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Back to Earth

Dressed with natural stone, today’s bathrooms are practical yet luxurious.

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Gary Munch of Boss Enterprises in Wilmington says big bathtubs are a thing of the past. Glass-enclosed showers with handheld shower heads, however, are all the rage. (Photograph by Tom Nutter)Stand in a bathroom from the 1950s or 1960s and you’ll wonder, “What were they thinking?” Facilities from that time provide only enough room to get things done and get out. Floor tiles resemble crossword puzzles. And the colors. Nothing dates a bathroom like pink and gray tile.

Walk into a bathroom built in the late 1990s and you might still scratch your head. Colossal whirlpool tubs are flanked by hard-to-reach planter boxes. The tub is so large it requires an extra water heater, and the steps to it are treacherous when wet.

It’s easy to see why bathrooms from the 1950s through the 1970s are getting overhauled. “They are all falling apart,” says Cathi Hodgins, president of Kitchens by Design in Brandywine Hundred, which, like most kitchen remodeling experts, also handles bathrooms.

Yet more modern bathrooms are also receiving facelifts. Huge bathtubs are out. Showers are in. Granite trumps Corian. Vessel sinks in the master bath? Long gone.

Along with kitchens, bathrooms are the focus of most home renovations. A new bathroom can cost between $10,000 and $50,000, depending on the bells and whistles.

Fortunately, homeowners are not tossing money down the toilet. A joint survey by Remodeling Online magazine and the National Association of Realtors found that in the mid-Atlantic, a midrange bathroom remodel—about $17,000—can recoup nearly 71 percent upon resale. An upscale job, about $54,000, would recoup about 60 percent.

If you want to be on the cutting edge, wave bye-bye to a big tub. “Nobody is using them,” says Gary Munch, president of Boss Enterprises in Wilmington. “They take up too much room.” Older models have no handheld faucets, which makes cleaning a chore.

This showroom display at Bath, Kitchen & Tile Center in Wilmington features cherry cabinets with a burgundy finish and a whirlpool tub by Maax. (Photograph by Bob McClain)Hodgins says bath-lovers are buying moderately sized tubs instead, such as Kohler’s Tea-for-Two, a two-person tub that fits into a standard 5-foot alcove. Soaking tubs, which are deeper than standard models, are another alternative.

Whirlpools fell out of favor when owners realized the tubs need frequent use and regular maintenance to keep water from settling in the jets and breeding bacteria. New models are more sanitary, which is good news for those who like a whirlpool’s therapeutic effect, says Mark Gandy, bath department manager of Bath, Kitchen & Tile Center in Wilmington.

In whirlpool tubs, air and water are forced through jets, which open, close and swivel to adjust water pressure and flow. If you’re more into the bubbles than the back massage, consider an air-powered system, which propels air through small holes for an all-over frothy action.

“Air tubs let you use bath salts, oils and other therapies for the bath,” says David Kursh of Bell’Supply Company in Stanton. Which should you choose? “It’s like chocolate and vanilla. People have their favorites.” Both, he adds, make the bathroom a mini-spa, which is the hottest trend going.

Some homeowners are nixing the bath in favor of oversized showers. “We go into a lot of people’s homes and take out the baths, replacing them with body-spray systems and a handheld shower,” says Gandy.

Fashionable showers are encased in frameless glass and employ several shower heads, ranging from multiple body sprays to rain head showers mounted in the ceiling. Rain head showers are more about the volume of water than the pressure, says Michael Dougherty of Craft-Way Kitchens in Wilmington.

Many homeowners also want a handheld shower, which comes in handy for spot rinsing—and for cleaning the shower. Pete George of Pete George Tile & Marble in Wilmington often installs handhelds that can slide up or down on a bar, rather than those that are stashed on a fixed clip when not in use. Sliding handhelds are also ideal for bathing pets.

Though showers are hot commodities, don’t leave your home without a tub. A future buyer might have small children who need one. The hall bath is a perfect spot, Gandy says.

Ridding the master bathroom of a clunky tub leaves room for today’s two favorite things: dual sinks and storage space. If you have the space, his-and-her sinks can save your marriage. “I have neatniks and I have slobs,” Hodgins says.

Page 2: Back to Earth, continues

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