Back to Earth

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

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.

- Advertisement -

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.

- Partner Content -

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.

- Advertisement -

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


Kitchen by Design put together this contemporary bathroom with spa features such as a large glass-block shower, a standalone tub with a fountain-like faucet and lowered his-and-her sink bowls. The checkered glass and ceramic tile runs around the room, tying it all together. The double-basin vanity won’t do for these folks. They want to keep everything separate. “A lot of times couples want the sinks on opposite sides of the room,” Dougherty says.

As far as homeowners are concerned, Corian has the same cache as Formica. “That’s old hat,” George says of Corian. “We don’t get involved with that.”

Dougherty installs very little Corian, but both he and Hodgins agree that the bathroom is the ideal place for it. “The integrated bowl is really great for most bathrooms,” says Hodgins.

Despite ads and home magazine spreads, vessel sinks are not master bath material. “You must be exceptionally clean,” says interior designer Rose Giroso. Water, Hodgins agrees, can fly everywhere. And it’s hard to wash your face without knocking your head or hands on the bowl.

No matter the top, vanities today are equipped with drawers and shelves that are doing away with the need for medicine cabinets. Some homeowners remain dedicated, and today’s European models are giving them good reason. Bell’Supply offers a medicine cabinet with a refrigerated section for medications and skin care products. Cabinets feature magnifying sections and modular parts that pack a lot of storage into one place.

But some customers refuse to consider a medicine cabinet, even a top-of-the-line model.  “I tried to get one client to do one, and she said, ‘I hate those things.’ There was no interest whatsoever,” Dougherty says.

Homeowners instead want beveled mirrors, “which look great,” George says. Sconces and recessed lighting complete the look.

The milk-painted wood cabinets in this modern bath are from Boss Enterprises in Wilmington. Local bathroom remodeling specialists have seen little call for vanities made with bamboo, a sustainable material that grows quickly. Only about one in five clients understand what Dougherty is talking about when he brings up green products.

But you might not have a choice when it comes to an earth-friendly toilet. A 1.6-gallon low-flush toilet is mandatory in many states. Gandy is seeing a movement toward 1.28-gallon low-flush toilets. That might frustrate homeowners whose low-volume toilets require multiple flushes. As with anything, high-quality products do the job best, Gandy says. Bath, Kitchen & Tile Center carries the Toto line, which ranges from $300 to $5,000. For that price, not a shred of tissue should resurface post flush.

Though Gandy has yet to sell a $5,000 model, he has seen interest in attachments that turn the toilet into a bidet, with heated seats and self-closing seats.

Though demand for bamboo or $5,000 toilets has yet to catch on, glass tile is a popular seller, and many consider it a green product, Gandy says. It can be made from recycled glass, and it can be recycled. The shiny pieces are used for backsplashes around vanities and as borders or inserts.

Natural stone remains the favorite for showers and floors. If your budget doesn’t allow for natural stone—or you don’t want to fuss with periodically sealing it—check out porcelain tile that resembles the real deal.

Clients rarely want to tile three-quarters of the wall a la the 1950s. Homeowners now only tile the shower area. Tile also might edge the bath and vanity or serve as a baseboard, George notes.

Page 3: Back to Earth, continues


Pete George Tile & Marble in Wilmington carries the brick-pattern wall tile, granite vanity top and frameless shower unit found in this bathroom.Regardless of whether the floor is tile or stone, it’s what underneath that counts. Electric mats, run by thermostat, are embedded between the tile and sub-flooring. “It’s nice on your feet,” Dougherty says. Placement is key, George adds. Mats underneath a vanity will dry out and crack the wood. Keep in mind that the floors are meant to take the chill off your tootsies, not heat the room.

As for color, royal blue has spread from the living room to garden to bathroom. Still, Hodgins recommends sticking to bisque or white for sink, tub and toilet. “You can work around it,” she says. “You can always replace it.” That might not be the case with a blueberry-blue toilet.

Because natural stone dominates today’s bathrooms, most homeowners are sticking to earth tones: cream, rust, mocha and beige. In this area, though, there is still an appetite for a black-and-white bathroom with white subway tile. “Every now and then you get someone looking for that retro look,” Gandy says. “About once every few months we get a request for black and white.”

Brass and antiqued gold fixtures are out. The old standards—polished chrome and brushed nickel finishes—rule. Hodgins, however, has had homeowners request darker metals to complement dark woods.

As for the little luxuries, Giroso’s clients are clearly looking for a place to roost. Mirrors turn into televisions and back again. A chaise provides a place to relax before and after the bath. Coffeemakers let homeowners grab a latte and a lather. French doors lead to Zen gardens. “You can take a shower, grab the coffee and go outside,” Giroso says. “You don’t need to leave your space.”

And even with a modicum of today’s trendy amenities, it is easy to see why you’d want to stay put.


Our Best of Delaware Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.