- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Two years and an extensive remodeling job ago, Elaine and Rick Little were wondering what to do with the cramped attic space in the back of their contemporary Annapolis-area home. Would they trade in the tiny would-be bedroom for an expanded play space for their then-2-year-old daughter? A television room? A guest room? After much deliberation, the couple literally raised the roof and built a master suite with a small bedroom and a palatial bathroom that serves as a playroom, television room and family gathering spot.

The Littles show that the days when a bathroom was a place to get into and out of as quickly as possible are long gone. Many of today's homeowners have turned the powder room into a retreat complete with all the comforts of home, including phone, television, minibar and even laundry facilities.

"A lot of people are looking for a room that's going to be their sanctuary," says Mark White of Annapolis-based Kitchen Encounters, who designed the Littles' master bathroom to include a large corner tub overlooking a creek, a shower with two spray heads and enough floor space for their 4-year-old to "run circles" around them in the mornings.

"It is a living space. When [our daughter is] in the bathtub in the evening, my husband and I can be with her and be discussing our days. Family discussions take place while someone's drying their hair," Mrs. Little says.

A telling example of the new luxuries being offered to homeowners is the "environment" tub. With a built-in television, sun lamps, surround-sound stereo and its own weather-inspired sound effects, the tub would make a fine habitat should Homo sapiens ever become a zoo exhibit. Also new: heated toilet seats.

According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association's 1999 Design Trends Survey, more than 15 percent of bathroom remodeling jobs included dual shower heads, 28 percent had elaborate shower systems with special sprays, and a few more than 7 percent included stereo or television centers. In its literature, the association refers to a "New Millennium bathroom," with built-in hair dryers, saunas that reduce cellulite and remove water weight, towel warmers and electric defogging devices for mirrors all using existing technology. New toilet ventilation systems eliminate 98 percent of toilet odor, and new remote controls allow homeowners to run a warm bath simply by entering a personal code into their phones.

"People today have bigger houses and more bathrooms," says David Aisquith, branch manager of Thomas Somerville's residential showroom in Annapolis. "Ten or 12 years ago, it would be exceptional for someone to want a whirlpool. Now everybody wants one."

Newer whirlpools sport air jets, which are more resistant to bacteria and mold buildup than water jets. Within a wide price range from $400 to $30,000, some claim to hold their temperature for 20 minutes or more and to bubble gently rather than cause turbulence in the water.

"It just depends on a person's taste and available funds," Mr. Aisquith says. "They can have pretty much whatever they imagine."

The consumer's concept of what a bathroom is supposed to be has changed greatly, says Carolyn Thomas, a certified kitchen and bath designer at Chevy Chase's Jennifer Gilmer Kitchen & Bath.

"People's whole consciousness level has changed," says Mrs. Thomas, whose average D.C. bathroom remodeling project costs between $18,000 and $25,000. "The bath can be a place to escape the trials and tribulations of everyday life. When you have water pulsating all over you, you can feel like you're just floating away. It's a rejuvenating experience."

Even if couples opt out of the whirlpool, their shower can be packed with such indulgences as multiple body sprays that adjust positions to hit each shower occupant across the shoulders, the middle of the back and even on bad knees. Mrs. Thomas, in fact, has seen more area couples replacing their master bathtubs with extra-large two-person showers with benches to sit on and handheld shower sprays.

"As long as they have one tub in the home for use by children, they're getting rid of the rest of them," Mrs. Thomas says.

Industry leaders attribute the increased luxury in bathrooms to the ongoing "cocooning" trend, in which families build amenities into their homes that they once had to travel to find. With "morning kitchens" planting a refrigerator, sink and coffee maker smack in the middle of the bathroom, travel distance is cut even further.

Though the Littles' renovation brought their family closer together, Mr. White says bathroom projects more frequently set out to give parents a bit of distance from their offspring.

"More people are separating the master suite from the kids' rooms for the feeling of retreat," Mr. White says.

One of his recent projects entailed transforming two small bedrooms into a master bath with attached walk-in closets. His-and-her toilet areas opened up to his-and-her closets, and both spaces were connected with a centrally located shower with his-and-her doors.

"In most cases, these are professional people who work long days. Once they get home, they are looking for sanctuary," Mr. White says. "This is set up so that if they don't want to come out, they don't have to."

More info:


• "Ideas for Great Bathrooms," by Sunset Books. Color photographs and illustrations provide a wealth of creative ideas for those planning a new bathroom or remodeling an existing one.

On line

• www.bathclick.com This site features a large collection of luxury bath and kitchen products.

• www.kbdn.net Kitchen and Bath Design News follows the minutiae of the industry, reporting whether oyster- or almond-colored tubs are capturing a greater market share or following the air jet vs. water jet whirlpool system debate. Check this site if resale value is a factor in a remodeling project.

• www.nkba.org The National Kitchen & Bath Association offers information for consumers and members at this site, which offers tips on assessing bathroom needs, safety and design. It also provides links to manufacturers and their product lines. Checklists provide a helpful blueprint of what to plan for remodeling projects.

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