- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Soren Jensen takes a shower in luxury. When designing his Bethesda home, the owner of Danish Builders Inc. in Rockville didn’t want the average bathroom.

So he created a 3-foot-by-4-foot frameless shower enclosed with glass, which sits on a half-inch lip that surrounds the area and its multiple shower heads. The granite floor has a pitch in the middle for the water to drain. It also can be used as steam shower.

“It’s soothing,” Mr. Jensen says. “It was important that the shower was designed so that it was pleasant to be inside, that it was nice and warm all the time, with a feeling of water.”

Taking a shower has become more than daily routine. Many people escape to their showers for comfort and stress relief.

Mother-of-pearl, red jasper, tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli and Indian beetle nut are among the materials that can be used to decorate a shower, says Sebastian Bryant, national coordinator for Paris Ceramics at the Washington Design Center in Southwest.

The materials can be used in tiles, seamless panels or mosaic patterns. The company will create a custom mosaic of any subject matter for clients; one customer requested an Asian theme with a black shower floor and walls from black to gray to white, overlaid with bamboo shoots.

Hand-painted tiles are available as well. The stone can be cut and carved to order, even into benches for shower areas. Bathtubs also can be carved from blocks of stone.

“Nobody sees the master baths, except for the master of the home,” Mr. Bryant says. “We can make it truly special for them and how they want to live.”

The bathroom in general has become a benchmark for extravagance, says Evan Geoffroy, chief operating officer at Sherle Wagner International, headquartered in New York City, with a location at the Washington Design Center.

The aesthetics of the handles and faucets are important as well as the shower heads, he says. They come in varying materials, such as polished nickel, gold and platinum plating. Many homeowners also have been installing thermostatic valves to set the temperature of the water.

Body sprays from small nozzles can shoot from any angle so the water doesn’t just come from above the person. Rain bars can deliver water as a sheet from a side wall or the ceiling, Mr. Geoffroy says. Rain domes, giant overhead shower heads, can deliver as much as 12 gallons of water per minute. Hand showers also are becoming more common.

“Showers are a place of luxury, and people want to enjoy the shower experience, as opposed to just getting clean,” Mr. Geoffroy says. “You don’t have to spend a tremendous amount to have a beautiful, simple shower. On the other hand, if you want to have something truly unusual, there is always the opportunity to go to extremes.”

Some people even have returned to the idea of exposed plumbing with tub showers, which allows a free-standing tub to function also as a shower.

“You could float a bathtub in the middle of a room with exposed plumbing,” Mr. Geoffroy says. “The plumbing comes from the floor, as opposed to the walls.”

Products using air injection technology also are popular, says Bita Shashaani, project sales manager at the Expo Design Center in Bethesda. The technology mixes three parts air with one part water so less water is used, but the sensation of more water is created.

“People are rediscovering the power of water,” Ms. Shashaani says. “They want nice shower systems that are like a spa. People want serenity in their homes. They want to come home to something soothing.”

Even existing showers can be converted into more luxurious spaces with shower panels, she says. Panels with “everything in one” can be hooked up with easy installation, she says.

“The power of the shower. This is not a trend,” Ms. Shashaani says. “It’s a science. It’s proven that a nice shower makes you feel good. It’s a real stress reliever.”

The shower has almost become something like a human car wash, says Dean Francola, senior merchant for Home Depot headquarters in Atlanta.

“Water is hitting your entire body at the same time,” Mr. Francola says. “When you wash your car yourself, you only use a little hose, but at the car wash, it is drenched with water. People are gravitating toward that in the shower. Most people don’t have time for baths anymore.”

Steam showers clear the sinuses and help remove impurities in the skin, says Bill Murray, project developer at Bowers Design Build Inc. in McLean. The additional option creates a spalike environment in the home. However, a sloped ceiling is a must with a steam shower.

“With a mild slope, the water tends to drip back down the wall, away from you,” Mr. Murray says. “Otherwise, cold droplets of water would drop on you from the ceiling like rain.”

Curbless showers are becoming popular for many homes, says Cindy McClure, president at Grossmueller’s Design Consultants in Northwest. Instead of having a curb, a sloped area has a steep pitch that allows water to run into a drain.

A wheelchair can be rolled easily into a shower without a curb. The idea not only is good for the elderly, but also may make it easier for someone with an injury to get in and out of the shower.

“It’s called universal design,” Ms. McClure says. “Imagine if you broke your leg. It would sure be easier to drag your leg into a shower than trying to step over a curb.”

Radiant heat from under the entire floor can be used to replace radiators in older homes, she says. It even can be extended through the shower area.

“It keeps the room warm,” Ms. McClure says. “So you get the heat without the space necessary to be devoted to a radiator.”

The biggest investment a homeowner can make is either in the bathroom or the kitchen, says Noah Blumberg, founder and president of Ark Contracting in Chevy Chase. Money spent designing a shower likely will increase the value of the home.

“Sometimes, you could put a shower in the basement, if you have enough ceiling height,” Mr. Blumberg says. “In the attic, you can increase the roof a little bit and make a usable area.”

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