No other space in the house is more about its owner than the bathroom. Though visitors come and go in the powder room, family bathrooms can be tailored to suit individual likes and dislikes from both an aesthetic and a functional standpoint. Whether you are creating a new master suite or a tiny guest bath, many complex decisions lie ahead, simply because there have never been more options on the market for tile and stone, countertop surfaces, plumbing fixtures, tubs and sinks, finishes and more. With an infinite array of looks and styles to choose from, the process can be daunting. Luckily, bath designers are adept at helping clients hone in on a particular theme—and stick to it in a subtle yet coherent way.
Sonny Nazemian, designer and principal of Michael Nash Design, Build & Homes, Inc., in Fairfax, Virginia, says that he first interviews clients to determine how they plan to use the bath. “Do they want a sanctuary or a spa? Or is it a place to take a shower and get out?” he asks. Once he has a “wish list” in place, he defines a particular look that “follows the footsteps of the rest of the house.”
On a recent project in a modern home in Centreville, Nazemian replaced an outdated, compartmentalized bathroom with a sleek, contemporary space, incorporating glass-block tile, stainless-steel cabinets and a freestanding, sculptural tub. “This client knew exactly what she wanted, but many customers don’t,” he says. “In that case I visit their homes, get to know them and see where they stand.”
When Carol Luke, a designer and principal of KSA Kitchens in Purcellville, Virginia, first meets with clients, she asks them to clip photos of projects they like, which provides an excellent starting point. “Often, a look is triggered from things they’ve said or shown me,” she says.
Luke urges clients to choose a style and then stay with it. “If you go down the road, go all the way. Be consistent with it. Otherwise, you won’t have a finished look,” she says. “You might have a contemporary vanity, but it’s still a traditional room. You don’t want it to be too pat or too ordinary.”
On a recent project, a couple invited Luke to collaborate directly with their teenage daughter on the design of her bath. “Mom and Dad are very traditional, but she is avant-garde,” says the designer, who delighted in her young client’s “edgy” taste. In the finished bath, a wall of vertically hung, black glass tile creates a striking look in the shower; it’s surrounded by walls of “slides” and a leathered-tile floor.
Luke stresses the value of working with a designer because a professional will make sure a homeowner’s choices work well together. By visiting a showroom or design center on their own, consumers may merely scratch the surface in terms of understanding all of their options. “They will see many elements that they like, but there are so many things they won’t know about,” Luke explains, “whether it’s touch-latch closures or medicine cabinets with built-in electrical outlets.”
Luke recently worked with interior designer Alice Busch of Great Falls Distinctive Interiors, Inc., on an elegant bath. Busch helped the clients select everything from the Carrara marble that clads the oversized shower to the crystal chandeliers that hang above the vanities. “Alice did a great job. Without the experience of a designer, people won’t get as much as they can achieve,” says Luke. “Pulling it together is much harder than most people realize.”
Davida Rodriguez, owner of Davida’s Kitchen & Tiles in Gaithersburg, Maryland, would agree. She recently completed a turn-of-the-century-style powder room in a historical cabin located on her client’s Potomac property. She selected design elements in a rustic theme, including a hand-scraped door, a hammered sink and walls covered in pebbles “that could have been gathered in the creek out back.”
Rodriguez believes that when working with a theme it’s important to put all the pieces together to be sure they mesh as a whole, pointing out “I’ve never seen a mistake made when people plan ahead.”
She cautions against being too “matchy-matchy” in terms of color or design elements. “Don’t go overboard, for example, on a beach house tropical theme, using shell lamps, shell towels, etc. That can be very monotonous,” she says. “There are all kinds of different textures and accessories other than the obvious.”
Homeowners should also keep in mind that designing a bathroom is more complex than selecting tiles and cabinets.“If it’s done wrong,” says Carol Luke, “it can ruin your home. For example, you need to know what your plumber is doing. He might be great—but he might not. With a designer, you have access to people who are exceptional.”