more traditional, round or oval. Good upscale choices for vanity countertops are marble or quartz, less popular wood or a laminate.

Faucet. The style is a matter of personal preference but a lever style is preferable for those with arthritis. The detailing and material are both a matter of personal preference, but they can give a room a more finished look in the same way that jewelry does. Most popular today is polished chrome, though burnished brass is making a come back.

Storage. In vanities, McCormick recommends a drawer or cabinet door underneath for concealing outlets, cosmetics, toiletries, and medicines and buying any organizers that reflect how a homeowner likes to organize stuff to keep clutter out of view.

Medicine cabinet. McCormick has found that half her clients like a cabinet with a mirror while the other half don’t, but she always prefer to recess it rather than have it protrude from the wall. Fewer want a television in the medicine cabinet front, though they may want one mounted somewhere in the room.

Towel bars. Here, too, there are so many choices of style and material, from metal to acrylic and modern or traditional. Heated towel racks, often found in resort spa bathrooms, are a nice amenity, especially in a colder climate. However, they will definitely increase the budget, as do electric mats placed underneath floors to heat them on cold days.

Flooring and wall tile choices. Flooring choices that most appeal in nicer bathrooms these days range from natural stone to porcelain tile and wood, the latter protected from moisture with a good marine polyurethane seal. One trend which keeps costs down is to limit the amount of tile installed on walls outside the shower and instead to paint them or wallpaper a few. Also in now are larger scaled patterns.

Photo courtesy of Gordon Beall.

Lighting. McCormick always incorporates layers of lighting with a few recessed cans, maybe one mounted fixture at the center of a room such as a pendant or chandelier, and sconces on either side of a mirror. She puts all on dimmer switches to conserve energy as well as vary the mood.

Color. Though some still favor the favorite pale green and blue spa hues, grays—popular in the rest of a home—have come into the bathroom, and can create the same restful ambience.

Toilet. One spa feature that McCormick recommends is a private toilet cubicle, which requires about 4 1/2″ if the “room” is built along one side or wall of the bathroom and more if in the middle of the room. When it comes to the toilet itself, she recommends an elongated rather than round shape. However, she doesn’t feel the higher priced units that can go up to $5,000 are necessary, despite the fact that they feature heated seats and units that lift up and put down that seat with a voice command.

Universal Design. While they don’t have anything to do with creating the feeling of a resort, smart Universal Design features that allow homeowners to remain in their place as they age are a useful addition that are only likely to make a room more appealing. Such features include: showers without a threshold that eliminate stepping over a curb, grab bars in the shower or tubs that offer something to hang onto, wider doorways of at least 36″ that allow a wheelchair to move through easily, and lower countertops with sinks that those in wheelchairs or using a walker can roll up or approach safely.


Photo credits, all from Sharon McCormick designer; courtesy: Beall from Gordon Beall; Flanagan from Olson Photographic; Herand from Brian Urso

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