Originally created 09/10/04

Bathrooms get spa treatment



Today's most elegant bathroom designs lean heavily on lessons taken from the spa industry, where the focus is placed squarely on leisure and pampering. Spas are purposely decorated in schemes that draw the guest far away from the mundane. The lighting is soft, candles are used in abundance and both music and scents are soothing.

While not every design theme is Zen-like, a common quality in the spa aesthetic is comfort. Both the host and client desire a quiet, prolonged experience that is only possible if all needs are met in an extraordinary manner.

Most people don't have time to use a bathroom in the relaxed manner of a resort on a day-to-day basis. But an increasing number of both men and women now express interest in including in their design solution the capacity for a luxurious bath or shower. They want seats in showers, stand-alone tubs that sit in the middle of a room, soft-cushioned seating and stacks of plump towels.

A lot of retro influence is showing up in the design of bathroom fixtures - tubs, faucets and shower heads. Tile design also is taking the turn toward design elements that were popular at the beginning of the early 20th century.

But bathing wasn't always so glamorous. In ancient Rome the public baths were similar to our sporting clubs: One could visit with friends, exercise, bathe and eat. Throughout the Middle Ages, few people bathed regularly, if ever. With the discovery of germs in the mid-1800s, however, doctors began to see the health benefit that regular bathing could offer, and bathing became popular again.

Most people in the early days of the revival of bathing just had a large wooden bucket next to the stove. Wealthier people placed their tub in their bedroom or in a room adjacent to it. Eventually wooden tubs gave way to tin and copper.

While we think a room with a tub in the center is decadent and elegant, our ancestors were just trying to stash the bathing equipment away from the pubic kitchen. The original claw-foot tubs were often placed in odd extra rooms, such as a former screened-in porch or a closet. Often there was ample room for the wash basin and good storage. The modern builder often supplies minimum dimensions for a bathroom that include the typical 5-foot-long tub.

In order to achieve the abundant look in a small room, you need to search for the appropriately sized pieces of the modern puzzle.

The 4-foot Harmony Tub offers a way to create one of the popular looks within a smaller space. It is an old-fashioned cast-iron tub with porcelain inside surface by Sign of the Crab.

Other manufacturers acknowledge the need for compact models of tubs but restrict their offerings to more standard designs. Kohler offers their Iron Works Historic cast-iron ball-and-claw foot tub, but it is 66 inches long by 36 inches wide. Kohler's luxury version of the free-standing cast-iron bath is called the Vintage and is even larger at 72 inches by 42 inches.

CHRISTINE BRUN is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of Big Ideas for Small Spaces. Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at cbaintdes@hotmail.com or to Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190 San Diego, CA 92112